A young girl among a crowd of  hungry Gazans holding pots at a charity food distribution center

A girl cries as she waits in a crowd of people with empty pots seeking food distributed by relief groups in Gaza City on February 26, 2024.

(Photo: Omar Qattaa/Andalou via Getty Images)

UN Expert Says Israel's Forced Starvation of Gazans Is Genocide

"Intentionally depriving people of food is clearly a war crime."

The top United Nations expert on the right to food on Tuesday accused Israel of perpetrating genocide by intentionally starving Palestinians during the relentless assault on Gaza.

Most of Gaza's 2.3 million people—around 90% of whom have been forcibly displaced by Israeli bombardment and invasion—are starving. Israeli forces are bombing food production and distribution centers, destroying crops and killing livestock, attacking fishers, and firing on and blocking aid convoys.

Children are dying, while people desperately trying to survive are resorting to eating whatever they can get into their stomachs, including grass, livestock feed, and horses.

"In my view as a U.N. human rights expert, this is now a situation of genocide."

"Intentionally depriving people of food is clearly a war crime," Michael Fakhri, the United Nations special rapporteur on the right to food and a law professor at the University of Oregon, toldThe Guardian.

"Israel has announced its intention to destroy the Palestinian people, in whole or in part, simply for being Palestinian," he continued. "In my view as a U.N. human rights expert, this is now a situation of genocide. This means the state of Israel in its entirety is culpable and should be held accountable."

"There is no reason to intentionally block the passage of humanitarian aid or intentionally obliterate small-scale fishing vessels, greenhouses, and orchards in Gaza—other than to deny people access to food," Fakhri added.

Under Article II of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, the crime of genocide is defined as killing members of a group, causing serious physical or mental harm, intentionally inflicting on the group conditions meant to destroy it "in whole or in part," imposing measures meant to prevent births, or forcibly transferring members of the group.

The amount of food entering Gaza—which even before the war was under an Israeli economic stranglehold—has fallen dramatically in recent weeks amid Israeli attacks targeting police escorting aid convoys. This has exposed the convoys to attacks and looting by criminal groups and desperate civilians, forcing the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) to suspend humanitarian deliveries.

Israeli civilians are also taking it upon themselves to block humanitarian aid from reaching starving Palestinians by traveling in caravans to border crossings to prevent aid trucks from entering Gaza. Their actions have sometimes taken on a perversely festive atmosphere; last week, right-wing extremists set up a giant inflatable bouncy castle where aid trucks are meant to pass through the Kerem Shalom border crossing.

"Get ready, there will be inflatables, cotton candy, popcorn, and slushies," the organizer of an aid blockade announced.

The following day, Mahmoud Fattouh, a 2-month-old baby, starved to death in Gaza City. He wasn't the only one.

"Unfortunately many kids have died in the past weeks," Dr. Hussam Abu Safiya, the head of Kamal Adwan Hospital in northern Gaza, told Al Jazeera. "If we don't get the proper aid urgently, we will be losing more and more to malnutrition."

Fakhri said Tuesday that the speed at which malnutrition is spreading among Gaza's children is "astounding."

"The bombing and people being killed directly is brutal, but this starvation—and the wasting and stunting of children—is torturous and vile," he added. "It will have a long-term impact on the population physically, cognitively, and morally... All things indicate that this has been intentional."

As The Guardian noted:

Intentionally starving civilians by "depriving them of objects indispensable to their survival, including willfully impeding relief supplies" is a war crime, according to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. Indispensable objects include food, water, and shelter—which Israel is systematically denying Palestinians. Starvation is a war crime under the Geneva Conventions and the Rome Statute. It was also recognized as a war crime and general violation of international law by the U.N. Security Council in 2018.

Experts say an immediate cease-fire is the best and quickest way to avert further catastrophe.

"What's important to point out is, in case of a cease-fire now, we would be saving around 75,000 lives," Zeina Jamaluddine, a nutritionist and epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, toldDemocracy Now! on Monday.

Qatari Foreign Ministry spokesperson Majed Mohammed al-Ansari said Tuesday that he is "optimistic" that a cease-fire can be brokered before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which starts March 10. U.S. President Joe Biden said Monday that he hopes to have a cease-fire by next Monday.

However, Israeli and Hamas officials on Tuesday dismissed reports of an imminent agreement, with Israel blaming "excessive" Hamas demands and Hamas calling Biden's remarks "premature."

The death and suffering in Gaza increase with each passing day without a cease-fire. Gaza's Health Ministry said Tuesday that at least 268 people were killed or wounded by Israeli bombs or bullets over the past 24 hours, with many victims still buried beneath rubble.

Since Israel launched its retaliatory assault on Gaza following the October 7 attacks, Palestinian officials say at least 29,878 Gazans—mostly women and children—have been killed, more than 70,200 have been wounded, and over 7,000 others are missing and feared dead and buried beneath the ruins of bombed buildings.

Last month, the International Court of Justice issued a preliminary ruling in a South Africa-led case that found Israel is "plausibly" committing genocide in Gaza and ordering the Israeli government to "take all measures within its power" to prevent acts of genocide.

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International this week accused Israel of defying the ICJ order.

"Not only has Israel created one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world, but it is also displaying a callous indifference to the fate of Gaza's population by creating conditions which the ICJ has said places them at imminent risk of genocide," Amnesty regional director Heba Morayef said Monday.

"As the occupying power, under international law, Israel has a clear obligation to ensure the basic needs of Gaza's population are met," she added. "Israel has not only woefully failed to provide for Gazans' basic needs, but it has also been blocking and impeding the passage of sufficient aid into the Gaza Strip, in particular to the north, which is virtually inaccessible, in a clear show of contempt for the ICJ ruling and in flagrant violation of its obligation to prevent genocide."

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