Relief workers distribute food in Gaza City

Relief workers distribute food in Gaza City, Gaza on March 14, 2024.

(Photo: Dawoud Abo Alkas/Anadolu via Getty Images)

Israeli 'Use of Starvation' as Weapon in Gaza Would Be 'War Crime': UN Rights Chief

"The clock is ticking," said Volker Türk. "Everyone, especially those with influence, must insist that Israel acts to facilitate the unimpeded entry and distribution of needed humanitarian assistance."

A dire new report on mass hunger in the Gaza Strip prompted the United Nations high commissioner for human rights to declare Tuesday that Israel's persistent obstruction of humanitarian aid "may amount to the use of starvation as a method of war, which is a war crime."

"Israel, as the occupying power, has the obligation to ensure the provision of food and medical care to the population commensurate with their needs and to facilitate the work of humanitarian organizations to deliver that assistance," Volker Türk said in a statement after the Integrated Food Security and Nutrition Phase Classification (IPC) warned that half of Gaza's population is currently experiencing catastrophic hunger and at growing risk of starving to death.

Noting that Israel's 16-year blockade of Gaza "has already had a severe impact on human rights for the civilian population," Türk said Monday that Israel is required under international law to ensure the population of Gaza can access food, medicine, and other humanitarian assistance in a "safe and dignified manner."

"The clock is ticking," said Türk. "Everyone, especially those with influence, must insist that Israel acts to facilitate the unimpeded entry and distribution of needed humanitarian assistance and commercial goods to end starvation and avert all risk of famine. There needs to be full restoration of essential services, including the supply of food, water, electricity, and fuel. And there needs to be an immediate cease-fire, as well as the unconditional release of Israeli hostages still held in Gaza."

Türk is not the first U.N. official to condemn Israel's deliberate withholding of food aid from Palestinians in Gaza. Last month, U.N. special rapporteur on the right to food Michael Fakhri said that "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."

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

"The U.S. co-owns this outcome and now must apply real leverage ASAP to change course."

In violation of the International Court of Justice's January order, the Israeli military has systematically restricted ground-based aid deliveries to the Gaza Strip and violently attacked crowds seeking out the limited assistance that has been allowed to enter the enclave, fueling the rapid and deadly spread of malnutrition.

The IPC's new report put numbers to what aid groups on the ground in Gaza have been reporting in recent weeks as Israel's bombing and blockade continue with no end in sight. According to the IPC, Gaza's entire population is facing acute food insecurity and "famine is imminent."

Jeremy Konyndyk, the president of Refugees International and a former U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) official, wrote on social media Monday that the IPC's report offers "the grimmest analysis" he has "ever seen."

"The famine is now starting," Konyndyk wrote. "Only question at this point is how much more momentum it will be allowed to develop. Every day without a cease-fire at this point will extend the famine further on the back end, costing more lives."

U.S. President Joe Biden "must begin pulling out all the stops to get this contained," Konyndyk added. "The Netanyahu government created this situation as the U.S. continued supplying them with arms and diplomatic cover. The U.S. co-owns this outcome and now must apply real leverage ASAP to change course."

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