Crowd of starving Palestinians

A crowd of starving Palestinians, including children, waits to receive food distributed by charity organizations amid Israel's blockade at the Jabalia refugee camp in Gaza on March 27, 2024.

(Photo by Mahmoud Issa/Anadolu via Getty Images)

'End This War Crime': HRW Says Israel Is Starving Children to Death in Gaza

"The Israeli government’s use of starvation as a weapon of war has proven deadly for children in Gaza."

The Israeli government is starving children to death in the Gaza Strip with its deliberate and systematic obstruction of food aid, Human Rights Watch said in a report released Tuesday, citing firsthand accounts from doctors and families in the besieged enclave.

At least 32 people, including 28 children, have died of malnutrition and dehydration so far in northern Gaza, which is facing famine conditions due to Israel's illegal blockade.

HRW's new report builds on its December assessment that Israel was "using starvation of civilians as a method of warfare" in Gaza, with disastrous consequences for the territory's civilian population.

"The Israeli government's use of starvation as a weapon of war has proven deadly for children in Gaza," said Omar Shakir, HRW's Israel and Palestine director. "Israel needs to end this war crime, stop this suffering, and allow humanitarian aid to reach all of Gaza unhindered."

For its new report, HRW interviewed doctors who have treated malnourished patients and family members of children who have starved to death in recent weeks. The group also reviewed photographs and video footage showing emaciated children who have died of malnutrition.

Dr. Hussam Abu Safiya, the head of the pediatrics unit of a northern Gaza hospital targeted by Israeli forces, said that 26 children in his facility alone have died from starvation-related health complications. Safiya told HRW that at least 16 of the children were under five months old, and one of them was just two days old.

The mother, he said, "had no milk to give him."

"Israel's allies like the U.S., U.K., France, and Germany need to press for full-throttle aid delivery by immediately suspending their arms transfers."

Already badly hindered by Israel's siege, aid deliveries to Gaza have been further disrupted by Israeli attacks on humanitarian workers and convoys. Israeli forces' killing of seven World Central Kitchen workers last week led several aid groups to suspend their operations in Gaza.

While Israel agreed in the wake of the deadly attack—and in the face of massive international pressure—to reopen a key border crossing in northern Gaza, aid groups say far more is needed to prevent mass starvation.

"Governments outraged by the Israeli government starving civilians in Gaza should not be looking for band-aid solutions to this humanitarian crisis,” Shakir said Tuesday. "Israel's announcement that it will increase aid shows that outside pressure works. Israel's allies like the U.S., U.K., France, and Germany need to press for full-throttle aid delivery by immediately suspending their arms transfers."

Israel's six-month war on Gaza has been catastrophic for the territory's children. According to one recent analysis, over 2% of Gaza's child population—nearly 26,000 kids—has been killed or wounded during the assault, with at least 1,000 children losing one or both of their legs.

The war has also taken a devastating psychological toll on Gaza's kids, many of whom have been displaced repeatedly and seen family members maimed or killed by Israeli bombs.

"The emotional distress of dodging bombs and bullets, losing loved ones, being forced to flee through streets littered with debris and corpses, and waking up every morning not knowing if they will be able to eat has also left parents and caregivers increasingly unable to cope," Save the Children said last month.

Speaking to HRW, the father of newborn twin girls said that one of his babies died of malnutrition at northern Gaza's Kamal Adwan Hospital eight days after she was born.

"He said that he struggled to feed his family prior to the girls' birth, but that they only had bread to eat, without meat or protein," the human rights organization noted in its new report. "He said that after the twins' birth, his wife could not produce milk to breastfeed the girls and that store-bought milk was scarce."

One mother of a 6-year-old boy with cystic fibrosis told HRW that "because of the Israeli blockade, she struggled to obtain the necessary medication and provide adequate nourishment."

"By mid-January, Fadi's health had deteriorated to the point where he could no longer walk, prompting his hospitalization," HRW said. Late last month, the boy was evacuated from Kamal Adwan Hospital to receive treatment at a facility in Cairo.

Lama Fakih, HRW's Middle East and North Africa director, said Tuesday that Israeli officials upholding the blockade that is starving children in Gaza "are committing war crimes."

"Governments should impose targeted sanctions, including travel bans and asset freezes, against responsible officials," said Fakih.

But the U.S., Israel's top ally and arms supplier, is refusing to take concrete action even as damning evidence of Israeli war crimes mounts.

Asked during a Monday press briefing "how many Palestinian citizens should be killed, whether by fire or starvation, so you can seriously intervene," U.S. State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said that "we do not want to see a single Palestinian killed."

"And that is why we have made clear that Israel needs to do more to improve its deconfliction and coordination measures," Miller said, brushing off the idea of imposing strict conditions on U.S. military aid. The Biden administration is currently pressing Congress to sign off on an $18 billion sale of F-15 fighter jets to Israel.

Earlier in Monday's briefing, Miller said the U.S. has "not yet at this time concluded that Israel has violated international humanitarian law."

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