Israel accused of starving Gaza children in harrowing new Human Rights Watch report

Gaza - Human Rights Watch (HRW) has released a new report detailing the devastating effects of Israel's starvation tactics on the children of Gaza.

Palestinian children receive cooked food rations as part of a volunteer youth initiative in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip
Palestinian children receive cooked food rations as part of a volunteer youth initiative in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip  © MOHAMMED ABED / AFP

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

The report says that at least 32 people in northern Gaza, including 28 children, have died of malnutrition and dehydration amid Israel's six-month, near-total blockade on humanitarian aid.

Famine is imminent in the occupied territory, which was almost entirely dependent on Israel for food, medicine, fuel, electricity, and other basic necessities even before the Gaza assault began in October.

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Conditions have worsened dramatically in recent months. The World Health Organization has reported that the number of children in northern Gaza under age 5 who are acutely malnourished has jumped from 0.8% before October to between 12.4% and 16.5%. Oxfam said people in northern Gaza are forced to live on an average of fewer than 245 calories per day – less than 12% of average daily calorie needs.

On top of that, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says Israeli attacks have left only 10 of Gaza's 36 hospitals operational – and none of them fully.

Palestinian families share harrowing testimonies

Palestinians run for cover next to covered bodies after an Israeli airstrike near the Kamal Adwan hospital in Beit Lahia in the northern Gaza Strip.
Palestinians run for cover next to covered bodies after an Israeli airstrike near the Kamal Adwan hospital in Beit Lahia in the northern Gaza Strip.  © Mohammad AHMAD / AFP

HRW investigated several cases involving malnourished Palestinian children, citing firsthand accounts from healthcare workers and families.

In one instance, a man from Beit Lahia said his premature infant son, Abdelaziz, had passed away at the Gaza Strip's Kamal Adwan hospital after it ran out of fuel needed to keep ventilators running.

"Abdelaziz died immediately," he said, adding that his wife is now struggling to get by on inadequate food.

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Another case saw newborn twin girls struggling to survive with a lack of food, as their mother was unable to produce milk to breastfeed. One of the girls, named Joud, died at Kamal Adwan hospital eight days after she was born.

Joud's "limbs became very cold, and she was breathing very slowly," the twins' father recalled, expressing concern for the living child's survival chances.

The mother of 6-year-old Fadi, who has cystic fibrosis, also shared the devastating impact of Israel's blockade on her child.

"Fadi weighed 30 kilograms [about 66 pounds] before the war, now he is 12 [about 26 pounds]," she said.

Originally from Gaza City's al-Nasser neighborhood, Fadi is now receiving treatment at a hospital in Cairo, Egypt, after evacuation from the Kamal Adwan hospital.

Human Rights Watch urges states to act to save Palestinian lives

Displaced Palestinian children gather to receive food at a government school in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip.
Displaced Palestinian children gather to receive food at a government school in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip.  © MOHAMMED ABED / AFP

The HRW report comes amid increasing global scrutiny over Israel's actions in Gaza.

The International Court of Justice in January ruled that there is a "plausible" case Israel is committing genocide in Gaza and ordered Israel to "take immediate and effective measures to enable the provision of urgently needed basic services and humanitarian aid."

Finding Israel had not met its obligations, the court last month issued a new order requiring the government to ensure the unimpeded provision of basic services and aid, warning that "famine has set in."

The United States has responded to growing food insecurity by announcing airdrops and a temporary seaport to deliver aid to Gaza, while at the same time cutting off funding for UNRWA – a United Nations agency providing critical humanitarian aid to Palestinian refugees.

Israel's killing of seven World Central Kitchen aid workers earlier this month sparked fierce backlash from the international community and even provoked a response from the White House.

On April 4, after a call between President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli cabinet said it would allow "temporary" aid deliveries through its border with the northern Gaza Strip.

But airdrops, seaports, and other stopgap measures are not enough to address the grave humanitarian crisis in Gaza. HRW is calling on nations to impose targeted sanctions against responsible Israeli officials and individuals and to end weapons transfers to Israel.

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

The Biden administration has sent over 100 arms shipments to Israel since October, in addition to billions in military assistance the US government provides each year.

Cover photo: MOHAMMED ABED / AFP

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