Gaza crisis: Israeli government is wielding starvation as a weapon against innocent Palestinian civilians – Laura Waddell

An Israeli government minister’s promise there would be a ‘a complete siege’ of the Gaza Strip shortly after the October 7 massacre is producing the obvious results: children dying from malnutrition and the prospect of a mass famine

In the most recent issue of Gutter magazine is a poem titled Nobody Can Identify Their Own Remains, and I Am Unable to Identify My Own by the poet Omar Ziyadeh. Alice S Yousef's translation from Arabic is also published online by Words Without Borders. Ziyadeh writes of Palestine: “… there is death... a kind of death no one has ever known before:/ no doctor, no funeral parlor, no morgue attendant./ a death unlike itself.”

A later stanza speaks to the situational impossibility of having no direction to go in. “Don’t go south, they massacre palm trees there/ at the crossings./ Don’t go north, there are as many remaining body parts as there are eyelashes on your children.” From every direction come warnings not to venture onwards, reminiscent of the early days of the conflict where Gazans were ordered to evacuate south but it was unclear whether the way was safe.

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I’ve been thinking of the book, A Bird is Not A Stone, an anthology of Palestinian poetry now ten years old, edited by Sarah Irving and Henry Bell, which contains “bridge translations”, where Scottish writers working with first drafts mould and refashion it in their own language, like any other literary translation, where a translator will chisel away at a text until it most accurately and tonally reflects the writer’s intention.

Desperate people queue for food in Rafah, Gaza (Picture: Ahmad Hasaballah/Getty Images)Desperate people queue for food in Rafah, Gaza (Picture: Ahmad Hasaballah/Getty Images)
Desperate people queue for food in Rafah, Gaza (Picture: Ahmad Hasaballah/Getty Images)

Shared humanity

Bridge translations are more of a cultural exchange, a creative technique of reinterpretation by a second writer that lends itself well, naturally, to finding points of commonality in the human experience, as well as making the global local. In the book, this results in the original Arabic sitting side by side on the page with Scots-English, Scots, Gaelic, and Shetlandic.

Alasdair Gray was given Not Only Rivers by Tareq al-Karmy. His translation includes the lines: "Roads die when peoples’ hopes, fears,/ wishes, traffic, no longer flow through them.” Like the forced halt in Omar Ziyadeh’s poem, with nowhere passable to go, movement is life and its restriction a tool of subjugation across generations.

Difficult days in the life of the average person in this country might involve going to hospital; engaging emergency services; or relying on a food bank. There is an especial cruelty in seeing even the most essential infrastructures stripped away in Gaza, places intended to heal the sick and injured turned into places of suffering.

We should never see hospitals with walls blown off. They are meant to be sacred spaces, not war zones; even in wars, off limits. The horror of the food aid truck mass casualty at Al-Rashid marks another watershed moment, drawing particular attention to the torturous situation of Gazans desperate from hunger crushed in their attempts to reach food.

‘Too many innocent Palestinians’

In the face of this abject misery beamed across the world are slightly shifting lines from Israel's closest allies. Those supportive of Netanyahu’s military actions over the past five months are beginning to draw red lines as the humanitarian crisis worsens – but only in the faintest of inks.

At the weekend, US Vice President Kamala Harris said at an event in Alabama: “What we are seeing every day in Gaza is devastating. We have seen reports of families eating leaves or animal feed, women giving birth to malnourished babies with little or no medical care, and children dying from malnutrition and dehydration. As I have said many times, too many innocent Palestinians have been killed.”

Harris’s words mark a firmer, more direct critique than Israel is used to hearing from the US top office, particularly when she added: “The Israeli government must do more to significantly increase the flow of aid. No excuses.” This mirrors the sentiment in the UK parliament recently, where it has been generally acknowledged there is no good reason for Israel not to allow in food aid.

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But despite the public talk, within the US Democrats, President Biden is said to be resistant to suggestions that the US places conditions on their significant military aid package to Israel or reduces intelligence sharing between the two countries. Arms transfers from the UK remain unblocked.

‘No electricity, no food, no fuel’

From the offset, it was the stated intention of the Israeli government, in the immediate aftermath of the Hamas massacre and hostage taking, to cut Gaza off. As Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant ordered a “complete siege”, he said: “There will be no electricity, no food, no fuel, everything is closed… We are fighting human animals and we are acting accordingly.” This chilling dehumanisation from within Netanyahu’s war cabinet has been brushed under the carpet by the US and UK governments pledging allyship. But it wasn’t a flippant remark. It was a statement of belief and intention of which the impact is now gravely clear.

The World Health Organisation reports that over half a million are “one step away” from famine, and that children are already dying of hunger in northern Gaza. The UN’s Human Rights office has been warning since November 2023 that continued food shortages would be catastrophic, since echoed by the International Court of Justice. Israel’s plausible deniability that its repeated civilian-shattering strikes are proportionately retaliative to Hamas’s actions is beginning to crumble in the mouths of its allies. As charity Unicef summarised, “the child deaths we feared are here, as malnutrition ravages the Gaza Strip”.

A straight line can be drawn from Gallant’s proclamation that there would be “no electricity, no food, no fuel” and reports that children are starving. Dotting that timeline is billions of funding in aid and arms, tactile support for Netanyahu’s actions that speaks louder than Western politicians’ asides about an entire populace being starved. Over one per cent of the Palestinian populace has already become a casualty of this catastrophe. Starvation wielded as a weapon against innocent civilians has the likely potential to eclipse the numbers already taken by shelling and conflict.



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