Skip to main content

War on Gaza: Mothers struggle to feed babies as Israeli-made starvation returns

Israel is again restricting life-saving food especially in the north of Gaza, Palestinians say, bringing back the spectre of famine
The body of Eyad Hegazi, a 10-year-old Palestinian child suffering from malnutrition,rests in the arms of his sister after he died at the Aqsa Martyrs hospital in Deir el-Balah 14 June 2024 (AFP/Bashar Taleb)
The body of Eyad Hegazi, a 10-year-old Palestinian boy who died of malnutrition, is held by his sister after he died at the Aqsa Martyrs hospital in Deir el-Balah, 14 June 2024 (AFP/Bashar Taleb)
By Maha Hussaini in Gaza Strip, occupied Palestine

To help her hungry baby fall asleep, Noor Saleem often sings to him.

"Sleep, my love, sleep, and I will spread ostrich feathers for you and bring you Tulumba (fried dough dessert),” she repeats a traditional lullaby to him.  

But as she sings it, the Palestinian mother remembers the Israeli-made starvation she, her baby and hundreds of thousands in north Gaza are enduring.

“I sang it and cried my heart out,” the 32-year-old mother told Middle East Eye. 

“I felt so powerless and helpless to do even the simplest things for my child, like giving him Tulumba.

Stay informed with MEE's newsletters

Sign up to get the latest alerts, insights and analysis, starting with Turkey Unpacked


“I am burning with the feeling of helplessness.”

For over eight months, the Israeli military has imposed a tight siege on the Gaza Strip, severely limiting the flow of life-saving essential food and medical items. 

The siege has been even tighter on northern Gaza, an area Israel attempted to empty of its more than one million residents at the start of the war in October. 

Despite widescale destruction and killings that left the area an unlivable hellscape, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have refused to leave it, fearing Israel would permanently block them from returning. 

Along with the relentless bombardments and deliberate targeting of hospitals, the Israeli military has used starvation of the population as a weapon of war, according to independent UN investigators

This is what starvation feels like. I cannot feed my children
Read More »

The hunger crisis peaked in March, with dozens of children dying of malnutrition and residents being forced to eat grass as Israeli forces repeatedly killed aid-seeking people

Under mounting international pressure, Israel “slightly” improved food access in some areas after its forces killed several foreign aid workers and a UN-backed report warned famine was imminent

But now, Israeli authorities are once again restricting life-saving food deliveries, according to residents. 

They say a second hunger crisis is well underway in more dire conditions and with less media coverage. 

“I am very sad for my child,” said Saleem. “He doesn’t eat much and keeps losing weight.”

The Rimal neighbourhood resident had stocked up some feta cheese and halva after the last hunger crisis, anticipating Israel would renew its siege. 

She feeds her baby only those two items, but they could be harmful to him and don’t provide enough nutrition.  

“My child is growing and needs a more varied diet. He is at an age where nutrition is crucial, and he needs to eat chicken, meat, and eggs,” she said.

Hundreds of thousands of malnourished children

Saleem’s story is echoed by many residents of northern Gaza. 

People are exhausted, frail and collapse occasionally due to lack of food, they say.  

This was the case for Rajaa Jendiya’s two infant daughters, one of whom is aged two and the other only eight months. 

“If you saw my eight-month-old baby you’d think she’s only two months old because she is so small and thin,” Jendiya, 29, told MEE. 

Her other girl recently collapsed from exhaustion, she said.

“Her legs stopped supporting her and it seemed like she was suffering from rickets,” she added. "I took her to the doctor, and he told me it was due to malnutrition.”

A Palestinian child suffering from malnutrition receiving treatment at Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in Deir al-Balah on 1 June 2024 (Majdi Fathi/NurPhoto via Reuters)
A Palestinian child suffering from malnutrition receiving treatment at Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in Deir al-Balah on 1 June 2024 (Majdi Fathi/NurPhoto via Reuters)

According to Dr Hossam Abo Safiya, the director of Kamal Adwan hospital, more than 200,000 Palestinian children have shown symptoms of malnutrition in northern Gaza. 

Speaking to Al-Arabi TV on Friday, he warned that famine was looming, threatening a “humanitarian disaster” in Gaza. 

Jendiya says she has nothing to feed her two daughters. 

'Sometimes I don’t eat anything to save food for the children'

- Rajaa Jendiya, Palestinian mother 

Essential items are scarce in the markets and when they are available, they are often sold at exhorbitant prices.

Jendiya is looking after her two children alone after her husband, who used to provide for them, was killed by Israeli forces during the earlier hunger crisis in March.

He was shot dead in one of the “flour massacres” as he went out to fetch aid for his family. 

“My husband used to secure us food, he never left me or the children in need of anything,”  Jendiya told MEE. 

“Now I have to keep thinking all the time about what I have to feed my children. 

“Sometimes I don’t eat anything to save food for the children.”

'Famine-like conditions'

While the hunger crisis is most severe in the north, it has affected the entire Gaza Strip. 

Ten-year-old Mustafa Hijazi died on Friday from malnutrition in Deir al-Balah’s al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital. 

He is one of at least 32 children who have died from malnutrition during the war. 

Earlier this week, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, head of the World Health Organization (WHO), said a significant proportion of Gaza's population was facing “catastrophic hunger and famine-like conditions”. 

He added: “Despite reports of increased delivery of food, there is currently no evidence that those who need it most are receiving sufficient quantity and quality of food.”

'I burn for the children and I can’t stop thinking about them'

- Noor Saleem, Palestinian mother 

The Gaza-based government media office earlier this week accused Israel of misleading the world by regularly announcing that dozens of aid trucks were entering the strip. 

In a statement, the office said the few trucks that enter northern Gaza daily, around 30, are often not fully loaded and carry mostly flour, which is delivered to UN-run bakeries.

The Gaza Strip needed at least 500 fully loaded trucks of aid and commercial goods daily in pre-war conditions. 

Palestinians in Gaza fear the hunger crisis this time around could be worse than earlier this year.

This is because the Rafah crossing with Egypt, a vital aid route, was seized and closed by the Israeli military in early May. 

It is also because the Israeli military destroyed more aid distribution centres in recent weeks, including in the Jabalia refugee camp in northern Gaza.

“I burn for the children and I can’t stop thinking about them,” says Saleem, who considers herself among the lucky few who still have some food stored. 

“In the previous famine, I used to go to the pharmacy and the pharmacist would tell me he knew children who died from severe malnutrition,” she said.

“Their mothers’ milk had dried up due to poor nutrition, sadness and fear.” 

Middle East Eye delivers independent and unrivalled coverage and analysis of the Middle East, North Africa and beyond. To learn more about republishing this content and the associated fees, please fill out this form. More about MEE can be found here.