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War on Gaza: Palestinians forced to mix animal fodder with flour to make bread

People resort to extreme measures that have had adverse effects on their health, due to intense Israeli bombing and food shortages
A Palestinian man sifts through grains in Gaza, amidst a heavy food shortage due to Israeli bombing and siege (Mohammed al-Hajjar)
A Palestinian man sifts through grains in Gaza, amidst a heavy food shortage due to Israeli bombing and siege (Mohammed al-Hajjar)
By Mohammed al-Hajjar and Ahmed Alsammak in Gaza and Lubna Masarwa in Jerusalem and Nadda Osman in London

Palestinians in Gaza have been forced to resort to extreme measures amid growing starvation as a result of Israel's relentless bombardment and a full siege imposed since October. 

Many families across the besieged enclave had to mix various ingredients into flour to make bread using traditional methods, due to the scarcity of food. 

Families have been forced to use animal fodder and bird feed baked into their bread, sometimes causing medical problems, particularly in young children. 

Abu Alaa, an owner of a mill in central Gaza, said that the food available to people is inedible. 

“Something should be done about this urgently,” he told Middle East Eye. 

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“People are mixing bird feed and animal food into their food. This is not right, it's not healthy. People are grinding this and mixing it into their bread.” 

He explained that this is happening due to a lack of aid deliveries as well as the sharp skyrocketing prices of goods that are available. 

A Palestinian man stands near sacks of flour in a mill in Gaza, as prices of goods have skyrocketed (Mohammed al-Hajjar)

Abu Alaa says that he has been forced to reduce the price of wheat due to the dire circumstances, despite rising costs hitting everyone. 

Families wait in line for hours every day to get just a few pounds of flour. However, often, by the time families get to the front of the queue, the flour would have already run out. Meanwhile, on many occasions, people are forced to scatter due to Israeli bombardment.

Adverse effects on health

According to a report by the UN in December, 93 percent of the people in Gaza are facing “crisis levels of hunger,” and a quarter of the population of the strip faces “catastrophic hunger and starvation.”

On Thursday, the World Food Programme (WFP) said in a statement that "the entire population is acutely food insecure. More than a quarter of them – half a million people – are at IPC5, the most extreme stage of hunger. They are starving".

Euro-Med Human Rights said that it had documented numerous deaths from starvation, including infants.

Mixing animal feed into bread has already started to have adverse effects on people’s health, however, despite this, families say they have no other alternative.

Abu Anas, a local who lives near a mill, said that any food available in Gaza is no longer affordable, particularly after nearly all bakeries and supermarkets in the Strip have been bombed. 

Instead, families are using “stone age” techniques and makeshift ovens to make food, and, if they have the means, sell it. 

A Palestinian woman bakes bread in a makeshift oven in Gaza, amidst a shortage of essential food items (Mohammed al-Hajjar)

Residents are also pumping water from wells, and mixing sea water and wastewater amid a shortage of clean water. 

Jaber, another local in Gaza, says that even if the taste is bad, he and others are mixing different types of flour and ingredients to make bread.

“Sometimes the bread is made and it comes out red or yellow because of the ingredients mixed in it,” he said, adding that this is not healthy.

Ground barley and corn are also being mixed into the flour. 

In some cases, Palestinians have been forced to trawl through the ground to find scraps of food.

Sabrine Alatanni, 32, evacuated her house in Beit Lahia weeks ago after Israeli air strikes reduced it to rubble. She and her four children have been grappling with displacement and famine.

"I feel helpless as I can't provide my children with food. Lentils and rice have become dreams for us," she told MEE.

To survive, like hundreds of thousands in the north, she has had to purchase animal fodder to mix it with wheat for baking bread.

Next to Sabrine, her children Ramadan and Muhanned, aged 9 and 11, expressed their struggle.

"The animal fodder in the bread is very bad, the water is polluted, my stomach hurts. We drink water from a well. It doesn't taste good," said Muhanned.

Skyrocketing prices of food

Mazen al-Terk, 50, said the situation has now become critical. 

“We have stopped differentiating between donkey food and human food. We are eating anything, and no one is helping us. We call on all countries around the world to stand with us, because we can’t find food,” he said. 

“We haven’t had access to pure white flour for three months now, since 9 October when Israel imposed the full siege. People are picking things up from the floor to eat them. Any flour that can be found is for around 700 shekels ($189),” he added. 

According to Terk, before the war, a 50kg bag of flour only cost 100 shekels ($27).

Palestinians in Gaza say it has been months since they have had access to clean, white flour, as they have had to mix in ingredients amid shortages (Mohammed al-Hajjar)

The residents in Gaza say that using animal fodder in their bread, as well as certain other ingredients, has harmed their health, in addition to the lack of clean water and sanitation facilities.

“All of my children have stomach pains and diarrhoea, because of the food, water, and rubbish in the streets,” Terk said. 

“We are all ill now in Gaza…no one is feeling what we’re going through.” 

Likewise, Khaled Rasem, a 25-year-old resident of Jabalia Camp, told Middle East Eye that necessities such as baby food and supplements are missing.

"Food is almost non-existent, medicine is only available in few places, and the hospitals are not fully functioning," he said.

The Israeli army's closure of roads between the north and south of Gaza has prevented the delivery of food and other goods to the north, according to Khaled.

Food aid has not reached the north for more than 40 days, he said.

People have had to grind pigeon and cow fodder to make bread because flour costs $210 and it's unavailable, he told MEE.

'The Israeli army has employed a starvation policy to punish those who refused to leave their homes in the north by depriving them food and water'

Khaled Rasem, Jabalia camp resident

"I had to eat bread made from fodder yesterday. It was disgusting. Some people are now eating leaves from trees. The situation is terrible," Khaled added.

"Sometimes rice and lentils are available, but they are extremely expensive," he said.

"All our food is now of poor quality and unhealthy. There is no drinkable water. When tap water is available, the initial amounts of it are sewage. Even the water we collect from street taps contains sewage, and we are forced to drink it because we have no other option."

"The Israeli army has employed a starvation policy to punish those who refused to leave their homes in the north by depriving them of food and water," he said.

The situation has been further exacerbated by the lack of doctors and functioning hospitals in the north, as Israel has ordered them to evacuate to the south.

“There are very few doctors here,” Khaled said.

Meanwhile, Mahmoud, a 24-year-old resident in Gaza City, told Middle East Eye that people, particularly children in the city, are experiencing famine as only rice is available and it is prohibitively expensive.

“Children's milk and supplements are missing. My uncle grinds rice and adds a bit of sugar to make it edible for his children,” he told MEE.

Although his family is displaced, they have not received any food assistance.

“Displaced individuals sheltering in UN shelters in Gaza City have no access to aid. Trucks carrying food aid from Egypt used to reach Gaza City via Al-Rashid Street, where the Israeli military is stationed. Shortly after passing an Israeli military checkpoint, all trucks dump the aid onto the street in a demeaning manner,” he added.

"Only the impoverished and hungry go there to seek assistance because it is extremely dangerous: there is a high risk of being killed by Israeli snipers or trapped in a fierce scramble for assistance. It is a deliberate Israeli policy to keep the chaos going.”

Blocking aid

Human Rights Watch has said that starvation is being used as a weapon of war in Gaza, calling it a war crime. 

“Israeli forces are deliberately blocking the delivery of water, food and fuel, while wilfully impeding humanitarian assistance, apparently razing agricultural areas, and depriving the civilian population of objects indispensable to their survival,” the organisation said in a report.

The extreme levels of starvation come as Israeli protesters, including relatives of those taken captive to Gaza on 7 October, have been blocking emergency aid from reaching the enclave through the Kerem Shalom border crossing.

Palestinians waiting for aid inside Gaza have also been attacked by Israeli bombing in the past week. 

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday renewed calls for Israel to protect civilians, after a deadly Israeli strike on a UN facility a day earlier killed at least 12 Palestinians and wounded dozens of others.

The two tank shells that struck the UN shelter also left widespread devastation. 

The US condemned the strike but avoided assigning blame, while Israel said it was probing the incident, according to Israeli media.

During a visit to Angola, Blinken told reporters that the UN shelter “is essential and it has to be protected".

More than 26,000 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza since the start of the war on 7 October, the Palestinian Ministry of Health said on Friday. Israel launched an air and ground offensive in Gaza following a Hamas attack that killed 1,200 Israelis. 

*Additional reporting by Khaled Almalfoh

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