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In Gaza dying of starvation is much worse than dying from bombs

As Israel continues to bomb and starve Palestinians in the besieged enclave, we are powerless to help our children 
Children wait for food being distributed at a camp in Khan Yunis, in the southern Gaza Strip on 11 June, 2024 (AFP)

Yesterday, I dreamed of eating bananas and apples. I woke up with a wide smile on my face - but that fleeting joy quickly turned to disappointment as I realised I was still here, in northern Gaza, with an empty stomach, amid a genocide.

This isn’t the first time we have faced famine in the enclave. Since 7 October, Israel’s military has prevented or strictly limited the entrance of essential, life-saving food into Gaza. They have bombed food stores and bakeries, aiming to starve us to death if they can’t kill us with their weapons.

We were forced to find alternatives to white flour, which became unavailable or exorbitantly priced. We used animal fodder, and when that ran out, we started eating leaves and grass to fill our empty stomachs.

Most of my family and other people I know in Gaza, especially children, are suffering from diseases such as jaundice and hepatitis due to malnutrition and dehydration.

At one point, Israel allowed a slight influx of humanitarian aid, which felt like a small reprieve for our weakened bodies - but it was short-lived, followed by even stronger measures to prevent food from entering Gaza.

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Like many Palestinian families, in October, we stockpiled whatever vegetables, spices and canned food we could find - items that wouldn’t spoil without refrigeration, since we’ve had no power since the war began. But our supplies ran out within a few weeks. People then began searching for food in houses that were no longer occupied, or even in the rubble - but those supplies were quickly gone, too.

Some markets still have items of food for purchase, but people are broke after almost nine months of war. I spent all my savings and took on debt, as did my brother and sister. Many people have sold furniture or other belongings to buy food, flour or medicine.

Do we laugh or cry?

As of late June, it has been more than four months since my family has had a supply of fresh vegetables, meat, or any other healthy foods. We survive on flour, limited canned goods, and legumes - the only foods allowed into Gaza via the humanitarian aid trucks waiting at the borders. We eat the same types of food every day.

My young nieces and nephews often cry and refuse to eat the same monotonous meals, despite my sister’s efforts to spice up the recipes. My four-year-old niece, Tia, cried because she wanted watermelon after seeing it in a cartoon. We lied to her, saying it’s not healthy, just to stop her tears. We’ve since learned to avoid showing the children any photos or videos of food.

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It’s heartbreaking to see children go hungry, and we are powerless to help. Hamoud, my five-year-old nephew, had his birthday two days ago. We decided to celebrate despite everything.

We lit a candle with no cake. While our “Happy Birthday” singing drowned out the buzzing of Israeli drones, his sister asked him: “What do you wish for your birthday?” He paused, his brow furrowing in deep thought. After a few seconds, his eyes lit up: “I dream of eating a hamburger sandwich!”  

We didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I had never imagined a time when having food would become a birthday wish.

We are depressed, frustrated and angry, but we cannot give up. We don't have a choice. We will resist until the end

Even the limited humanitarian aid that has reached the north is not distributed evenly. My family has received aid two or three times since the start of the war, while other families have received it more than 20 times - and many people who are in real need of aid have received none, so I have redistributed some of ours to them. The aid distribution system is in chaos, and there is no leader to consult or complain to.

Another problem is that the food aid, which comes from different countries, is uneven in quality. Much of the canned food is expired and has sat in trucks in the hot sun for a long time before being delivered, so it arrives spoiled. 

The pasta is also a challenge to eat. I love pasta and used to eat it all the time. But recently when my sister cooked some, it was oddly shaped, as though it had been cooked and then recooked. My sister asked me how it tasted; I looked at her but didn’t say anything, and then we both laughed, because we had no choice but to eat it.

My cousins and I tried growing plants, such as potatoes and tomatoes, on our roof, but it failed because of water shortages. Twice, we unexpectedly had to flee our home when Israeli forces invaded our neighbourhood, and the plants died from lack of water.

'I forgot how to cook'

After months without eating properly, everyone in northern Gaza has lost weight. I’ve lost 15 kilograms (33 pounds) since the start of the war. I used to be active, but now my emaciated legs can’t carry my body. My skin is pale, and I feel constant dizziness and pain in my bones and stomach.

My sister Diana, who loved cooking and prepared delicious dishes for the family before this war, also suffers from stomach pain, likely from having to eat expired food and the lack of dietary diversity. “I feel I forgot how to cook, and I will not be able to cook again,” she told me hopelessly.

What makes the severe hunger even worse is that everything during this war requires more effort and energy - like collecting wood from destroyed houses, or fetching water from miles away - while our bodies are so fragile.

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Every day, I go to shops and stalls hoping to find any food to buy, but I usually return empty-handed. On a recent excursion, I was lucky to find a guy selling eggs for $4 each. I bought the seven he had. They were not even enough for one meal for my family, but they made the children jump with happiness. “I want to eat all of them,” my six-year-old niece, Basima, screamed when she saw them in my hand.

People in Gaza used to be generous and loving, always ready to host and feed others, especially on holy days - but now everyone suffers severe hunger, and they have nothing to be generous with.

During Eid al-Adha, a friend knocked on our door with a white bag containing an ounce of meat. He was clever enough to put it inside three bags so no one on the streets could see it. My mother’s problem was “how to cook it without anyone smelling it”. I helped her to make a fire and cook it on the roof, keeping the lid on the pot; it ended up undercooked, and most of the children who ate it experienced digestive problems, as their stomachs struggled to cope with the unexpected meal.

Dying of starvation is much worse than dying from bombs, because amid your own hunger and watching your children go hungry, you feel you are dying 1,000 times. We are depressed, frustrated and angry, but we cannot give up. We don’t have a choice. We will resist until the end.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Ahmed Dremly is a Gaza-based journalist whose writings have appeared in Mondoweiss, Palestine Chronicle, The Electronic Intifada and Al-Monitor.
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