When Starvation Is a Weapon, the Harvest Is Shame

As Palestinians die of starvation under occupation, it brings grim echoes of another famine nearly two centuries ago in Ireland.

In a work entitled “Irish Famine 4,” Palestinian-American journalist and artist Sam Husseini combined grass and paint to commemorate a bitter time in Irish history when starving people died with their mouths stained green because, according to historian Christine Kinealy, their last meal was grass. Shamefully, British occupiers profited from exporting out of Ireland the food crops so desperately needed. During a seven-year period beginning in 1845, one million Irish people died from starvation and related diseases. It was a deliberate mass killing, employing one of the most horrific means of execution imaginable—an excruciating descent of weeks’ duration into despair, delirium, and bodily immobility while one’s attention, one’s character, is gradually reduced to little more than appetite and pain.

Now, in the occupied Gaza Strip, as weapons dealers benefit from increasing military shipments to Israel, Palestinians have resorted to eating mixtures of grass and animal feed. The past five months of Israeli siege, bombing, and displacement have killed more than 31,000—mostly women and children—but a process of famine long underway is clearly about to expand that number exponentially, particularly among children.

Human Rights Watch says the Israeli government is starving civilians as a method of warfare in Gaza. Aiding and abetting this war crime, the United States has approved 100 military sales to Israel over the past five months. U.S. bullets, bombs, and guns have helped keep crucially needed aid from reaching millions of Palestinians. The bombs have buried or destroyed much of the food supplies which could have mitigated this horror, and they have forced vast populations to flee attacks and huddle in the city that is Israel’s latest target: Rafah. The United States continues providing the muscle behind a starvation genocide.

On March 11, eight U.S. Senators signed a letter to President Joe Biden insisting that ongoing weapons shipments violate U.S. laws forbidding military aid to regimes that are obstructing U.S. humanitarian aid.

Twenty-five prominent humanitarian and human rights organizations delivered a letter to the President echoing the Senators’ message.

Even as Israel faces mounting pressure from world leaders to stop impeding humanitarian relief shipments, Israel turned back another aid truck, this time because it contained children’s medical kits. These kits included scissors useful for applying bandages or cutting away clothing to reach shrapnel.

The Israelis forbade the scissors as a potential dual-use weapon. Meanwhile, the U.S. continues to send guns and bombs to Israel.

Each day brings new reports of Palestinians, 40 percent of them children, succumbing to disease and death because they are deprived of food, fuel, clean water, medicines, and shelter. Hellish conditions worsen as infectious contamination spreads from decomposing bodies and the chemical contaminants from thousands upon thousands of Israeli and Western-supplied bombs that have been dropped on Gaza.

Occupiers in Representative Jim McGovern’s office in Massachusetts, March 14, 2024.

In Northampton, Massachusetts, six activists are on the third day of an occupation of the office of Representative Jim McGovern, demanding that he call on the President to immediately halt all weapons shipments to Israel and stop the United States from vetoing United Nations cease-fire resolutions.

“These are desperate times,” says Peter Kakos, one of the occupiers. “We must call for immediate action, and nothing less.” He’s particularly mindful of 17,000 Gazan children who are estimated by UNICEF to be currently unaccompanied or separated from their parents.

We talk about the mental harm on children caused by COVID-19 lockdowns. A March 12, 2024, report by Save the Children draws our attention to what five months of carnage, flight, starvation, and disease, on top of nearly seventeen years of apartheid conditions, will have permanently done to the children of Gaza who survive the brutality now afflicting them.

Kathy Kelly (kathy.vcnv@gmail.com) is the board president of World BEYOND War (worldbeyondwar.org) and a co-coordinator of the Merchants of Death War Crimes Tribunal. (merchantsofdeath.org) Read other articles by Kathy.