Going hungry in Gaza

People spend hours in line for some bread, braving the hellfire of Israel's warplanes. Flour has run out in the south. Everything has changed, and life has reverted to a state of bare existence.
Southern Gaza’s population has doubled. It is teeming with refugees from the northern part of the strip who fled as a result of the war, and are being hosted by the people of the south.
Southern Gaza’s population has doubled. It is teeming with refugees from the northern part of the strip who fled as a result of the war, and are being hosted by the people of the south.

Prices are skyrocketing here. Products that used to cost 1 Shekel now cost 10. Most essential goods have been depleted, and things are taking a turn for the worse. People wake up in their homes, or in schools or hospitals where they have sought shelter, in a struggle for survival. The first thing they check is the water tap. Everyone waits for a drop of water, whether it’s for drinking or washing. The lucky ones have enough water to last them throughout the day. If you’re even luckier, you have enough food for yourself and your family.

Everything has changed. Life has transformed, or perhaps reverted to a state of bare existence. Today, a man’s worth is measured by his ability to bring home a single bag of bread. The streets are overflowing as throngs of people start to scavenge for bread from the early morning. Come nightfall, everyone is sheltering in place, as anyone walking the streets at night becomes a moving target. Even during the day, people are taking enormous risks in braving the hellfire of Israel’s warplanes.

It is a neverending struggle — most of the time, for survival, for bread and water, but also for the morbid desire to charge your phone just so you can find out how many of your friends and family have been incinerated or buried alive, or to tell the world you’re the one who is dying, or to reach loved ones to tell them not just yet.

To this hour, hundreds of thousands of families have remained in the north. They refused to leave Gaza City and flee south. Many don’t have family or contacts to go to, or they’ve been told by their relatives that Israel is bombing southern Gaza, too. Those who do flee find the shelters, UN compounds, hospitals, and schools crowded beyond belief; so they call their family members still in the north and tell them there’s no place for them here, that people stand in line for hours for bread.

Those who remained in the north have sometimes fared better when they’re lucky enough to have a water well or a traditional clay oven that doesn’t rely on electricity or gas to work. Their families are large, usually 20 people staying under the same roof due to the war, and so baking their own bread has become a more viable option, especially since it doesn’t entail the indignities of scavenging for bread in the streets. In the south, flour isn’t available. Many families have clay ovens but can find no flour to make use of them.

All the while, Israeli shelling and airstrikes do not let up. Airstrikes in the north are targeting everything, laying waste to entire neighborhoods and residential areas. The strikes in the south are more deliberate, targeting specific houses and families.

The occupation is still urging residents of Gaza City and the north to go south. And it is still targeting those families that do flee. Probably close to half a million people are still in the north, and all of them are at risk of extermination in Israel’s genocidal carpet bombing campaign, which is proceeding alongside the Israeli army’s ground invasion.

Everything that has happened to this point proves one thing: Gaza is alone. It fights alone, and it dies alone. People don’t have any faith in the international organizations that claim to safeguard human rights. They don’t even have faith in the prospect of regional support. They don’t believe that anyone in the world will be able to save them. They say that “Egypt is our neighbor, it is a sister country,” but despite this, it hasn’t helped the people of Gaza in any concrete way. In fact, most people maintain that Egypt has closed down its border crossing with Gaza in keeping with direct Israeli orders.

Because of this overwhelming perception of isolation, people’s projections for the future are apocalyptic. When they hear Blinken saying that he believes in the two-state solution, people know what it means. It’s not a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders, but a Palestinian “state” on what remains of the Gaza Strip and parts of the Sinai. They are not assuaged by the current Arab proclamations that they will not accept the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians in Gaza; they have made such promises before, only to go back on them. Now, Egypt is vowing that it will not allow Palestinians into Egypt — this means the gates of Sinai are about to open.

Even the residents of southern Gaza, who are hosting thousands of families from the north, are now convinced that their turn to be displaced to Egypt is near. They contemplate the prospect of dying in the desert, perhaps from starvation, or thirst, or the heat. When the Israeli army is done with leveling Gaza City and wipes it out entirely, people are convinced it will turn its sights to the south. 

When the Nakba of 1948 happened, the world was not aware of everything that transpired. Today’s ethnic cleansing is unfolding for the entire world to see, and even those who condemned the expulsions of 1948 are watching the Nakba of 2023 silently.

When we ask ourselves how our grandparents and ancestors left their homes in 1948 and fled to Gaza and into exile, we now have our answer. We know precisely why they were forced to let go of everything that belonged to them and escape with little more than their lives. The death coming down from the sky will push us to abandon everything just to survive, and this is what will happen to the Palestinians of Gaza.

Photo: Naaman Omar/APA

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Tareq S. Hajjaj
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