Defend Truth


Israel’s wilful deprivation of food in Gaza — a violation of international law


Anna Selmeczi and Jo Bluen are members of South African Jews for a Free Palestine.

As South African Jews, our relationship to apartheid, dispossession and settler-colonial, militarised, genocidal occupation is a long one. Many of us are in South Africa because our ancestors and families fled the pogroms of Eastern Europe, or the Holocaust. We refuse to allow the memory of our ancestors, our history, identities and grief to be weaponised for interlinked fascist, genocidal, apartheid projects in Palestine or anywhere.

‘Everything is running out now – food, gas, water. Soon all of Gaza will not find a single thing to eat. People are starving to death. Please do anything possible to prevent any more people from starving,” said a colleague who could not be named for their own safety.

In Al Jazeera, on 12 October, Ruwaida Amer wrote that, “[a]s we huddle in the dark, terrified of the death raining down around us, an intrusive gnawing asks us: Even if the bombs don’t get us, how do we survive if we run out of food?”

While the settler colonial occupation of Palestine, and the transformation of Gaza into what can only be seen as a concentration camp, has been accompanied by the systematic deprivation of food, the Israeli regime’s siege in Gaza, in the context of the ongoing genocide, has seen conditions worsen exponentially. 

On 9 November, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) announced that of Gaza’s 2.3 million inhabitants, “100% are food insecure”. This was up from 33% facing malnutrition before the current Israeli onslaught. 

According to Kyung-nan Park, the director of emergencies for the WFP, of the 100 trucks of food aid per day that would be required in the current situation, they are only managing to get 40 to 50 into Gaza (this is about 19% of humanitarian aid before the war), leaving many people queuing for as long as 10 days and still leaving empty handed. 

Gazans’ ability to access food is almost totally foreclosed by the Israeli regime’s incessant bombardment of infrastructure, cutting off access to fuel, electricity and water, as well as staples such as flour. The regime has also taken to systematically bombing bakeries, a critical source of sustenance. Of the 23 bakeries the WFP used to work with, “only one is still functioning due to the lack of fuel and supplies”. This is despite repeated pleas by the agency for humanitarian access to Gaza, so that the full-scale starvation of its people can be avoided. 

“Right now, parents in Gaza do not know whether they can feed their children today and whether they will even survive to see tomorrow,” said Cindy McCain, the WFP’s executive director.


There is now near-universal consensus among international lawyers and people of conscience that the Israeli regime’s onslaught in Gaza amounts to what Jewish Holocaust and genocide scholar Raz Segal, in an article in a US-based Jewish publication, Jewish Currents, characterises as “a textbook case of genocide”. 

Read: UK lawyers’ open letter concerning Gaza | Jewish Voice for Labour 

These words are echoed in the recent resignation letter of Craig Mokhiber, the director of the New York office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in response to the UN’s failures to address the genocide in Gaza. In his letter, which begins, “This will be my last communication to you”, Mokhiber writes: “The current wholesale slaughter of the Palestinian people, rooted in an ethno-nationalist, colonial settler ideology, in continuation of decades of their systematic persecution and purging, based entirely upon their status as Arabs… leaves no room for doubt.” He contends: “This is textbook case of genocide.” 

This genocide is enabled by a global genocidal pact of military, political and financial enablers of genocide including the US, Germany and the UK.

While it is true that the brutal actions of the Israel Defense Forces in Gaza amount to genocide per the Genocide Convention and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), there is increasing consensus that this genocide also reaches the threshold of almost every single crime in the statute, including war crimes, crimes against humanity (including that of apartheid and persecution) and aggression. 

More specifically, the use of starvation – impeding relief supplies – is recognised as a war crime under the statute and the Geneva Conventions. This adds to the plethora of genocidal atrocity crimes the Israeli regime is committing.

As several commentators have noted, the worsening starvation of the Gazan people that has resulted from the conflict, itself amounts to a war crime

According to international law professor Tom Dannenbaum, Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant’s infamous announcement of a “complete siege” of the Gaza Strip on 9 October, declaring that “there will be no electricity, no food, no fuel, everything is closed”, is equivalent to commanding “the starvation of civilians as a method of warfare, which is a violation of international humanitarian law and a war crime (Rome Statute of the ICC, article 8(2)(b)(xxv)). 

“It may also satisfy the legal threshold for the crime against humanity of inhumane acts (7(1)(K)) and, depending on what happens from here, other crimes against humanity, such as those relating to killing (murder and extermination) (7(1)(a-b)).” 

This also corresponds with persecution and apartheid as crimes against humanity, which Human Rights Watch deemed “the forgotten crimes” for their lack of prosecution at the ICC.

Starvation as a weapon of war

In deploying starvation as an illegal weapon of war, Israel is joining the ranks of Russia under the rules of Vladimir Putin and Stalin, Hitler’s Germany and, in our times, the blockading powers in Syria, Yemen, South Sudan and Tigray, to mention but a few. 

Israel’s egregious genocide, persecution, occupation and crimes against humanity in Gaza have to be stopped through a ceasefire and remedied through humanitarian access immediately. 

In the medium term, however, it is also crucial to point to the origins of food insecurity and dependence on humanitarian aid and Israeli imports in Palestine. Israel’s varied long-term – and for the global media much less-visible – tactics of using food as a weapon by cutting off Palestinian people in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip from the resources and infrastructures of food production, and thereby making local indigenous agriculture increasingly impossible, also have to be exposed and fiercely challenged. 

These tactics are part of the occupying power’s arsenal of slow violence against Palestinians – starvation as a war crime is not deployed in isolation.

There has to an immediate ceasefire. Individuals responsible for the genocide in Gaza must be tried by the ICC, made possible by an ongoing investigation into the situation in Palestine at the office of the prosecutor of the ICC. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Israel-Palestine War

Fellow South Africans must support the campaign for the implementation of the complete boycott, sanctions and divestment from Israel. We also hope that we may all keep demonstrating, marching, talking and mobilising in solidarity with the people of Palestine, joining a global chorus who have come out in their hundreds of thousands – as was the case in Cape Town on Saturday – to call for not only an end to the genocide, but for the end of the Israeli colonisation of Palestine.

As South African Jews, our relationship to apartheid, dispossession and settler-colonial, militarised, genocidal occupation is a long one. Many of us are in South Africa because our ancestors and families fled the pogroms of Eastern Europe, or the Holocaust. Many rendered differently white in Europe became white in South Africa through fascist racecraft, only to then see, at times resist, and be complicit in, victims and survivors of, or beneficiaries of the violence of ghettoisation, dispossession, racial capitalism and militarised settler-colonial occupation in apartheid South Africa. 

We refuse to allow the memory of our ancestors, our history, identities and grief to be weaponised for interlinked fascist and genocidal apartheid projects in Palestine or anywhere. DM

The writers are members of South African Jews for a Free Palestine.


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • John P says:

    This is an impassionate plea and written from the heart and for this we should possibly overlook the lack of objective balance. Indeed the parallels of the Apartheid years in South Africa are obvious in Israel today as are the persistent responses of those supporting an unjust system. That said the people of Israel are justified in their fear of terrorism and of being overwhelmed. The only answer is for both sides to reach out to each other and seek a peaceful solution, hatred and loathing can only lead to more suffering and death on both sides.

  • Ben Harper says:

    Oh, so much bovine feaces in this

  • Dominic Rooney says:

    “…people of conscience…” – Heaven help us !

  • Caroline de Braganza says:

    It was inevitable there would be crass comments to your article. I’m surprise DM allows these to be published.

    That said, I stand with you as a South African who grew up here during in apartheid and abhors the dehumanization of our fellow human beings, no matter where they live.

    It saddens me that so many refuse to see the truth of what’s been happening in Palestine for over a century and continue to equate anti-Zionism with anti-semitism. Thank you for speaking out.

  • td _a says:

    “Ben Harper” in the comments clearly a) doesn’t understand international law b) doesn’t believe in international human rights law or c) is one of those Apartheid-apologists we unfortunately still have to deal with in SA.
    For the rest of us people who believe in universal human rights, we should outrightly condemn killings of civilians whether that’s in Israel, Gaza, Ukraine, Iraq, Afghanistan or elsewhere – rules of war must be followed otherwise you are, by definition, a war criminal

  • Kanu Sukha says:

    The ‘comment’ of a Ben (hahaha is his favourite repetitive response – with parallels of the ZC hehehe) is an example of the kind of fascist “colonised mind” (stuck in the apartheid era mindset) that we are going to be up against ! A note to the intrepid authors (like the list of signatories to the ‘not in my name’ ) … remember the Israeli state has ‘operatives’ around the world that carry out ‘assassinations’ (of different variety) with no regret/remorse. Anyone they identify as a ‘traitor’ to the ‘state’ (not people) of Israel will go onto that list. With US funding they deftly try to ‘take over/occupy’ media sources around various parts of the globe (e.g. watch BBC for how the Israeli regime spokespersons are given free reign almost every day – with not so much as a single ‘question’ by the so-called ‘moderators’ … to spout their propaganda) with the sole purpose of ‘occupying’ unsuspecting/gullible minds … as did our apartheid regime. Not that regimes in various parts of the world do not try to do the same. The producing of unverified or unverifiable ‘evidence’ (since only Israeli or US sources can be trusted – sic !) is popularly given massive ‘coverage’ by this source . The recent vulgar and crude ‘attack’ on the head of the UN by an Israeli ‘ambassador’ at a UN meeting … with no apology (yet) … is an example of the depravity of that state and its ‘unaccountable’ behaviour, because of its explicit endorsement or condonation by the US.

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