Famine is already here

Forcibly displaced women carrying their belongings walk past Israeli forces while fleeing the Hamad City area in Khan Younis, 5 March 2024. (Saeed Jaras / APA Images) 

It is not enough that every day we face certain death from Israeli airstrikes. We are now starving in Gaza.

There is not much left to eat besides animal feed: corn, barley, hay. We can’t even afford the expensive pet food at the market.

Will we be forced to eat tree leaves next?

I stayed in the north along with my extended family, about 40 of us in all. We did not go south, despite the daily showers of Israeli bombs.

The United Nations is warning that we are very close to famine in Gaza – that it is “almost inevitable” – though it feels like we are already there.

At least 20 Palestinians have starved to death.

My family is doing everything we can to stay alive.

For the past three months, we followed an exact food regime. Each person received two pieces of white bread per day: one for lunch, one for dinner.

This was then reduced to one piece of bread a day.

As our flour supply dwindled, we started to mix it with cornmeal to make it last longer.

When we ran out of flour, we mixed our cornmeal with barley. Now, we are on to rice.

I do not know what we will eat when that runs out.

The markets no longer have vegetables, meat, chicken and eggs. Once those ran out, we used replacements.

Instead of milk we used mayonnaise, instead of tomatoes we used canned products, and on and on.

When you are hungry, it is all you can think about.

Pretend food

Still, I consider myself fortunate, as I am only responsible for feeding myself. My siblings and others with children forgo their portions to feed their children.

My sister-in-law Eman, 27, is a mother of 9-month-old twins, Momen and Mahmoud, and Zeina, aged 4.

Eman is suffering from malnutrition and is in desperate need of calcium supplements.

“My twins wake up hungry several times during the night, crying loudly,” she said. “I try to feed them chamomile tea instead of milk, hoping they’ll sleep again.”

For breakfast, it is sesame seeds instead of eggs.

Contaminated water instead of something potable.

The children, their immune systems already weakened, are at risk of serious illness with every missed meal.

Eman is extremely worried about her children’s health, as they haven’t received up-to-date vaccinations.

When Zeina feels hungry, she gets out her crayons and has a pretend feast, acting as if the crayons are kebabs.

Toddler meltdowns

My nephew Omar, 6, is also hungry. He now steals food that his mother hides for his 2-year-old brother.

Omar has asked his mother if they could make sweets with sand instead of flour.

Hunger affects all of our moods, but toddlers especially. Omar spends the night arguing with his mother, his hunger pushing him into meltdowns.

His mother prepares him a thin soup of water and tomato sauce at night, hoping that this will help him fall asleep.

My niece Aya, 5, saves her bread the entire day so she can have a fuller meal at night. She cannot sleep on an empty stomach.

Being so young, she doesn’t understand why there is no food, and she begs her mother for more.

Aya has also developed another set of beliefs. She believes that it is the Israeli army who created us, since it plays the role of God in our lives, controlling our fate and determining whether we eat.

Ramadan nears

As for me, I have reached the lows of hunger more than once.

I recently found a shawarma vendor whose prices were astronomical. I had hidden away some money from my family and I spent it on a shawarma.

The guilt I felt, eating a meal, alone, was something I have never felt before. It felt inappropriate to eat a shawarma, to eat food in front of anyone much less to tell anyone that I had eaten.

Ramadan will be here soon, and we will be fasting. In the evening, when we once had meals to break our fast, we will continue to suffer from hunger.

Hamza Salha is a journalist based in Gaza. He writes for We Are Not Numbers.