When Israel slaughtered the starving

The body of a Flour Bag Massacre victim at al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City. 

Malik Atallah Xinhua News Agency

Arif Abed had heard that some aid was to be delivered.

Together with his brother Atef and a few friends, he went to al-Rashid street, southwest of Gaza City.

They spent the night outdoors, catching a few hours’ sleep. Early in the morning last Thursday, they heard people shout happily that trucks carrying food had finally arrived.

Many international organizations had stopped delivering aid to the northern half of Gaza a few months ago. It was unsafe for them to operate there.

With food extremely scarce, people in the north are starving.

Arif and his friends rushed toward the trucks when they stopped.

Before they had reached them, they saw Israeli troops opening fire from tanks on hundreds of people.

Many were shot as they climbed onto a truck seeking a packet of flour. Others were hit as they carried their packets toward their families.

“One of the tanks moved ahead and drove on the bodies that were on the ground,” said Arif. “We heard the cries of many people before they were killed by tanks running over them.”

Soon the flour and packaging was covered in blood.

The violence was merciless.

According to Arif, some people who survived being run over started begging for help.

Arif ran away from the trucks. At the same time, Israel attacked the crowd from the air.

After the bombardment stopped, Arif and his relatives hurried to transport the injured to nearby hospitals. Hundreds of people were left bleeding to death as ambulances could not reach the scene for some time.

Some people attempted to bring the wounded to hospital using donkey carts.

When they went to one of the hospitals, Arif asked his brother Atef to go and fetch food for one of the patients.

Atef managed to find some canned foods and some flour and baked some bread.

He felt that baking it was a small triumph as the patient had not eaten bread made with flour for a month. As flour is unavailable in markets, she had been eating bread made with animal feed.

Even that had become impossible as animal feed had run out.

The patient had kidney failure and should be undergoing dialysis three times per week. Because of electricity cuts, she has only been having dialysis once a week lately in al-Shifa, Gaza’s largest hospital.

“She was starving to death,” Atef said. “She cried with happiness that she could finally taste bread.”

Arif and Atef witnessed what has become known as the Flour Bag Massacre.

At least 112 people were killed in the attack. It was among the bloodiest incidents since Israel declared its current genocidal war on Gaza.

Killed seeking aid

Anas Subhi had come to al-Rashid street about an hour before the aid trucks arrived. He was seeking food for 10 members of his extended family.

They included his parents and his six children.

Once the trucks were spotted coming from the south, many people applauded.

Anas hoped that he would get some aid. Over the previous week, his wife had to cook grass with dough made from animal feed on a wood fire.

They told their children that the grass was khubeza – a leafy plant used in a number of traditional Palestinian dishes.

At other times, the family have not been able to find ingredients for dough.

The only food items they had were salt and lemons that had begun to rot.

Like many others, Anas and his friend Radi hurried towards the aid trucks as soon as they arrived on al-Rashid street.

As soon as he got close to the first truck – which was carrying flour – Israeli soldiers in tanks began firing towards the crowd. A quadcopter also began attacking them from above.

Anas was so desperate for food that he and a friend kept moving toward the aid trucks, where they succeeded in getting hold of some packets.

Soon afterwards, his friend Radi was shelled in the back and fell to the ground.

Anas saw one of his neighbors. The neighbor and his three sons lifted Anas and the wounded Radi onto a cart.

With the help of his neighbor, Anas made it back to his family. But Radi died.

“He was killed while trying to get some food,” Anas said. “He was trying to keep his starving family alive.”

Muhammad Balousha had promised his mother that he would come back with a bag of flour.

They had discussed how the flour would then be used to make Muhammad’s favorite breakfast: manakish, a dough topped with the herb zaatar. Muhammad liked to eat it with cheese.

And so Muhammad went to fetch aid with a group of others from Jabaliya refugee camp in northern Gaza.

He was so determined to get some provisions that he kept advancing toward the aid trucks on al-Rashid street when the Israeli troops had opened fire.

He managed to obtain some flour, yet was struck with a bullet in his head soon afterwards.

His friend Ahmad drove him to Kamal Adwan hospital in the northern city of Beit Lahiya. An emergency operation proved unsuccessful.

Muhammad died the next day. Ahmad had to break the terrible news to Muhammad’s mother.

Apart from salt, Muhammad had not eaten anything for several days before he was shot.

“My friend Muhammad was hungry when he was killed,” said Ahmad. “There is no form of murder worse than what happened to him.”

Khuloud Rabah Sulaiman is a journalist living in Gaza.