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*Ramadan Kareem to the freedom loving people of the world*

Image courtesy Mir Suhail

Ramadan Kareem is a popular greeting of well-wishes used by all people, Muslim and non Muslim to those who will be fasting. Simply, it means generous Ramadan.

The holy month of Ramadan kicks off in a few days. During this time, we invariably think of the abstinence from food and water, but it is clearly more than that. For the faithful, it is a time to fast and, by doing so, cleanse the soul and be in solidarity with the poor and needy. The massacre of Palestinians would clearly be front and centre of our consciousness and prayers as would marginalised and oppressed in the Congo, the Sudan and wherever people cry out for justice.

Talking about what is happening in Palestine and Ramadan helps to explain the difference between fasting and starvation. As Amartya Sen has informed us, generally speaking, fasting, that is the decision not to eat (in some faiths including not to drink) involves an element of choice. Starvation, as we have seen in and out of times of wars, involves the actions of external agents who determine whether people live or die through the denial of nutritious food.

Israel, for instance, does not permit Palestinians in Gaza and parts of the West Bank to have cisterns, like our JoJo tanks, to collect rainwater whilst many settlers in the same areas of the West Bank bask in the sun in their swimming pools. Water equity, like water itself, is in short supply. Thus the structural and systemic denials of rights and freedoms have made Palestinians beggars in their own lands, whilst those who came yesterday live in luxury.

Imagine this picture: it is the 1 March 2024, starving Palestinians from southwest Gaza in line waiting for the promised food aid. In a flash of an eyelid, over 100 Palestinians have been killed and about 700 others have been wounded as the occupying forces of Israel opened fire upon them. The Gaza Ministry of Health confirmed that at least 112 people were massacred in Nabulsi Square and over 750 injured in what they described as a cold-blooded “massacre”.

Soon after 7 October, the Minister of Defence of the occupying forces of Israel promised revenge. It was clear as daylight: genocidal in intention and, as we have learnt, in execution. It promised a total blockade of Gaza and confirmed starvation as a weapon of war. This is what he said to the world and Israelis: “We are putting a complete siege on Gaza… No electricity, no food, no water, no gas – it’s all closed. We are fighting against human animals and we are acting accordingly¨.

This was not the first Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip but it is an additional blockade to the one imposed on by Israel since June 2007. So for over 17 years, the Israeli regime has total control of Gaza – land, air and sea. That is two of the three border crossing points (the third – the Rafa Crossing – is controlled by Egypt), the airspace, and the territorial waters.

They have the power to cut electricity and water supplies and today, in the height of the war on Gaza, fewer trucks enter to relieve the mesmerised and starved Palestinians.

As an occupying power, they are obliged to ensure that their subjects do not die of hunger and malnutrition, let alone engage in starvation and famine as a weapon of war. Under the guise of fighting Hamas, they have unleashed collective punishment destroying health services, clinics and hospitals, homes, workplaces, schools, universities and places of worship – all worsened by the lack of food and water.

Over the months and the escalation of the bombings on Gaza, food production and systems of distribution were targeted and destroyed – this included the infrastructures for farming, greenhouses and the colleges that train the new workers. Bakeries, warehouses, water and sanitation services were not spared. Other assets and infrastructure (healthcare facilities, water treatment plants, drinking water installations) have also been damaged or destroyed.

A recent UN report found that

“the latest data shows that virtually all households are skipping meals every day. In four out of five households in the northern governorates and half the displaced households in the southern governorates, people go entire days and nights without eating. Many adults go hungry so children can eat.”

The World Food Programme (WFP) and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) all are under violent attacks and they cannot help those in need. Who can forget the unprincipled and anti democratic withholding of funds from UNRWA by Western governments in particular: Australia, Austria. Canada, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Iceland and Italy? These countries are complicit in the starvation of Palestinians because they have suspended funding to the UNRWA on spurious allegations by Israel that some, not many, UNRWA staff members were involved in the October 7 attacks on Israel.

No evidence has been provided to even substantiate the allegations but the wealthy nations have elected to strangle this aid lifeline to Gaza, thereby being complicit in starving the Palestinians. Already in 2022, the United Nations reported that 65% of Gazan’s were food insecure largely because of the Zionist blockade on Gaza. Today people in Gaza have resorted to eating grass and food meant for animals. Malnutrition is widespread and famine is knocking at the door, if not already in.

Before this phase of their mowing of the lawn, 500 trucks would deliver food supplies to serve the ghettos of Gaza. Gaza was only a place dependent on food aid but today only a trickle now enters the Strip as emergency relief. On a good day about 170 trucks are believed to enter for the desperate people. That is less than before… in a time of ethnic cleansing and genocide.

The ICJ said in January 2024 that Israel must do more and better to stop starvation and hardship that would confirm genocide. At about that time, Israel issued an instruction for over a million people to move in record time to the safe zones in Rafa, but those were mere words as people continue to get killed with impunity there.

Over 11 years ago we learnt from Wikileaks and elsewhere that Israel has always had a policy of keeping the Gazan economy in a precarious state – of near collapse. At that time, we also learnt from Israeli human rights NGO Gisha in their report entitled “Food Consumption in the Gaza Strip — The Red Lines” about Israeli government actions to control the food intake of its subjects under occupation. Their study was prepared in January 2008 a few months after the blockade of Gaza and the regime estimated that each Gazan would need 2,279 calories a day to survive.

The enforcers of the blockade allowed frozen salmon and low-fat yoghurt into Gaza, but not coriander and instant coffee. According to The Guardian, to break the blockade Hamas constructed a sophisticated network of tunnels where they smuggled what they needed from Egypt.

International civil society have embarked on campaigns and actions like the Gaza Freedom Flotilla to break the blockade. It was reported that because of international pressure not all the Zionist intentions regarding food and calories controls were imposed. But the naval blockade remains because the Israeli army fears that arms will be smuggled by sea. Inexplicably, the restriction of exports from Gaza has been in place.

Today Israel is not providing visas for aid workers who provide the food aid, resulting in Palestinian officials warning of a famine.

The World Food Programme announced that the number of places “where WFP and partners can safely provide life-saving assistance is shrinking rapidly, putting hundreds of thousands at risk of being cut off from any form of relief. Without more humanitarian assistance, a deadly combination of hunger and disease will claim the lives of countless children, pregnant women and young mothers.” To prevent famine the WFP argued that “and its humanitarian partners urgently need more routes into Gaza and access throughout the Strip for humanitarian operations.”

The WFP’s man in Gaza Hind Khoudary in his daily articles published in December 2023 already noted that “if death doesn’t come from airstrikes, it will come from starvation” but it seems that the world and their senses went AWOL.

On 5 March, the US military dropped some 36, 800 meals from the sky onto the besieged city which can only be described as crumbs. This is so little so late, and given the massive displacement of Gaza’s 2.3 million population and the dire need to avoid famine, we cannot know if it really reached those who seriously need it. Of course, in financial terms it does not add up to the more than 3bn dollar annual US military aid to the state of Israel which, if stopped, would mark as real progress.

The BBC compiled a list of commercial goods allowed for import into Gaza during April 2010, was composed from various humanitarian agencies including the UN and NGOs. As far as I am informed, these are more or less in place before 7 October 2023. The arbitrariness and total control by the military was a catastrophe (Nakba in Arabic and Shoah in Hebrew) that has now blown over. Here are those products:

Wheat / animal feed / flour / cooking oil / cooking fat / sugar / salt / pasta / dates / garlic / chickpeas / rice / beans / lentils / kidney beans / margarine / dairy products / powdered milk / frozen meat and fish / frozen vegetables / animal medicines / gas for medical use / empty bags for flour / medicines and medical equipment / female hygiene products / nappies (diapers) / toilet paper / detergent / washing liquid / shampoo / soap / toothpaste / toothbrushes / cleaning products for tiles / cleaning products for glass / toilet-cleaner / yeast / fertilised eggs / fruit / semolina / polythene for greenhouses / agricultural materials / tea / coffee / instant coffee / canned tuna / salami / canned meat / washing-up sponges / bath sponges / cloths for mopping the floor / baby wipes / other canned goods, with the exception of tinned fruit / zaatar (dried herb mix) / sesame seeds / black pepper / chicken stock powder / blankets / olives / candles / sticks for brooms / rubbish bins / mops / hand-cleansing gel / aniseed / cinnamon / camomile / unfertilised eggs / glass (to a maximum of 200 trucks) / water-dispensers / potatoes / mineral water / tahini (sesame paste) / combs / hair brushes /clothes / shoes / wood (for doorposts and window frames) / aluminium / kitchenware.

The Israeli human rights NGO Gisha at the centre of this exposure at that time through its director Sari Bashi said: “How can Israel claim that it is not responsible for civilian life in Gaza – when it controls even the type and quantity of food that Palestinian residents of Gaza are permitted to consume? Israel’s control over movement creates an obligation to allow free passage of civilians and civilian goods, subject only to security checks – an obligation that remains unfulfilled today.”

Under times such as these, the facts remain but matters have become worse. Remember that as we break our fast every day… let us think of Palestine and the oppressed of the world and recommit to work for justice and peace in our lifetimes. In the short term: Ceasefire Now!

Lift the air, sea and land blockade so that food enters Gaza in their hundreds of thousands of trucks. Fieldworkers demand that they be provided with machinery to assist moving in the food stuff and other relief materials. Immediately work towards Gaza controlling its own water supplies and electricity…

Hassen Lorgat has worked in trade union movement, civic associations, and anti apartheid sports movement led by the South African Council on Sports (SACOS) as well as NGOs for the past while. He has worked with civil society groups opposing harmful and exploitative mining and extractivism. Hassen is active with the SA BDS Coalition.


Hassen Lorgat
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