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Israel’s Choice For Palestinians: Starve or be Killed

Israeli forces killed at least 112 Palestinians after opening fire on a crowd awaiting a food aid truck in northern Gaza on February 29. The massacre took place as one quarter of Gaza’s population is at imminent risk of famine while Israel continues to blockade aid to the besieged strip.
Screenshot from Israeli drone footage of the flour massacre.

Screenshot from Israeli drone footage of the flour massacre.

Israeli forces massacred at least 112 people and injured more than 750 when they opened fire on starving Palestinians in the south west of Gaza City on February 29. The “Flour Massacre”, as it is now being called, took place in the early hours of Thursday morning, when people had gathered at the Harun al-Rashid Street awaiting a convoy of aid trucks carrying flour believed to be en route.

Manufactured famine

Israel has decimated northern Gaza in its ongoing, five-month long bombardment of the besieged Strip, and has virtually cut off humanitarian aid, pushing 576,000 people— or one quarter of Gaza’s population— “one step away from famine”.

One in six children under the age of two in Gaza are suffering from acute malnutrition and wasting, with the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) warning of a “complete agricultural collapse” in northern Gaza by May.

On February 25, the head of the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) had stated that the last time aid had entered northern Gaza was January 23, stating that calls to send food aid had “been denied and have fallen on deaf ears”.

On February 20, the UN World Food Program had announced that it was pausing the delivery of “life saving food aid” to northern Gaza. This was despite the fact that aid deliveries had resumed just two days prior after a three-week suspension after an attack on a UNRWA truck.

“In these past two days our teams witnessed unprecedented levels of desperation,” the WFP said, as starving people tried to climb onto trucks to access food. Meanwhile, the agency stated that its trucks had faced gunfire upon entering Gaza City and had distributed only a small quantity of food.

Thursday’s aid convoy was not organized by the UN, but had been coordinated by the Israeli forces.

At least 10 children have died from malnutrition and dehydration in hospitals in northern Gaza, the Palestinian Ministry of Health announced on Thursday, including four children at the Kamal Adwan Hospital and two at Al-Shifa.

It is under these horrific circumstances, with families consuming animal feed to survive, that the first aid trucks in nearly a month entered northern Gaza this week. The Israeli Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) had claimed that 31 trucks had entered northern Gaza on February 28. It stated that 20 other trucks had entered on Monday and Tuesday.

Starving Palestinians shot and ran over 

“At about 4:30 in the early morning, trucks started to trickle in. The Israelis just opened random fire on us as if it was a trap. Once we approached the aid trucks, the Israeli tanks and warplanes started firing on us,” a witness had also told Al Jazeera, describing Thursday’s massacre.

After the shooting, Israeli tanks ran over the bodies of those who had been killed and others who lay injured, Al Jazeera’s journalist, Ismail Al-Ghoul had reported. He added that the injured had been rushed to the Al Ahli and Jordanian hospitals, however, “hospitals are no longer able to accommodate the huge number of patients because they lack fuel, let alone medicine”.

Gaza-based human rights organization, Al Mezan, also stated that the intense shooting by the IOF had gone on for an hour and a half.

Videos showed the dead and injured being escorted to the hospitals on donkey-drawn carts.

After releasing a doctored aerial drone footage clip, the Israeli occupation forces claimed that “dozens” of people had been killed and injured resulting from a stampede and that some people had been run over by the trucks. It went on to claim that it had not fired directly at the people around the trucks, and that instead, “armed men” had reportedly fired at the convoy and looted it.

While the Israeli military claimed that the shots had been aimed at the legs of the crowd, the head of the Kamal Adwan Hospital stated that the bullets had been concentrated in the head and upper parts of the bodies. The acting director of the Al-Awda hospital, which had been forced to suspend services earlier this week due to a lack of supplies, also told the Associated Press that of the 176 wounded people brought to the hospital, 80% had gunshot injuries.

The Israeli military later went on to alter its initial claims, saying that a small group of people had moved towards an Israeli tank and soldiers “in a way that endangered” them, after which its forces opened fire. It has claimed responsibility for “fewer than 10 of the casualties”, as reported by the Times of Israel.

In a video statement on Thursday night, military spokesperson Daniel Hagari claimed that there had been no Israeli military strike on the aid convoy and repeated the Occupation’s claim that “Israel puts no limits on the amount of aid that can go into Gaza”. This is demonstrably false as has been made clear by the images, testimonies and reports of starvation that are coming out of Gaza. According to the Euro-Med Monitor, aid deliveries to Gaza in February fell by 50% as compared to January.

Residents from northern Gaza told the organization that they had received calls from the Israeli military ordering them to move towards central and southern Gaza to access food and water. Meanwhile, not only has Israel restricted the entry of trucks into the Strip, it has continued to carry out military operations, targeting civilian police officers tasked with guarding the convoys, and shelling and shooting at people waiting to receive aid, the organization noted.

“Intentionally depriving people of food is clearly a war crime. Israel has announced its intention to destroy the Palestinian people, in whole or in part, simply for being Palestinian. In my view as a UN human rights expert, this is now a situation of genocide,” UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Michael Fakhri, stated in an interview with the Guardian, earlier this week.

“This means the state of Israel in its entirety is culpable and should be held accountable – not just individuals or this government or that person.”

Israeli impunity and concerns surrounding aid airdrops 

While Hagari had tried to bolster Israel’s “humanitarian” credentials, Israel’s Minister of National Security, Itamar Ben-Gvir released a statement on X saying that “total support” must be given to Israeli forces in Gaza “who acted excellently against a Gazan mob that tried to harm them.”

“Today it was proven that the transfer of humanitarian aid to Gaza is not only madness while our abductees are being held in the Strip under substandard conditions, but also endangers the IDF soldiers. This is another clear reason why we must stop transferring this aid, which is in fact aid to harm the IDF soldiers and oxygen to Hamas.”

However, the Israeli narrative was seemingly unconvincing for most. Thursday’s massacre has drawn sharp international condemnation, including by the United Nations, China, Turkey, Qatar, Lebanon, Jordan, Australia, Italy, Brazil, France, and others. While condemning the “bread massacre”, Colombian president Gustavo Petro also announced that the country would be suspending weapons purchases from Israel, adding that the “whole world must blockade [Israeli PM] Netanyahu”.

Meanwhile, an emergency session of the UN Security Council was convened on Thursday to discuss the massacre. However, a draft declaration prepared by Algeria expressing “deep concern” over the killings and noting that they had been caused by Israeli forces opening fire, was ultimately blocked by the US. “The parties are working on some language to see if we can get to a statement”, US deputy ambassador Robert Wood said, adding that “the problem is that we don’t have all the facts”.

Speaking ahead of Thursday’s meeting, Palestinian Ambassador Riyad Mansour had stated that Thursday’s massacre “is a testimony to the fact that as long as the Security Council is paralyzed and vetoes casted, then it is costing the Palestinian people their lives”.

“[T]he Security Council should say enough is enough and if they have a spine and determination to put an end to these massacres from happening, all over again, what we need is a ceasefire”.

US and Western powers scramble to construct “the other side” of the massacre

During a US State Department press briefing on Thursday, spokesperson Matthew Miller was asked by veteran journalist Said Arikat whether anyone but Israel was holding aid from going into Gaza. Miller responded saying that there was solely a “distribution problem” “because there are police officers, some of whom are members of Hamas, who have been providing the security for that distribution and what Israel says is that they have a legitimate right to go after members of Hamas”.

When asked to confirm that “you don’t have any doubt that only one side did the shooting and the killing and the shelling of these people”, Miller said he had seen “different reports” that “other people were shooting” and that they were waiting for an investigation.

Israel’s allies in the west, including Germany and European Commission President Ursula Von Der Leyen have similarly sought “explanations” and investigations instead of explicitly condemning Thursday’s killings. Even when condemnations have been made, the language remains evasive and the perpetrator unnamed, with the killings called a “carnage among civilians”.

While consistently obstructing any kind of international intervention against Israel’s ongoing genocide in Gaza, all while handing the Occupation the tools to carry out the massacres, the US is now reportedly considering air-dropping aid to Gaza.

As Israel has continued to impede air delivery through land routes, Jordan and Egypt have airdropped small amounts of aid into Gaza in recent days, with harrowing visuals emerging of Gazans wading into the sea as some of the packages fell into the water. Belgium also announced on Friday that it would airdrop aid.

While a necessary measure under the circumstances, those working in humanitarian and aid agencies, such as Refugees International head and former USAID official, Jeremy Konyndyk have stated that aid airdrops must be recognized “as a form of bureaucratic obstruction by Israel”.

“Facilitating airdrops – and driving media coverage around them – gives the public appearance that Israel is cooperating with humanitarian efforts. But ensures that the amounts of aid getting in are negligible enough to still perpetuate the overall blockade strategy.”

The fact that the US is now considering airdrops can be seen as yet another attempt for it to whitewash Israel’s crimes and its own complicity in them— including the 17 year long brutal siege of Gaza, giving Israel the power to engineer hunger in the besieged strip, a power the Zionist entity has also used in the past.

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