Jeremy Bowen: Israel denies famine looms in Gaza, but evidence is overwhelming

Israeli MP Boaz Bismuth said allegations that Israel was starving civilians were based on antisemitism

Erez crossing

Erez crossing remains closed despite Israel saying it would reopen it

Until 7 October, when Hamas fighters smashed through Erez. They attacked the nearby military base, killing Israeli soldiers and taking others hostage. Since then, it has been closed to all but the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).

As part of Israel’s attempt to placate President Joe Biden after seven workers from the World Central Kitchen charity were killed by the IDF, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised to reopen Erez to humanitarian convoys.

That matters because it is the simplest way to get aid to perhaps 300,000 Palestinians in northern Gaza. The most authoritative measure of food emergencies, known as the IPC, has warned that famine will have gripped the area in the next four weeks or so. Joe Biden’s humanitarian envoy to Gaza, David Satterfield, said on Wednesday that there was “an imminent risk of famine for the majority, if not all, the 2.2 million population of Gaza”.

The famine has been caused by the siege Israel imposed just after the 7 October attacks. At the time the Israeli defence minister Yoav Gallant said: “I have ordered a complete siege on the Gaza Strip. There will be no electricity, no food, no fuel, everything is closed.

“We are fighting human animals, and we are acting accordingly.”

Israel was forced by international pressure to allow in limited supplies of aid. But over six months it has not been anything like enough. Israel argued, inaccurately, that hunger in Gaza was caused by Hamas stealing and stockpiling aid and the UN’s failure to distribute what was left.

Close supporters of Prime Minister Netanyahu continue to deny there is a famine. One of them, an MP called Boaz Bismuth, told me at Israel’s parliament that there was no famine in Gaza and allegations that Israel was starving civilians were based on antisemitism. The evidence of famine, however, is overwhelming.

The Erez crossing, despite the prime minister’s promise to Joe Biden, is still closed. I managed to get close enough to look down on the Erez terminal. Nothing was moving. I couldn’t see people, let alone trucks. Reports in Israel say the government is talking about opening another crossing, less easily accessible to Israeli demonstrators who do not want any food or medical aid to enter Gaza while the hostages are still there and have been blocking some convoys.

The UN and other aid providers say every day counts to try to help people caught up in the humanitarian catastrophe inside Gaza. The fact that Erez is closed looks like a delaying tactic. The Jewish ultranationalists whose backing keeps Mr Netanyahu in power also do not want to send in aid.

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