God’s Gifts of Food & Water

Starvation used as a weapon of war in Gaza

By Andrew Kang Bartlett

‘How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a sibling in need and yet refuses help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.’ — 1 John 3:17-18

In this December 2023 photo, people clamor for food in Rafah, Gaza (Photo by Mohammed Zaanoun)

When a crowd was gathered on the hill to hear Jesus preach and the crowd was hungry, the disciples wanted to send them away. Instead, Jesus instructs them in Mark’s gospel, “you give them something to eat.”

In the last part of Matthew 25, Jesus’ listeners were astonished when he told them they had failed him by not providing food when he was hungry or drink when he was thirsty. They tried to defend themselves saying, “When did we see you, Lord?”  He answered that whenever they failed to do it to one of the oppressed members of his family, they were failing him. Throughout scripture, we are called by God to care for one another, to feed the hungry, to protect the vulnerable, and to meet the needs of any who are suffering. The time is now to understand what is happening in front of us and to act as God calls.

“As we speak, at least one million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, half of whom are children, are starving, not because of a natural disaster or because of the lack of generous aid waiting at the border,” said Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki, according to GEOTV News. “No, they are starving because Israel is deliberately using starvation as a weapon of war against the people it occupies.”

The World Health Organization has stated that “an unprecedented 93% of the population in Gaza is facing crisis levels of hunger. ”A recent New Yorker article, “Gaza is Starving,” estimates that the 577,000 children, women, men and elders starving to death in Gaza represent four-fifths of those experiencing “catastrophic hunger” globally.

Gaza is at risk of famine in the next several months, predicts a report from the United Nations World Food Program. The report said, “This is the highest share of people facing high levels of acute food insecurity” ever recorded “for any given area or country.”

The conditions are exacerbated by Israel’s continuing strikes on Gaza, including on its bakeries, water facilities, and last remaining operating mill, and the razing of agricultural lands, crops, orchards and greenhouses. Livestock that have not been killed already are starving. For months, Israel has been stopping trucks from bringing humanitarian aid to Gaza, a clear violation of international law.

Water too is a life-threatening concern. The water crisis was decades in the making, and the Gazan water infrastructure has further deteriorated. Gazans are dependent on desalinated water plants run by electricity, and since the main power plant was bombed, the plants have shut down throughout Gaza. Water mains have been damaged or destroyed by Israel’s bombardments and Israeli forces control the area around Gaza City’s only desalination plant. United Nations Relief and Works Agency, the UN agency providing relief to Palestinian refugees in the Gaza Strip, says 70% of the population is drinking salty and contaminated water.

The World Food Program has reported that there are only 1.5-1.8 liters of water available per person per day for drinking and all uses in Gaza, far below the “emergency threshold” of 15 liters per day for “war or famine-like conditions” or the “survival threshold” of 3 liters per day.

Photo courtesy of Palestinian Hydrology Group

With the shortages of food and water, experts are now predicting that more Palestinians in Gaza will die from starvation, thirst, and disease than from airstrikes.

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has called on the U.S. government to “exhort the government of Israel to end the siege of Gaza that restricts its access to adequate water and electricity and the entrance of food, medicine, and fuel to Palestinians in Gaza so as to alleviate and end the humanitarian and environmental crises caused by the siege and provide the material resources necessary for economic prosperity, human health and safety, and environmental protection.”

This urgent plea was added to the 2018 call for an end to Israeli occupation of Gaza and the 2016 General Assembly Resolution, which stated:

“Appropriate agencies of the General Assembly and all Presbyterians urge the Israeli government, as a matter of policy and practice, to stop the collective punishment and isolation of broad sections of the Palestinian population — the blockade of Gaza, the demolition of Palestinian homes and the administrative detention, the torture and forced feeding of Palestinian detainees — and to restore the ID documents and citizenship status that have been stripped from Palestinians in East Jerusalem and elsewhere.”

We value the life of every person, and our call is for an immediate and permanent ceasefire, along with the return of hostages, and the release of prisoners. Until this happens, the death and maiming continue unabated.

Photo courtesy of ActiveStills

The PC(USA) stands with people of faith around the world affirming the World Council of Churches statement urging faith communities to re-engage in active and sustained support of efforts to bring just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians, based upon an end to the illegal occupation and to the siege of Gaza, recognition of the equal human rights of all, and the applicable principles of international law. Without this, peace cannot be sustained, and the cycle of violence is tragically likely to continue. Likewise, we invite all people of goodwill to pray for peace, and to actively support the ministries of the churches of the region and ecumenical and interfaith initiatives for justice, peace and reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians.

Every day, 10 children in Gaza lose one or both legs. In just three months, over 10,000 children have had a limb amputated, sometimes without anesthesia. The IDF’s ceaseless bombardment has destroyed hospitals, schools, apartment buildings, refugee camps, mosques, churches, and UN shelters. Carpet bombs flatten entire blocks, and beneath the rubble, human beings are trapped and killed. The IDF attacks have wiped entire families off the civil registry. At least 25,474 people are dead (as of Jan. 21), and Save the Children estimates that 10,000 of those killed are children, with thousands more missing and presumed buried under the rubble.

Philippe Lazzarini, the commissioner general of UNRWA, the United Nations agency in Gaza, said, “An entire generation of children is traumatized and will take years to heal. Thousands have been killed, maimed, and orphaned. Hundreds of thousands are deprived of education. Their future is in jeopardy, with far-reaching and long-lasting consequences.”

“Yet, the healing process cannot begin until there is a cessation of hostilities. Among leaders in Washington, there is constant talk about preparing for the ‘day after.’ But if this relentless bombardment and siege continue, there will be no ‘day after’ for Gaza. It will be too late,” wrote the co-authors of prominent humanitarian agencies from around the world.

Only when a ceasefire is achieved can the world begin mobilizing to restore humanitarian access and assistance, basic services, and ultimately an end to the occupation.

May it be so. And may we help it be so!

Actions you can take:

  • Urge Congress to Prevent Genocide in Gaza! from our Office of Public Witness The Biden administration and members of Congress need to hear from people of faith.
  • Watch the video recording of Complicity & Its Consequences: A Conversation Examining U.S. Government Involvement in Ongoing Violence in Gaza and the West Bank from December 8, 2023.
  • Join or follow the Gaza Ceasefire Pilgrimage during Lent in solidarity with the people of Gaza.
  • Read the Statement: National Coalition Urges Congress to Confront U.S. Complicity in Civilian Harm in Gaza
  • Join with others to ask your local government to pass a resolution requesting the U.S. government to push for ceasefire and call your representatives in Washington every day.
  • Explore the collection of excellent Presbyterian learning and action resources on Israel-Palestine.

The work of the Presbyterian Hunger Program is possible thanks to your gifts to One Great Hour of Sharing.

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