When Starvation Is a Weapon, the Harvest Is Shame

By Kathy Kelly

15 March, 2024


In a work entitled “Irish Famine 4,” Palestinian-American journalist and artist Sam Husseini combined grass and paint to commemorate a bitter time in Irish history when starving people died with their mouths stained green because, according to historian Christine Kinealy, their last meal was grass. Shamefully, British occupiers profited from exporting out of Ireland the food crops so desperately needed. During a seven-year period beginning in 1845, one million Irish people died from starvation and related diseases. It was a deliberate mass killing, employing one of the most horrific means of execution imaginable—an excruciating descent of weeks’ duration into despair, delirium, and bodily immobility while one’s attention, one’s character, is gradually reduced to little more than appetite and pain.

Now, in the occupied Gaza Strip, as weapons dealers benefit from increasing military shipments to Israel, Palestinians have resorted to eating mixtures of grass and animal feed. The past five months of Israeli siege, bombing, and displacement have killed more than 31,000—mostly women and children—but a process of famine long underway is clearly about to expand that number exponentially, particularly among children.

Human Rights Watch says the Israeli government is starving civilians as a method of warfare in Gaza. Aiding and abetting this war crime, the United States has approved 100 military sales to Israel over the past five months. U.S. bullets, bombs, and guns have helped keep crucially needed aid from reaching millions of Palestinians. The bombs have buried or destroyed much of the food supplies which could have mitigated this horror, and they have forced vast populations to flee attacks and huddle in the city that is Israel’s latest target: Rafah. The United States continues providing the muscle behind a starvation genocide.

On March 11, eight U.S. Senators signed a letter to President Joe Biden insisting that ongoing weapons shipments violate U.S. laws forbidding military aid to regimes that are obstructing U.S. humanitarian aid.

Twenty-five prominent humanitarian and human rights organizations delivered a letter to the President echoing the Senators’ message.

Even as Israel faces mounting pressure from world leaders to stop impeding humanitarian relief shipments, Israel turned back another aid truck, this time because it contained children’s medical kits. These kits included scissors useful for applying bandages or cutting away clothing to reach shrapnel.

The Israelis forbade the scissors as a potential dual-use weapon. Meanwhile, the U.S. continues to send guns and bombs to Israel.

Each day brings new reports of Palestinians, 40 percent of them children, succumbing to disease and death because they are deprived of food, fuel, clean water, medicines, and shelter. Hellish conditions worsen as infectious contamination spreads from decomposing bodies and the chemical contaminants from thousands upon thousands of Israeli and Western-supplied bombs that have been dropped on Gaza.

In Northampton, Massachusetts, six activists are on the third day of an occupation of the office of Representative Jim McGovern, demanding that he call on the President to immediately halt all weapons shipments to Israel and stop the United States from vetoing United Nations cease-fire resolutions.

“These are desperate times,” says Peter Kakos, one of the occupiers. “We must call for immediate action, and nothing less.” He’s particularly mindful of 17,000 Gazan children who are estimated by UNICEF to be currently unaccompanied or separated from their parents.

We talk about the mental harm on children caused by COVID-19 lockdowns. A March 12, 2024, report by Save the Children draws our attention to what five months of carnage, flight, starvation, and disease, on top of nearly seventeen years of apartheid conditions, will have permanently done to the children of Gaza who survive the brutality now afflicting them.

During a recent visit to Amman, Jordan, I witnessed the anguish and frustration felt by many Palestinians there, denied any means of relieving the suffering of loved ones. They had this response to photos taken of U.S. aid drops: “Are you going to feed starving people so that they can then face genocide from the Israeli Army with a full stomach?” asked my host. “What’s the logic in that? The only humanitarian thing to drop would be to drop all support for Israel’s war on the people of Gaza.”

In May of this year, an Irish organization called AFRI (Action From Ireland) will hold an annual “famine walk” in an area of Ireland across which hundreds of desperate people trekked in cold and stormy weather in 1847 to beg mercy from those British officials designated to assess who would qualify for small portions of food or tickets to enter a workhouse

“The weather was terrible,” notes County Mayo’s official record of the time, “with wind and hail beating down upon them. When they arrived in Delphi the [Board of] Guardians refused them food or their tickets to the workhouse. Needless to say many of them perished on the return journey as fatigue and exhaustion from hunger took hold. Some of those that had energy to start the journey back to Louisburgh were swept into the lake by the heavy squalls.”

Each year, the organizers of AFRI’s famine walk focus on a place in the world where famine afflicts people today. “This year’s famine walk will focus on the unspeakable horrors being visited on the population of Gaza,” says AFRI’s coordinator, Joe Murray, “with ‘Irish’ President Biden forgetting his history and playing the part of a ‘Black and Tan’ in providing the means to obliterate an entire population.”

It’s heinous to ignore the plight of starving people as was done by the British relief officials in the spring of 1847. But it is even more cruel to bomb the people you are deliberately starving, forcing them to wonder if they will face a quick death or a long and tortuous one.

Yes, these are desperate times. People in the United States ought to occupy the local offices of every elected official, denouncing all forms of violence and insisting on an immediate end to any support for Israel’s genocidal war against Gaza. It’s time to acknowledge the futility of war and call for a collective home to be shared by Musims, Jews, Christians, Bahais, Druze, and many others in a secular democratic state encompassing Israel and Palestine. Similarly, our elected representatives should occupy the Oval Office until the President takes action.

Kathy Kelly ([email protected]) is the board president of World BEYOND War (worldbeyondwar.org) and a co-coordinator of the Merchants of Death War Crimes Tribunal (merchantsofdeath.org).