UN human rights experts warn of ‘unfolding genocide’ as ‘every single person in Gaza’ goes hungry

Palestinians wait to receive food amid shortages of food supplies, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip. (Reuters)
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Updated 17 January 2024
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UN human rights experts warn of ‘unfolding genocide’ as ‘every single person in Gaza’ goes hungry

  • They say a situation in which an entire civilian population is forced to go without enough food so quickly and completely is unprecedented
  • Israel accused of destroying Gaza’s production and supply infrastructure and using food as a weapon of war

NEW YORK CITY: Independent UN experts on Tuesday warned that Gazans now account for 80 per cent of all people facing famine or catastrophic hunger worldwide. It came as they highlighted the unprecedented humanitarian emergency in the Gaza Strip in the face of the ongoing Israeli assault on the besieged enclave.

“Currently, every single person in Gaza is hungry, a quarter of the population are starving and struggling to find food and drinkable water, and famine is imminent,” said the group of human rights experts.

A lack of sufficient nutrition and healthcare is endangering the lives of pregnant women and their unborn children, they added, and all children under the age of five, about 335,000 in total, are highly susceptible to the effects of severe malnutrition as the threat of famine continues to grow.

The experts expressed concern that an entire generation is at risk of stunting, a condition in which insufficient nourishment hinders the growth and development of young children, leading to irreversible physical and cognitive impairments, posing a significant threat to learning capacity.

The group of experts included Francesca Albanese, the UN’s special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967; Reem Alsalem, the special rapporteur on violence against women and girls; Pedro Arrojo Agudo, the special rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation; and the special rapporteurs on the right to food, the right to education, the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, the right to adequate housing, and the human rights of internally displaced persons.

They said that “nowhere is safe in Gaza” since Israel’s “total siege” of the territory began on Oct. 9, depriving 2.3 million Palestinians of water, food, fuel, medicine and other medical supplies, “this against the backdrop of a 17-year Israeli blockade, which before this war made approximately half of the people in Gaza food insecure and more than 80 percent reliant on humanitarian aid.”

Most of the aid deliveries during the conflict to date have been concentrated in southern Gaza. As of Jan. 1, only five of 24 scheduled shipments of relief supplies, including food, have been delivered to regions north of Wadi Gaza.

Concerns have grown among the experts about the deteriorating conditions in northern Gaza in particular, where residents are experiencing prolonged food shortages and severely limited access to essential resources.

In southern Gaza, meanwhile, large numbers of displaced people are living in inadequate shelters or areas lacking basic amenities, which is exacerbating the problems created by already harsh living conditions.

“It is unprecedented to make an entire civilian population go hungry this completely and quickly,” the experts said. “Israel is destroying Gaza’s food system and using food as a weapon against the Palestinian people.”

They accused Israel of destroying or blocking access to farmland and the sea, saying that soldiers have razed 22 percent of agricultural land and facilities in the territory, including orchards and greenhouses in Northern Gaza, and destroyed 70 percent of Gaza’s fishing fleet.

“Even with what little humanitarian aid that has been allowed to enter, people still lack food and fuel to cook,” the experts said. “Most bakeries are not operational, due to the lack of fuel, water and wheat flour, along with structural damage.

“Livestock are starving and unable to provide food or be a source of food. Meanwhile access to safe water continues to diminish, while the healthcare system has collapsed due to the wide-spread destruction of hospitals, significantly heightening the spread of communicable diseases.”

Israeli forces have destroyed more than 60 percent of Palestinian homes in Gaza, they added, affecting the ability of families to cook and causing “domicide through the mass destruction of dwellings, making the territory uninhabitable.”

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimates that nearly 85 percent of Gaza’s population, amounting to about 1.9 million people, is internally displaced, including many who have been forced to move several times in search of safety.

“We have raised the alarm of the risk of genocide several times, reminding all governments they have a duty to prevent genocide,” the experts said.

“Not only is Israel killing and causing irreparable harm against Palestinian civilians with its indiscriminate bombardments, it is also knowingly and intentionally imposing a high rate of disease, prolonged malnutrition, dehydration and starvation by destroying civilian infrastructure.

“Aid needs to be delivered to Gazans immediately, and without any hindrance, to prevent starvation.”

They continued: “Our alarm for the unfolding genocide does not only refer to the ongoing bombardment of Gaza but also concerns the slow suffering and death caused by Israel’s long-standing occupation, blockade and current civic destruction, since genocide advances through an ongoing process and is not a singular event.

“The clear path to achieving peace, safety and stability for both Israelis and Palestinians lies in the realization of Palestinian self-determination. This can only be achieved through an immediate ceasefire and the cessation of the Israeli occupation.”

Special rapporteurs are part of what is known as the special procedures of the UN Human Rights Council. They are independent experts who work on a voluntary basis, are not members of UN staff and are not paid for their work.


UN chief says no alternative to UN Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA

Updated 5 sec ago
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UN chief says no alternative to UN Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA

NEW YORK: United Nations chief Antonio Guterres declared on Friday that there is no alternative to the UN Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA and 118 countries backed the relief organization as indispensable, amid stepped up efforts by Israel to dismantle it.
The UN Relief and Works Agency provides education, health and aid to millions of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. Since war erupted nine months ago between Israel and Palestinian militant group Hamas in Gaza, UN officials have stressed UNRWA is the backbone of aid operations.
“My appeal to everyone is this: Protect UNRWA, protect UNRWA staff, and protect UNRWA’s mandate — including through funding,” Guterres told an UNRWA pledging conference in New York on Friday. “Let me be clear: there is no alternative to UNRWA.”
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has long-called for UNRWA to be dismantled, accusing it of anti-Israeli incitement, and Israel’s parliament is currently considering designating UNRWA as a terrorist organization.
Several countries halted their funding to UNRWA following accusations by Israel that some of the agency’s staff were involved in the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel that triggered the Gaza war. Most donors have since resumed their funding, while the UN is conducting an internal investigation.
UNRWA has been hit hard during the conflict in Gaza — 195 staff have been killed.
“UNRWA is also being targeted in other ways,” Guterres said. “Staff have been the subject of increasingly violent protests and virulent misinformation and disinformation campaigns.”
“Some have been detained by Israeli security forces, and subsequently reported mistreatment and even torture,” he said, adding that in the West Bank the presence and movements of UNRWA staff have also been severely restricted by Israel.
The Israeli military has said it acts according to Israeli and international law and those it arrests get access to food, water, medication and proper clothing.
Israel accuses UNRWA of complicity with Hamas, saying the militant Islamist group was embedded within the UN agency’s infrastructure.
UNRWA was created by the UN General Assembly in 1949 following the first Arab-Israeli war. Jordan’s UN Ambassador Mahmoud Daifallah Hmoud said on Friday ahead of the pledging event that 118 countries had signed on to a joint statement supporting UNRWA and its work.
The statement underlined “that UNRWA is the backbone of all humanitarian response in Gaza, and recognizing that no organization can replace or substitute UNRWA’s capacity.”

Palestinian released from Israeli jail ‘came back from the dead’

Updated 15 min 36 sec ago
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Palestinian released from Israeli jail ‘came back from the dead’

  • Abayat, a butcher by trade, was arrested without explanation on October 26
  • He was held at a prison in the Negev desert

BETHLEHEM, Palestinian Territories: Muazzaz Abayat’s parents barely recognized their son lying in a hospital bed after being freed from nine months in Israeli detention, with his weight halved from his usual heavyset build, hollowed cheeks and shaggy hair.
“I came back from the dead,” the 37-year-old Palestinian, told AFP at a hospital in Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank.
Abayat, a butcher by trade, was arrested without explanation on October 26, just over two weeks after the unprecedented Hamas attack on southern Israel that sparked the Gaza war.
He was held at a prison in the Negev desert, officially under so-called administrative detention, which meant he could be held without charge or trial for an extended period.
“They arrested me at home, not surrounded by fighters but by my children and pregnant wife,” said Abayat, whose sixth child was born while he was in jail.
Detentions of West Bank Palestinians have soared since the war began on October 7, with regular use of administrative detentions.
According to the Prisoners Club, a Palestinian watchdog, about 9,700 Palestinians are currently in Israeli jails, including hundreds under administrative detention.
The NGO estimates that arrests have doubled since October 7 compared to the same period last year.
Violence has surged in the territory since the start of the Gaza war, with at least 572 Palestinians killed by Israeli troops or settlers, according to the Palestinian authorities.
At least 16 Israelis have also died in Palestinian attacks, according to official Israeli figures.
In a video that went viral on social media when Abayat was freed Tuesday, he is seen limping and leaning on a man to walk, while his right hand seems paralyzed.
“No human being on the face of the earth can imagine how life has been” he said, calling the prison where he was held, “the ‘Guantanamo of the Negev’,” after the US prison in Cuba used to hold detainees after the September 11, 2001 attacks.
“We were unjustly detained, killed and severely beaten with iron clubs and subjected to all kinds of torture,” Abayat added.
Israel’s prison administration told AFP it was “not aware” of Abayat’s claims.
“All prisoners are detained according to the law. All basic rights required are fully applied by professionally trained prison guards,” an Israeli Prison Service (IPS) spokesperson told AFP.
“The prisoner was examined and treated medically by the IPS’ finest doctors throughout his incarceration.” The spokesperson said, Abayat could file a complaint if he wished.
Showing his bruised, bony legs, Abayat recounted beatings with clubs and chains, and said his body still hurt all over.
“They gave us 10 to 12 beans with pieces of cabbage, and we had to survive on that from 7.00 am until dinner time,” he said while explaining his dramatic weight loss.
A “before and after” photo montage of Abayat shared online shows a muscular man with a shaved head and trimmed beard — wildly different from the long dishevelled hair and messy beard of the man in the Bethlehem hospital.
“This is enough to tell what happened to me,” he said of the photos.
His father Khalil Abayat told AFP that his son “was a man who weighed about 100, 110 kilos (220 to 242 pounds) and was muscular.”
When Muazzaz stood on the hospital scale Wednesday, he weighed just 54 kilograms.
“When I saw Muazzaz, he was not the same Muazzaz my son was before his arrest,” said the father, shocked by the confusion his son seemed to suffer from.
“He doesn’t recognize me, he’s disorientated and his health is very low.”
Khalil added, however, that doctors had expressed confidence that Muazzaz’s condition would improve. The former detainee has started eating more.
From his hospital bed, Muazzaz admitted that he had “forgotten things.”
But he said he was not completely done with Israeli detention.
“I’ve left a small prison for the big prison” of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, he said.


Israeli strike kills 4 aid workers in Gaza ‘safe zone,’ UK-based group says

Updated 47 min 53 sec ago
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Israeli strike kills 4 aid workers in Gaza ‘safe zone,’ UK-based group says

  • The strike also killed three staffers from other aid groups using the warehouse, the Al-Khair foundation said
  • The warehouse was located in Muwasi, an area on Gaza’s Mediterranean coast that is part of a “humanitarian safe zone” where Israeli has told Palestinians to take refuge

GAZA: A UK-based aid group said one of its employees in Gaza was killed Friday in an Israeli strike that hit its warehouse located inside an Israeli-declared humanitarian safe zone. The strike also killed three staffers from other aid groups using the warehouse, the Al-Khair foundation said in a statement sent to The Associated Press.
The Israeli army did not immediately respond to AP’s request for comment on Friday’s strike.
The warehouse was located in Muwasi, an area on Gaza’s Mediterranean coast that is part of a “humanitarian safe zone” where Israeli has told Palestinians to take refuge.
After a two-week Israeli offensive in northern Gaza, dozens of bodies were collected throughout Gaza City’s Tel Al-Hawa neighborhood and brought to Al-Ahli Hospital on Friday morning. Civil defense workers said they were still recovering dead and wounded from destroyed streets and buildings.
Israel launched the war in Gaza after Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack in which militants stormed into southern Israel, killed some 1,200 people — mostly civilians — and abducted about 250. Since then, Israeli ground offensives and bombardments have killed more than 38,300 people in Gaza, according to the territory’s Health Ministry. It does not distinguish between combatants and civilians in its count.
Most of Gaza’s 2.3 million people are crammed into squalid tent camps in central and southern Gaza. Israeli restrictions, fighting and the breakdown of law and order have limited humanitarian aid efforts, causing widespread hunger and sparking fears of famine. The top United Nations court has ordered Israel to take steps to protect Palestinians as it examines genocide allegations against Israeli leaders. Israel denies the charge.


More than half a million children in Gaza missing out on vital education amid Israeli-Hamas war: UNRWA

Updated 12 July 2024
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More than half a million children in Gaza missing out on vital education amid Israeli-Hamas war: UNRWA

  • 600,000 children had been unable to attend school this year because of the ongoing Israeli-Hamas war

LONDON: The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees warned on Friday that the Gaza Strip was on the verge of “losing an entire generation of children” due to the ongoing Israeli aggression, now in its 10th month.

The organization said that more than 600,000 children had been unable to attend school this year because of the ongoing Israeli-Hamas war raging in the enclave. 

UNRWA added it would be extremely difficult for children to recover the education they have missed out on since the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks on southern Israel and the subsequent Israeli retaliation.

It also noted that two-thirds of its schools in Gaza had been destroyed, while the rest had been converted into shelters for hundreds of thousands of displaced Palestinians.

Statistics from the Hamas-run Palestinian Ministry of Health assert that approximately 16,000 children have died in Israeli bombings or from illness, famine and malnutrition since the start of the Israeli aggression. 

A letter penned by three experts published in the Lancet medical journal earlier this week said the number of children who might have died in the conflict could be much higher, with thousands of children believed to be trapped under the rubble of destroyed buildings.


UN court to give view on consequences of Israel occupation

Updated 12 July 2024
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UN court to give view on consequences of Israel occupation

  • Any opinion delivered by the International Court of Justice would be non-binding, but it will come amid mounting international legal pressure on Israel
  • "A public sitting will take place at the Peace Palace in The Hague ... during which Judge Nawaf Salam... will read out the Advisory Opinion," the ICJ said

THE HAGUE: The UN's top court will next week hand down its view on the legal consequences of Israel's occupation of Palestinian territories since 1967, a case in which some 52 countries made submissions.
Any opinion delivered by the International Court of Justice would be non-binding, but it will come amid mounting international legal pressure on Israel over the war in Gaza sparked by the brutal October 7 Hamas attacks.
"A public sitting will take place at the Peace Palace in The Hague (on July 19) ... during which Judge Nawaf Salam... will read out the Advisory Opinion," the ICJ said on Friday.
The ICJ held a week-long session in February to hear submissions from countries following a request from the United Nations late last year.
The UN has asked the ICJ to hand down an "advisory opinion" on the "legal consequences arising from the policies and practices of Israel in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem".
Most speakers during the hearings have demanded that Israel end its occupation, which came after a six-day Arab-Israeli war in 1967.
But the United States said Israel should not be legally obliged to withdraw without taking its "very real security needs" into account.
Speakers also warned a prolonged occupation posed an "extreme danger" to stability in the Middle East and beyond.
Israel did not take part in the oral hearings.
It submitted a written contribution, in which it described the questions the court had been asked as "prejudicial" and "tendentious".
The case before the court is separate from one brought by South Africa against Israel for alleged genocide during its current offensive in Gaza.
South Africa has gone to the ICJ several times arguing that the dire humanitarian situation means the court should issue further fresh emergency measures.
In an initial ruling on January 26, the ICJ ordered Israel to do everything it could to prevent acts of genocide during its military operation in Gaza.
It also called for the unconditional release of hostages taken by Palestinian militant group Hamas during its October 7 assault that sparked the war.