One of my friend and young journalist in Gaza, informed me that food costs in the besieged Strip had soared in recent weeks, and that many already needy families are struggling to put food on the table.
“Food costs have skyrocketed,” he remarked, “especially since the start of the Russia-Ukraine war.” Wheat and meat costs, for example, have nearly doubled. The price of a chicken, for example, which was previously only available to a limited portion of Gaza’s population, has risen from 20 shekels (about. $6) to 45 shekels (approx. $14).
These price increases may appear to be reasonable in various areas of the globe, but in an already destitute region that has been under a hermetic Israeli military blockade for 15 years, a humanitarian disaster of epic proportions is unavoidable.
In reality, this was also the warning of the international charity organisation Oxfam, which announced on April 11 that food prices in Palestine had risen by 25%, but that wheat flour supplies in the Occupied Territories might be “depleted within three weeks.”
The impact of the Russia-Ukraine war has been felt all across the world, with certain areas feeling the brunt of it more than others. African and Middle Eastern countries, which have long struggled with poverty, famine, and unemployment, are particularly hard hit. Palestine, on the other hand, is a whole other scenario. It is an occupied country that is virtually totally dependent on the actions of an occupying force, Israel, which refuses to follow international and humanitarian law.
For Palestinians, the situation is complicated, but practically every part of it is tied to Israel in some way.
For many years, Gaza has been subjected to an Israeli economic siege, and the food that Israel permits into the Strip is rationed and managed as a kind of collective punishment. Amnesty International revealed Israeli limitations on Palestinian food and gas supply in its report on Israeli apartheid published in February. According to the rights organisation, Israel utilises “mathematical algorithms to calculate how much food to allow into Gaza,” restricting supplies to what Tel Aviv considers “necessary for the civilian population’s survival.”
Aside from the various infrastructure challenges caused by the blockade – such as a shortage of clean water, power, and farming equipment – Gaza has also lost most of its fertile land due to the Israeli military zone constructed across border regions across the Strip.
The situation on the West Bank is not much better. Most Palestinians in the Occupied Territories are suffering the mounting weight of Israeli occupation, which is exacerbated by the disastrous effects of the Covid-19 epidemic and structural deficiencies within the Palestinian Authority, which is riddled with corruption and inefficiency.
According to Oxfam, the PA imports 95 percent of its wheat and has no storage facilities. All of these imports are routed through Israel, which controls all of Palestine’s external access. Because Israel buys roughly half of its grains and cereals from Ukraine, Palestinians are a victim of this very system.
Israel, on the other hand, has been stockpiling food and is mostly self-sufficient in energy, whilst Palestinians are struggling on all fronts. While the Palestinian Authority bears some of the guilt for spending in its “security” apparatus at the price of food security, Israel controls the majority of the keys to Palestinian existence.
With hundreds of Israeli military checkpoints crisscrossing the occupied West Bank, isolating communities and separating farmers from agricultural land, sustainable agriculture in Palestine is practically impossible.
Two major issues complicate an already difficult picture: the hundreds of kilometres long so-called “Separation Wall,” which does not “separate” Israelis and Palestinians but instead unlawfully deprives Palestinians of large tracts of land, mostly farming areas; and the outright robbery of Palestinian water from the West Bank’s aquifers. While many Palestinian towns struggle to acquire drinking water throughout the summer, Israel never has a water deficit all year.
Area C, which accounts for roughly 60% of the entire land area of the West Bank, is completely under Israeli military control. Though it is lightly inhabited in comparison, it comprises the majority of the region’s agricultural land, particularly in the extremely fertile Jordan Valley. Though Israel has postponed the official annexation of Territory C due to international pressure, the area is effectively annexed, and Palestinians are gradually being forced out and replaced by a rising number of illegal Israeli Jewish settlers.
Rapidly rising food costs are harming the farmers and herders who are responsible for filling the vast gaps left by global food shortages caused by war. According to Oxfam, the cost of animal feed in the West Bank has increased by 60%, adding to the “existing burden” experienced by herders, which includes “worsening violent attacks by Israeli settlers” and “forced relocation,” as in ethnic cleansing as a result of Israeli annexation policy.
Even if it provides some respite, a halt to the Russia-Ukraine war would not alleviate Palestine’s food insecurity, as this problem is exacerbated and perpetuated by particular Israeli policies. In the case of Gaza, Israel has entirely created the situation with certain political goals in mind. Former Israeli government advisor Dov Weisglass’s notorious words in 2006, describing Israel’s motivations behind the Gaza closure, remain the driving principle of Israel’s stance toward the Strip. “The objective is to put the Palestinians on a diet, but not to starve them,” he explained.
To avoid a serious food disaster, Palestine need rapid response. Gaza’s pre-existing acute poverty and high unemployment leave it with no room to absorb any further disasters. However, everything done now can only be a temporary solution. To debate and resolve Palestine’s food insecurity, a serious dialogue including Palestinians, Arab nations, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, and other stakeholders is required. This is the true existential threat to Palestinians.