Palestine needs immediate attention to avert a major food crisis – Middle East Monitor
A journalist friend of mine in Gaza, Mohammed Rafik Mhawesh, told me that food prices in the besieged territory have skyrocketed in recent weeks. Already destitute families are struggling to put food on the table. “Food prices are rising dramatically,” he explained, “especially since the start of the Russian-Ukrainian war.”
The prices of essential foodstuffs, such as wheat and meat, have almost doubled. The price of a chicken, for example, which was only affordable to a small part of Gaza’s population anyway, went from NIS 20 (about $6) to NIS 45 (about $14).
Such price hikes may be manageable in some parts of the world, but in an already nearly destitute society that has been under an airtight Israeli military siege for 15 years, a major food crisis is sure to come.
The international charity Oxfam warned of this on April 11 when it reported that food prices throughout occupied Palestine have jumped by 25% and, more alarmingly, that wheat flour reserves in the occupied Palestinian territories could be “exhausted within three weeks”.
The impact of the Russian-Ukrainian war was felt around the world, in some places more than others. African and Middle East Countries that have struggled for years with poverty, hunger and unemployment are hardest hit.
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However, Palestine is a whole different story. It is an occupied country which depends almost entirely on the action of an occupying power, Israel, which refuses to respect international law and international humanitarian law. The issue for Palestinians is complex, yet almost every aspect of it is linked to Israel in one way or another.
Gaza is in the grip of an Israeli economic crisis blockade for many years. The amount of food Israel allows into the strip is rationed and manipulated by the occupation state as an act of collective punishment. In his report report on Israeli apartheid published last February, Amnesty International detailed Israeli restrictions on the supply of food and fuel to Palestinians. According to the rights group, Israel uses “mathematical formulas to determine how much food to allow into Gaza”, limiting supplies to what Tel Aviv deems “essential for the survival of the civilian population”.
Along with many infrastructural problems resulting from the siege – an almost complete lack of drinking water, electricity and agricultural equipment, for example – Gaza has also lost much of its arable land to the Israelis. military exclusion zone established along the nominal boundary around the band.
The West Bank is not much better off. Most Palestinians in the occupied territories feel the growing burden of the Israeli occupation, compounded by the devastating impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and the structural weaknesses within the Palestinian Authority, which is replete with Corruption and mismanagement.
PA imports 95% of its wheat, says Oxfam, and has no grain storage facilities. All of these imports are transported through Israel, which controls all Palestinian access to the outside world. From Israel itself imports almost half of its grains and cereals coming from Ukraine, the Palestinians are held hostage by this particular mechanism of occupation.
Israel, however, has hoarded food supplies and is largely independent of energy, while Palestinians struggle on all levels. While the PA should take some of the blame for investing in its bloated “security” apparatus at the expense of food security, Israel holds most of the keys to Palestinian survival.
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With hundreds of Israeli soldiers checkpoints across the occupied West Bank, cutting communities off from each other and farmers from their land, sustainable agriculture in Palestine is nearly impossible. This complex situation is further complicated by two major issues: the more than 700 kilometers of the so-called “Separation Wall” which does not “separate” Israelis and Palestinians at all, but deprives Palestinians of large swathes of their land illegally , mainly agricultural areas; and the downright flight Palestinian water from West Bank aquifers. While many Palestinian communities struggle to find clean drinking water in the summer, Israel never experiences a water shortage at any time of the year.
The so-called zone C determined by the Oslo Accords represents nearly 60% of the total area of the West Bank; it is under complete Israeli military control. Although relatively sparsely populated, it contains most of the agricultural land of the occupied Palestinian territories, particularly areas of the very fertile Jordan Valley. Israel may have postponed its official annexation of Area C under international pressure, but it is practically annexed in any case, and the Palestinians are slowly being driven out and replaced by a growing population of illegal Israeli Jewish settlers.
Rapidly rising food prices are hurting farmers and herders themselves who are tasked with filling the huge gaps caused by global food insecurity resulting from war. According to Oxfam, the Cost animal feed has increased by 60% in the West Bank, adding to the ‘existing burden’ faced by herders, including ‘worsening violent attacks by Israeli settlers’ and ‘forced displacement’, an understatement to refer to ethnic cleansing as part of the annexation policy.
While this would likely bring partial relief, even a cessation of the Russian-Ukrainian war will not end Palestine’s food insecurity, as this problem is instigated and prolonged by specific Israeli policies. In the case of Gaza, the crisis is, in fact, entirely manufactured by Israel with specific political objectives in mind. the infamous comment by former Israeli government adviser Dov Weisglass in 2006 explaining Israel’s motives behind the siege of Gaza, remains the guiding principle of Israel’s attitude towards the Strip: “The idea is to put the Palestinians on a diet , but not to starve them to death. “
Palestine therefore needs immediate attention to avoid a major food crisis. Gaza’s extreme poverty and high unemployment rate leave it no room to adapt to further calamitous restrictions. However, whatever is done now can only be a short-term solution. A serious conversation involving Palestinians, Arab countries, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and other parties must take place to discuss and resolve Palestine’s food insecurity. For the people of occupied Palestine, this is the most real existential threat.
The opinions expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.