Pizza, Gaza and an Israeli-made famine

This past week, I came across a number of images that, when considered side by side, tell us a lot about the sick scale of Israel’s crimes in Gaza.

Palestinians flock to the truck carrying drinkable water as they face the threat of hunger and thirst in Rafah, Gaza on December 11
Palestinians flock to a truck carrying drinking water in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on December 11, 2023 [Abed Zagout/Anadolu Agency]

It’s not often that a columnist is obliged to make reference to pizza in the midst of a rogue-nation-made famine.

But the times and decency demand it given that, as a defining aspect of its iron-clad siege of Gaza, Israel, by its own admission, has intended all along to bar food and water from reaching the devastated enclave and the children, women and men who, for the moment, populate it.

Now, in light of the outrages that Palestinians have endured and will continue to endure as Israel goes about annihilating Gaza with relentless ferocity, pizza might seem a picayune, even distasteful, starting point for a column that will invoke two blunt words throughout: genocide and famine.

Still, this past week I came across a number of jarring images that, when considered side by side, tell us a lot about the sick scale of crimes we are witnessing being committed in Gaza and beyond as well as the disparate circumstances of the victims and the perpetrators of those horrors.

The first picture features two young Israeli soldiers, each carrying a tower of pizza boxes – a gift apparently from a popular pizza franchise. The soldiers, clad in green, are smiling. They appear giddy. The marketing adage on the spine of the boxes reads: “For the love of pizza.”

A companion image posted on Instagram stars a balding, portly Israeli soldier with a high-powered weapon slung across a shoulder. His right arm is resting on a stack of free pies delivered by the same Israeli subsidiary of a well-known American pizza chain. A hint of a grin crosses his bearded, bespectacled face.

Heart emojis on both snapshots are intended to convey, I suppose, gratitude for their fast-food bounty.

The Israeli soldiers look happy. They are going to be well-fed. If the soldiers are troubled or disturbed by all the murderous madness engulfing the region, it doesn’t show in this captured-on-cellphone instant at least.

They’re pleased. A surreal air of normality reigns amid the pervasive inhumanity. Dinner, happily, is served.

Other pictures, of course, convey a much different and cruel story.

A group of Palestinian boys and girls is pressed up against an iron gate in some part of decimated Gaza. They’re wearing sweaters and hoodies to shield themselves against the winter chill.

The boys and girls have been enlisted or volunteered to find food and water for their families. They’re carrying pots and a colander.

One girl stands out. Her outstretched arm bends between the thick, black bars like a pretzel. She’s holding a silver bowl. The girl seems to be crying out to someone in the distance  to draw attention to her empty bowl.

The row of nearby children follow in frantic suit, forced to plead for help too.

Millions of Palestinians will not plead. Instead, these days, they take what they can to survive.

Two weeks ago in the cratered, apocalyptic remains of a neighbourhood west of Gaza City, dozens of Palestinian men and boys swarmed an abandoned truck like bees on a hive as they searched for flour and canned food.

Gaza teems with hunger, want and desperation. Shops have been erased. Homes have been erased. Cemeteries have been erased. Schools have been erased. Mosques have been erased. Hospitals have been erased.

Hope has been erased.

The genocide unfolding day after hellish day in Gaza takes two forms. One is loud and quick. The other is quiet and slow. Both are lethal and, despite the predictable denials from the predictable Western capitals, deliberate.

The litany of bombs and drones that Israel has unleashed on Gaza, which have killed thousands of Palestinians and maimed thousands more, are meant to kill and maim – instantly.

The loud, quick wholesale destruction of Gaza is being done by design. It is designed to terrorize. It is designed to eradicate. It is designed to turn Gaza – all of it – into dust, barren and uninhabitable.

Anyone in any quarter who claims otherwise is an apologist for an Israeli government, which has made plain its aim to ethnically cleanse Gaza – openly and repeatedly.

The apologists prefer the comfort of blindness to the discomfort of honesty.

A quiet, slow genocide is happening beyond the “bang-bang” scenes that dominate the screens of Western news networks.

It is happening in the flimsy tents that house the legion of homeless Palestinians who were ordered on forced marches – by foot and mule – from one part of besieged Gaza to another.

That’s where, according to the United Nations, famine is spreading with “incredible speed”.

Martin Griffiths, the UN under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and its emergency relief coordinator told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour recently that the “great majority” of the 400,000 Palestinians characterised by UN agencies as at risk of starving “are actually in famine, not just at risk of famine”.

Famines are caused by a combination of the pitiless vagaries of nature and the inevitable consequences of conflict.

The famine that is gripping Gaza is not a “natural disaster” but the direct, orchestrated result of Israel’s grievous actions and inaction.

Most of the casualties of Israel’s loud, quick genocide have been children. Its slow, quiet genocide is also bound to claim many more innocents. Dreadfully, Gaza’s 350,000 children under the age of five are said to be particularly vulnerable.

“Children at high risk of dying from malnutrition and disease desperately need medical treatment, clean water and sanitation services, but the conditions on the ground do not allow us to safely reach children and families in need,” UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell said.

This engineered famine is, by any legal or moral measure, a blatant war crime.

“The Israeli government is using starvation of civilians as a method of warfare in the occupied Gaza Strip, which is a war crime,” Human Rights Watch warned in a report published in mid-December. “Israeli forces are deliberately blocking the delivery of water, food, and fuel, while willfully impeding humanitarian assistance, apparently razing agricultural areas, and depriving the civilian population of objects indispensable to their survival.”

The metastasising famine, combined with the sure outbreak of disease, is likely to kill more Palestinians than Israel’s constant shower of bombs and drones.

This will be the international community’s disgraceful epitaph: Rather than stop a famine, it abetted Israel while its “strategic ally” tried starving Palestinians into capitulation and submission.

Shame on them. Shame on them all.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.