Geneva – Israel’s policy of starvation in the Gaza Strip will have long-term, irreversible effects, Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor said on Wednesday, after international experts predicted that the number of victims of starvation and related diseases may exceed the number of those killed directly during the Israeli genocide of Palestinians in the Strip, ongoing since October 2023. 

A new policy paper issued by Euro-Med Monitor entitled “The Gaza Strip: A scene of genocide since 7 October and a potential famine zone on 7 February” examines the dire food situation in the Strip and the probable famine there, particularly in the enclave’s northern governorates. The policy paper was based primarily on reports issued by international organisations, most notably the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC), a global initiative.

According to the Euro-Med report, the number of trucks carrying humanitarian aid that are permitted to enter the Gaza Strip per day, in the best-case scenario, is between 70 and 100, with two of those trucks going to the northern governorates. Prior to 7 October, the number of aid trucks entering the Gaza Strip daily was at least 500.

“These statistics are self-evident, and do not need much clarification,” stated Lima Bastami, Director of the Legal Department at Euro-Med Monitor. “What enters the Strip does not meet the minimum level of the population’s needs in light of the severe, continuous, and accumulated deprivation of food, drinking water, and medicine supplies [amid its] growing needs, due to the ongoing siege and genocide.

“The situation is getting more complicated because the people living in the Gaza Strip are under siege from all sides, making it impossible for them to produce the food they need locally or get it from other sources,” Bustami continued.

According to the IPC, which was cited in the Euro-med paper, the Strip is home to the highest percentage of people globally facing high levels of acute food instability in the last 20 years, at the very least. By 7 February of next year, approximately 53% of the population will be suffering from an extreme malnutrition emergency, and 26%—or roughly half a million people—will be suffering from famine. There will be a rise in the number of deaths caused by hunger, malnutrition, and related diseases, the report warned.

The Euro-Med Monitor paper pointed to evidence of a famine in the Gaza Strip from the IPC, which had prompted the activation of a Famine Review Committee (FRC). The FRC carefully examined the report and confirmed the objectivity and technical accuracy of the analysis before sharing the results. It came to the following conclusions: The report’s findings were reasonable; the famine threshold (Phase 5) for severe food security had already been crossed; the report’s estimates were conservative indicators; and the general population’s likelihood of experiencing famine was probably higher than the percentages indicated.

Batsami explained that the process of declaring a state of famine is still uncommon in general. It has only been declared twice in modern history—in South Sudan in 2017 and Somalia in 2011—while Yemen, despite its dire food situation and rapidly rising death toll, has still not been officially declared a famine. She emphasised that whether or not a state of famine is formally declared, it does not alter the fact that a catastrophic famine has indeed already spread throughout the Gaza Strip, particularly in the northern governorates, and that it has resulted in members of the populace dying.

Declaring a famine in the Gaza Strip has significant ramifications, even though it does not in and of itself impose any legal obligations on the responsible State or international community. A declaration would place an additional moral burden and stigma on Israel and its allies, i.e. increase political pressure on the international community to act swiftly to stop the worsening of the dire situation in the Strip, lift the siege, and force Israel to cease its attack on the Strip.

Additionally, declaring famine in the Gaza Strip would mean acknowledging that Israel has committed the crime of “starving civilians” and used this starvation as a tool of war in the Strip, which actually requires a lower threshold than declaring famine; starvation without causing famine is sufficient for prosecution. Declaring a state of famine provides evidence, and prima facie evidence, that Israel has committed the crime of starvation as a war crime or as a form of its genocide against Palestinians in the Strip since October 7, which could have important effects in advancing the process of holding Israel accountable for its crimes committed against civilians.

Bustami said that declaring famine in Gaza “may find its way before the International Court of Justice”. She stated that the Court is currently considering the lawsuit filed by South Africa against Israel for violations of its obligations under the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, and that a declaration of famine could either lead to the request of an amendment “to those precautionary measures under Article (73) of the Court Regulations, or as additional evidence that the court will weigh during its consideration of the merits of the case and issuing its final ruling therein”.

In order to ensure that response efforts are complementary and that joint assessments are carried out on a regular basis, Euro-Med Monitor’s policy paper recommended that the Palestinian government take prompt, decisive action in responding to the famine by allocating all of its available resources to the activation of executable emergency plans and budgets; monitoring and gathering precise and up-to-date data and information about the availability, access, and use of food as well as nutritional status and mortality rates; and sharing and communicating them with the relevant international authorities.

Euro-Med Monitor’s paper also cautioned the international community against taking any actions that could be considered conspiring to commit the crime of starvation or engaging in any activities that could worsen the effects of the crime, including failing to break Israel’s siege on the Gaza Strip or provide aid to residents of the Strip directly by land (from Egypt), sea, and air. It further called on the international community to immediately resume funding for UNRWA, as it is the primary international organisation currently in charge of introducing and distributing humanitarian aid in the Gaza Strip.

The Geneva-based human rights group’s report urged the IPC and pertinent United Nations agencies to step up their efforts to monitor and evaluate the food crisis in the Gaza Strip. This should include tracking indicators of the famine’s acceleration, documenting data, and providing analyses based on the IPC scale, said Euro-Med Monitor. Most importantly, the IPC was urged to submit its second report as soon as possible, given that the deadline for their first report is approaching.

The policy paper further urged the IPC to carry out its legal obligations under UN Security Council Resolution No. (2417), which was issued in 2018 and addresses the protection of civilians in armed conflict. This resolution requires the IPC to promptly notify the Security Council in the event that a conflict or situation of widespread food insecurity in armed contexts poses a risk of famine. As a result, in compliance with the resolution, the Security Council must give the information the Secretary-General has provided in this regard its full attention. It is noteworthy that the Secretary-General has not yet carried out its duties in accordance with this resolution, stated Euro-Med Monitor.

The policy paper is a part of the rights organisation’s continuous efforts to monitor international crimes committed in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, with the goal of holding those responsible for the crimes accountable and securing adequate compensation for the victims. Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor has stepped up these efforts, which include conducting pressure and advocacy campaigns, publishing regular field, statistical, and objective reports, and tracking and recording international crimes and violations, during Israel’s ongoing genocide of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.