As 2-Month-Old Starves to Death in Gaza, Mosab Abu Toha Says His Own Family Is Eating Animal Feed

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

We begin today’s show with Israel’s war on Gaza, where a famine is unfolding. The United Nations said today the great majority of some 400,000 Gazans who are at risk of starving are, quote, “actually in famine,” not just at risk of famine. The U.N. World Food Programme says the flow of aid into Gaza from Egypt and the distribution of food that does get through has slowed in the past two weeks.

This comes as the Shehab news agency reports a 2-month-old Palestinian boy named Mahmoud Fattouh died from starvation Friday in northern Gaza, just days after the United Nations warned of an explosion in child deaths due to the lack of food and water.

This is a displaced Palestinian mother sheltering at a school in the Jabaliya camp in northern Gaza.

PALESTINIAN MOTHER: [translated] My son is 1 year old. He’s asking for bread, for baby bottle milk. He’s going after me everywhere, asking for a bottle. What would I feed him? There is no milk. There is no bread. There is nothing. There is no food. What will I feed him?

AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, in central Gaza, there are two young siblings from Gaza City who are now living in a tent camp near Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in Deir al-Balah. They describe being forced to eat animal feed.

SERAJ SHEHADA: [translated] When we were in Gaza City, we used to eat nothing. We would eat every two days.

SAAD SHEHADA: [translated] My mother, brother and aunts were martyred. We are the only ones left, my father and my two brothers. Due to hunger and poverty, we secretly came to Deir al-Balah. We did not tell our father. After we came here, our grandmother called and started shouting at us. … We used to eat bird food. It was bitter. We did not want to eat it. We used to do so forcibly. We used to have a small loaf every two days. We did not like it, as it was bitter. … We did not have clean water. We used to drink saltwater, and we got sick. We did not have water to wash nor clothes to wear. Where could we have gotten those? We came here.

AMY GOODMAN: The boys are 11 and 9 years old.

This comes as U.N. chief António Guterres warned Monday against a full-scale Israeli military operation in Rafah, where well over a million displaced Palestinians have sought refuge, saying it would deliver, quote, “the final nail in the coffin,” unquote, for aid programs in Gaza, where humanitarian assistance remains, quote, “completely insufficient.”

For more, we go to Cairo, Egypt, where we’re joined by Mosab Abu Toha, a Palestinian poet, teacher, author and founder of the Edward Said Library in Gaza. His new piece for The New Yorker magazine is headlined, “My Family’s Daily Struggle to Find Food in Gaza.” In it, he writes about a message that his brother Hamza posted on social media earlier this month, which included a picture of what he was eating that day: in his words, quote, “a ragged brown morsel, seared black on one side and flecked with grainy bits.” He translates his brother’s Arabic caption, quote, “This is the wondrous thing we call ‘bread’ — a mixture of rabbit, donkey, and pigeon feed. There is nothing good about it except that it fills our bellies. It is impossible to stuff it with other foods, or even break it except by biting down hard with one’s teeth.”

Mosab Abu Toha, welcome back to Democracy Now! If you can start by responding to what you heard — you got out of Gaza with your children — when you heard that a 2-month-old boy starved to death on Friday in Gaza?

MOSAB ABU TOHA: Well, in fact, this is very scary, because most of the population in Gaza are children. And all my cousins and most of my nephews and nieces are younger than 10. So, none of them would survive if they didn’t have any good food or clean water for days.

Yesterday, I got a video from my brother Hamza showing that my mother and my in-law were digging through the rubble looking for some food, but all they could find were some books that were in my home. So, people are returning to their bombed houses, which is not a safe place to search for food, looking for some food that they used to have in their houses. And the news about the death of some children is really scary, because, as I mentioned, most of the people in Gaza are children.

AMY GOODMAN: So, talk more about your brother’s family and what he’s facing right now, and how you’re dealing with this, with your boys and your wife in Cairo.

MOSAB ABU TOHA: Well, one startling thing is that my 8-year-old boy, whenever we sit to eat or whenever we get a phone call or whenever we try to call our family in Gaza, the first thing my son asks is, “Does my family in Gaza have food? Are they eating?” So, he doesn’t think about anything that has to do with the war itself. He doesn’t say that, “Are they in a safe place? Is there no bombing anymore, God willing?” No, he asks about food, because he knows what it means to have little food when we were living in Gaza, before we left in December. So, every time he hears us talking to our family in Gaza, he would ask, “Does my grandfather have food? Does my grandmother?” Then he starts to mention his cousins’ names. “Is Mustafa, is he eating? Is Nahida eating?” So he starts to mention them by name.

And for me, I feel really, really depressed whenever I go out in the street and find food. So, two days ago, I went and I bought two loaves of bread for about less than a dollar. If I’m taking this, these two loaves of bread, to Gaza right now, I would make a fortune. I would sell them for about maybe $50 — I’m serious — because one — so, yeah, this is very recent news. One sack of bread, which weighs 25 kilograms, is sold for $1,500, because there is no wheat flour. This is yesterday. And now I think the government in Gaza — though there is no government, but some people who worked with the government — are threatening people who are selling these things for very, very staggering prices.

AMY GOODMAN: Has your sister-in-law given birth yet?

MOSAB ABU TOHA: Yes, she gave birth to a boy. His name is Ali. And now the boy is 10 days old. And my brother could find something like a gift for his wife. He could find a few pieces of beef and a few grains of rice for $100. So, this wouldn’t even be enough for his wife, who gave birth just 10 days ago. So, although it’s a very expensive thing, he could find these things after a week of search.

AMY GOODMAN: The last time UNRWA was able to deliver food aid to northern Gaza was January 23rd. Since then, together with other U.N. agencies — this is a tweet from Philippe Lazzarini, the head of UNRWA. He said, “The last time we have warned against” — it says, “Since then, together with other UN agencies, we have warned against looming famine, appealed for regular humanitarian access, stated that famine can be averted if more food convoys are allowed into northern Gaza on a regular basis. Our calls to send food aid have been denied & have fallen on deaf ears. This is a man made disaster. The world committed to never let famine happen again. Famine can still be avoided, through genuine political will to grant access & protection to meaningful assistance. The days to come will once again test our common humanity and values.” Again, a post on social media by Philippe Lazzarini, head of UNRWA, coming as the World Food Programme has also paused its aid delivery to northern Gaza, and, of course, UNRWA under siege. The Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has long tried to get rid of the U.N. agency. And now nearly 20 countries have defunded it, including the country that gave UNRWA the most money, the United States. Mosab Abu Toha, your response?

MOSAB ABU TOHA: Well, I would like the whole world to listen to this. Now Israel is not allowing food into the northern part of Gaza so people would regret not having left it, as Israel was encouraging people to — or, ordering people to leave. And now people are thinking, “OK, if we leave the northern part of Gaza, would it be safe to be in the south?” So, because the first few days and few weeks Israel was telling people and ordering people, “OK, you are safe now. You can take the Salah al-Din Street or the C Street and go to the south, because this would be a safe place for you,” and many, many people left, including me. And I was kidnapped on the way. But many people left, and now they are crowded in Rafah in tents. I have one brother who’s a bodybuilder and weightlifter. He’s a champion. He was a champion in Gaza. And he wrote me yesterday. He said, “Brother, I haven’t left my tent for a week. I’m depressed. I’m about to die.” So, he’s in Rafah, and he’s depressed. And he thinks that he’s going to die very soon. This is one thing.

And the other thing: How many food trucks have been halted from getting into Israel? How many weapons trucks, how many weapon, arms shipments were halted from getting into Israel? Why could Israel stop food trucks from getting in to civilians, when we know that most of these civilians are children, while all the people in the world could not stop the shipping of weapons, destructive weapons, into Israel? I’m not talking here about stopping food trucks from going into Israel, but I’m talking here about weapons. I mean, where is the mind of the people in the world? How could you allow this to happen? You are funding Israel with more weapons and more food, of course. But you are not — we are not asking people to allow weapon trucks into Gaza. I mean, we are not asking for this, because we don’t want this to continue. What we are asking for is that people in Gaza have food and have medicine. And we need to lift the siege on Gaza, because this siege, which has now intensified, did not start today. Gaza has been under siege since 2007. And now we are in the bleakest stages of this siege. Gaza is not only now under siege, but it’s under genocide. So, this is very scary. And I hope the world will not continue to watch and just show us that they are helpless in the face of Israel. And if you can’t get food into Gaza, can you please stop the shipping of weapons into Israel? Because they are killing us every day.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you about the International Court of Justice, which has just concluded its six-day hearing on Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories. This is Ralph Wilde, a representative of the League of Arab States.

RALPH WILDE: The occupation must end. Israel must renounce its claim to sovereignty over the Palestinian territory. All settlers must be removed immediately. This is required to end the illegality, to discharge the positive obligation to enable immediate Palestinian self-administration, and because Israel lacks any legal entitlement to exercise authority.

Second, in the absence of the occupation ending, necessarily, everything Israel does in the Palestinian territory lacks a valid international legal basis and is, therefore, subject to the Namibia exception, invalid, not only those things violating the law regulating the conduct of the occupation. Those norms entitle and require Israel to do certain things. But this doesn’t alter the more fundamental position from the law on the use of force and self-determination that Israel lacks any valid authority to do anything. And whatever it does is illegal, even if complying with or pursuant to the conduct regulatory rules.

I will close by quoting Palestinian academic and poet Refaat Alareer from his final poem, posted 36 days before he was killed by Israel in Gaza on the 6th of December, 2023. “If I must die, you must live to tell my story.”

AMY GOODMAN: That was Ralph Wilde, a representative of the League of Arab States, quoting the late Palestinian poet Refaat Alareer. Mosab Abu Toha, you were a close friend of Refaat. Can you respond to what he said?

MOSAB ABU TOHA: Well, I’m still wondering how Israel could be still a member of the United Nations when we know that it is occupying Palestinian land. I mean, this is, I think, one condition through which Israel joined the United Nations, I think, in the early 1950s, was to stand by, you know, the borders that were set after the partition plan. But now Israel occupies more than 90% of the Palestinian land.

I think what Refaat is asking is how the world is — you know, is unable to control a state that they continue to fund. I mean, they can’t control it, but they continue to fund it. And they continue to cut the funds to the United Nations organization that is trying to support the Palestinian people, not during this genocide, but UNRWA has been supporting people, and I was educated in their schools, and I went to their clinics and got medications for free. And now they are cutting their funding during the most critical time of our lives in Gaza, and also in other parts of the world. So, this really drives me insane, because the world is pretending to be unable to do anything, but they do the opposite: They continue to fund Israel. They send it weapons. They send Israel more fruit and more vegetables and more wheat flour and more gas, but they say, “OK, we can’t stop Israel from killing the children.” And, I mean, I hope that someone — someone — someone would come to explain this to me one time.

And also, one last point before I end with my answer, is that: How many officials from the world came to Gaza to meet with the real people there? If they are saying that Gaza is all Hamas, can you please come to Gaza and meet my mother, my brother, my sibling, Ali, who is now 10 days old? Can you come and meet them and listen to them, what they’re asking for? But it was easy for them to go to Israel and meet with the monsters there who are waging the war and who are inciting to kill more and more people. But they never came to Gaza. I think there is one reason for that: because Gaza does not have an airport. So it was easy for them to fly and land in the land of Israel, because they have an airport. But maybe one reason they couldn’t come to Gaza is that Gaza does not have an airport. I mean, I could try to understand that.

AMY GOODMAN: Mosab Abu Toha, we want to thank you for being with us, Palestinian poet, author, teacher, founder of the Edward Said Library in Gaza. We will link to your new piece in The New Yorker magazine, headlined “My Family’s Daily Struggle to Find Food in Gaza.” His award-winning book is titled Things You Mays Find Hidden in My Ear: Poems from Gaza.

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