A smoking skull

Republished by HOUDINI Magazine

Chris Hedges

Let Them Eat Dirt - Chris Hedges on Palestinian Genocide

More than half a million Palestinians – one in four – are starving in Gaza, according to the U.N. Starvation will soon be ubiquitous. Palestinians in Gaza, at least 1.9 million of whom have been internally displaced, lack not only sufficient food, but clean water, shelter and medicine. There are few fruits or vegetables. There is little flour to make bread. Pasta, along with meat, cheese and eggs, have disappeared. Black market prices for dry goods such as lentils and beans have increased 25 times from pre-war prices. A bag of flour on the black market has risen from $8.00 to $200 dollars. The healthcare system in Gaza, with only three of Gaza’s 36 hospitals left partially functioning, has largely collapsed. Some 1.3 million displaced Palestinians live on the streets of the southern city of Rafah, which Israel designated a “safe zone,” but has begun to bomb. Families shiver in the winter rains under flimsy tarps amid pools of raw sewage. An estimated 90 percent of Gaza’s 2.3 million people have been driven from their homes.

“There is no instance since the Second World War in which an entire population has been reduced to extreme hunger and destitution with such speed,” writes Alex de Waal, executive director of the World Peace Foundation at Tufts University and the author of “Mass Starvation: The History and Future of Famine,” in the Guardian. “And there’s no case in which the international obligation to stop it has been so clear.”

The United States, formerly UNRWA’s largest contributor, provided $422 million to the agency in 2023. The severance of funds ensures that UNRWA food deliveries, already in very short supply because of blockages by Israel, will largely come to a halt by the end of February or the beginning of March. Israel has given the Palestinians in Gaza two choices. Leave or die.

I covered the famine in Sudan in 1988 that took 250,000 lives. There are streaks in my lungs, scars from standing amid hundreds of Sudanese who were dying of tuberculosis. I was strong and healthy and fought off the contagion. They were weak and emaciated and did not. The international community, as in Gaza, did little to intervene. The precursor to starvation - undernourishment - already affects most Palestinians in Gaza. Those who starve lack enough calories to sustain themselves. In desperation people begin to eat animal fodder, grass, leaves, insects, rodents, even dirt. They suffer from diarrhea and respiratory infections. They rip up tiny bits of food, often spoiled, and ration it.

Soon, lacking enough iron to produce hemoglobin, a protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen from the lungs to the body, and myoglobin, a protein that provides oxygen to muscles, coupled with a lack of vitamin B1, they become anemic. The body feeds on itself. Tissue and muscle waste away. It is impossible to regulate body temperature. Kidneys shut down. Immune systems crash. Vital organs – brain, heart, lungs, ovaries and testes -- atrophy. Blood circulation slows. The volume of blood decreases. Infectious diseases such as typhoid, tuberculosis and cholera become an epidemic, killing people by the thousands. It is impossible to concentrate. Emaciated victims succumb to mental and emotional withdrawal and apathy. They do not want to be touched or moved. The heart muscle is weakened. Victims, even at rest, are in a state of virtual heart failure. Wounds do not heal. Vision is impaired with cataracts, even among the young. Finally, wracked by convulsions and hallucinations, the heart stops. This process can last up to 40 days for an adult. Children, the elderly and the sick expire at faster rates. I saw hundreds of skeletal figures, specters of human beings, moving forlornly at a glacial pace across the barren Sudanese landscape. Hyenas, accustomed to eating human flesh, routinely picked off small children. I stood over clusters of bleached human bones on the outskirts of villages where dozens of people, too weak to walk, had laid down in a group and never gotten up. Many were the remains of entire families. In the abandoned town of Mayen Abun bats dangled from the rafters of the gutted Italian mission church. The streets were overgrown with tussocks of grass. The dirt airstrip was flanked by hundreds of human bones, skulls and the remnants of iron bracelets, colored beads, baskets and tattered strips of clothing. The palm trees had been cut in half. People had eaten the leaves and the pulp inside. There had been a rumor that food would be delivered by plane. People had walked for days to the airstrip. They waited and waited and waited. No plane arrived. No one buried the dead.

Now, from a distance, I watch this happen in another land in another time. I know the indifference that doomed the Sudanese, mostly Dinkas, and today dooms the Palestinians. The poor, especially when they are of color, do not count. They can be killed like flies. The starvation in Gaza is not a natural disaster. It is Israel’s masterplan.

There will be scholars and historians who will write of this genocide, falsely believing that we can learn from the past, that we are different, that history can prevent us from being, once again, barbarians. They will hold academic conferences. They will say “Never again!” They will praise themselves for being more humane and civilized. But when it comes time to speak out with each new genocide, fearful of losing their status or academic positions, they will scurry like rats into their holes. Human history is one long atrocity for the world’s poor and vulnerable. Gaza is another chapter.