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Study says food aid meets quality, quantity for Gazans as UN, ICC say Israel starving civilians

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Jun 4, 2024

JERUSALEM – A new scientific study examining food insecurity in the war-torn Gaza Strip has found that the quality and quantity of food that has entered the Palestinian enclave over the past few months meets international nutritional standards and should adequately provide for the territory’s entire population of around 2.4 million. 

The findings of the report come in stark contrast to statements and predictions made over the past few months by the U.N., aid agencies and human rights organizations, as well as government officials in the U.S., who have warned of severe malnutrition, especially among children, and of looming famine in some parts of Gaza. It also comes a week after the world’s top two courts issued rulings accusing Israel, and its leaders, of purposely starving the Palestinian people. 

Conducted by a group of leading Israeli academics and public health officials, the study, which is based on data from COGAT, the Israeli military body responsible for facilitating the entry of aid into Gaza, found that the quantity and nutritional composition of the food that has been delivered over the past four months complied, and even exceeded, the Sphere standards, an internationally recognized benchmark for humanitarian response.

While the study assessed all food aid shipments that passed through the Kerem Shalom and Nitzana land crossings, as well as air drops into the territory from January-April 2024, it did not, however, examine what happened to the food aid after it entered into the Strip or how it was distributed to the civilian population. 

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Both Israel and the United Nations recognize there have been problems in distributing the aid, but blame each other for the severe shortages of basic items reaching the population.

“We don’t usually deal with humanitarian crises, we usually deal with food security domestically, but we were concerned by the reports and international declarations projecting the risks of famine, which were quickly accepted by the media and used by those who are hostile to Israel to make claims of deliberate starvation, genocide and war crimes,” Aron Troen, a professor of agriculture, food and environment at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem who oversaw the study, told Fox News Digital.

“Clearly, we are concerned with the horrific toll that this war is taking on civilians, both Palestinians and Israelis, but there is a large gap between the harms of war and claims that Israel is deliberately starving Palestinian people,” he said. 

As part of its research, Troen’s team scanned COGAT’s registry of all the aid that entered Gaza via air and land between January and April. Quantifying and assessing the nutrient composition of the individual food items and summing up the energy, protein, fat and iron content of all the shipments, the researchers then calculated the supply per capita per day according to population size in 2023. The findings were then compared to the Sphere standards for food security and nutrition in conflict-affected populations, showing that what has entered should have been sufficient to feed the entire population. 

“There’s no question of suffering [in Gaza] and that is very concerning to my colleagues who work in the public health arena and those who concern themselves with food and nutrition,” Troen said, noting that “simply having food in a warehouse does not mean that people are actually consuming what they need.”

Alternatively, Troen said reports about the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Gaza “were based on scams and very limited data” and that most of the “projections were worst case scenarios.”

“What we found most confusing was the controversy highlighted in the media of counting trucks and the different claims and counter claims of how many trucks there are and how many trucks there were before and how many trucks are needed to provide for the needs of the civilian population,” he continued, emphasizing, “counting trucks does not tell you how much food is actually getting in.” 

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Ahed Al-Hindi, a senior fellow at the Center for Peace Communications, who has been monitoring the humanitarian situation in Gaza by speaking to people on the ground, told Fox News Digital “there is no way that we can say there is a famine in Gaza.”

“Of course, it’s not ideal, there’s a war and many people have fled to areas such as Rafah or Khan Younis, so there is a lot of demands there,” he said. “But also, the supplies are there and available and the prices are reasonable.” 

Al-Hindi shared a video released by the Center for Peace Communications with Fox News Digital showing footage of a Gazan man who is identified as a Hamas supporter, examining produce in a local market and purchasing cucumbers, bananas, melons and even peaches. 

“I’ve worked in many countries that suffered from famine,” he continued, describing the extreme famine in places such as Syria, where President Bashar Al-Assad forbid food from entering a town called Madaya in 2016 and famine was clearly evident.

Also in Sudan, Al-Hindi said, his contacts on the ground described severe food shortages. 

“We have reporters on the ground in Sudan, and they are all complaining how they are suffering from real famine but everybody is ignoring them because of the war in Gaza,” he said. “They say it is because of the color of their skin color that nobody is paying them attention, instead all the eyes are Rafah.”

In Israel, Col. Elad Goren, who heads the civil department of COGAT, told Fox News Digital there are currently no limits on the amount of food going into Gaza and that the U.N. calculations, widely cited by international organizations and government officials in the U.S., were misleading and inaccurate. 

He said the U.N. figures on the aid going into Gaza did not encompass the entire picture, failing to include what is also being brought in by other international agencies, daily air drops by the Jordanian and Egyptian militaries, and the pier, which the U.S. Central Command put in place earlier this month but last week was temporary closed for safety reasons. 

“From our side everything is open, if the agencies want to bring in 700 trucks a day of food or whatever, then they can, there is no problem,” Goren said, highlighting that the problem of getting food to the ordinary people caught up in the fighting stemmed from the challenges of distribution. 

“There is a limited number of trucks for delivering the aid, and it is up to the U.N. and other international agencies to purchase more trucks for this use,” he said, explaining what he said was one large part of the problem.

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Prior to the war, Goren detailed how the U.N. had only about eight aid trucks in Gaza. Since the war started on Oct. 7 and the humanitarian situation deteriorated, the U.N. had added around 15 more trucks to its fleet – not enough to reach all the areas in need. Goren also noted that the U.N. had sent in fewer than 60 people to help deal with the crisis. 

Also hampering efforts, he said was Hamas, which often disrupts aid efforts, firing rockets at humanitarian convoys and emptying all the available cash from the banks. Last week, COGAT released a photograph showing aid workers running for cover as the terrorist organization attacked the Kerem Shalom crossing. 

In response to a request from Fox News Digital, Eri Kaneko, spokesperson for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said, however, that “the responsibility to facilitate aid operations in order to meet people’s humanitarian needs lies with parties to the conflict.”

“Humanitarian workers and volunteers spare no effort, often risking their lives, to support civilians in Gaza amid active hostilities,” she said, explaining that “mounting an effective humanitarian operation in a war zone requires security assurances for aid workers and unimpeded passage to distribute assistance at scale.” 

“In that context, we have stressed that Israel’s responsibility does not end when supplies are dropped off at the border, as that alone does not guarantee aid workers’ access to safely pick them up, let alone distribute them to those in need inside Gaza,” Kaneko continued. 

The spokesperson did not address the lack of delivery trucks or humanitarian workers, but did say that its missions were “routinely denied access to their destinations, delayed at [Israeli-run] checkpoints, or otherwise impeded.” 

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In recent weeks, Kaneko said “every third humanitarian mission coordinated with the Israeli authorities in southern Gaza was either impeded following an initial approval or denied access altogether.”

“As a result, the already poor flow of humanitarian supplies into Gaza has dropped by 67% since May 7, leaving civilians without essentials for their survival,” she added. 

Last week, the International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor, Karim Khan, also held Israel and its leaders responsible for preventing the crucial supplies from reaching the population, saying he would seek warrants for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant for war crimes and crimes against humanity, including “the starvation of civilians as a weapon of war.”

Khan’s announcement was not only based on the U.N. assessment but also on data from agencies dealing with food security. The World Food Program, who’s executive director Cindy McCain has already declared that there is a full-blown famine in Gaza, told Fox News Digital that its predictions were based on data provided by the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) Organization. 

Israel, however, has accused the IPC of not following its own protocols in making its famine assessment for Gaza, pointing out that it relies on information provided by Hamas-run bodies. Asked if they might update their analysis based on the new report on food security, the IPC – and FEWS NET, which also provides early warnings and analysis on acute food insecurity to international agencies – told Fox News Digital that they were currently working on new reports due out in the coming weeks. 

In March, world leaders expressed serious concerns regarding the aid situation in Gaza, prompting the U.S. administration to push the Israelis to open more entry points and allow more goods to go in. The Israeli army agreed to reverse earlier policies and said it would “flood” the Palestinian territory with both aid and commercial goods. Since then, additional land crossings have opened in northern Gaza, and aid also arrives from Jordan over land through Israel. In addition, Israel’s international port in Ashdod is now clearing aid for the Strip. 

Jeremy Konyndyk, president of U.S.-based Refugees International, said the research paper offered a skewed view of the “cumulative food supply deficits” because almost no food was able to enter Gaza in the early months of the war. It also does not address the challenges of distributing the aid, he said.

“It is disputable that enough food is entering the strip,” Konyndyk continued, adding “there are numerous obstacles related to Israeli government policies and Israeli military conduct that have prevented food from reaching many who most need it.”

While he acknowledged looting by Hamas and others, he said the “greater obstacle is the extensive movement restrictions imposed by the Israeli military, and the atmosphere of fear and insecurity that aid agencies face due to repeated army strikes on humanitarian movements and facilities.”

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“Safe aid access and last-mile distribution within Gaza remain the biggest challenges in terms of combating famine,” said Konyndyk.

“I think Israel’s humanitarian policy has evolved substantially since Oct. 7,” Shira Efron, senior director of policy research at the Israel Policy Forum, told Fox News Digital. “Whereas in the beginning, insufficient quantities of aid, including foodstuff was going in, now it seems, at least from the number of trucks and that way of counting, there are sufficient quantities of food going into Gaza, at least according to the Spheres standard.”

Efron, who has been monitoring the aid situation closely, said that while counting calories to determine whether civilians were receiving enough supplies was problematic, in a chaotic situation such as Gaza, it was “difficult to find a suitable metric to assess the quantity and diversity of the food going in.” 

She noted the discrepancies between figures put out by Israel vs. the United Nations agencies but also highlighted that the U.N.’s figures were only partial, while COGAT provided a fuller and more up-to-date picture of the aid operations. 

Efron also said there was a problem with distribution once the aid entered into the Strip, highlighting the difficulties of getting goods to displaced people who are constantly on the move and other war-related factors. 

“While there might be enough food going to prevent large-scale hunger, unless we solve the distribution problems inside Gaza it will not reach the people who need it,” she said. “I think it’s time for the U.N. or international organizations, and Israel, to try to develop a more result-oriented approach to understand how this aid is going in, where it is going and whether it is getting to the people who really need it.” 

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