On Monday 16 October, the United Nations (UN) Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) hosted its annual ‘World Food Day’ event. At the opening ceremony, politicians issued bold platitudes to peace, food sovereignty, and a world without hunger.
However, speakers ignored Israel’s ongoing war crimes in Gaza, which is intentionally cutting off food, water, and electricity to over two million Palestinian inhabitants.
Water is life
High-profile politicians from across the world attended the FAO event in Rome. This included a remote appearance from the UN secretary general Antonio Guterres, and a representative of the Pope. Italian president Sergio Mattarella, Irish president Michael Higgins, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) minister for climate change Mariam Almheiri spoke during the opening ceremony.
Of course, on a day dedicated to discussing access to food, you might expect representatives to make at least a cursory attempt to condemn a state denying it to an occupied population.
Instead, participants exhibited stupefying levels of cognitive dissonance. This year’s theme carried the slogan “Water is life, water is food. Leave no one behind” – and it made for a jarring juxtaposition at the event and across social media.
The FAO invited people to tune into their discussions on taking water action for food security:
— Food and Agriculture Organization (@FAO) October 16, 2023
Meanwhile, Israel’s onslaught in Gaza is currently driving some two million Palestinians to the brink of starvation.
Israel starving Palestinians trapped in Gaza
Since 9 October, Israel has shut off electricity and implemented a “total” blockade on the entry of food, water, and medical supplies into the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT). As a result, food and water is in short supply.
On Saturday 14 October, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) warned that Israel’s blockade was causing water in the besieged Strip to run out. Of course, since then, the situation has deteriorated further. Now, water has actually run dry in the schools where a quarter of a million Palestinians have taken shelter:
Gaza is running dry.
People across📍#Gaza have severely limited access to clean drinking water.
— UNRWA (@UNRWA) October 16, 2023
After pressure from US president Joe Biden, Israel began resupplying water in Southern Gaza on Sunday 15. However, as multiple people on X pointed out, this does not mean that Palestinians will now have access to safe drinking water:
The Israeli regime has claimed it has “turned on” the water supply in the southern part of Gaza.
What they are not saying is that they’ve destroyed so many of the water pipes and that electricity is needed for the water pumps.
Read through the propaganda folks. pic.twitter.com/qSmrauiELB
— Dr. Yara Hawari د. يارا هواري (@yarahawari) October 15, 2023
I am from Gaza and I am telling you this is a JOKE.
Israel destroyed many water pipes.
Also, without electricity we can NOT turn on the water pumps.
Water in Gaza does not simply run into the taps. We have to fill water tanks about twice a week. https://t.co/yu7iyPsTOc
— Refaat🇵🇸 (@itranslate123) October 15, 2023
As such, Israel’s continued weaponisation of a resource crucial to survival has furthered its control over Palestinian lives:
Imagine using water —a necessity for life— to engineer ethnic cleansing and forced displacement.
Israel is turning on water in south of Gaza while keeping access to it shut in the north to force Palestinians to move. There is nothing more sinister and evil than this. https://t.co/KgwO7gJsWT
— Marwa Fatafta مروة فطافطة (@marwasf) October 15, 2023
Aid chief stayed silent
Given the humanitarian crisis developing in Gaza, speakers at the UN’s high-profile ‘World Food Day Event’ might have mentioned Israel’s criminal bombardment of Gaza. However, most skirted round the issue.
For example, only a few days before the event, executive director of the World Food Programme (WFP) Cindy Hensley McCain highlighted the stark challenges the WFP faced delivering aid to Gaza. Of course, her post stopped short of pointing the finger at Israel’s blockade:
We've reached almost 450,000 people so far with emergency food assistance, but we are quickly running out of supplies and funds.
We need safe, unimpeded humanitarian access immediately.
— Cindy McCain (@WFPChief) October 13, 2023
Notably, the WFP recently made its largest ever cut to the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT). Over the summer, WFP cut food aid to 200,000 Palestinian people – 60% of food aid recipients in the OPT.
Given that Gazan residents are facing the imminent threat of starvation, McCain could have taken this opportunity to call out Israel’s war crimes. Naturally, she didn’t – not even giving the briefest namecheck to Palestine in her entire speech.
Russia and Israel: double-standards
Italian president Sergio Mattarella was the only speaker to reference the ongoing siege. Unsurprisingly however, his token mention of Israel’s attempted genocide epitomised the double standards politicians and pundits have been shamelessly parading.
On the one hand, Mattarella condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine for causing:
Death and destruction at the very heart of Europe
Criticising Russia’s withdrawal from the Black Sea grain initiative, Mattarella followed this declaration without a hint of irony that:
It is a crime to turn food and water into instruments of conflict
Conversely, there were no strong words of condemnation against Israel’s bombing campaign and resource blockade in Gaza. Instead, Mattarella spoke out only against Hamas’s attack on Israel, saying:
The Middle East is again in flames, because of the cowardly attack that has already succeeded in elevating to unprecedented levels the spiral of horror and violence.
Mattarella ignored Israel’s retaliation against the entire civilian population of Gaza. In doing so, he participated in the atrocious ‘collective punishment as defence’ discourse which Israel it is using to justify its abhorrent bombing campaign. What’s more, the penny didn’t even drop when Mattarella called out the:
reappearance of imperialistic attitudes and nationalisms.
But then, why would Italy’s president call out a settler colonial state to which it supplies millions of euros in arms?
Complicity in the settler colonial project
Of course, Israel has long operated an apartheid process of systematically depriving the Palestinian people of their basic rights to food, water, and land. The settler colonial project has stolen and restricted access to Palestinian agricultural lands, and uprooted hundreds of thousands of olive trees essential to Palestinian livelihoods.
Likewise, political leaders and international institutions’ silence on Israel’s illegal occupation and ethnic cleansing in Palestine is nothing new. They were complicit before this siege, and they are just as complicit now.
So as Palestinians begin to starve, and risk a deadly slew of waterborne disease from polluted water sources, politicians either bury their heads in the sand or out themselves as apologists for Israel’s apartheid regime. On World Food Day, Palestinians starved as world leaders passively looked on.
Feature image via CNA/Youtube screengrab.
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