Israel’s war on Gaza is starving mothers

Restricting food aid has become a key strategy in Israel’s assault on Gaza. With Israel withholding food and water supplies, the 180 mothers who give birth every day in Gaza are starving along with their infants. The most vulnerable in Gaza, including pregnant people, mothers and children, are bearing the brunt of the war.

In early January, South Africa’s representatives argued that the International Court of Justice should adopt a legally binding order to compel Israel to cease military operations in Gaza immediately. According to South Africa, Israel’s military actions violate the Genocide Convention of 1948, in the process driving Gaza into famine.


With hospitals shelled beyond functionality, Gazan mothers labor at shelters and in the streets, often enduring C-sections with no painkillers. Those fortunate to deliver in one of the few remaining hospitals are discharged three hours later into a city lacking food, fuel and clean water.

As a health policy scientist focused on the Middle East diaspora and a maternal health researcher, we fear the war’s long-term effects on maternal and child health in Gaza. Even when Gazan mothers can carry healthy babies to term, the catastrophic nutritional situation renders new mothers unable to feed their babies. Breastfeeding may help protect against the maternal stress experienced during active conflict that can leave future generations with a higher incidence of mental health conditions. Preventing Gazan moms from breastfeeding will have devastating consequences on the health and well-being of Palestinians for generations.

For Palestinian mothers in crisis, breastfeeding is the safest method of infant feeding. Formula is scarce in emergencies and mothers must mix it with contaminated water, placing infants at risk for illness and even death. Breastfeeding provides safe, convenient nutrition and, in the short term, protects against respiratory illness and diarrhea, both common in emergencies. And in the long term, breastfeeding can protect against asthma, a condition that is more prevalent in populations traumatized by war.

Mothers in Gaza, however, cannot currently access the water and nutrients needed to produce enough breast milk to feed their babies.

Israel has reduced water production in Gaza to less than 3% of normal production, amounting to slightly less than 1 gallon of water per person per day. These dire conditions force families to boil dirty water and sometimes even drink seawater, leading to severe dehydration. Experts anticipate impending cholera and typhoid outbreaks. Reports show that the food entering Gaza meets less than 7% of the population’s minimum caloric needs, meaning Gazan women lack the 2,000-2,800 calories needed per day to breastfeed.

Some will argue that Biden’s hands are tied, and that the United States must maintain its alliance with Israel. But the American public disagrees. On Jan. 13, 400,000 Americans marched on Washington, D.C., against Biden’s support of Israel’s war.

The humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza has the potential to spread throughout the region. The International Court of Justice must listen to South Africa, and the provisional measure demanding that Israel suspend military operations. The mothers of Gaza need a ceasefire now.

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