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Experts say Gaza faces imminent famine. Israel says that is a myth

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The world's top experts on global hunger say Gaza faces imminent famine. So what does Israel say? Government spokeswoman Raquela Karamson denied it yesterday.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RAQUELA KARAMSON: This myth that there is hunger in Gaza is exactly that, a myth.

INSKEEP: For the record, NPR has documented cases of extreme hunger in northern Gaza, which is where the Israeli military is in control. So why do many Israelis believe differently? Let's understand the Israeli take. We've gone to NPR's Daniel Estrin, who's in Tel Aviv. Welcome back, Daniel.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: I recognize we're in a world where everybody has their own sources and to some extent their own view of reality, so how does the Israeli public view hunger in Gaza?

ESTRIN: I've been speaking about that with Israelis along the Gaza border this week, and I heard a range of reactions from flat out denial to people saying, I have no sympathy for anyone hungry in Gaza after the October 7 attack. A common response I've heard is Hamas is stealing the food. This is Israeli high school teacher Nechama Weingarten-Mintz. She said it's Palestinians' choice to elect Hamas.

NECHAMA WEINGARTEN-MINTZ: My heart goes out for every child who's hungry, for every civilian who suffers, but I think they did it to themselves.

ESTRIN: Now, military experts in Israel I've spoken to off the record, Steve, they speak very differently. A former senior official on military law told me Israel, quote, "cannot dodge responsibility." He said starvation is a war crime. And wherever the military has conquered Gaza, it has a responsibility in that area to make sure civilians are fed. But you are hearing very few prominent Israeli voices saying this kind of thing out loud. There was a centrist politician who said Israel was starving Gaza, and she faced such a huge backlash that she had to walk it back. And this week, a leading Arab lawmaker in Israel, Ayman Odeh, was speaking about this in parliament. And this is what happened.

(SHOUTING)

ESTRIN: He was saying there, there's slaughter and there's starvation in Gaza. And he was actually dragged off the podium.

INSKEEP: OK, so what is Israel's policy on allowing food into Gaza?

ESTRIN: Well, two days after the October 7 attack, Israel's defense minister did order a siege. And he said, quote, "no food." But a couple weeks later, there was U.S. pressure and Israel did begin allowing food and aid back into Gaza, but much less than before the war. And earlier in this war, a few outlier voices in Israel from outside the government actually were advocating a starvation policy on north Gaza. The most prominent voice was Giora Eiland, a former Israeli national security adviser. And this is what he told me in January.

GIORA EILAND: It is legitimate to enforce a complete siege on the enemy forces until you bring them to starvation, as long as you offer the civilians evacuation corridors.

ESTRIN: Now, to be clear, Israel says starvation is not a policy, but aid groups say not enough food is getting into Gaza. What does get in is being looted by either armed gangs or hungry crowds. And people are fleeing north Gaza every day because of the lack of food.

INSKEEP: Daniel, I'm thinking of Michael Oren, the former Israeli diplomat who was on the program a few days ago and said Benjamin Netanyahu's government couldn't really do much differently because of political pressure. The Israeli public wouldn't stand for it. Is domestic politics a factor in the food crisis?

ESTRIN: It is a factor. The far-right parties in government don't want aid going into Gaza through Israel at all. So we've seen protesters actually block aid trucks. The far right doesn't want the moderate Palestinian Authority to help police Gaza and protect food deliveries. They see that as a step toward a Palestinian state. And the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, needs the far right, needs to appease them for his own political survival, so you see that helping drive the food crisis in Gaza.

INSKEEP: NPR's Daniel Estrin in Tel Aviv. Thanks, as always, for your insights, Daniel.

ESTRIN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Daniel Estrin is NPR's international correspondent in Jerusalem.

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