Trapped and Starving, 2 Families in Gaza Try to Keep Their Children Alive

Trapped and Starving, 2 Families in Gaza Try to Keep Their Children Alive

By Oghale Apr23,2024

“Everyone is risking their lives for the sake of a little bag of flour,” he recalled. In those moments, he said, he felt as if he was doomed either to be crushed under the trucks’ wheels or killed by Israeli forces.

At one point over the winter, Mr. Barda said he succeeded in grabbing two bags of flour from a convoy. Then someone threatened him, saying that unless he gave one up, the stranger would take both by force.

In February, Mr. Barda was lunging for a bag of flour from a U.N. truck when he collided with another man who was cutting the ropes holding down the aid. In the chaos, the blade sliced Mr. Barda’s finger, spattering his prize with blood. But it was a good day. His family managed to make the 25-kilogram bag last two months.

Before the war, Mr. Barda worked as a baker at a pastry chain, but even if he still had wages, the informal street markets that have sprung up around Gaza City are wildly expensive. Desperate for food and baby formula, he said, he sold Ms. al-Arqan’s jewelry — two rings and a bracelet — for about $325, a pittance compared to what they would have fetched before the war.

He caught one lucky break: Rice looted from destroyed stores was briefly affordable on the black market. He bought two sacks for about $13.

When Ramadan arrived in March, Mr. Barda and Ms. al-Arqan decided to take refuge at Al-Shifa, the hospital where Jihad had been born when things were bad but not unthinkable. By then, they had nothing left to eat except za’atar, the Palestinian thyme, which they had for breakfast, and khobeza, a wild green that Gazans have been foraging for meals, which they ate at night. For 10 days in a row, Mr. Barda said, they ate nothing else.

On the 11th day, out of food and with no water to mix Jihad’s formula, they made the decision to go. That day, Jihad weighed a little under nine pounds, far less than what is considered normal for that age.

After they left Al-Shifa, Mr. Barda said, they threw away the dirty white baby shirt that had served as their flag of surrender.

At a field hospital in Rafah in mid-March, doctors gave Muhanned al-Najjar fortified milk and a peanut-based nutritional supplement and told his mother to bring him back in a week for a checkup.

Two days later, he was able to eat some of a peanut packet and drink some milk, along with more water than usual: a good sign. Ms. al-Najjar said she left him sleeping for a few hours in her sister-in-law’s tent, where the flies would not bother him.

When she came back, she said, something seemed off. She tried to give Muhanned a little fortified milk. His small face went white.

She screamed and ran to find her brother-in-law. They tried two hospitals before doctors admitted Muhanned into the intensive care unit at the European Gaza Hospital, where he was given oxygen, she said. The staff told her to come back the next day, taking her sister-in-law’s phone number in case they needed to reach her.

When Ms. al-Najjar returned, Muhanned was dead. The hospital had called her sister-in-law with the news, but Ms. al-Najjar’s relatives had been unable to bring themselves to tell her. She was able to see her son once more before he was buried in a makeshift cemetery near the hospital.

She had not heard from her husband since his detention in February. There was no way to tell him what had happened.

“I feel lost,” she said. “My kids are at a loss not having their dad with us in this hard time.”

Amid her grief, she still had to worry about Mohammed, her 7-year-old. After another stint in the hospital, he wasn’t eating much, just like Muhanned in those last weeks. And Muhanned — he was already gone.

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By Oghale

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