In Gaza, Palestinians drown in desperate attempt to get aid dropped in sea

Yusuf Ghaben was one of 12 who drowned, as starvation drives Palestinians in Gaza to take deadly risks.

Video Duration 01 minutes 06 seconds 01:06By Al Jazeera StaffPublished On 29 Mar 202429 Mar 2024

When aid planes dropped packages into the sea off the northwest coast of the Gaza Strip, Yusuf Ghaben, a father of nine, decided to swim for them.

“I pleaded with him not to go because of his age. I begged him, but he said, ‘Maybe God will provide for us, and we can feed our children’,” Khitam Ghaben, Yusuf’s wife, told Al Jazeera. Dressed all in black, she fought back tears. “He went to feed his little ones.”

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The wind was strong, creating choppy waves. A number of people waded into the water to grab the aid deliveries and some emerged with boxes in hand. But Yusuf had to be dragged out, as he was unconscious. Once he was pulled from the waves, young men attempted to administer CPR, footage of the incident obtained by Al Jazeera showed. Next to him, his son Jihad yelled in agony, “Father?! Father?!”

Yusuf was one of 12 people who drowned attempting to retrieve aid in as-Sudaniya, off the northwestern coast of Gaza on March 26, according to Palestinian authorities. The people were driven to desperation by a severe famine in the north of the enclave as a result of Israel’s restrictions on aid access, a prospect that humanitarian groups and officials have warned of for weeks.

Jihad tried desperately to save his father Yusuf’s life on a beach in northern Gaza, but it was too late [Sanad/Al Jazeera]

Widespread hunger

The Israeli military has killed more than 32,000 Palestinians in its war on Gaza. Many Palestinians have lost family members in air strikes or other military actions.

But now people are dying of hunger and disease, too. More than 27 people have starved to death in Gaza in recent weeks, including 23 children, according to the Gaza Ministry of Health. For the 300,000 people in northern Gaza, the worst affected area, widespread famine is on the horizon, if not already there.

International actors have turned to airdrops in attempts to ease the dire humanitarian disaster on the ground. But the aid is nowhere near sufficient, and aid groups have criticised the drops as “symbolic”, as Israel’s allies, including the United States, continue to supply it with offensive arms. The administration of US President Joe Biden, in particular, has to date refused to condition military aid to Israel, despite growing calls from US politicians to do so.

In some cases, the airdropped aid has even proven lethal, killing five people in one incident when a parachute failed to open.

Jihad and others attempted to administer CPR to Yusuf, but it was too late to save him [Screengrab/Al Jazeera]

‘Our protector is gone’

The Ghaben family, who live in Beit Lahiya in the northern Gaza Strip, live in tragic conditions. Now in the sixth month of the war, the famine has begun to take hold. The lack of food and basic necessities needed to survive daily life has many Palestinians living in utter desperation.

“I never imagined it would be my father whom the young men pulled out of the sea. He usually wouldn’t run after aid parcels,” Jihad, Yusuf’s son said. “My father was a good swimmer, but the parachutes and their cords are what strangle swimmers. This has happened to many victims of aid parcel drownings, even the most skilled swimmers.”

“My father is gone and will not return. We have been deprived of him,” Anwar, Yusuf’s daughter, said as she wept bitterly. “We are afraid because he was the one who protected us. He is gone now.”

The situation in northern Gaza is particularly atrocious. Less than one in two aid missions have been allowed into northern Gaza, according to the United Nations. And Israel recently exacerbated this situation by announcing it would not continue to allow aid trucks from the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) into the region.

The Israeli siege on Gaza has forced Palestinians to take desperate measures, including eating grass and weeds to stay alive, or, as with Yusuf, putting oneself in danger to provide families with food. And as the situation continues to deteriorate, more will likely die.

The situation has created a lethal cocktail for Palestinians trying to provide for their family’s survival. Facing down hunger, Yusuf may have seen little other choice. An attempt at an aid retrieval has now left a family without a father, a husband, and a provider.

“They throw aid into death to kill people. We don’t want it if it’s going to kill us. Children have been orphaned because of it,” Khitam lamented, tears now running down her face. “He left me with three daughters and six sons. How will I raise them without him?”

Khitam Ghaben, Yusuf’s wife, pleaded with her husband not to attempt to retrieve aid dropped in the sea [Sanad/Al Jazeera]

Source: Al Jazeera