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The Taste of Starvation

By Tom Squitieri:

Thirty-one March fifths ago, I finally got hit. The humanitarian aid truck I was riding in to the Sarajevo airport was hit by an RPG, setting it on fire. My body was laced with shrapnel, the driver was unconscious. The bullets were like the cliché—flying all over.


I managed to kick open the passenger door with my good leg. I then hauled the driver across the front seat and pulled him the length of three trucks through the gunfire to the safety of the waiting French Foreign Legionaries, who then carried us to their medical unit.


Most of the shrapnel was taken out of me, with no anesthesia. Some still remains in my leg. That aid mission was the “first”—and turned out to be the last—attempt to bring aid as a charitable, nonpolitical way into Sarajevo during the first year of the war that raged for four years.


There was one cross-cultural aspect to that March 5 day: both Muslims and Serbs attacked us. It thus gave both sides the room to point accusing fingers at the other.


I think of that day more and more now, seeing that the reason that brought me to Sarajevo that day—getting aid to the innocent and the desperate—still exists today in the many conflict areas around the globe, except perhaps far worse.


On March 2, 2024, the first pallets of U.S. aid were dropped over Gaza. Air drops are the least efficient and most expensive way of trying to help those in need. They are the last resort, usually carried out because of terrible weather conditions, like in Sudan where roads were washed away. But in Gaza, it seems to be the only way to get around Israel, an ally Washington is arming while allowing it to restrict how much aid gets through.


More air drops followed, and now U.S. ships are making their way to Gaza to build a pier that will enable more humanitarian aid to reach the region. How it gets from the supply ships to those needing it remains unclear.

There is a bitter taste of war that returns to my tongue, years after I covered my last conflict, when I see suffering caused by man. The smell still torments my nose, beyond the memories of war’s fires and rotting flesh and putrid streets. This is the rancidness of hate and fury and hubris that conspire in an alliance that is ready to smash the innocent.


My knees now give out in the despair of anguish and helplessness, as the taste of starvation has returned.


Today, the two sides are arguing as to who was responsible for a stampede for food that perhaps left more than 100 dead, hundreds more injured, as starving Palestinians rushed to grab what morsels of aid they could.


Fingers are already pointing for blame, kind of like the fingers pointing in Sarajevo in 1993.


The announcement of the air drops dominated the “Gaza” news that day. Not so well reported was the announcement by the United Nations World Food Program that the 10th child in Gaza starved to death.


Yes, starved to death. 


A country at the edge of the Mediterranean Sea has at least 10 children who have starved to death because humanitarian aid is being blocked from entering. Said one UNICEF official, “The child deaths we feared are here.”


Think of that during your next meal, the next time you grumble because the milk in your fridge is sour and you have to drive to the store.


Already some are insisting it is not true, that it is a statement being made for political reasons by one side. Fake news, which is the most popular food item consumed these days, will be served as to excuse the succor-less suffering.


Kind of like the finger pointing from Sarajevo.


Friends who are aid workers say the Gaza humanitarian crisis is among the worst they have ever seen. “There is NOTHING in Gaza, literally. Food, shelter, water, sanitation, medical services. Our field hospital in Rafah is the only one operating, really. The only entry point right now is Rafah, but as the situation changes daily, and bearing in mind that IDF may attack at any moment, everything can change instantly,” one of my mates who is renowned for his prowess of getting aid in told me recently.


There is now a twisting of an adage I learned early in civics class about democracy and court trials. It went something like this: It is better for one guilty person to go free than for 10 innocent persons to be convicted.


In Gaza today, that adage has been mutated. There, it appears that it is better to have 10 children starve than to have one Hamas terrorist pilfer some international humanitarian aid.


Tom Squitieri is a three-time winner of the Overseas Press Club and White House Correspondents’ Association awards for work as a war correspondent.

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