In Gaza, people boil weeds and eat animal feed to stave off hunger Palestinians in Gaza tell NPR they've resorted to boiling weeds in seawater, eating animal feed and grinding date pits. "If the bombs don't kill us, the hunger will," a teenage girl says.

Boiling weeds, eating animal feed: People in Gaza stave off hunger any way they can

A Palestinian boy waits with his pot among a crowd in Beit Lahia, in northern Gaza, while trying to get a small amount of soup from one of the few soup kitchens, on Feb. 26. Omar El Qattaa for NPR hide caption

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A Palestinian boy waits with his pot among a crowd in Beit Lahia, in northern Gaza, while trying to get a small amount of soup from one of the few soup kitchens, on Feb. 26.

Omar El Qattaa for NPR

JERUSALEM and GAZA CITY — In northern Gaza's shattered streets, people buy and sell canned food, small amounts of flour and grain and a few household items in makeshift markets.

Nermeen Tafesh and her five children scour the stalls every day for something affordable to eat, but everything is expensive. With no jobs, most people don't have an income.

Tafesh is shocked that 2 pounds of rotten-looking potatoes now sells for 40 shekels, more than $10. Two pounds of rice, costing less than $2 before the war, now sells for $20.

She and her kids leave empty-handed, once again.

Yousef Tafesh (center), 14, with his brothers near their home in Hayy al-Nasr. The boys go out every day in search of pieces of wood to warm the house and cook food, since Israel cut off fuel and electricity to the Gaza Strip. Omar El Qattaa for NPR hide caption

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Yousef Tafesh (center), 14, with his brothers near their home in Hayy al-Nasr. The boys go out every day in search of pieces of wood to warm the house and cook food, since Israel cut off fuel and electricity to the Gaza Strip.

Omar El Qattaa for NPR

Nermeen Tafesh prepares her family's only meal of the day with her five children in their destroyed home in Hayy al-Nasr. Omar El Qattaa for NPR hide caption

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Nermeen Tafesh prepares her family's only meal of the day with her five children in their destroyed home in Hayy al-Nasr.

Omar El Qattaa for NPR

Tafesh and her children eat a small amount of rice and sauce. This is their only meal of the day. Omar El Qattaa for NPR hide caption

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Tafesh and her children eat a small amount of rice and sauce. This is their only meal of the day.

Omar El Qattaa for NPR

After Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7, Israel responded first with heavy bombardment in the north. Tafesh was stuck: Most of her family members were in the south, and her husband was away for work. She heard stories of people being killed while trying to evacuate south, so she decided to stay.

"I am now the sole provider for my family, and we have not received any humanitarian aid since the war began," Tafesh says.

Her oldest son, Yousef Tafesh, 14, helps by searching for wood to make a fire, since Israel has cut off fuel and electricity.

"First there was flour, until it ran out. Then we could get wheat, and that ran out. Then corn kernels. Then we tried animal feed. Now my mom makes us a pudding with water and starch and we eat that," he says.

The hunger is all consuming. The lack of safety limits the family's ability to search for the rare aid convoys that come or the airdropped packages.

At a makeshift market on Omar Mukhtar Street in northern Gaza's Palestine Square, vendors are selling household items, clothing, canned foods and some root vegetables — but at steep prices. Omar El Qattaa for NPR hide caption

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At a makeshift market on Omar Mukhtar Street in northern Gaza's Palestine Square, vendors are selling household items, clothing, canned foods and some root vegetables — but at steep prices.

Omar El Qattaa for NPR

"There's no milk, no protein, no bread, no clean water, no fruits or vegetables," Tafesh says.

Her kids constantly cry from hunger, begging for bread. She sees them wasting away, bones protruding, and feels helpless.

Her youngest boy is 4 — before the war, he was active and playful. Now he spends most of the day sleeping.

"Every night I go to sleep in fear of waking up to find one of my children dead," says Tafesh.

According to UNICEF, acute malnutrition has doubled among children under age 2 in the last month. At least 23 children have starved to death, according to Gaza's health authorities. Most people in the north don't have access to hospitals, and experts fear the actual numbers of malnutrition are much higher.

A child on Al Rashid Street tries to gather flour that spilled from one of the rare aid convoys that entered northern Gaza from Kerem Shalom crossing. Omar El Qattaa for NPR hide caption

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A child on Al Rashid Street tries to gather flour that spilled from one of the rare aid convoys that entered northern Gaza from Kerem Shalom crossing.

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Palestinians in northern Gaza gather at a soup kitchen in Beit Lahia on Feb. 26. Omar El Qattaa for NPR hide caption

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Palestinians in northern Gaza gather at a soup kitchen in Beit Lahia on Feb. 26.

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Palestinians gather to receive soup at one of the few soup kitchens in northern Gaza, on Feb. 26. These days, soup kitchens can offer only watery lentil soup or boiled carrot soup, as food dwindles. Omar El Qattaa for NPR hide caption

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Palestinians gather to receive soup at one of the few soup kitchens in northern Gaza, on Feb. 26. These days, soup kitchens can offer only watery lentil soup or boiled carrot soup, as food dwindles.

Omar El Qattaa for NPR

In Gaza City's Al Daraj neighborhood, Riwaa Massoud Saed is staying with her daughters at her sister's house.

In mid-November, her family was sheltering at a United Nations-run school when an Israeli airstrike hit, killing her husband and several others. She and her children then sheltered at her brother's house, where another airstrike hit, killing her brother. A third airstrike killed one of her daughters.

"The pain that we Palestinians are living through now, no one has ever lived before and no one will ever live it," she says.

In the first two weeks of the war, Israel cut off all food, fuel, medicine and other supplies. Under international pressure, it has since allowed some aid in, but nowhere near what's needed, aid groups say. Israel says it is not limiting aid.

With the recent collapse of public order in the north, it has been rare for aid to get there, and people are running out of even last-resort foods such as animal feed.

Nowadays, Saed forages for whatever leafy plants and weeds she can find. Then she boils them — sometimes in seawater — to make a soup just to keep the hunger pangs at bay.

"Some of the foods we are now forced to feed our children — may God spare you — I mean the donkeys refuse to eat it," Saed says. "The animal feed is tasteless. It's like chewing on wood, and it's hard to digest."

"I don't know how much longer any of us can go on like this," says her daughter Aya, 15, who suffers from anemia. "If the bombs don't kill us, the hunger will."

She blames Israel and the U.S. for what's happening to them.

"This Biden — what is he doing to us? Why has he left us like this? Why has he left us like this?" Aya says.

A Palestinian man carries a box of aid on Al Rashid Street from one of the rare aid convoys that reached northern Gaza via land crossing, on March 6. Omar El Qattaa for NPR hide caption

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A Palestinian man carries a box of aid on Al Rashid Street from one of the rare aid convoys that reached northern Gaza via land crossing, on March 6.

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Zahia Al Sheik and her grandkids are in their damaged home in Gaza City's Al Daraj neighborhood, in northern Gaza. The children eat from a bowl of chopped-up lemons, all they had to eat in their home. Omar El Qattaa for NPR hide caption

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Zahia Al Sheik and her grandkids are in their damaged home in Gaza City's Al Daraj neighborhood, in northern Gaza. The children eat from a bowl of chopped-up lemons, all they had to eat in their home.

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Marwan Saleh, 59, peels a succulent for his family to eat. They have run out of everything else. Omar El Qattaa for NPR hide caption

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Marwan Saleh, 59, peels a succulent for his family to eat. They have run out of everything else.

Omar El Qattaa for NPR

In Beit Lahia, 59-year-old Marwan Saleh cares for his grandchildren. He says he has lost more than 60 pounds in the last few weeks. Before the war, he would take walks for miles along the beach. Now he says he can't go more than a quarter mile.

"We used to eat grass and weeds, but that ran out. Now we grind the pits of dates to make a sort of coffee, and we are eating succulents," says Saleh. "They taste absolutely horrible, but we have to eat it to stay alive."

The plants grow only near the border with Israel, where there are Israeli soldiers. Saleh goes, knowing he could be shot, but there's nothing else for his family to eat.

"Bring us the aid by land in a normal way, not from the air or the sea, where people have to clamber and fight for it. Help us in an honorable way, not in a humiliating way," Saleh says.

A report by the world's leading experts on hunger last week said that famine would hit Gaza anytime, as around 1.1 million people, more than half of Gaza's entire population, are experiencing catastrophic food insecurity.

Palestinians in northern Gaza gather at a soup kitchen in Beit Lahia. The few soup kitchens in Gaza have long lines of people, mostly children, waiting to receive food. But supplies are limited, and many go away empty-handed. Omar El Qattaa for NPR hide caption

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Palestinians in northern Gaza gather at a soup kitchen in Beit Lahia. The few soup kitchens in Gaza have long lines of people, mostly children, waiting to receive food. But supplies are limited, and many go away empty-handed.

Omar El Qattaa for NPR

Palestinians in Gaza struggle to express their anger and disbelief at the lack of help. They feel abandoned by the world.

"Every day I am dying from malnutrition. All of us in north Gaza are dying," says Riwaa Massoud Saed. "And you just watch us. You just keep watching."

Omar El Qattaa reported from Gaza City. Fatma Tanis reported from Jerusalem. Anas Baba contributed to this story from Rafah, Gaza Strip.