By Julia Frankel
JENIN, West Bank (AP) — Except for a small bag of lentils and the orange juice she reserves for guests, there is no food in Ashwaq Abu al-Wafa’s house in the northern West Bank city of Jenin. Ever since the U.N. cut her food aid in June, she has fallen behind on rent. All her money now goes to feeding her three children, she said.
“The fridge is empty,” al-Wafa said from her apartment on Thursday. “I can barely hold all of this stress in my heart.” Thousands of families like al-Wafa’s across the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip go through the day not sure where they will get their next meal now that the World Food Program has halted aid to 200,000 people, 60% of beneficiaries, its largest-ever cuts in the Palestinian territories.
The agency has made cuts across the world, from war-torn Yemen to West Africa, a region gripped by its worst hunger crisis in years.
The WFP’s deputy executive director, Carl Skau, announced last week that the agency has raised just $5 billion of the $20 billion it needs to operate fully, forcing it to suspend aid to 38 of its 86 countries where it operates.
Zekriat Karram, who also lives in Jenin, said that her family has survived by racking up debt at local groceries. Now, shopkeepers demand payback. When Karram was recently hospitalized, her six children, ranging in age from 3 to 16, scraped together meals of olives and bread.
The cuts come at a particularly bad time for Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, which is witnessing a surge in violence unseen in nearly two decades.
Al-Wafa and Karram’s homes have smashed doors and cracked windows, scars from recent stepped-up military raids into the flashpoint city, the latest of which marked the most intense in nearly two decades and left 12 Palestinians and one Israeli soldier dead. Israel says the raids are meant to thwart future attacks.
Al-Wafa’s 14-year-old son, Ammar, was shot in the chest during a January raid, she said, adding to her family’s expenses and squeezing their food budget. Her husband’s income depends on whether he can pass through Israeli military checkpoints to take produce into Jenin. When the Israeli army closes the roads, his work dries up and his family skips meals.
“Food insecurity here is a symptom of something larger,” said Samer Abdeljaber, WFP country director for the Palestinian territories. “Conflict, access and movement restrictions and the barriers to everyday life have led to soaring unemployment and poverty.”
The WFP said it suspended aid to those who could earn additional income or get other assistance, like the Palestinian Authority’s cash transfer program for poor families.
Only the most vulnerable, 150,000 people in the West Bank and Gaza, continue to receive aid from WFP. Their aid will be cut if donors don’t provide more funding by November, the agency recently warned. Meanwhile, more than 1 million Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and Gaza receive other kinds of assistance from a U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees and their descendants.
The Palestinian Authority, in the midst of a financial crisis, has said it can’t fill the shortfall.
Already, the WFP cuts have hurt small businesses in the territories, which once bustled with customers using WFP vouchers.
Palestinian shop owner Anas Eqteit has seen sales plunge by 70%. He laid off three of his four workers. Before June, his mini-market in Jenin served 50 families with WFP vouchers a week. Now, it serves five.
“The families who were suspended from the aid still come in every day to ask for food,” Eqteit said. “Am I supposed to turn them away?”