Trapped and starving, two Gaza families try to keep their children alive

“Everyone risks their lives for a bag of flour,” he recalled. In those moments, he said, he felt as if he were doomed to be crushed under the wheels of trucks or killed by Israeli forces.

At one point during the winter, Mr. Barda said he managed to get two bags of flour from a convoy. Then someone threatened him, saying that if he did not give up one, the stranger would take them both by force.

In February, Mr. Barda was dashing to get a sack of flour from a United Nations truck when he collided with another man who was cutting the ropes holding the aid. In the chaos, the blade cut off Mr. Barda's finger, splattering his prize with blood. But it was a beautiful day. His family managed to make the 25 kilogram bag last for two months.

Before the war, Mr. Barda worked as a baker in a chain of pastry shops, but even if he still had his salary, the informal markets that have sprung up around Gaza City are extremely expensive. Desperate for food and formula, he said, he sold Ms. al-Arqan's jewelry—two rings and a bracelet—for about $325, a poverty compared to what they would have earned before the war.

He had a stroke of luck: the rice looted from the destroyed shops was briefly purchasable on the black market. He bought two bags for about $13.

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

On the eleventh day, with no food and no water to mix the Jihad formula, they made the decision to go. That day, Jihad weighed just under four kilos, much less than what is considered normal for that age.

After leaving Al-Shifa, Barda said, they threw away the dirty white T-shirt that had served as a flag of surrender.

In mid-March, at a field hospital in Rafah, doctors gave Muhanned al-Najjar fortified milk and a peanut-based dietary supplement and told his mother to bring him back in a week for a check-up.

Two days later, he was able to eat some of a packet of peanuts and drink some milk, along with more water than usual – a good sign. Ms al-Najjar said she let him sleep for a few hours in her sister-in-law's tent, where the flies would not disturb him.

When she returned, she said, something seemed wrong. She tried giving Muhanned some fortified milk. Her little face turned pale.

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

When Mrs al-Najjar returned, Muhanned was dead. The hospital had called her sister-in-law to tell her the news, but Ms. al-Najjar's relatives had failed to tell her. She was able to see her son again before he was buried in an improvised 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 children are perplexed not to have their dad with us during this difficult time.”

In her grief, she still had to worry about Mohammed, her 7-year-old. After another stint in hospital, she wasn't eating much, just like Muhanned in those final weeks. And Muhanned… he was already gone.

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