Israel Makes It Impossible for Women to Give Birth: If That’s Not Genocide, What IS?


February 19, 2024

Displaced by Israeli air and ground offensive, this new Palestinian mother confronts the need for basic necessities, January 14, 2024.    Photo: AP

Imagine you are a woman giving birth to a child in Gaza today under siege from Israeli bombs and tanks. On any given day, more than 180 women in Gaza face that life-threatening danger. You have gone through months of pregnancy without access to enough food, water, medical care, or shelter to be fit to give birth to a healthy child and yourself survive. Maybe you managed to evade bombs and Israeli snipers to get into a hospital. Maybe not. Maybe you needed a cesarian section delivery; if you did, there is a good chance it had to be done without anesthesia or even electricity. Maybe you were “lucky” enough to give birth in a hospital, only to be discharged within an average of three hours after delivery, in order to make room for the wounded.1

In an interview in The New Yorker titled The Trauma of Giving Birth in Gaza, Deborah Harrington, a British obstetrician who recently spent two weeks at Gaza’s Al-Aqsa Hospital, describes what that was like.

Before the current war, about fifteen per cent of pregnant women in Gaza developed complications in labor, some life-threatening. But it is now estimated that forty per cent of them have high-risk pregnancies, because you’ve got an unhealthy population entering birth. They’re already psychologically traumatized, and they may be nutritionally depleted. The normal complications that could have happened have ticked up. For all of those reasons, they’re entering labor in a very precarious medical condition. And then, if you give birth in a plastic-covered temporary shelter, there’s no privacy. If you bleed—which you’re more likely to do if you give birth to a preterm child, which you’re more likely to do in these circumstances, and it’s dirty and there’s no sanitation and there’s no pain relief—you are much more likely to have major complications or more likely to die.

Choking off Water, Food and Medicine = Forcing Miscarriages, Killing Babies

Even before Israel’s genocidal revenge against the entire population of Gaza for the October 7 Hamas attacks on Israel, Israel’s longstanding blockade of Gaza caused almost half of all pregnant women in Gaza to be anemic, deprived of iron and in desperate need of iron supplements if they were to survive giving birth and to give birth to a healthy child.

Now, the situation is far, far worse. Dr. Harrington told The New Yorker that during her time in Gaza, 

All the women I saw when I took a full blood count were severely anemic. And that means that they’re more likely to give birth prematurely, they’re more likely to have small-for-gestational-age babies, and they’re more likely to die in childbirth because, if they hemorrhage [meaning, bleed too much], they’ll not have the reserves.

Dr. Harrington explained that there is no primary care in all of Gaza, and women are not getting any sort of prenatal care. The result is that with women traumatized and starved, miscarriages in Gaza have increased 300 percent under Israeli bombing. Imagine the heartbreak, the trauma, the fury, of a woman going through that.Dr. Harrington says, 

I think it doesn’t take much imagination to think that the whole population is probably psychologically traumatized at this time. But, for women, what does that mean? Certainly there will be a huge increase in depression, anxiety, psychological trauma, P.T.S.D., and that will affect your ability to be a mother. It will affect your ability to bond with your child, to look after the rest of your children. If you’ve got a mother that is psychologically traumatized, that’s going to impact the whole family for years and years.

Dr. Harrington relates that she met many mothers working in the hospital who brought their children with them to work, rather than risk either only mother or child being killed by Israeli bombs while they were separated. One woman told Dr. Harrington, “I’d rather we all die together than the thought of I die and then they’d be left alone.”

This Is Intentional. This Is Genocide.

Genocide means killing off of a people in whole or in part. In the official Genocide Convention definition, this includes imposing measures intended to prevent births within that group of people.

Even in this world of savage inequalities and brutal oppression, aid agencies have the resources to immediately and dramatically lower the miscarriage rate and improve the survival rate of babies in Gaza. But Israel has systematically targeted all these resources. Israel bombs, raids, and destroys Gaza’s healthcare system. Israel chokes off food, water, fuel, and medicine. Israel kills doctors while they operate and kills patients in hospitals. Aid convoys are bombed.

You don’t believe this is all on purpose? Listen to Israel’s energy minister shortly after October 7. He wrote on social media that “no electrical switch will be turned on, no water hydrant will be opened and no fuel truck will enter” as long as Hamas held hostages. Listen to Israel’s “defense” minister Yoav Gallant who declared, “I have ordered a complete siege on the Gaza Strip. There will be no electricity, no food, no fuel, everything is closed…. We are fighting human animals and we are acting accordingly.” These genocidal monsters know what that means for pregnant women.

And while Biden mumbles hypocritical bullshit about Israel being “over the top,” he, and the rest of the rulers of this country, are all-in on shipping the bombs and the missiles, and providing the “intel” that enables these crimes against humanity, with a particularly vicious impact for women.

“Genocide” is not an insult. It is a defined crime against humanity. It is not something that is a historic crime when it is done to one people, but excusable if done to someone else because it serves what you see as your interests. Exposing and demanding an end to any country’s genocidal actions is the responsibility of anyone who will not be an active or silent accomplice to a horrible crime against humanity.

So, where do you stand?



1.  Statistics from “Pregnant women in Gaza require urgent protection,” The Lancet, 1/11/2024.  [back]