Crowd Counting Blog: U.S. Protest Rhetoric Tracks Looming Famine in Gaza

The imminent famine in Gaza shows up in Crowd Counting Consortium (CCC) data as a sharp increase in references to hunger and starvation in protesters’ chants and signs.

Photo of protesters standing behind a sign that reads

As Refugees International president Jeremy Konyndyk wrote in a post this week on NYU School of Law’s Just Security blog:

Three months ago the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) process (the official process for assessing famine risk) issued an urgent warning: the entire population of Gaza was “at risk” of famine, and over half a million people were already experiencing famine-level food shortages. Last week, the IPC upgraded that warning, projecting that famine in Gaza is now “imminent.” 1.1 million people, half the territory’s population, are in IPC Phase V, the highest level of risk.

Jeremy Konyndyk

President of Refugees International

Or, as MSNBC’s Hayes Brown more succinctly stated: “Palestinians in Gaza are starving.”

The imminent famine in Gaza shows up in Crowd Counting Consortium (CCC) data as a sharp increase in references to hunger and starvation in protesters’ chants and signs. As the chart below shows, we rarely saw mentions of “food”, “hunger”, “(mal)nutrition”, “starv(ing|ation)”, or “famine” in protesters’ signs or chants over the first few months of the wave of pro-Palestine actions that erupted in October 2023. Since early February 2024, however, those references have occurred at an accelerating pace.

Photo of a chart that tracks gamine in Gaza that shows increasing famine over time (towards the right of the graph).

One recurrent contribution to this stream of references comes from Kibbutz Israel, the nickname participants have given to the protest encampment that has stood around the clock in front of the Israeli embassy in Washington, DC, since Aaron Bushnell set himself on fire there in late February to protest against genocide in Gaza and to call for Palestinian liberation. A large red banner regularly displayed at that encampment shows a child holding a bowl and reads: “Israel uses starvation as a weapon of war.”

Another flurry of recent references came from Mennonite Action, whose members and allies engaged in demonstrations across the U.S. and Canada this past week “to demand a ceasefire, end the US and western funded occupation of Palestine, and build for lasting peace.” Like the one in Harrisonburg, Virginia, many of these demonstrations saw participants singing and displaying quilts as they carried symbolic deliveries of food and other humanitarian supplies to lawmakers’ offices. In at least one case, in Pasadena, California, demonstrators engaged in an impromptu sit-in and prayer vigil after being denied a meeting with their representative, Judy Chu.

Photo of protesters standing behind a sign that reads "Send Food not Bombs"
Over 200 Mennonites and allies approach U.S. Rep. Ben Cline’s office in Harrisonburg, Virginia, to deliver symbols of humanitarian aid on March 26, 2024
Source: Harrisonburg Mennonite Action

On Sunday, March 31, Jewish Voice for Peace’s South Florida chapter organized a demonstration in Miami Beach, Florida, associated with Jewish Fast for Gaza, a weekly collective fast in opposition to genocide and in support of Palestinian liberation. Dozens participated in the action, some of them holding signs that read “Palestinians are being starved” and “Starvation is a war crime.”

Screenshot of JVP South Florida Instagram post describing Jewish Fast for Gaza demonstration on March 31, 2024

If you’re interested in tracking this trend yourself, you can do it with the data dashboard we created a few weeks ago by entering “hunger|food|famine|starv|nutrition” (without the quotation marks) in the box for filtering by claim text. As of March 30, 2024, that dashboard shows nearly 6,700 events in over 800 cities and towns across all 50 U.S. states, DC, Puerto Rico, and Guam. We use a separate dashboard to track pro-Israel actions since October 2023, which currently number a little more than 1,000.

(Editorial Note: This post originally ran on Saturday, March 30. I updated it on Monday, April 1, with a chart covering events over the weekend and some additional text and photos.)

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