A bit of old news
Israel’s starvation diet for Gaza
24 October 2012
Six and a half years ago, shortly after Hamas won the Palestinian legislative elections and took charge of Gaza, a senior Israeli official described Israel’s planned response. “The idea,” he said, “is to put the Palestinians on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger.”
Although Dov Weisglass was adviser to Ehud Olmert, the prime minister of the day, few observers treated his comment as more than hyperbole, a supposedly droll characterization of the blockade Israel was about to impose on the tiny enclave.
Last week, however, the evidence finally emerged to prove that this did indeed become Israeli policy. After a three-year legal battle by an Israeli human rights group, Israel was forced to disclose its so-called “Red Lines” document. Drafted in early 2008, as the blockade was tightened still further, the defense ministry paper set forth proposals on how to treat Hamas-ruled Gaza.
The fine print
Health officials provided calculations of the minimum number of calories needed by Gaza’s 1.5 million inhabitants to avoid malnutrition. Those figures were then translated into truckloads of food Israel was supposed to allow in each day.
The Israeli media have tried to present these chilling discussions, held in secret, in the best light possible. Even the liberal Haaretz newspaper euphemistically described this extreme form of calorie-counting as designed to “make sure Gaza didn’t starve.”
But a rather different picture emerges as one reads the small print. While the health ministry determined that Gazans needed daily an average of 2,279 calories each to avoid malnutrition — requiring 170 trucks a day — military officials then found a host of pretexts to whittle down the trucks to a fraction of the original figure.
The reality was that, in this period, an average of only 67 trucks — much less than half of the minimum requirement — entered Gaza daily. This compared to more than 400 trucks before the blockade began.
To achieve this large reduction, officials deducted trucks based both on an over-generous assessment of how much food could be grown locally and on differences in the “culture and experience” of food consumption in Gaza, a rationale never explained.
Gisha, the organization that fought for the document’s publication, observes that Israeli officials ignored the fact that the blockade had severely impaired Gaza’s farming industry, with a shortage of seeds and chickens that had led to a dramatic drop in food output.
UN staff too have noted that Israel failed to factor in the large quantity of food from each day’s supply of 67 trucks that never actually reached Gaza. That was because Israeli restrictions at the crossings created long delays as food was unloaded, checked and then put on to new trucks. Many items spoiled as they lay in the sun.
And on top of this, Israel further adjusted the formula so that the number of trucks carrying nutrient-poor sugar were doubled while the trucks carrying milk, fruit and vegetables were greatly reduced, sometimes by as much as a half.
Robert Turner, director of operations for the UN agency for Palestine refugees in the Gaza Strip, has observed: “The facts on the ground in Gaza demonstrate that food imports consistently fell below the red lines.”
It does not need an expert to conclude that the imposition of this Weisglass-style “diet” would entail widespread malnutrition, especially among children. And that is precisely what happened, as a leaked report from the International Committee of the Red Cross found at the time. “Chronic malnutrition is on a steadily rising trend and micro-nutrient deficiencies are of great concern,” it reported in early 2008.
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