Middle East

Israel counted calorie needs in Gaza Strip blockade

Palestinians sit by the port in Gaza City, Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2012. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)

OCCUPIED JERUSALEM: Israel’s military calculated the number of calories Gaza’s residents would need to consume to avoid malnutrition during a blockade imposed on the Palestinian territory between 2007 and mid-2010, according to a document the Defense Ministry released under a court order and which was made public Wednesday.

The Israeli military insisted that it never used the 2008 guidelines to restrict the flow of food to Gaza. But critics disputed that, saying the calculations appear to have guided limits imposed on food imports at the time. They said the document provides further evidence that Israel used food as a weapon to put pressure on Hamas, who gained power in Gaza in mid-2007.

The blockade was imposed shortly after Hamas took over Gaza. Israel declared Gaza a “hostile territory” in September 2007, following the takeover. Seeking to weaken Hamas’ position, it called for “severe restrictions” on civilians that included limitations on food.

Israel maintained the blockade was necessary to weaken Hamas, but critics accused the government of targeting Gaza’s more than 1.5 million people in its ultimately unsuccessful effort to achieve that goal. Hamas remains firmly in control of the territory.

Maj. Guy Inbar, spokesman for the Defense Ministry dealing with the Palestinian territories, said the mathematical formula was devised as a safeguard to identify food needs and avoid a humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

“The document was a draft of which no use was ever made,” he told AFP. “It was never implemented, we never used it ... we never counted calories.

The Israeli rights group Gisha, which waged a lengthy legal battle to make the document public, contended that the Israeli government calculated the calorie needs for Gaza’s population in order to restrict the quantities of goods and basic products it allowed in during the three-year blockade.

In the food calculation, Israel applied the average daily requirement of 2,279 calories per person, in line with World Health Organization guidelines on nutrition.

“The official goal of the policy was to wage ‘economic warfare’ which would paralyze Gaza’s economy and, according to the Defense Ministry, create pressure on the Hamas government,” Gisha said, referring to the calorie count.

The Defense Ministry handed over its document on the food calculation to Gisha only after the group filed a Freedom of Information petition.

Israel is said to have often used baffling secret guidelines to differentiate between humanitarian necessities and nonessential luxuries. The result was that military bureaucrats enforcing the blockade allowed frozen salmon and low-fat yogurt in, but not cilantro or instant coffee.

WikiLeaks has published diplomatic cables that showed Israel told U.S. officials in 2008 it would keep Gaza’s economy “on the brink of collapse” while avoiding a humanitarian crisis.

Restrictions on Gaza were eased in 2010 following an international outcry over Israel’s killing of nine Turkish nationals during a botched navy raid on a ship trying to breach the blockade.

Since then, consumer goods have been moving into Gaza from Israel more freely, but construction materials are still largely barred from entering, with Israel arguing that the Gaza militants could use items such as pipes and concrete in attacks on Israel.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 18, 2012, on page 1.




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