Friday, October 19, 2012

Israel limited food to Gaza, calorie by calorie

JERUSALEM, October 18, 2012 (AP)

The Israeli military meticulously calculated the number of calories Gaza's residents would need to consume to avoid malnutrition during a sweeping blockade imposed on the Palestinian territory between 2007 and mid-2010, according to a document the Defence Ministry released under a court order and that was made public on 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, the violently anti-Israel militant group that seized Gaza by force 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 the militants, 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.

Israel's military spokesman Maj. Guy Inbar said the mathematical formula was devised as a safeguard to identify food needs and avoid a humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

The Israeli rights group Gisha, which waged a lengthy legal to make the document public, contended that Israel 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 Organisation guidelines.

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

The Defence 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 similar to the calorie calculation 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.

While the embargo crippled Gaza's economy, at no point did observers identify a food crisis developing in the territory, whose residents rely heavily on international food aid.

Israel was forced to abandon the land blockade under heavy international pressure after a deadly naval raid on a Gaza-bound international flotilla in May 2010.

Since then, consumer goods have been moving into Gaza from Israel 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 southern Israeli communities.

A naval blockade remains in effect, which Israel says is necessary to prevent weapons smuggling at sea. Israel also heavily restricts exports, further constraining Gaza's economy.
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