An Israeli human rights organization, Gisha, sued in Israeli courts to force the release of a planning document for ‘putting the Palestinians on a diet’ without risking the bad press of mass starvation, and the courts concurred. The document, produced by the Israeli army, appears to be a calculation of how to make sure, despite the Israeli blockade, that Palestinians got an average of 2279 calories a day, the basic need. But by planning on limiting the calories in that way, the Israeli military was actually plotting to keep Palestinians in Gaza (half of them children) permanently on the brink of malnutrition, what health professionals call “food insecurity”. And, it was foreseeable that sometimes they would slip into malnutrition, since not as many trucks were always let in every day as the Israeli army recommended (106 were recommended, but it was often less in the period 2007-2010).
Planning for keeping people on the edge is nearly as bad as planning actually to starve them. A prudent person would know that a blockade is a blunt enough instrument, with shipments up and down in a given week, that such a policy would from time to time produce real misery. Were any physicians involved? They should be boycotted by the international community.
And, the Israeli army’s way of trying to minimize the document must be the worst example of propaganda in history! They are saying that the plan was produced but not consulted. But this document aimed at making sure just enough trucks got in to keep people on the edge. If the government didn’t consult it, does that mean it did not care if the food shipments slipped below the basic calorie allowance? Wouldn’t it have been better if they had known about the 106-truck recommendation?
The food blockade had real effects. About ten percent of Palestinian children in Gaza under 5 have had their growth stunted by malnutrition.
A recent report [pdf] by Save the Children and Medical Aid for Palestinians found that, in addition, anemia is widespread, affecting over two-thirds of infants, 58.6 percent of schoolchildren, and over a third of pregnant mothers.
I mean, don’t those figures make you want to do something for those mothers and children? Wouldn’t they melt anyone’s heart?
Although, under international pressure, the Israeli government eased its blockade slightly in 2010, and foodstuffs are no longer interdicted, it still limits imports into Gaza, and its wide-ranging ban on exports has thrown Palestinians into unemployment at Depression levels, imperiling their ability to afford food even when it is available.
A UN Report out last month predicts that if Israel does not change its policies toward Gaza, the strip will be uninhabitable by 2020, when the population will likely be 2.1 million (think Houston). The deterioration of the water, and the sharp downward mobility of the Palestinians, are only some of the problems the territory will face.
Note that the Israeli government did not voluntarily cease its policy of keeping Palestinians on a diet in 2010. It was forced to by Turkish and European aid activists, and 9 people, one an American citizen, were martyred for this change when Israeli commandos illegally boarded a civilian, unarmed ship in international waters and shot it up.
In any case, there are other ways to starve out the people of Gaza than bluntly preventing food from coming in. Nobel-prize-winning economist Amartya Sen showed that the real cause of famines is not lack of food but that the price of the food rises above the ability of people to pay for it. By keeping Gaza on the edge of economic collapse, the Likud government has continued the food blockade by other means.
The Israeli members of Gisha, who are Mensches, care that their government is contributing in a systematic and deliberate way to damaging childrens’ health because of the way their parents voted in 2006! And they want to embarrass it into ceasing this illegal and inhumane treatment of people who are under Israeli military Occupation and protected from such measures by the Geneva Convention of 1949 (a convention on occupation designed to prevent a recurrence of the excesses and atrocities of the Fascist Powers in World War II, and which you would think an Israeli government would be embarrassed to contravene).
Aljazeera English has a video report, valuable because unlike CNN or other Western cable news channels, it actually interviews the Palestinians affected.