Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Israel counted the calories for the people in Gaza

Border crossing Kerem Shalom betwee Israel and Gaza.

After a three-and-a-half-year legal battle waged by the Gisha human rights organization, the Israeli Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories  (COGAT) has finally released a 2008 document,  "Food Consumption in the Gaza Strip – Red Lines",  that detailed guidelines for food consumption in Gaza.  The document contains information about the Israeli policy of restricting the entrance of food to the Gaza Strip, which was in effect between 2007 and 2010.

It calculates the minimum number of calories necessary, in COGAT's view, to keep Gaza residents from malnutrition at a time when Israel was tightening its restrictions on the movement of people and goods in and out of the Strip, including food products and raw materials. The document states that Health Ministry officials were involved in drafting it, and the calculations were based on "a model formulated by the Ministry of Health.
 The "red lines" document calculates the minimum number of calories needed by every age and gender group in Gaza, then uses this to determine the quantity of staple foods that must be allowed into the Strip every day, as well as the number of trucks needed to carry this quantity. On average, the minimum worked out to 2,279 calories per person per day, which could be supplied by 1,836 grams of food, or 2,575.5 tons of food for the entire population of Gaza.

The calculations made in the presentation led to the conclusion that the "daily humanitarian portion" Gaza’s residents needed would require bringing in 106 trucks from Israel five days per week. In the first year following Hamas’ takeover of the Strip and the tightening of the closure (July 2007 to June 2008), an average of 90 trucks entered each scheduled working day. An earlier disclosure, in 2010, revealed already that Israel used a mathematical model to calculate the foodstuff it needed to distribute to Gaza in order to avoid a human catastrophy. 
The document was based upon a decision taken a few moths after the 2007 Hamas takeover in Gaza. The   Israeli cabinet, then headed by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, decided in September of 2007 to tighten restrictions on the movement of people and goods to and from Gaza. The decision stated that "the movement of goods into the Gaza Strip will be restricted; the supply of gas and electricity will be reduced; and restrictions will be imposed on the movement of people from the Strip and to it." In addition, exports from Gaza would be forbidden entirely. However, the resolution added, the restrictions should be tailored to avoid a "humanitarian crisis." The "red lines" document was written about four months afterward.
Gisha notes that  the sharp decrease in the incoming quantities of food products caused supply to be unpredictable and contributed to a significant rise in food prices in Gaza, but did ot cause hunger. (..) however 'the severe economic crisis caused by the closure, particularly by restrictions on the entrance of raw materials and the marketing of goods outside the Strip led to a rise in the unemployment rate, resulted in increased dependence on aid. Between the second quarter of 2007 and the second quarter of 2008, the rate of unemployment soared by 72% (from 26.4% to 45.4%). A report by the United Nations' Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) found that the number of Gaza residents receiving humanitarian aid rose from 63% of the population in 2006 to 80% in 2007. The main repercussions of the closure at the time were, as they largely continue to be today, increased poverty, increased dependence on aid and denial of opportunities for economic development, higher education and access to dignified work'.
Gisha states that these days, it is difficult to find a politician or security expert in Israel who would say that the closure policy of 2007-2010 benefitted Israel politically or in terms of security. For more than two years now, Israel has not imposed any restrictions on the entrance of food to the Gaza Strip. Yet, the two fundamental tenets of the policy, the legal position and the political-security rationale, remain the basis for the current policy, which the security establishment calls "the separation policy". This is not only in violation of international humantaria law, but Gisha says that it is also unclear at present 'which political or military actors formulated the "separation policy", what its objectives are and how it is monitored...

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