Israel counted food needs in Gaza blockade

The Israeli military calculated the number of calories Gaza

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

JERUSALEM (AP) — The Israeli military 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 Defense Ministry released under a court order.

Critics claim the document is evidence that Israel limited food supplies in order to put pressure on Hamas, the violently anti-Israel militant group that seized power in the coastal strip in mid-2007.

Israel's military spokesman Maj. Guy Inbar said Wednesday that a mathematical formula was devised to identify food needs and avoid a humanitarian crisis in Gaza. However, Israel never used the calculation to restrict the flow of food to Gaza, he added.

The Israeli rights group Gisha contends 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 period.

Israel imposed the blockade after identifying Gaza as a "hostile territory" in September 2007, following the Hamas takeover. Seeking to weaken the militants, Israel called for "severe restrictions" on civilians that included limitations on food.

Israel maintained the blockade was necessary to weaken Hamas, but critics accused the Israeli government of targeting Gaza's more than 1.5 million people in its ultimately failed effort to achieve that goal.

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

"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 Wednesday.

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

Similar to the calculation of the calorie intake, 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 into the Hamas-ruled territory, but not cilantro or instant coffee.

Hamas, meanwhile, defused the blockade's effect by building a network of underground tunnels through which they smuggled in food, weapons and other contraband from Egypt at inflated prices.

While the embargo crippled Gaza's economy, at no point did observers identify a humanitarian 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.

Associated Press
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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