Israel deliberately maintained the economy of the Gaza strip "on the brink of collapse" without "pushing it over the edge", leaked US diplomatic cables from 2008 showed yesterday.
Critics of Israel's policy towards Gaza, home to some 1.6 million Palestinians, have frequently accused Israeli officials of undertaking an intentional policy of economic strangulation against the Hamas-ruled enclave. Israel has hotly denied those allegations.
Yet according to the documents, obtained by the whistleblower website WikiLeaks and posted online by the Norwegian daily Aftenposten, Israeli officials kept the US Embassy in Tel Aviv briefed on its blockade of the Gaza Strip.
They told US diplomats in 2008 that the aim of their policy was to squeeze the economy of the Palestinian enclave tight, but not too tight. With its carefully calibrated strategy, Israel apparently hoped to foment an uprising against Hamas by disaffected Gazans without sparking chaos.
"As part of their overall embargo plan against Gaza, Israeli officials have confirmed ... on multiple occasions that they intend to keep the Gazan economy on the brink of collapse without quite pushing it over the edge," read the secret cable from the US Embassy in Tel Aviv dated November 3, 2008 and posted online in its original version. "Israeli officials have confirmed to embassy officials on multiple occasions that they intend to keep the Gazan economy functioning at the lowest level possible consistent with avoiding a humanitarian crisis," the cable says.
Israel first imposed a blockade on the Gaza Strip in June 2006 after militants there kidnapped the Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, and tightened it a year later when Hamas seized power in the territory, ousting its moderate rivals. The unemployment rate in Gaza stood at 35 per cent last year, one of the highest in the world.
Publicly, Israeli officials say its limits on exports from Gaza are justified by several incidents in which Palestinian militants have concealed themselves or their weapons in crates being moved into Israeli territory.
In a speech in January 2008, the then Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, appeared to spell out that policy."We will not harm the supply of food for children, medicine for those who need it and fuel for institutions that save lives," he said at the time. "But there is no justification for demanding we allow residents of Gaza to live normal lives while shells and rockets are fired from their streets and courtyards [at southern Israel]," he added.
* With reporting by Reuters and Agence France-Presse