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A Palestinian boy sits behind bags of flour donated by various aid agencies as part of their food assistance programs for the people in the Shati refugee camp, Gaza City.
A Palestinian boy sits behind bags of flour donated by various aid agencies as part of their food assistance programs for the people in the Shati refugee camp, Gaza City.

Israel counted Palestinians' calorie needs during Gaza blockade

Defence ministry document released under a court order is evidence the Israeli government limited food supplies to Palestinian territories to put pressure on Hamas, critics claim.

JERUSALEM // The Israeli military made precise calculations of Gaza's daily calorie needs 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 yesterday under a court order.

While Israel says it never limited how many calories went into the territories, critics claimed the document was new evidence the government limited food supplies in order to put pressure on Hamas. During the height of the blockade, Israel also maintained a list of foods that were permitted and banned from Gaza.

Israeli military spokesman Maj Guy Inbar said the calculation, based on an average requirement of 2,300 calories per day, was meant to identify warning signs to avoid a humanitarian crisis in Gaza, and in any case, was never actually used to restrict the flow of food.

The detailed analysis included adjustments for locally grown farm products as well as an assessment of the kinds of food imports that would be needed to sustain the population.

The Israeli advocacy group Gisha, which waged a lengthy court battle to release the Israeli document, 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. The government's resolution said it intended severe restrictions on civilians.

Israel maintained the blockade was necessary to weaken Hamas, an armed, Iranian-backed group committed to Israel's destruction.

But critics say the blockade constituted collective punishment against Gaza's more than 1.5 million people in its ultimately failed effort to shake Hamas' hold on the territory. An American diplomatic cable revealed by WikiLeaks last year quoted Israeli diplomats as saying they wanted to "keep Gaza's economy on the brink of collapse".

"The official goal of the policy was to wage `economic warfare' which would paralyse Gaza's economy and, according to the defence ministry, create pressure on the Hamas government," Gisha said on Wednesday.

In the January 2008 food calculation, Israel applied the average daily requirement of 2,279 calories per person, in line with World Health Organization guidelines, according to the document.

"The stability of the humanitarian effort is critical to prevent the development of malnutrition," the document said.

The defence 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 needs, Israel also used baffling secret guidelines to differentiate between humanitarian necessities and non-essential luxuries. The result was that military bureaucrats enforcing the blockade allowed frozen salmon and low-fat yogurt into the Hamas-ruled territory, but not coriander 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.

In Gaza, Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said the document was "evidence that the Gaza blockade was planned and the target was not Hamas or the government as the occupation always claimed. This blockade targeted all human beings ... This document should be used to trail the occupation for their crimes against the humanity in Gaza."

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 significantly ease 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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