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Israeli military calculated calorie needs of Gazans during embargo

October 17, 2012 | 12:12 pm

JERUSALEM -- Israel’s military calculated the minimum number of calories per day that Gaza Strip residents would need to avoid malnutrition during its embargo of goods into the restive territory from 2007 to 2010, court documents released Wednesday show.

Military officials said the so-called “red lines” document was only a draft and was never used in setting policy or determining how much food it would allow into the Hamas-ruled coastal strip. The paper, which the military fought for more than three years to keep classified, was only intended to ensure Gaza did not fall into a humanitarian crisis, officials said.

But Israeli human rights activists and Palestinian officials said Israel’s practices during the embargo closely mirrored the document’s recommendations, including how many truckloads of food were allowed in, how many calves Gazans would receive for slaughter and what types of food would be banned, such as chocolate and olive oil.

“In many cases the policy reflected exactly what was in the document,” said Sari Bashi, director of the Israeli group Gisha, which filed a lawsuit against the military to force the document’s release.

“The documents show that Israel used its control to put pressure on the Hamas regime by making civilians suffer,” said Bashi, whose group opposes the embargo.

Israel severely tightened the blockade and embargo around Gaza in 2007, after Hamas seized control in 2006 and then militants captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit the same year. Israel unilaterally withdrew its army from Gaza in 2005.

Israeli officials said the embargo was intended to ensure weapons were not smuggled into Gaza, but critics called the blockade a collective punishment that devastated Gaza’s economy.

Under international pressure, Israel ended the restrictions on food in 2010, though it continues to ban commercial exports and imports of goods such as cement or other items Israel says could be used to build military bunkers or weapons. The movement of people in and out of Gaza is also limited.

According to the document, Gazans on average needed 2,279 calories a day to survive. After subtracting for locally produced food and other factors, the document then estimated how many truckloads of food would be required to prevent malnutrition.

Israel officials defended their ongoing restrictions on Gaza, noting that Hamas and other militant groups in the enclave continue to fire rockets at southern Israeli cities.

“We have to take care of our security while trying to help those people in Gaza live the best life they can,” said Yossi Kuperwasser, director general of Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs. He noted that Israel has lifted most of the import restrictions and allows in more than 300 trucks of goods a day.

“If there’s a shortage of anything in Gaza, it’s not because of us,” he said. “Unfortunately, they have to suffer because of the policies of their political and terrorist organizations.”

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-- Edmund Sanders

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