Dov Weisglass, an advisor to Ehud Olmert, former Prime Minister of Israel, infamously stated that the idea behind Israel’s blockade on Gaza was “to put the Palestinians on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger.” A leaked U.S. embassy cable last year reconfirmed Israel’s callous attitude toward civilian suffering, noting Israeli officials’ stated intent “to keep the Gazan economy on the brink of collapse without quite pushing it over the edge.”
Headlines have again been made about the 2007 blockade on Gaza, eased in response to the widespread condemnation elicited by the 2010 illegal killing of nine international aid activists on an unarmed civilian ship in international waters by Israeli commandos.
The Israeli human rights group Gisha secured a court order this Wednesday forcing the Israeli army to release planning documents showing how the military made precise “calorie-counting” calculations to ensure Gazans would be kept “on a diet” short of official malnutrition during the blockade period. Troublingly, even the report’s bare minimum daily targets for food supply trucks were consistently missed during the blockade period.
A recent U.N. report observes that, at least as stated, Israel’s siege of Gaza has exceeded its goals. Citing the spiraling downward mobility of its population in conjunction with a general decline in water, education, and health accessibility, it predicts that by 2020 the Gaza Strip will be “uninhabitable.”
International aid groups have expressed extreme concern over health outcomes in Gaza, one of the most densely populated areas in the world. Operation Cast Lead, a 2008 siege on Gaza’s Hamas government, left its sewage system in complete disrepair, and drinking water supplies have since been contaminated by fertilizers and human feces. Sanitation-related diseases have doubled in children under three, carrying lifelong consequences. Ten percent of Palestinian children under five are permanently stunted due to prolonged malnutrition, while nearly 70% of children and 37% of pregnant mothers are anemic.
Palestinian hospitals, starved of resources by the Israeli blockade, are unable to handle the severity of the humanitarian crisis in the territories. Stunningly, Palestinians must apply to the Israeli government for permission to seek medical treatment in Israeli hospitals, for which the overall refusal/delay rate is nearly a fifth. Ten percent of Gazans last year were denied medical treatment with no reason given, and at least six people died as a result.
Attempting to keep the entire population of Gaza, of which half are children, on the constant brink of starvation and disease in response to their popular election to power of Hamas in 2006 — overthrown in a U.S.-backed coup in the West Bank — constitutes an egregious example of collective punishment, a violation of international law and basic human rights principles. International pressure in 2010 forced Israel to remove the food interdiction on Gaza, but wide-ranging bans on exports and imports have thrown nearly half of its population out of work, such that many are still unable to afford the food they need.
Six years later, with Hamas still in power and civilians struggling to survive, the time to end Israel’s siege of Gaza has long passed. Gazans deserve the human dignity so far denied to them by the U.S.-backed Israeli regime.