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Israel counted calories to limit Gaza food

  |   Oct. 18, 2012 at 3:00 AM
JERUSALEM, Oct. 18 (UPI) -- The Israeli military blockading the Gaza Strip calculated the smallest number of calories Gazans needed to avoid malnutrition, a declassified document said.

The figure worked out to a daily average of 2,279 calories a person, which could be supplied by 4 pounds of food, or 2,575.5 tons of food for Gaza's entire 1.7 million population, said the January 2008 "Food Consumption in the Gaza Strip -- Red Lines" document, ordered released by Israel's Supreme Court.

The Israeli Defense Ministry, which fought for 3 1/2 years to keep the Red Lines document classified, had argued to the court Israel had a right "to adopt a policy of 'economic warfare'" against Gaza's Hamas Sunni Islamic leadership.

Israel imposed the blockade and embargo on Gaza in September 2007, citing an intensification of rocket attacks on Israel three month after Hamas began governing Gaza. Israel and the United States classify Iranian-backed Hamas as a terrorist organization.

But in any case, the ministry's Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories told the court, the Red Lines document of PowerPoint slides was merely an internal draft that was never implemented, so there was no legal justification to disclose it.

The court rejected the argument, siding with Israeli human rights group Gisha, which filed a lawsuit against the military to force the document's release. Gisha and Palestinian officials had argued Israel's practices during a strict 2007-2010 food embargo closely mirrored the document's recommendations.

Those recommendations included how many truckloads of food were to be allowed in, how many calves Gazans would receive for slaughter -- 300 a week -- and what types of food would be banned, such as chocolate and olive oil, Gisha said.

The Red Lines document calculates the minimum number of calories needed by every age and gender group in Gaza, then uses this to determine the quantity of basic foods that must be allowed into the Strip each day, and how many trucks that would require.

If Israel were supplying all Gaza's food, the 2,575.5 tons for Gaza would require 170.4 truckloads a day, five days a week, the document said.

But the document's authors deducted 68.6 truckloads to account for vegetables, fruit, milk and meat Gaza produced locally -- and deducted 13 truckloads to adjust for the "culture and experience" of Gazans' food consumption.

Other counterbalancing calculations led COGAT to conclude Gaza needed 106 truckloads a day, five days a week, the document said.

Robert Turner, Gaza Strip operations director for the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz: "If this reflects an authentic policy intended to cap food imports, this Red Lines approach is contrary to humanitarian principles. If it is intended to prevent a humanitarian crisis by setting a minimum threshold, it has failed."

A COGAT official told Haaretz, "The quantification wasn't done in order to arrive at a minimum threshold or restrict the quantities, but the opposite -- to ensure that there was no shortage."

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak had no immediate comment. Nor did Ehud Olmert, who was prime minister at the time.

Under international pressure, Israel ended the restrictions on food in June 2010.

Israel continues to ban commercial exports and imports of products such as cement that Israel says could be used for military purposes. The movement of people in and out of Gaza is also restricted.

© 2012 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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