The A-Z of Israel
On 22 January, Israelis will go to the polls. The world watches – but how much do we really know about the country that calls itself “the sole bastion of democracy” in the Middle East?
A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z
C is for Calories
In October 2012, after a four-year campaign by the human rights organisation Gisha, the Israeli government finally released a document that made public its “red lines” for “food consumption in the Gaza Strip”. The document contained a figure – 2,279 calories per person. Israeli officials had calculated this was the minimum necessary to keep Gaza’s residents from suffering malnutrition. The plan was made during Israel’s economic blockade, which began in 2007 after Hamas, the winner of the Palestinian legislative elections a year earlier, took control of Gaza.
To many, the “calorie count” has come to symbolise the asymmetric conflict between Israel and this tiny strip of land by the Mediterranean, where 1.7 million Palestinians live in some of the most crowded conditions on earth. The blockade –which did not ease until mid-2010 in response to international pressure, following Israel’s deadly attack on a Gaza-bound international flotilla that May – at one point restricted imports of such items as coriander, ginger, nutmeg and newspapers. To compound this, there has been a barrage of military operations, punctuated by outbreaks of open conflict, such as Operation Cast Lead in 2008 and the bombing campaign last November. In 2009, a South African judge, Richard Goldstone, led a UN delegation to Gaza which concluded that Israel’s policy amounted to “collective punishment”.
Israel justifies its actions by maintaining that such actions are necessary to weaken Hamas, whose charter commits the Islamist movement to the destruction of Israel, and points to the stream of rocket attacks Hamas supporters have launched across the border. Yet the timing of its military operations – which often come in the run-up to election campaigns – and the misery inflicted on the residents of Gaza make peace ever less likely. The fear of rocket attacks is pushing Israelis even further to the right (see B for Bibi); at the same time many Gazans who chafe under the repressive rule of Hamas feel they have no alternative but to support their leaders.