No end to the strangulation of Gaza

Perhaps the most chilling explanation for the four-year Israeli-Egyptian blockade of Gaza was offered by Dov Weisglass, a former senior adviser to the Israeli prime ministers Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert. "The idea is to put the Palestinians on a diet," he is reported to have said in 2006, "but not to make them die of hunger."

The Palestinians of Gaza have had their "diet". The Red Cross says the siege has led to a steady rise in chronic malnutrition among the 1.5 million people living in the strip. According to the UN, 80 per cent of the population is dependent on foreign aid and 61 per cent is classified as "food-insecure"; it also says 90 per cent of the water supplied to residents is not suitable for drinking.

In October, the Israeli human rights group Gisha published three documents, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, that outlined the Israeli government's policy for permitting transfer of goods into Gaza prior to Tel Aviv's attack on the international aid flotilla on 31 May. The released documents showed that the Israeli state approved "a policy of deliberate restriction" of basic goods, including food and fuel, to people living in the Gaza Strip.

The published papers contained a series of mathematical formulae, created by the Israeli ministry of defence, to calculate the "product inventory" inside the strip. "The calculations are presumed to allow Cogat [Co-ordinator of Government Activities in the Territories] to measure what is called the 'length of breath'," the Gisha website notes. "The formula states that if you divide the inventory in the Strip by the daily consumption needs of residents, you will get the number of days it will take for residents of Gaza to run out of that basic product, or in other words, until their 'length of breath' will run out."

The documents expose the cynicism of Israeli government officials - and yet, as the media analysis website Media Lens has remarked, not a single British newspaper has reported on their existence.

In a note from the ministry of defence that accompanied the release of the documents, a spokesman acknowledged the reference to "the possibility of a deliberate policy of restriction", but claimed that "in practice there was no deliberate restriction of basic products". This is not true. Over the past four years, the list of prohibited items that Israel stops from crossing the border with Gaza has included coriander, nutmeg, ginger, dried fruit, fresh meat, lentils, pasta, chocolate, donkeys, cattle, fishing rods, musical instruments and newspapers. Are most of these not "basic products"? What threat did chocolate or coriander pose to Israeli security? Is it any wonder that Israel's isolation of Gaza - aided and abetted by Egypt on the strip's southern border - was described in a 2009 UN investigation, led by the distinguished South African jurist and self-proclaimed Zionist Richard Goldstone, as a policy "amounting to collective punishment"?

Have things changed since the global outcry over the Israeli attack on the aid flotilla? In November, a report released by 21 different charities and human rights groups, including Oxfam, Amnesty and Save the Children, concluded that there has been "little improvement" for the people of Gaza since Israel announced it was easing the blockade in June 2010. John Ging, director of UN operations in Gaza, agreed. "There's been no material change for the people on the ground here in terms of their status, the aid dependency, the absence of any recovery or reconstruction, no economy." He added: "The easing, as it was described, has been nothing more than a political easing of the pressure on Israel and Egypt."

The strangulation of Gaza continues, and the Palestinians remain on their diet.

You can read the documents released to Gisha (translated into English) at:

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

This article first appeared in the 03 January 2011 issue of the New Statesman, The siege of Gaza