Sunday, 26 December 2010

“PUT THE PALESTINIANS ON A DIET”

Media Bury Documents Revealing Israel’s Deliberate Policy Of Near-Starvation For Gaza

Israel has been forced to reveal what Palestinians and other observers on the ground have known for a long time: that the blockade of Gaza is state policy intended to inflict collective punishment, not to bolster Israeli “security”.

An Israeli human rights group has won a legal battle to compel the Israeli government to release three important documents. These outline state policy for permitting the transfer of goods into Gaza prior to the May 31 attack on the peace flotilla in which nine people were killed by Israeli forces. The group, Gisha – Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, is demanding Israeli transparency. Meanwhile, Israel refuses to release documents on the current version of blockade policy which was “eased” after international condemnation following the flotilla attack.

The released documents, whose existence Israel had denied for eighteen months, reveal that the state approved “a policy of deliberate reduction” of basic goods, including food and fuel, in the Gaza Strip. Gisha Director Sari Bashi explains:
“Instead of considering security concerns, on the one hand, and the rights and needs of civilians living in Gaza, on the other, Israel banned glucose for biscuits and the fuel needed for regular supply of electricity – paralyzing normal life in Gaza and impairing the moral character of the State of Israel. I am sorry to say that major elements of this policy are still in place.” (Gisha: Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, ‘Due to Gisha's Petition: Israel Reveals Documents related to the Gaza Closure Policy’, October 21, 2010;
As Saeed Bannoura of the International Middle East Media Center reports, the Israeli government imposed a deliberate policy: (Saeed Bannoura, ‘Israeli government documents show deliberate policy to keep Gazans at near-starvation levels’
“in which the dietary needs for the population of Gaza are chillingly calculated, and the amounts of food let in by the Israeli government measured to remain just enough to keep the population alive at a near-starvation level. This documents the statement made by a number of Israeli officials that they are ‘putting the people of Gaza on a diet’.”
Bannoura adds:

“This release of documents also severely undermines Israel's oft-made claim that the siege is ‘for security reasons’, as it documents a deliberate and systematic policy of collective punishment of the entire population of Gaza.”
When Israel and the United States were reacting to Hamas’s election victory in Gaza in January 2006, long-time Israeli government adviser Dov Weisglass stated:
“The idea is to put the Palestinians on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger.” (‘Hamas readies for government, Israel prepares sanctions’, Agence France Presse, February 16, 2006)
The released documents contain actual equations used by the Israeli government to calculate the exact amounts of food, fuel and other necessities needed to do exactly that. (‘Submitted to Gisha in the framework of a Freedom of Information Act Petition, AP 2744/09 Gisha v. Defense Ministry’, Appendices B, C and D;

The policy is all the more disturbing, indeed repellent, given that almost half the people of Gaza are children under the age of eighteen. One might reasonably conclude that Israel has deliberately forced the undernourishment of hundreds of thousands of children in direct violation of international law and the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Media Response? A Polite Silence

Our searches of the Nexis newspaper database show that, as far as we could determine, not a single UK newspaper has reported the release of these damning Israeli documents. We widened our searches to include all English-language publications covered worldwide by Nexis. We found just two: one from the Palestine News Network on October 21 and one in Palestine Chronicle on November 6.

We were so surprised by the uniform silence across the English-language press that we asked US-based media analyst David Peterson to check our findings. He was able to do so, spelling out his search results as follows (email to Media Lens, November 11, 2010):

Major World Publications: zero

All News (English): two (the same two that we found, as mentioned above)

Broadcast Transcripts: zero

A search of the Factiva database (covering all major English-language newspapers and wire services) found the same results. Peterson commented:
“No mentions in any of the major English-language newspapers or wire services of the fact that someone had revealed the actual Israeli government policy towards the Gaza Palestinians is to force a ‘deliberate reduction’ in their access to the necessities of everyday survival.”
It takes a peculiar form of social malaise for this astonishing media silence to be maintained in ostensibly free societies.

The Fiercely “Independent” BBC

On November 11, an online BBC article reported on the Gaza blockade but made no mention of the released documents. (Jon Donnison, ‘UN: No change in Gaza despite easing of Israel blockade’ BBC news online, November 11, 2010 Last updated at 00:25)

Reporter Jon Donnison wrote:
“The UN says there has been ‘no material change” for people in Gaza since Israel announced it was ‘easing’ its economic blockade of the Palestinian territory.”

Jon Ging, the head of UN operations in Gaza, said few people had noticed any difference:

“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.”

Ging continued:
“The easing, as it was described, has been nothing more than a political easing of the pressure on Israel and Egypt.”

The BBC gave the final word to Yigal Palmor, a spokesman for the Israeli foreign ministry:

“Why is the border blockaded? Because the territory has been overtaken by a declared terror movement."

This assertion that the Gaza blockade is motivated by security concerns went unchallenged.

World News Today, presented by Zeinab Badawi on BBC4, broadcast a piece by Donnison along similar lines to his article. (BBC World News Today, BBC4, Thursday, November 11, 2010, 7pm;)

We wrote to Jon Donnison and asked whether he was aware that the Israeli human rights group Gisha had obtained Israeli government documents confirming that the collective punishment of Gaza is based on politics, not security. We asked him:

“Have you reported the release of these documents?
“Will you be pursuing it in a new article?” (Email, November 11, 2010)

We emailed again on November 16 but have received no response to date.

Compare and contrast the BBC’s performance on this story with a new Foreign Office-sponsored piece on the BBC by news presenter Zeinab Badawi:
“Transparency, accountability of government actions is absolutely crucial. And frankly that’s the role of the media. You know, shining a harsh spotlight on truths and sunlight, after all, is a very strong antiseptic, isn’t it?” (‘Zeinab Badawi says freedom of expression is cornerstone of democracy in Britain’, November 5, 2010)
Badawi added that “the BBC’s constitution means that we absolutely, +absolutely+ cherish and protect and fight for our independence. We don't even have an arm's length relationship with the government, we just don’t deal with the government at all.”

Badawi continued the self-adulation:
“It [the BBC] really is a vital, vital tool for the dissemination of information in all sorts of ways. All these things have really served to underscore that freedom of speech that we have in this country. And I suppose the BBC best epitomises that tradition.”

She concluded:

“I'm very proud to be an employee of the BBC.”

SUGGESTED ACTION

The goal of Media Lens is to promote rationality, compassion and respect for others. If you do write to journalists, we strongly urge you to maintain a polite, non-aggressive and non-abusive tone.

Write to Jon Donnison of the BBC Email: jon.donnison@bbc.co.uk

Write to his editors:

Jeremy Bowen, BBC News Middle East editor Email: jeremy.bowen@bbc.co.uk
Steve Herrmann, BBC News online editor Email: steve.herrmann@bbc.co.uk
Write to Zeinab Badawi of the BBC Email: zeinab.badawi@bbc.co.uk

Due to Gisha's Petition: Israel Reveals Documents related to the Gaza Closure Policy

Thursday, October 21, 2010: After one and a half years in which Israel at first denied their existence and then claimed that revealing them would harm "state security", the State of Israel released three documents that outline its policy for permitting transfer of goods into the Gaza Strip prior to the May 31 flotilla incident. The documents were released due to a Freedom of Information Act petition submitted by Gisha - Legal Center for Freedom of Movement in the Tel Aviv District Court, in which Gisha demanded transparency regarding the Gaza closure policy. Israel still refuses to release the current documents governing the closure policy as amended after the flotilla incident.

"Policy of Deliberate Reduction"
The documents reveal that the state approved "a policy of deliberate reduction" for basic goods in the Gaza Strip (section h.4, page 5*). Thus, for example, Israel restricted the supply of fuel needed for the power plant, disrupting the supply of electricity and water. The state set a "lower warning line" (section g.2, page 5) to give advance warning of expected shortages in a particular item, but at the same time approved ignoring that warning, if the good in question was subject to a policy of "deliberate reduction". Moreover, the state set an "upper red line" above which even basic humanitarian items could be blocked, even if they were in demand (section g.1, page 5). The state claimed in a cover letter to Gisha that in practice, it had not authorized reduction of "basic goods" below the "lower warning line", but it did not define what these "basic goods" were (page 2).

"Luxuries" denied for Gaza Strip residents
In violation of international law, which allows Israel to restrict the passage of goods only for concrete security reasons, the decision whether to permit or prohibit an item was also based on "the good's public perception" and "whether it is viewed as a luxury" (section c.b, page 16). In other words, items characterized as "luxury" items would be banned – even if they posed no security threat, and even if they were needed. Thus, items such as chocolate and paper were not on the "permitted" list. In addition, officials were to consider "sensitivity to the needs of the international community".
Ban on Reconstructing Gaza
Although government officials have claimed that they will permit the rehabilitation of Gaza, the documents reveal that Israel treated rehabilitation and development of the Gaza Strip as a negative factor in determining whether to allow an item to enter; goods "of a rehabilitative character" required special permission (section g, page 16). Thus, international organizations and Western governments did not receive permits to transfer building materials into Gaza for schools and homes.

Secret List of Goods
The procedures determine that the list of permitted goods "will not be released to those not specified!!" (emphasis in original) (section j, page 17), ignoring the fact that without transparency, merchants in Gaza could not know what they were permitted to purchase. The list itemized permitted goods only. Items not on the list – cumin, for example – would require a special procedure for approval, irrespective of any security consideration, at the end of which it would be decided whether to let it in or not.

Calculation of product inventory
The documents contain a series of formulas created by the Defense Ministry to compute product inventory (pages 8-10). The calculations are presumed to allow COGAT to measure what is called the "length of breath" (section i, page 8). 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.

According to Gisha Director Sari Bashi: "Instead of considering security concerns, on the one hand, and the rights and needs of civilians living in Gaza, on the other, Israel banned glucose for biscuits and the fuel needed for regular supply of electricity – paralyzing normal life in Gaza and impairing the moral character of the State of Israel. I am sorry to say that major elements of this policy are still in place".

*Pagination is counted in the order the documents were received by the Ministry of Defense.

For translated excerpts of the state's response initially refusing to reveal the documents for "security reasons", click here.

To view the documents revealed by the state (translated from the original Hebrew into English), click here.

Israeli Government Documents Show Deliberate Policy To Keep Gazans At Near-starvation Levels
Documents, whose existence were denied by the Israeli government for over a year, have been released after a legal battle led by Israeli human rights group, Gisha. The documents reveal a deliberate policy by the Israeli government in which the dietary needs for the population of Gaza are chillingly calculated, and the amounts of food let in by the Israeli government measured to remain just enough to keep the population alive at a near-starvation level. This documents the statement made by a number of Israeli officials that they are "putting the people of Gaza on a diet".

In 2007, when Israel began its full siege on Gaza, Dov Weisglass, adviser to then Prime-Minister Ehud Olmert, stated clearly, “The idea is to put the Palestinians on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger.” The documents now released contain equations used by the Israeli government to calculate the exact amounts of food, fuel and other necessities needed to do exactly that.

The documents are even more disturbing, say human rights activists, when one considers the fact that close to half of the people of Gaza are children under the age of eighteen. This means that Israel has deliberately forced the undernourishment of hundreds of thousands of children in direct violation of international law and the Fourth Geneva Convention.

This release of documents also severely undermines Israel's oft-made claim that the siege is "for security reasons", as it documents a deliberate and systematic policy of collective punishment of the entire population of Gaza.

Gisha's director, in relation to the release of documents, said, "Israel banned glucose for biscuits and the fuel needed for regular supply of electricity – paralyzing normal life in Gaza and impairing the moral character of the State of Israel. I am sorry to say that major elements of this policy are still in place."

In its statement accompanying the release of the documents, Gisha wrote:

The documents reveal that the state approved "a policy of deliberate reduction" for basic goods in the Gaza Strip (section h.4, page 5*). Thus, for example, Israel restricted the supply of fuel needed for the power plant, disrupting the supply of electricity and water. The state set a "lower warning line" (section g.2, page 5) to give advance warning of expected shortages in a particular item, but at the same time approved ignoring that warning, if the good in question was subject to a policy of "deliberate reduction". Moreover, the state set an "upper red line" above which even basic humanitarian items could be blocked, even if they were in demand (section g.1, page 5). The state claimed in a cover letter to Gisha that in practice, it had not authorized reduction of "basic goods" below the "lower warning line", but it did not define what these "basic goods" were.

Commentator Richard Silverstein wrote:
"In reviewing the list of permitted items for import, you come to realize that these are the only items allowed. In other words, if an item is not on the list, it’s prohibited. So, for example, here is the list of permitted spices: Black pepper, soup powder, hyssop, sesame. cinnamon, anise, babuna (chamomile), sage. Sorry, cumin, basil, bay leaf, allspice, carraway, cardamon, chiles, chives, cilantro, cloves, garlic, sesame, tamarind, thyme, oregano, cayenne. Not on the list. You're not a spice Palestinians need according to some IDF dunderhead. And tomatoes, potatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, toys, glassware, paint, and shoes? You can forget about them too. Luxuries all, or else security threats."
Despite the disturbing nature of the documents, which show a calculated policy of deliberate undernourishment of an entire population, no major media organizations have reported the story.

The full text of the released documents, and the original Freedom of Information Act request filed by Gisha, can be found here:

For more information on Weisglass, a key aide to ex-PM Ariel Sharon click here

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