Wednesday, June 2

The Facts Behind Israel's "Gourmet Gaza" Claims

The Facts Behind Israel's "Gourmet Gaza" Claims

Israel's attacks on a humanitarian aid flotilla bound for the Gaza Strip which left at least 14 civilians dead and dozens more wounded have sparked massive international protests, harsh condemnation from world governments and an emergency session of the United Nations Security Council. What led hundreds of civilians from dozens of countries - including former U.S. diplomats and military personnel and 19 European legislators - to risk their lives on the high seas?

The IMEU offers the following facts and figures on Israel's blockade and how, after more than 1,000 days, it has affected life for the roughly 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza:

1. Is Israel's blockade of Gaza legal?

No. The stated aim of Israel's blockade is to apply "pressure" or "sanctions" to weaken the economy of Gaza and decrease support for Hamas. [1] This amounts to collective punishment of Gaza's civilians, and as such is a violation of international humanitarian law (Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949). Further, as an occupying power, Israel is required under Articles 55, 59 and 60 of the Fourth Geneva Convention to ensure free, unimpeded passage of humanitarian relief and is prohibited from impeding the full realization of the occupied people's human rights. Israel's blockade impedes Gazans' rights to food, to an adequate standard of living, to work, and to the highest attainable standard of health.

2. Israel claims that it allows necessary humanitarian provisions to enter Gaza. Is this true?

No. The amount of goods allowed into Gaza by Israel falls far short of the minimum required to avoid malnutrition, poverty, and prevent or treat a variety of illnesses. According to Amnesty International's recently-released annual report, the siege has resulted in "mass unemployment, extreme poverty, food insecurity and food price rises caused by shortages." Consider the following statistics:

  • 61 percent of households face food insecurity, defined as inadequate physical, social or economic access to food, and rely on assistance from aid agencies. An additional 16.2 percent are considered vulnerable to food insecurity. [2]
  • 65 percent of the food insecure are children under the age of 18. [3]
  • Unemployment is at 40 percent [4]
  • 10 percent of children under five are stunted (low height for age, usually attributed to a chronic lack of protein and micronutrients, including iron and essential vitamins), a steadily increasing trend over recent years, according to UNICEF. [5]
  • More than 10 percent of children are chronically malnourished, according to the World Health Organization, a significant increase since siege began.
  • The number of children under five suffering from acute malnutrition nearly doubled between 2006 and 2008 from 1.4 to 2.4 percent, according to UNICEF.
  • 65 percent of children aged 9-12 months, and 35 percent of pregnant women are anemic. [6]
  • According to a recent poverty survey conducted by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, the number of Palestinian refugees completely unable to secure access to food and lacking the means to purchase even the most basic items, such as soap, school stationery and safe drinking water ('abject poverty') has tripled since the imposition of the blockade in June 2007
  • A majority of Gazans experience rolling blackouts of up to 12 hours a day, every day as a result of a chronic shortfall in electricity production resulting from the blockade [7]
  • Due to insufficient wastewater treatment capacity, Gaza's water authorities release 60-80 million liters a day of raw and partially treated sewage into the Mediterranean Sea, in order to avoid sewage flooding residential areas.
  • Water supply for domestic use is insufficient, raising hygiene and health concerns. In order to pump water to households, the water wells must receive electricity in synchronization with electricity supply to the same households. Almost all the households receive water for only 5-7 hours a day.

3. Does the blockade prevent the functioning of Gaza's economy?

Yes. Export of Palestinian goods, the import of raw materials and access to Gaza's natural resources have been severely restricted. For example:

  • Roughly 118 truckloads of strawberries and cut flowers exports were permitted to leave Gaza between December 10, 2009 and May 2010. Before the blockade, an average of 70 truckloads a day left Gaza during strawberry season. [8]
  • Since January 2009, the Israeli navy has illegally restricted Palestinian fishermen's access to three nautical miles offshore, yet in practice Israel often limits fishermen to only two nautical miles, reducing their catch by 47 percent. [9]
  • 46 percent of Gaza's agricultural land is inaccessible or out of production either due to destruction of lands caused by Israeli military attacks or by its "security buffer zone." [10]
  • Roughly 90 percent of Gaza's factories are closed or are functioning at less than 10 percent capacity because of the inability to obtain raw materials and the inability to export finished products [11].
  • The Israeli human rights organization Gisha provides the following example of how the blockade aims to prevent economic development: "Israel permits Gaza residents to receive small packets of margarine, considered a consumption item. Israel bans, however, the transfer of large buckets of margarine, because the buckets are designed for industrial use, rather than home consumption, meaning that they could be used to allow a local factory to produce biscuits - and thus engage in economic activity. Similarly, requests to permit empty cans into Gaza - intended for the preservation and marketing of Gaza-produced tomato paste - have been refused, but requests to transfer prepared, Israeli-made tomato paste are permitted." [12]

4. What are some of the items Israel has prohibited from entering Gaza?

  • sage
  • cardamom
  • cumin
  • coriander
  • ginger
  • jam
  • halva
  • vinegar
  • nutmeg
  • chocolate
  • fruit preserves
  • seeds and nuts
  • biscuits and sweets
  • potato chips
  • gas for soft drinks
  • dried fruit
  • fresh meat
  • plaster
  • tar
  • wood for construction
  • cement
  • iron
  • glucose
  • industrial salt
  • plastic/glass/metal containers
  • industrial margarine
  • tarpaulin sheets for huts
  • fabric (for clothing)
  • flavor and smell enhancers
  • fishing rods
  • various fishing nets
  • buoys
  • ropes for fishing
  • nylon nets for greenhouses
  • hatcheries and spare parts for hatcheries
  • spare parts for tractors
  • dairies for cowsheds
  • irrigation pipe systems
  • ropes to tie greenhouses
  • planters for saplings
  • heaters for chicken farms
  • musical instruments
  • size A4 paper
  • writing implements
  • notebooks
  • newspapers
  • toys
  • razors
  • sewing machines and spare parts
  • heaters
  • horses
  • donkeys
  • goats
  • cattle
  • chicks [13]

[1] Gisha. Restrictions on the transfer of goods to Gaza: Obstruction and obfuscation, January 2010

[2] Farming without Land, Fishing without Water: Gaza Agriculture Sector Struggles to Survive, FAO, May 2010

[3] Ibid

[4] Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, 2009

[5] IRIN. OPT: Signs of worsening malnutrition among children, April 2009

[6] Ibid.

[7] OCHA. The Humanitarian Monitor, April 2010

[8] Farming without Land, Fishing without Water: Gaza Agriculture Sector Struggles to Survive, FAO, May 2010

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Gisha. Restrictions on the transfer of goods to Gaza: Obstruction and obfuscation, January 2010

[12] Ibid.

[13] Gisha. Partial List of Items Prohibited/Permitted into the Gaza Strip. May 2010.

"The following list is approximate and partial, and it changes from time to time. It is based on information from Palestinian traders and businesspersons, international organizations, and the Palestinian Coordination Committee, all of whom "deduce" what is permitted and what is banned based on their experience requesting permission to bring goods into Gaza and the answers they receive from the Israeli authorities (approved or denied). It is not possible to verify this list with the Israeli authorities because they refuse to disclose information regarding the restrictions on transferring goods into Gaza. It should be noted that Israel permits some of the "prohibited" items into Gaza (for example: paper, biscuits, and chocolate), on the condition that they are for the use of international organizations, while requests from private merchants to purchase them are denied. For more information, see: Gisha, Restrictions on the Transfer of Goods into Gaza: Obstruction and Obfuscation, January 2010

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