Putting the Palestinians on a Diet

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.1

As Saeed Bannoura of the International Middle East Media Center reports, the Israeli government imposed a deliberate policy:

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’.2

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.”3

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.4

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.5

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.6

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?”7

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.”

  1. Gisha: Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, ‘Due to Gisha’s Petition: Israel Reveals Documents related to the Gaza Closure Policy,’ October 21, 2010. []
  2. Saeed Bannoura, ‘Israeli government documents show deliberate policy to keep Gazans at near-starvation levels,’ International Middle East Media Center, November 6, 2010 21:32. []
  3. ‘Hamas readies for government, Israel prepares sanctions’, Agence France Presse, February 16, 2006. []
  4. ‘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. []
  5. Jon Donnison, ‘UN: No change in Gaza despite easing of Israel blockade,’ BBC news online, November 11, 2010 Last updated at 00:25. []
  6. BBC World News Today, BBC4, Thursday, November 11, 2010, 7pm. []
  7. Zeinab Badawi says freedom of expression is cornerstone of democracy in Britain,’ November 5, 2010. []

Media Lens is a UK-based media watchdog group headed by David Edwards and David Cromwell. The second Media Lens book, Newspeak: In the 21st Century by David Edwards and David Cromwell, was published in 2009 by Pluto Press. Read other articles by Media Lens, or visit Media Lens's website.

14 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. mary said on November 18th, 2010 at 8:10am #

    There has been a large response to this article by contributors to the Medialens message board. They have been sending in copies of their e-mails to the BBC which the editors post as ‘responses to latest alert’.

    (www.medialens.org/board/)

  2. MichaelKenny said on November 18th, 2010 at 10:05am #

    Look at the story: ” ‘UN: No change in Gaza despite easing of Israel blockade”. “No material change”, says the UN guy. In plain English, the Israelis are still trying to starve out the population of Gaza. In other words, the BBC story does not contradict what the documents say, it CONFIRMS them! It confirms that Israeli claims that they have “eased” the blockade are false and that, in fact, nothing has changed in reality! The journalist states that the whole scam was “nothing more than a political easing of the pressure on Israel and Egypt”. And the Israeli doesn’t deny that, he just sidesteps. Obviously, Mr Media and Mr Lens are so blindly prejudiced against the BBC that they didn’t even bother reading the article properly! And the BBC must be laughing their heads off at all those absurd e-mails!

  3. mary said on November 18th, 2010 at 10:14am #

    Has Mr Kenny missed the point deliberately. He reallu takes the biscuit.

    The point is that the Gisha report has been withheld from the public by the BBC and nearly all of the media.

    Where is it mentioned here in Donnison’s piece?

    (www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-11731695)

    PS FYI Mr Media and Mr Lens are David Cromwell and David Edwards.

  4. shabnam said on November 18th, 2010 at 10:43am #

    {Has Mr Kenny missed the point deliberately.}

    He always has.

  5. hayate said on November 18th, 2010 at 11:01am #

    From the article:

    “The idea is to put the Palestinians on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger.”3

    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.4 ”

    Genocide lite, eh.

  6. shabnam said on November 18th, 2010 at 11:48am #

    The zionist are implementing their partition plan in the Sudan according to
    ODED YINON and Arab intellectuals have done nothing about it.

    Arab intellectuals, American black activists and other activists must publicize the zionist plan in Sudan immediately.
    Shame those people who stay SIIENT while Israel is carving up Sudan according to ODED YINON STRATEGY to erect ‘greater Israel’ from Mauritania to Afghanistan.
    Where are Arab governments? Are still serving the interest of an apartheid state? Obama is doing just that.
    Move against the Judeofascists now.

    [ http://mrzine.monthlyreview.org/2010/bahady171110.html

  7. mary said on November 19th, 2010 at 1:35am #

    Those Palestinians in Gaza who survived Cast Lead and who are now on Israel’s ‘diet’, might like to look at the faces and names of those Israeli military who planned and carried out the massacre.

    http://www.redress.cc/palestine/redress20101119

  8. mary said on November 19th, 2010 at 1:43am #

    This is published on a site created by Gisha, whose report is the subject of the MediaLens alert.

    If they haven’t bread, let them eat gravel

    The eve of Eid al-Adha celebrated this week brought news of a shortage of flour in the Gaza Strip. For the past two weeks, traders and flour mill owners have warned of shortages of wheat in the Strip, claiming that the mills have been providing about half of their production capacity. The mathematical formulas, which the army used to determine the level to which they would allow the stock of flour in Gaza to be reduced, are no longer in effect. So why is there a shortage?

    Wheat is delivered to Gaza through the conveyer belt at the Karni crossing (currently the only operational part of the crossing, which was closed to trucks in June 2007). So far, the conveyer belt has been operational on only two days per week for the transfer of wheat and animal feed into Gaza. However, since mid-October, Israel has reduced the transfer of wheat and animal feed to just one day per week. On the other day, Israel allows gravel to be transferred to the Strip, pursuant to its June announcement regarding changes to the policy for the entry of goods into Gaza, including a promise to allow the entry of construction materials for projects run by international organizations. Incidentally, Israel also promised to open other land crossings “if the need arises to further increase the capacity of the crossings”.

    In practice, approvals for construction projects are extremely limited – since the change in policy, an average of 107 trucks carrying construction materials were allowed into Gaza per month compared to an average of about 5,000 trucks which entered Gaza every month prior to the closure. In addition, instead of opening additional crossing points, Israel has announced its intention to close the Karni conveyor belt and transfer all operations to Kerem Shalom.

    Thus Israel’s promise to allow the entry of construction materials, which was supposed to be good news for the residents of Gaza, has created additional difficulties in transferring basic and essential nutritional ingredients. Israel refuses to increase the number of days the conveyor belt operates and with regard to opening additional crossing points – there is no room for discussion.

    Moreover, the gravel which Israel allows into the Gaza Strip is not sufficient for the construction planned by international organizations. According to UNRWA, at this rate, it will take 75 years to implement the organization’s plan to rehabilitate Gaza. UNRWA, incidentally, is also facing a shortage in its flour reserves, because it buys flour from the local market in Gaza after the wheat is transferred to the Strip through the Karni crossing.

    (www.gazagateway.org/2010/11/if-they-haven%e2%80%99t-bread-let-them-eat-gravel/)

    Other recent posts 0n the site
    Industrial Fuel – Needs Vs. Supply – Oct 17 – Nov 13
    Goods – Needs Vs. Supply – Oct 17 – Nov 13
    Who Controls the Palestinian Population Registry?
    Industrial Fuel – Needs Vs. Supply – Oct 10 – Nov 6

  9. mary said on November 19th, 2010 at 7:28am #

    The Guardian take up the cudgels on Israel’s behalf. Well they would wouldn’t they.

    Israeli army condemns publication of Gaza ‘war criminals

    ‘Names, photographs and addresses of soldiers said to have taken part in Gaza offensive put on website
    Associated Press 19 November 2010

    (www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/nov/19/israeli-army-condemns-gaza-list)

    followed by a nice photo of Israeli troops in an armoured tank returning home after Cast Lead.

  10. hayate said on November 19th, 2010 at 10:35pm #

    “Well they would wouldn’t they.”

    Yeah, they also covered for israeli/zionist human organ theft and promote their genocidal wars with their observer half, and much , much more. It’s an criminal outfit that should be rotting in prison (I mean the “people” who own it/run it) rather than making millions off of people’s gullibility.

  11. mary said on November 20th, 2010 at 2:15am #

    By e-mail today:

    Scribd.com yields to Israeli pressure over war crimes suspects list

    The document hosting and embedding website Scribd.com has yielded to pressure from the Israeli army’s press unit and deleted the Scribd account of Redress Information & Analysis (www.redress.cc), following our posting of a list of Israeli military personnel suspected of war crimes in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead of 2008/09.
    See (www.redress.cc/palestine/redress20101119)

    Please write to Scribd and tell them what I bunch of craven cowards they are.
    Their email address is press at scribd.com
    They did not even have the courtesy of asking us to remove our other files
    first.

  12. mary said on November 20th, 2010 at 2:21am #

    Some pressure has been brought to bear on Mr Trip Adler from the local Zionist lobby group?

    (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trip_Adler)

  13. hayate said on November 20th, 2010 at 11:26am #

    mary said on November 20th, 2010 at 2:15am

    That ziofascist attack of Redress matches their attack on Adbusters, written on DV more recently here:

    Adbusters Magazine and the Israel Lobby

    [http://dissidentvoice.org/2010/11/adbusters-magazine-and-the-israel-lobby/]

  14. mary said on December 3rd, 2010 at 2:43am #

    A follow up to this piece by the Media Lens editors focussing on the non reporting of the matter by the MSM and the lack of response to readers’ e-mails. The very few responses to the editors are included here. It is outrageous that the GISHA report has been buried.

    TOO TOXIC TO HANDLE
    http://www.medialens.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=590:too-toxic-to-handle&catid=1:alerts&Itemid=34