Israeli journalist Gideon Levy commented last week on the stunningly inappropriate humour of Israeli prime minister's advisor Dov Weissglas, who apparently thought it positively funny that the Palestinians of the Occupied Territories will go hungry as a result of economic sanctions by Israel in response to the Hamas election victory:
The team, headed by the prime minister's advisor Dov Weissglas and including the Israel Defense Forces chief of staff, the director of the Shin Bet and senior generals and officials, convened for a discussion with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni on ways to respond to the Hamas election victory. Everyone agreed on the need to impose an economic siege on the Palestinian Authority, and Weissglas, as usual, provided the punch line: "It's like an appointment with a dietician. The Palestinians will get a lot thinner, but won't die," the advisor joked, and the participants reportedly rolled with laughter. And, indeed, why not break into laughter and relax when hearing such a successful joke? If Weissglas tells the joke to his friend Condoleezza Rice, she would surely laugh too.
Now that we've picked ourselves up off the floor, wiped the tears of laughter from our eyes and regained our composure, let's do a quick recap of the extent of food insecurity that the Palestinian population already suffers under Israel's occupation, even without the imposition of additional sanctions.
1. Palestinian malnutrition at African levels under Israeli curbs, say MPs; UK Independent Newspaper, 5 Feb 2004.
They said: “Rates of malnutrition in Gaza and parts of the West Bank are as bad as anything one would find in sub-Saharan Africa. The Palestinian economy has all but collapsed. Unemployment rates are in the region of 60 to 70 per cent. “The EU should not shy away from using economic pressure to gain political leverage with Israel.”
The report said that Palestinian farmers had land confiscated, crops damaged and were “plagued” by problems in getting goods to market.
MPs condemned the Israeli government for preventing the free export of goods from the West Bank and Gaza, and urged the EU to suspend Israel’s preferential tariff rates until they allow Palestinians free access to European markets. They said: “It is hard to avoid the conclusion that there is a deliberate Israeli strategy of putting the lives of ordinary Palestinians under stress as part of a strategy to bring the population under heel.
The report said movement restrictions on the Palestinians were justified by Israel as security measures, but warned that “in reality they have been a mechanism to put pressure on the Palestinians by crippling the economy”.
2. One Meal a Day for Most Palestinians; Jim Lobe, 13 Nov 2003.
Most Palestinians living in the Israeli-occupied territories of Gaza and the West Bank are eating only one meal a day, leading to malnutrition at levels found in sub-Saharan Africa, according to a new United Nations report.
The area is "on the verge of humanitarian catastrophe," adds the document released Wednesday by the UN Human Rights Commission's special rapporteur on the right to food, Jean Ziegler. The report, based on a visit to the territories in July, as well as statistics accumulated over the past year by UN and US agencies, describes the ongoing conflict between Israelis and Palestinians as a "horrifying tragedy," and stresses that Israel has the right to take defensive measures to protect its citizens against attacks.
But Ziegler, a recognized authority on international law and human rights from Switzerland, charges Israel with failing to uphold its legal obligation to ensure the right to food of the civilian Palestinian population. The result – more than one-half of Palestinian households are currently eating only one meal a day and are fully dependent on international food aid. "Many Palestinians who the special rapporteur met spoke of trying to subsist on little more than bread and tea," Ziegler wrote in his 24-page report.
"Severe malnutrition reported in Gaza is now equivalent to levels found in poor, sub-Saharan (African) countries, an absurd situation as Palestine was formerly a middle-income economy" with a rich agricultural base.
3. Report of the UN Special Rapporteur on his visit to the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel; 25 to 30 August 2002.
Before turning to these issues it is necessary to say something about Israel's security needs and interests. There can be no doubt that Israel has legitimate security concerns. Waves of Palestinian suicide bombers have inflicted deep wounds on Israeli society. Israel has both a right and an obligation to protect its people from further attacks. At the same time, it is necessary to ask whether the measures resorted to by Israel, particularly curfews and closures, always serve a security need. Often they appear so disproportionate, so remote from the interests of security, that one is led to ask whether they are not in part designed to punish, humiliate and subjugate the Palestinian people....
...The subjection of over 700,000 persons in the main cities to curfews, and the denial of access by the villagers to the cities, has resulted in unemployment, poverty, malnutrition and illness. Over 50 per cent of the population of the Palestinian Territory is unemployed. Poverty, based on two dollars or less consumption per day, is at 70 per cent in Gaza and 55 per cent in the West Bank. A total of 1.8 million Palestinians receive food aid or other forms of emergency humanitarian support from a variety of sources, notably the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, the World Food Programme and the International Committee of the Red Cross. Twenty-two per cent of children under the age of five suffer from acute or chronic malnutrition, while 20 per cent suffer from iron-deficiency anaemia. Mental health problems have increased alarmingly among children. Health care has suffered drastically as a result of the unavailability of medication and the inability to reach health centres. As usual, the situation in the refugee camps is particularly bleak, as was evident when the Special Rapporteur visited the Balata refugee camp near Nablus.
4. Roadmap to Poverty; by Louise Richards, chief executive for British NGO War on Want, 16 May 2003
There is a place where UN agencies estimate that over half the population are living on less than $2 per day. Where over 1.3 million people are dependent on foreign aid to survive. Where chronic and acute malnutrition is widespread among children under five years of age and is increasing rapidly. Where the World Health Organisation has described the situation as "hidden hunger".
And where is this place? A forgotten corner of Sub-Saharan Africa? No, this is the illegally occupied Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza Strip where 3.5 million Palestinians are mired in poverty that rarely makes British TV screens, let alone the living rooms of Israeli families.
As Peter Hansen, Commissioner General of the UN Relief and Works Agency, the largest aid organisation working in the territories, recently put it: “No drought has hit Gaza and the West Bank, no crops have failed and the shops are often full of food. But the failure of the peace process and the destruction of the economy by Israel's closure policy have had the effect of a terrible natural disaster.”
5. Israeli occupation leads to poverty, malnutrition; Green Left Weekly, 14 Aug 2002.
A new report funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) reveals that the occupation has disrupted the access to food of Palestinian families in the occupied territories of Gaza and the West Bank to such an extent that they face the spectre of widespread starvation. Although a comprehensive report will not be released until early September, preliminary findings were released on August 5.
The study found a combined moderate and acute malnutrition rate of 9.3% for children aged from 6 months to 59 months in the Occupied Territories — “considered an emergency by most humanitarians and public health officials”, according to the report. In a healthy population, the figure would be 2.28% or less. The figure for the Gaza Strip is particularly stark: 13.2%. Acute malnutrition indicates that the children tested had inadequate food in the period immediately prior to the study, indicating that one of the primary causes is Israel's near-continuous invasions of the Occupied Territories. Additionally, 13.2% of the children in the same age range studied suffered from chronic malnutrition, indicating longer-term under-nutrition.
A large proportion of children in the Occupied Territories are also anemic. Almost one fifth of children in the 6-59 months-old age-range surveyed were classed as suffering moderate to severe anemia under World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines, another indicator of widespread malnutrition. The development of anemia in children can cause impaired learning abilities and growth development and a decrease in resistance to infectious diseases.
6. Why Hamas Won and What it Means; by Prof. Neve Gordon, 7 Feb 2006.
Hamas was elected not only because it is considered an alternative to the corrupt Palestinian Authority, but also because Israel created the conditions that made it an indispensable social movement.
Allow me to explain. According to the United Nations, the poverty rate, defined as those living off less than $2.20 a day, climbed to 64 percent in the Occupied Territories in 2005. Even this figure, however, is inaccurate considering that half of the 64 percent, or some 1.2 million Palestinians, live not on $2.20 a day but on $1.60 or less. Impoverishment of this proportion has produced new populations that need assistance just to sustain life, or as one member of an Islamic charity stated, the past few years “have engendered new types of need, which has increased the number of eligible beneficiaries and diversified the social groups requiring such assistance.” These new groups currently include landowners, shopkeepers, and those whose homes have been demolished by Israeli bulldozers; in other words, they are not just the traditional poor.
As Israel destroyed the infrastructure of existence in the territories, it also engendered an institutional vacuum by targeting the Palestinian Authority. Hamas took advantage of these dire developments and used them as an opportunity to promote its own agenda.
...The question is not whether Hamas’s social welfare organizations have helped it garner popular support, but rather why Hamas’s charity network has been so successful. Indeed, the claim that Hamas’s popularity results from its social welfare network conceals the fact that Israel has produced a situation where there is desperate need for charity institutions. Accordingly, Israel’s efforts to undermine the Palestinian Authority alongside its success in destroying the infrastructure of existence in the Occupied Territories has not only made Palestinian life miserable, but has empowered its most lethal adversary, the Hamas.
And this is the population that Dov Weissglas proposes to put on a diet. Not so funny now, is it?
Photo: A Palestinian boy carries food donated by an Islamic organization in the West Bank city of Hebron March 21, 2005. (REUTERS/Nayef Hashlamoun)