Chronic malnutrition in Gaza blamed on Israel

Chronic malnutrition in Gaza blamed

on Israel

Donald Macintyre reveals the contents of an explosive report by the Red Cross on a humanitarian tragedy


The Red Cross says the diets of those living in the impoverished Gaza Strip are deteriorating

The Israeli blockade of Gaza has led to a steady rise in chronic malnutrition among the 1.5 million people living in the strip, according to a leaked report from the Red Cross.

It chronicles the “devastating” effect of the siege that Israel imposed after Hamas seized control in June 2007 and notes that the dramatic fall in living standards has triggered a shift in diet that will damage the long-term health of those living in Gaza and has led to alarming deficiencies in iron, vitamin A and vitamin D.

The 46-page report from the International Committee of the Red Cross – seen by The Independent – is the most authoritative yet on the impact that Israel’s closure of crossings to commercial goods has had on Gazan families and their diets.

The report says the heavy restrictions on all major sectors of Gaza’s economy, compounded by a cost of living increase of at least 40 per cent, is causing “progressive deterioration in food security for up to 70 per cent of Gaza’s population”. That in turn is forcing people to cut household expenditures down to “survival levels”.

“Chronic malnutrition is on a steadily rising trend and micronutrient deficiencies are of great concern,” it said.

Since last year, the report found, there had been a switch to “low cost/high energy” cereals, sugar and oil, away from higher-cost animal products and fresh fruit and vegetables. Such a shift “increases exposure to micronutrient deficiencies which in turn will affect their health and wellbeing in the long term.”

Israel has often said that it will not allow a humanitarian crisis to develop in Gaza and the report says that the groups surveyed had “accessed their annual nutritional energy needs”. But it warned governments, including Israel’s, that “food insecurity and undernutrition, including micronutrient deficiencies” were occurring in the absence of “overt food shortages”.

A 2001 Food and Agriculture Organisation definition classifies “food security” as when “all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.”

The Red Cross report says that “the embargo has had a devastating effect for a large proportion of households who have had to make major changes on the composition of their food basket.” Households were now obtaining 80 per cent of their calories from cereals, sugar and oil. “The actual food basket is considered to be insufficient from a nutritional perspective.” The report paints a bleak picture of an increasingly impoverished and indebted lower-income population. People are selling assets, slashing the quality and quantity of meals, cutting back on clothing and children’s education, scavenging for discarded materials – and even grass for animal fodder – that they can sell and are depending on dwindling loans and handouts from slightly better-off relatives.

In the urban sector, in which about 106,000 employees lost their jobs after the June 2007 shutdown, about 40 per cent are now classified as “very poor”, earning less than 500 shekels (£87) a month to provide for an average household of seven to nine people.

The report quotes a former owner of a small, home-based sewing factory, who said he had laid off his 10 workers in July 2007. “Since then I earn no more than 300 shekels per month by sewing from time to time neighbours’ and relatives’ clothes. I sold my wife’s jewellery and my brother is transferring 250 shekels every month … I do not really know what to say to my children.” Others said they were not able to give their children pocket money.

In agriculture, on which 27 percent of Gaza’s population depends, exports are at a halt and, like fisheries, the sector has seen a 50 per cent fall in incomes since the siege began. Among the two-fifths classified as “very poor”, average per capita spending is down to 50p a day. In the fisheries sector, which has been hit by fuel shortages and narrow, Israeli-imposed fishing limits, “People’s coping mechanisms are very limited and those households that still have jewellery and even non-essential appliances sell them”.

The report says that if the Israeli-imposed embargo is maintained, “economic disintegration will continue and wider segments of the Gaza population will become food insecure”.

Arguing that the removal of restrictions on trade “can reverse the trend of impoverishment”, the Red Cross warns that “the prolongation of the restrictions risks permanently damaging households’ capacity to recover and undermines their ability to attain food security in the long term.”

The detailed Gaza fieldwork for the report was carried out between May and July. An International Monetary Fund report confirmed in late September that the Gaza economy “continued to weaken”.

Mark Regev, the spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, said that, contrary to hopes when Israel pulled out of Gaza, the Gazan people were being “held hostage” to Hamas’s “extremist and nihilist” ideology which was causing undoubted suffering. If Hamas focused resources on the “diet of the people” instead of on “Qassam rockets and violent jihadism” then “this sort of problem would not exist”, he said.

Smugglers of truth

Smugglers of truth

Naomi Wolf discusses the book and film of The End of America Link to this video

Every once in a while, a culture shifts. You feel like a Luddite until your new learning curve is complete. That is the experience I have been having recently, as my book The End of America has been turned into a documentary. Can political documentaries make a difference? For someone who lives mostly in the dimension of words, it is an exciting and scary question.

The End of America details the 10 steps that would-be dictators always take in seeking to close an open society; it argued that the Bush administration had been advancing each one. I took the message on the road, and one of those early lectures – at the University of Washington in Seattle, in October 2007 – was videoed by a member of the audience. Even with its bad lighting and funky amateur vibe, this video, posted on YouTube, has been accessed almost 1,250,000 times.

This was a humbling lesson. While a polemical argument in prose may reach tens of thousands of the usual suspects – formally educated people who like to follow such texts – the video version reached far beyond that audience. Everywhere I went, from the gas station to the nail salon, I ran into people who would have been unlikely to read a book of mine, but who were passionately supportive of the argument from having watched it on YouTube.

The medium really is the message, in this case. For any opposition to Bush’s assault on liberty to be real, we would need hundreds of thousands of Americans from all walks of life to become outraged. Many other videos and films helped reached those masses, including Taxi to the Dark Side, Alex Gibney’s documentary about US brutality towards terror suspects, which last year won an Academy award, at a time when the major newspapers were still queasy about calling Bush interrogation tactics torture.

My humbling experience of the limits of print was taken one step further by a team of documentary-makers, Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg (who together made the inspired The Devil Came on Horseback, a film that singlehandedly raised awareness of the Darfur crisis in the US). As they worked on their film of The End of America, I experienced something incomparably fascinating for a non-fiction writer: sources I had quoted at length from the written record – and felt close to, for that reason, but abstractly – were interviewed in person, with all their humanity and quirkiness. Oh my God: there was Captain James Yee, the Guantánamo chaplain framed and held in a navy brig in isolation, because he spoke up against abuse of the detainees. There he was in his living room! Wow: here was Colonel David Antoon, the Vietnam veteran, fighter pilot and Iraq war critic, breaking down in tears as he described the harassment of his elderly mother. These voices came to life with surreal vividness.

I also saw the power of news footage, both archival and contemporary, to move the emotions in a way that my poor computer could never do. It is one thing to invoke in prose the history of how Pinochet rounded up citizens for violent intimidation, and another to see actual footage of people who look like you and me dragged off by the hair in modern city streets. It is one thing to analyse a militarised post-9/11 US police response to protesters, and another to watch never-before-seen footage of US police officers – now trained by Homeland Security, and dressed like Darth Vader in helmets and black body-armour – engage in mass sweeps of terrified citizens in St Paul, Minnesota, including parents with children, and dragging a frightened reporter, Amy Goodman, off by her sweater. (Since police destroyed most cameras at the 2008 Republican National Convention, the footage survived only because a protester buried his camera underground as he was being arrested.)

Is this medium effective in bringing about change? A follow-up video I made with a young dissenting Iraq war veteran, Sergeant Mathis Chiroux, shows smuggled-out footage of mounted police officers deliberately trampling Iraq war veterans with their horses; one young man’s face was trampled so badly that a metal plate had to be installed under his eyeball. After this interview aired on YouTube, the vets went from facing charges to seeing their charges dropped; the Long Island district attorney initiated an investigation into police brutality. Could writing alone – an outraged editorial – have managed that, these days, so quickly? Very unlikely.

The history of documentary film is nearly 100 years old, and its tradition owes much to early documentarians in Britain in the 1920s and 30s. In the US, the 50s and 60s marked the documentary’s golden age, especially at CBS, where pioneering televison journalist Edward R Murrow, immortalised in George Clooney’s Good Night, and Good Luck, produced such landmark investigations as the CBS Reports programme Hunger in America. Recent heirs to this tradition include such films as Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth – which, with his book, arguably did more to raise mass awareness of the reality of global warming than any amount of print analysis, or legislative debate, might have. At a time when investigative print reporting is withering, through shrinking newspaper budgets and readerships, when journalism schools are turning out fewer and fewer investigative reporters for that reason, one could argue that documentaries are becoming our main source of investigative journalism.

But remember: Gore brought out his film along with his book. For all the power of video and film, I am not giving up my pen. I am just much more likely to try to link essays to webcasts or videos. The best way for these two media to move forward, to inform and make change, is in tandem; together they are more than the sum of their parts. Documentary film without nuanced journalistic sourcing risks being sensational, tendentious or broad-brushed. And these days, print without a dimension of imagery risks being flat, especially to a younger audience. So while we need not despair about the future of investigative journalism, or the power of print alone to drive change, we writers should accept the inevitable: those damn film-makers have tools we need to adapt to, and, wherever possible, appropriate. Wherever we want to turn out the deathless prose of political polemic to drive great change – well, we just have to smuggle out the video footage to go with it.

• Naomi Wolf is the author of The End of America and its sequel, Give Me Liberty: A Handbook for American Revolutionaries. The End of America is out on DVD from today. This article, with weblinks, is at

Israel kept out aid for Gaza

Israel kept out aid for Gaza

Jason Koutsoukis

ISRAEL deliberately blocked the United Nations from building up vital food supplies in Gaza that feed a million people daily before the launch of its war against Hamas, according to a senior UN official in Jerusalem.

In a scathing critique of Israeli actions leading up to the conflict, the UN’s chief humanitarian co-ordinator in Israel, the former Australian diplomat Maxwell Gaylard, accused Israel of failing to honour its commitments to open its border with Gaza during several months of truce from June 19 last year.

“The Israelis would not let us facilitate a regular and sufficient flow of supplies into the Strip,” Mr Gaylard said.

The chief spokesman for Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Yigal Palmor, said the claims were “unqualified bullshit”.

“At no time was there a shortage of food in Gaza over the past three weeks,” Mr Palmor said.

Mr Gaylard, who is the UN Special Co-ordinator’s Office’s most senior representative in Israel, told the

Herald that when Israel launched its surprise attack on Gaza on December 27, the UN’s warehouses in Gaza were nearly empty, with all food and equipment sitting in nearby port facilities. “The food was in Israel but we couldn’t get it in. This is before. The blockade was very tight.”

As the Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, halted the attacks, declaring Israel had attained its goals in the lethal assault on Gaza that has killed more than 1240 Palestinians – a third of them children – Hamas militants continued to fire rockets into Israel. Thirteen Israelis have also been killed.

A 20-year-old Palestinian was shot dead by Israeli troops in the south of the Strip yesterday. He died after being shot in the chest in a vehicle near the town of Khan Yunis, near the border crossing and was the first fatality since Israel declared a unilateral ceasefire.

Five Qassam rockets hit the Israeli city of Sderot yesterday, with no reported injuries, hours after Mr Olmert said the ceasefire would be maintained as long as Hamas stopped firing rockets.

He said Israel would continue to occupy Gaza and was working with several international partners including the US to prevent Hamas re-arming by putting an end to its smuggling operations.

“Hamas was hit hard,” Mr Olmert said. “Both its military capabilities and its governing infrastructure.” Operation Cast Lead erupted after Hamas declared it would not extend a six-month truce with Israel that had expired on December 19.

Hamas argued it had no incentive to renew the truce because conditions had not improved during the months of calm.

According to Hamas, in return for stopping the rocket fire, Israel had promised to ease its blockade of Gaza and allow the passage of more food and commercial supplies.

“I think the expectation on the Israeli side was that the rockets would stop. Well, they nearly did. I think there were 40-odd rockets fired over four months roughly,” Mr Gaylard said.

Before the truce there was a monthly average of several hundred rockets and mortar shells being fired into Israel.

“The expectation on the Gazan side . . . was that more supplies would be allowed in, and it didn’t happen,” Mr Gaylard said.

“In fact, we noticed, I think from 19 June for the next four or five months, or up to even 19 December, less of our supplies and spare parts and items of equipment, less got in than before the 19th of June.”

Mr Gaylard slammed Israel’s siege policy towards Gaza, which he said had strengthened the popularity of Hamas.

“It’s difficult to understand the mentality of firing these rockets . . . it is equally hard to understand why the Israelis are strangling this place,’ Mr Gaylard said.

“It is to cause Hamas to fall, but my experience of the last year of going in and out of Gaza and staying there, was that it had exactly the opposite effect.

“Hamas did not keep its commitments during the truce, they maintained the rocket fire and continued to attack Israeli technicians who were sent in to Gaza to repair various facilities.”

Mr Gaylard, who is also the UN’s deputy special co-ordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, said it would require several billion dollars and at least five years to repair the physical damage caused by the last three weeks of fighting.

As for the long-term goal of resolving the 60-year Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he said that had been dealt a severe setback.

Mr Gaylard urged the world to put more pressure on Israel to stop the growth of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, which he said Israel had pledged to do several times, most recently at the Annapolis Middle East Peace conference in November 2007.

‘Gaza war failed to wipe out Hamas tunnels’

Gaza’s tunnels were a test run for Iran and Lebanon, to see the penetration capabilities of the new bunker-busters provided for the murderous operation, knowing full well, their intended destination.

‘Gaza war failed to wipe out Hamas tunnels’

Ceasefire ... Palestinians walk in front of a building destroyed in an Israeli air strike in Gaza City.Ceasefire … Palestinians walk in front of a building destroyed in an Israeli air strike in Gaza City.
Photo: AP

Israel’s offensive on Gaza failed to wipe out Hamas’s network of arms smuggling tunnels below the border with Egypt which Palestinians will now likely rebuild, Israel’s intelligence chief said on Sunday.

Speaking at the end of the weekly cabinet meeting, Yuval Diskin said he fears the situation along the border, known as the Philadelphi route, will return to the pre-war status quo unless agreements with the US and Egypt on greater surveillance are followed through.

“The operation did not deal an irreversible blow to the tunnels industry,” Diskin, the head of the Shin Beth internal security service, said.

“Not all of the tunnels have been destroyed. The

second calm is restored and if Israel does not insist on the implementation of agreements on the issue, the situation along the Philadelphi route will return to its previous state within several months.”

Israel carried out hundreds of bombing raids during the course of its 22-day offensive in and around the southern border town of Rafah where between 300 and 500 tunnels have been carved out.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert called a halt to the campaign on Saturday night after securing agreements from both the United States and Egypt designed to clamp down on the smuggling, although few details have been released.


Israel recruits army of TROLLS to combat anti-Zionist Web sites

Israel recruits ‘army of bloggers’ to combat anti-Zionist Web sites

By Cnaan Liphshiz

The Immigrant Absorption Ministry announced on Sunday it was setting up an “army of bloggers,” to be made up of Israelis who speak a second language, to represent Israel in “anti-Zionist blogs” in English, French, Spanish and German.

The program’s first volunteer was Sandrine Pitousi, 31, from Kfar Maimon, situated five kilometers from Gaza. “I heard about the project over the radio and decided to join because I’m living in the middle of the conflict,” she said.

Before hanging up the phone prematurely following a Color Red rocket alert, Pitousi, who immigrated to Israel from France in 1993, said she had some experience with public relations from managing a production company.

“During the war, we looked for a way to contribute to the effort,” the ministry’s director general, Erez Halfon, told Haaretz. “We turned to this enormous reservoir of more than a million people with a second mother tongue.” Other languages in which bloggers are sought include Russian and Portuguese.

Halfon said volunteers who send the Absorption Ministry their contact details by e-mail, at, will be registered according to language, and then passed on to the Foreign Ministry’s media department, whose personnel will direct the volunteers to Web sites deemed “problematic.”

Within 30 minutes of announcing the program, which was approved by the Foreign Ministry on Sunday, five volunteers were already in touch, Halfon said.