Israel sets calorie limit for Gaza residents

THE ISRAELI military has released documents showing that in order to enforce its closure on the Gaza Strip it calculated how …

THE ISRAELI military has released documents showing that in order to enforce its closure on the Gaza Strip it calculated how many calories residents needed on a daily basis in order to avoid malnutrition.

The 2008 document, entitled Food Consumption in the Gaza Strip – Red Lines, was released after a three-and-a-half-year legal battle waged by the Gisha human rights organisation.

The document was drawn up shortly after Israel imposed an economic blockade on Gaza after Hamas seized power, hoping the restrictions would turn the population against the Islamic group.

It calculated the minimum number of calories necessary, adjusted “to culture and experience” in Gaza.


Israel concluded that 2,279 calories per person per day were needed, which could be supplied by 1,836 grammes of food, or 2,575.5 tons of food for the entire population of Gaza. Accordingly, it allowed 106 trucks per day carrying humanitarian assistance to cross into Gaza, five days a week, via the back-to-back system, under which the goods were transferred directly from an Israeli truck to a Palestinian truck at the border.

According to the European Food Information Council, a non-profit organisation which communicates for consumers science-based information on nutrition and health, women need a daily intake of about 2,000 calories, men need between 2,500-2,800 calories, and toddlers about 1,300 calories for healthy lives.

According to Britain’s National Health Service, the average male needs about 2,500 calories a day to maintain their weight. For an average woman, the figure is about 2,000 calories a day.

Israel was forced to abandon its land blockade under heavy international pressure after the May 2010 naval raid on the Gaza-bound MV Mavi Marmara, in which nine Turkish activists were killed in clashes with Israeli commandos.

Objecting in court to the release of the document, military representatives claimed it was merely a rough draft that was never actually implemented, and that it did not guide Israeli policy in practice.

The document determined that the average Gaza resident needed 207 grammes of bread/wheat products a day, 461 grammes of fruit, 267 grammes of vegetables, 69 grammes of rice, 15 grammes of cooking oil, 258 grammes of meat, 486 grammes of milk and 39 grammes of sugar.

Gisha claims the Israeli policy was based on two main tenets: that after the Hamas takeover of the Strip, Israel had only minimal humanitarian obligations toward Gaza’s residents, and that pressure on the entire population was a legitimate and effective tool in the context of the armed conflict with Hamas.

Gisha concluded that the Israeli policy did not lead to hunger or ongoing food shortages, but did lead to a significant increase in food prices and contributed to a severe economic crisis and an increased dependency on aid.

Robert Turner, the director of operations for the UN Relief and Works Agency (Unrwa) in Gaza, said a policy intended to cap food imports is contrary to humanitarian principles. “If it is intended to prevent a humanitarian crisis by setting a minimum threshold, it has failed.” In practice, large quantities of food and other supplies, including weapons, were smuggled into the Gaza Strip via an extensive network of tunnels under the border with Egypt.

Israel has eased its restrictions on food entering Gaza but still limits raw materials, which it claims can be used for military purposes, and maintains a maritime blockade.

Mark Weiss

Mark Weiss

Mark Weiss is a contributor to The Irish Times based in Jerusalem