It is only 140 square miles and contains 1.8 million people, making it one of the most densely populated places on Earth. It is very small, similar in size and population density to Philadelphia, one of the biggest cities in the US. It is a narrow rectangular strip. The northern, eastern, and western borders are blockaded by Israel and the southern edge by Egypt. It is essentially a large, densely populated open-air ‘prison camp’ (as British prime minister David Cameron described it in 2010), which is why it is cynical when Israel, in its widely-publicized attempts at showing its ‘humanity’ while bombing Palestinians, urges people in northern Gaza to evacuate because they are going to bomb the region. That region alone has 200,000 people. Where are they supposed to go? Unlike the victims of violence in other countries, they cannot flee to a neighboring country. They are trapped and so must stay where they are and hope that they will not be blasted to bits. [Update: The original map has been replaced with new a one that is more accurate. Thanks to the commenters for pointing out the errors.]
The scope of Israeli control over the daily life of Gaza is breathtaking. Israel collects the taxes and import duties on items that they allow into Gaza and then has control over when and how much it releases those revenues to the authorities in Gaza, who need that money to provide services to the residents. Israel repeatedly uses that money as weapon, by withholding revenues to ‘punish’ Gaza for whatever reason.
Israel controls almost everything and everyone that goes in and out of Gaza, restricting the flow of things that we would take for granted. Although the list changes from time to time and is not officially provided by Israel, here are some of the things that were prohibited in 2010:
The UN relief agency for Palestinian refugees Unrwa’s list of household items that have been refused entry at various times includes light bulbs, candles, matches, books, musical instruments, crayons, clothing, shoes, mattresses, sheets, blankets, pasta, tea, coffee, chocolate, nuts, shampoo and conditioner.
The amount of cooking gas allowed in has generally fluctuated between about a third and a half of requirements, Oxfam figures show.
Since early 2008, the power plant has received enough fuel to operate at only about two-thirds of its capacity – in line with an Israeli Supreme Court ruling which set a minimum amount of fuel that Israel must allow into Gaza.
Restrictions on construction materials, particularly cement, and spare parts for machinery, have had a big impact on projects ranging from water treatment to grave digging. Reconstruction of buildings and infrastructure destroyed in the 2009 Israeli operations in Gaza has been virtually impossible.
To read even the partial list of restrictions is to marvel at it and realize that Israel treats the people of Gaza as if they are prisoners to whom basic necessities are carefully doled out.
But that is not all. In 2006, soon after Hamas won the elections in Gaza, Dov Weinglass, advisor to then Israeli prime minister Ehud Ohlmert said, “The idea is to put the Palestinians on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger.” Israel has proven that ‘putting them on a diet’ was not just hyperbole but a deliberate strategy to keep the population malnourished and that they have cynically carried that policy out, depriving nearly two million of people of basic necessities. Keeping people hungry and malnourished in order to make them submissive and to sap their will is an old strategy.
Health officials provided calculations of the minimum number of calories needed by Gaza’s 1.5 million inhabitants to avoid malnutrition. Those figures were then translated into truckloads of food Israel was supposed to allow in each day.
The Israeli media have tried to present these chilling discussions, held in secret, in the best light possible. Even the liberal Haaretz newspaper euphemistically described this extreme form of calorie-counting as designed to “make sure Gaza didn’t starve.”
But a rather different picture emerges as one reads the small print. While the health ministry determined that Gazans needed daily an average of 2,279 calories each to avoid malnutrition — requiring 170 trucks a day — military officials then found a host of pretexts to whittle down the trucks to a fraction of the original figure.
The reality was that, in this period, an average of only 67 trucks — much less than half of the minimum requirement — entered Gaza daily. This compared to more than 400 trucks before the blockade began.
When humanitarian groups in 2010 tried to break the blockade by sea and provide much-needed supplies to the people in Gaza, Israel reacted with murderous force.
Imagine if all the people of Philadelphia were treated like that, fenced in and deliberately denied the basic necessities of life in an effort to cow them into submission. Would anyone be surprised if they rose up in revolt?