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Gazas 15 million people are getting 350 calves

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Gaza’s 1.5 million people are getting 350 calves today — the first Israeli delivery in nine months

by Marian Houk

It apparently takes American pressure to get the Israeli military to allow 350 cows into Gaza today — the first in nine months. This, it should be noted, is for 1.5 million human beings.

However, the Israeli military’s "Coordinator of (Israeli) Government Activities in the Territories" (COGAT) has reportedly determined — after a supposedly-careful and somehow-scientific analysis redolent of other notoriously disastrous historical precedents involving social engineering experiments on a captive population — that 300 cows per week are the minimum needed in Gaza in order to avoid malnutrition, and a "humanitarian crisis" (which U.S. President Barack Obama said in Germany in early June already exists).

The Israeli Defense Ministry was put in charge of administering the drip-feed sanctions on the population of Gaza following the Israeli Government’s decision on 19 September 2007 to label Gaza an "enemy entity" or "hostile territory". In response to vigorous petitions, appeals, and protests by Israeli and Palestinian human rights organizations, the Israeli military promised the Israeli Supreme Court it would not allow a "humanitarian crisis" to develop in the Gaza Strip.

Based on that assurance the Israeli Supreme Court decided on 27 January 2008 to allow the military-administered blockade and sanctions against Gaza to proceed.

The Israeli Government says its policy is a response to the intermittant firing of rockets, mortars and missiles from the Gaza Strip into neighboring Israeli areas. Like all the Israeli government complaints against Hamas, this is well-reported globally. A recent report by an Arab League-sponsored International Fact-Finding Committee chaired by South Africa's international law professor John Dugard, a former UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (oPt), has termed this firing from Gaza to Israel a war crime.

But, he and many other international law experts and human rights organizations, have all argued that Israel´s policy of blockade and sanctions against the entire population of Gaza is collective punishment, and violates Israel's international obligations.

Haaretz reported on Sunday that "the coordinator of activities in the territories, Amos Gilad, has allowed the first shipment of 350 head of cattle into the Strip. Sources involved in the matter said that the resumption of beef supply to the Gaza Strip is in part the result of U.S. pressure on Israel to lift all restrictions on the importation of various types of foodstuffs into the Strip … In the Gaza Strip, preparations are being made for the importation of more cattle for slaughter next week, and for the sale of a total of nearly 4,000 head of cattle through the month of Ramadan, which will commence in September". Last year, by comparison, the IDF allowed more than twice that number — 9,000 cows — into the Gaza Strip for Ramadan. Again, this is for 1.5 million people.

This Haaretz story adds that the IDF, by allowing these cattle into Gaza, is acting not only out of concern to help the people of Gaza, but also in response to specific Israeli interests. The Israeli Ministry of Agriculture's veterinary services has expressed concern that smuggling of livestock could contribute to the outbreak of contagious animal and human diseases. And the Israeli livestock growers' lobby has also complained about damage to its member´s business interests caused by the capricious Israeli military-administered sanctions on the Gaza Strip.

The importance — if not the primacy — of these Israeli interests and concerns was reported in an astonishing earlier report in Haaretz, entitled The Gaza Bonanza, published here. It chronicles how the Israeli blockade and sanctions against Gaza has engendered corruption and smuggling at the Israeli crossings into Gaza — which are all controlled by the Israeli military.

Other reports have shown how the policy of blockade and sanctions has also caused corruption and smuggling along the Egyptian border with Gaza. Under the sanctions, smuggling is the only way for the people of Gaza to get most of what they need to live.

The Haaretz report on The Gaza Bonanza says that "COGAT's 'Red Lines" document, which defines the minimum necessary for the sustenance of Gaza residents, also finds that 300 calves a week are needed to feed Gazans. That's at least 200 fewer than the number brought in when the crossing was open for trade. Nevertheless, in the six months since Cast Lead, Israel has not permitted the entry of any live calves into Gaza, allowing only frozen meat and fish. In the period prior to the war, when Gaza residents were able to obtain permits to import calves, this was limited to calves from Israel, not from other countries as in the past. In recent months, Israeli cattle breeders have been exerting pressure on the Agriculture Minister to get him to allow calves into Gaza … One way the Palestinians make up for the shortage of beef is by bringing in a large number of sheep via the Rafah tunnels. Unlike other animals, lambs will walk on their own to the other end of the tunnel, so they are easier to smuggle. Veterinary services in Israel estimate that since the start of the blockade, the Palestinians have smuggled in about 40,000 lambs through the tunnels, without any veterinary oversight. The Agriculture Ministry is concerned that these animals could spread epidemics that would eventually reach Israel".

Yes, the Haaretz report reveals, it has been difficult to smuggle cows into Gaza because, unlike lambs, they will not walk on their own to the other end of the tunnel. Also, lambs are smaller … but at least 40,000 of them have been imported over the past two years, worthy of note for comparison purposes.

In addition, the Haaretz story on The Gaza Bonanza reveals that the Ministry of Defense has apparently deliberately withheld some of this information from the Israeli Supreme Court: "Two days before the High Court's hearing … there was a meeting with attorney Hila Gorny of the State Prosecutor's Office. At this meeting, Uri Madar, of the agriculture department of the DCO [District Coordination Office], voiced his concern that the prohibition on importing beef to Gaza was adversely affecting the residents' nutrition. Colonel Alex Rosenzweig, head of the civilian division of COGAT, argued the opposite, saying there was no shortage of meat in Gaza and the ban on importation of cattle was not endangering the Palestinians' nutrition … [In the court hearing] the IDF did not present the COGAT document which states that at least 300 calves are to be imported into Gaza per week. A Justice Ministry spokesperson, responding on behalf of the High Court Petition department, confirms this, adding, 'Not only that, the state's position was never that the weekly quota of 300 calves, which applied for a certain period of time, was defined as a minimal humanitarian need. The position of the COGAT officials charged with assessing the humanitarian situation in Gaza was presented to the court, stipulating that the entire 'food basket' that is brought into Gaza, which includes frozen meat products, meets the humanitarian needs there … These officials also stated that they were informed that this was the case by Palestinian officials with whom they are in contact'." Again, this report can be read in full here.

These reports seem to have provoked little, if any, reaction in Israel.

But perhaps somebody in the U.S. was paying attention.

In yet another article published in Haaretz a few days ago, it was reported that the U.S. has "stepped up pressure on Israel". Haaretz correspondent Barak Ravid wrote that: "Three weeks ago it [the U.S.] sent Jerusalem a diplomatic note officially protesting Gaza policy and demanding a more liberal opening of the border crossings to facilitate reconstruction. U.S. and Israeli sources say the note was followed by a verbal communication clarifying that the Obama administration thinks Israel's linkage of the case of abducted soldier Gilad Shalit and the opening of the crossings was not constructive … The United States made clear that it is dissatisfied with this Israeli policy and wants Jerusalem to reevaluate its stance." Marian Houk is a journalist with long experience in the United Nations and in the Middle East, currently based in Jerusalem.