Counting calories in Gaza

Boats along the Gaza coastline. (MCC Photo/Doug Hostetter.)

Counting calories in Gaza

By Rachelle Lyndaker Schlabach

October 16 marked World Food Day. In Gaza, a small slice of land home to two million Palestinians, 80 percent of people rely on international humanitarian assistance. Nearly 1 in 2 do not have enough to eat on a regular basis.

Gaza’s humanitarian crisis is due primarily to the blockade that has been imposed by Israel. For centuries the residents of Gaza have relied on the sea as a source of food and income. But Israeli restrictions prevent Gazan fishing boats from traveling more than six nautical miles from shore, and often no more than three.

Farming is also tough. In this densely populated area, a third of the farmland has been turned by Israel into a buffer zone along the border. Israel also places restrictions on the export of crops like strawberries, making it hard for Gazans to earn a living.

In 2012 it was revealed that the Israeli military had commissioned a study to see how many calories were needed by Gazans to avoid starvation. Israeli official Dov Weisglass reportedly said in 2006, “the idea is to put the Palestinians on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger.”

By 2020, the United Nations says Gaza will be unlivable. Already 96 percent of Gaza’s water is undrinkable and on many days there is only electricity for one to three hours. As a result, projects such as a job training program that receives support from Mennonite Central Committee have to rely on expensive fuel to run generators.

Israel maintains that the blockade is necessary for security reasons due to Hamas’ control of the Gaza Strip, although the closure’s greatest impact has been on civilians. Now the Palestinian Authority and Hamas have announced that they will form a unity government. If a unity government does move forward, it could pave the way for blockade to be lifted.

But major hurdles remain. Previous attempts to form a Palestinian unity government have broken down for various reasons, including the U.S. government’s threats to cut off assistance to the Palestinian Authority unless certain conditions are met.

Encourage your members of Congress to support an end to the blockade and to allow the Palestinian reconciliation process to move forward.