While Wikileaks may have the biggest national security expose of the moment, the one I’m going to report tonight on one that in the Israeli context is a close second.
Thanks immensely to Ed Mad X for alerting me to the IDF’s release of a much sought after April, 2009 memo (23 pages linked here, with the original Hebrew document here) which served as the rationale and underpinning of the Gaza siege and explained how it was interpreted and enforced. It was in effect before the Mavi Marmara massacre (after which the siege was loosened). Immense thanks to the unrelenting effort of the Israeli NGO, Gisha, to bring this report to the light of day. As far as I know, this is likely its first publication in English.
Frankly, when Ed first sent me the link to his translation I thought it might be a joke, especially when I read the mathematical equations used to determine how much basic foodstuffs should be allowed into Gaza. I had to query him a few times before I assured myself it was legit. It’s just that crazy a document.
The IDF report is a wonder of almost Eichmanesque military-speak, obfuscation and self-justification. If any future historian of the Occupation wishes to study how the IDF got the Occupation’s “trains” to run on time in Gaza (much like Raul Hilberg did in his study of the mundane bureaucracy of the Holocaust), they will only have to look here and study.
Here, for example, is the “mission” described:
# Supervision of basic products from the variety of those imported into the ‘Strip,ʼ including basic food stuffs, fuels, maintaining oversight of the quantity of these products, identifying shortage, surplus, and establishing levels of warning (ʻred-linesʼ e.m.x), dealing with the issues caused and providing concurrent information and realtime alerts to decision makers.
Gisha’s website notes that when it first sued the state in order to expose this 2009 memo the latter denied it existed. When that didn’t work, it conceded the memo existed but that releasing it would endanger “national security” (now, you have a chance to judge for yourself the probity of this claim). The government has now conceded that it must release them under an FOIA legal proceeding. However, the government continues to refuse to release the current rules governing the siege which are supposedly more lenient than the pre-Marmara rules.
Gisha notes the bizarre logic of the memo which called for a “deliberate reduction” in the level of basic necessities like fuel used to power the only operating power plant. This in turn caused regular electrical and water outages. Though the IDF created a “red-line warning” that would notify that a necessity was becoming inaccessible, it also permitted itself to ignore the warning.
Though international law permits goods to be restricted under siege conditions only if the specific item poses a security threat, the IDF prohibited items based on whether their public perception within Gaza was as a luxury. This is how chocolate and paper came to be prohibited.
Though the Israeli government has indicated it would permit the rebuilding of Gaza (and the world community has insisted on this), the 2009 rules tell a wholly different story. Building materials were only permitted by special permission, and attempts to rebuild within Gaza were viewed as a decided negative. Israel refused transfer of goods from international relief agencies and western governments to Gaza for rebuilding schools and homes.
The rules also indicate that they could not be released in any form to anyone unless specified. This served the function of leaving Gaza merchants in the dark about what was on or off the list. Thus, they would never know whether they could import an item into Gaza or not, until it was impounded at the border or permitted through. Items like cumin which were not on the permitted goods list could only be approved by special permission despite the fact that there was no security consideration in banning it.
Gisha’s director notes more oddities of the rules and their logic:
Israel banned glucose for biscuits and the fuel needed for regular supply of electricity – paralyzing normal life in Gaza and impairing the moral character of the State of Israel. I am sorry to say that major elements of this policy are still in place“.
It’s truly worthwhile reading extended passages of the document to understand the true nature of the ghoulishness of Israel’s siege and the way it is imposed and enforced. Here the memo describes monitoring imported items in order to determine their levels of availability:
The data will be collected in the economy division, once a week, on Tuesday, and a calculation compiled of products transferred, then added to existing inventories, and then consumed amounts will be deducted according to the models.
F.# After the calculation is performed, a draft of inventory estimates will be prepared…[and] the following data will be checked:
# 1. Upper level warning – in case inventory of one of the short shelf life products is over 21 days or long shelf life product inventory is over 80 days.
# 2. Lower level warning – in case inventory of one of the short shelf life products is under 4 days or long shelf life product inventory is under 20 days.
# 3. Shortage – in case inventory of one of the short shelf life products is under 2 days or long shelf life product inventory is under 5 days.
H. In case inventory of one or more products reached a ‘level of warning,’ the following actions will be taken:
1. Xxxx will verify the information with leading Palestinian merchants.
2. Xxxx will perform mathematical evaluation of the model to verify the data.
3. In case of an upper level warning, the issue will be brought up for discussion and update for a decision on policy of entering the # relevant product.
4.! In case of a lower level warning an update will be transferred, and Gaza DCO will take action to facilitate transferring the relevant product, unless it is an intentional policy of reduction. [ed., italics mine]
5. In case of shortage, the same actions as of ʻlower level warningʻ will be taken. In case it is an intentional policy of reduction, decision makers will be presented with the consequences of shortage of the relevant product.
One wonders what warning the decision makers would be presented with: would they be warned that preventing entrance of a piece of medical equipment would cause the death of children? Or that the categorization of milk, or hummus or any number of staples of the Palestinian diet as “superfluous” might exacerbate the already existent malnutrition among children? Or that a shortage of fuel and hence water outages would cause women not to be able to cook properly or families to observe hygienic practices. What type of discussion do you think happened among the decision makers when they were ‘warned’ about these red lines?
The report notes that “need” can be determined from a variety of sources but that need as defined by military headquarters supersedes them:
According to an internal procedure which incorporates headquarters work in relation to relevant security needs and demands.
In other words, the need for rice or flour or any item whatsoever can be changed according to an artificial determination by the IDF that this item corresponded to some imagined security interest.
In a section of the memo devoted to how an item is determined to be necessary or superfluous–keeping in mind that international law says the only criteria is security–this is one of the criteria:
Implications of the product’s uses (is it used for preservation, rehabilitation or development?) with emphasis of the effect its entry has on the status of the Hamas regime.
In other words, if an item may be used for preservation, rehabilitation of development of infrastructure that could benefit Hamas in any way in the eyes of the people, it will be prohibited.
In reviewing the list of permitted items for import, you come to realize that these are the only items allowed. In other words, if an item is not on the list, it’s prohibited. So, for example, here is the list of permitted spices:
Black pepper, soup powder, hyssop, sesame. cinnamon, anise, babuna (chamomile), sage
Sorry, cumin, basil, bay leaf, allspice, carraway, cardamon, chiles, chives, cilantro, cloves, garlic, sesame, tamarind, thyme, oregano, cayenne (here’s a list I consulted of popular Arab spices). Not on the list. You’re not a spice Palestinians need according to some IDF dunderhead. And tomatoes, potatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, toys, glassware, paint, and shoes? You can forget about them too. Luxuries all, or else security threats.
I’m displaying here the “mathematical model” by which the IDF determined whether it was allowing in too much of any particular item. The very notion that not one, but hundreds of IDF soldiers occupied all (or even part) of their waking hours implementing this insane policy adds another nail to the coffin of the Occupation. Can there be any doubt that not only is the siege immoral and illegal, but borderline insane. Grown men actually sat in office cubicles and used calculators to determine the answers to these absurd questions. It comes close to leaving one speechless.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.