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The Daily Need

WikiLeaks cable reveals new details of Gaza embargo

A Palestinian worker rests at a United Nations food aid distribution center in Shati refugee camp, Gaza City. Photo: AP Photo/Hatem Moussa

As part of their embargo of the Gaza strip in 2008, Israeli officials told American diplomats “on multiple occasions that they intend to keep the Gazan economy on the brink of collapse without quite pushing it over the edge,” according to a secret diplomatic cable sent to Washington by U.S. officials in Tel Aviv.

The leaked cabled, obtained by WikiLeaks and posted on the website of the Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten on Wednesday, was held up by Middle East activists and bloggers as evidence of a coordinated attempt by the Israeli government to starve the territory, which is governed by the Islamist organization Hamas, without regard for the human rights of Gaza’s citizens. Some scholars even argued that the embargo, which has been eased but remains in effect, violates the Geneva Convention.

American diplomats wrote in the cable, headlined “Cashless in Gaza,” that Israeli officials “intend to keep the Gazan economy functioning at the lowest level possible consistent with avoiding a humanitarian crisis.” Juan Cole, a Middle East scholar and professor of history at the University of Michigan, noted on his blog Informed Consent that 55 percent of Palestinians in Gaza remain “food-insecure,” and cited a two-year study by the medical journal “The Lancet” that found that 10 percent of children in the territory show signs of stunting from malnutrition. “I’d call that a humanitarian crisis,” Cole added.

The leaked memo also sheds new light on the challenges Palestinian officials face as they attempt to build what many view as a de facto Palestinian state through economic development. With direct peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians all but dashed, leaders such as Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad have focused instead on building up Palestinian infrastructure and attracting international investment, hoping to convince international bodies and sympathetic countries to unilaterally recognize the existence of a Palestinian state.

The cable confirms the fears of some prominent Palestinian officials that Israeli officials would close off financial channels to the Gaza strip, making it difficult to maintain a monetary connection between the Fatah-controlled West Bank and Hamas-governed Gaza. That monetary connection, many officials say, is essentially the last link left between the divided territories. “The role, in terms of maintaining this unity in the financial system, is essential, because if God forbid this unity is separated, the possibility of coming back to unity becomes almost impossible,” the Palestinian central banker, Jihad Al-Wazir, told Need to Know in an interview last year.

In particular, Al-Wazir noted, the Palestinian government in Ramallah still pays the salaries of more than 75,000 people in Gaza, and the average size of the families living on those salaries is seven, meaning that more than half a million people are dependent on the Palestinian Authority’s ability to send cash to Gaza. Palestinian officials have warned that the failure to pay those salaries would worsen the relationship between Hamas and Fatah, and cause “further deterioration in support for” the moderate Palestinian Authority in Gaza, according to the cable.

But as the leaked cable shows, Israeli officials were concerned primarily with trying to prevent Hamas, which the document referred to as “the terrorist regime,” from obtaining a “larger pool of funds in Gaza, no matter the origin.” Israeli officials also concluded that many of the workers on the Palestinian Authority’s payroll were actually members of Hamas. “They have therefore determined that full coverage of the payroll is contrary to Israel’s security interests,” American officials wrote in the memo.

Israel’s goal, then, may have been to keep the Hamas government only on the “brink” of collapse. But as Al-Wazir argued, Gaza and its citizens may already be there. “The biggest problem we face in Gaza is to try to sustain the trading, the relationship between merchants in Gaza and their suppliers in Israel, because the Israeli banking system cut off their relationship with Gaza,” Al-Wazir said. “The economy is totally collapsed.”

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  • Connie Charles

    It’s outrageous that the United States, which stands for human rights and justice, is colluding in Israel’s completely criminal and heinous policies

  • Darren White

    Hostile Hamas who declared openly that it wants Israel destroyed, who sends murderers to kidnap Israelis such as Gilad Shalit, the same Hamas who shot thousands of rockets on innocent Israeli civilians should not have been treated so humanely by Israel. I am surprised of those condeming Israel or the USA treatment of Hamas and the Hamas voters, the citizens of Gaza.

  • Darren is a moron

    Hamas rockets? are you kidding me? they land in the dessert and make some small craters, and what does Israel do? They respond with massive air strikes and offensives that kill thousands (including children.) That’s not to say Israel would be the least bit saddened by the deaths of innocent children. Killing innocent people, and starving 4 million people. Who is the terrorist?

  • Guest 5

    I am not a wiki leaks supporter but this “leak” does in my book something that can only be good, meaning:-
    It explains why in simple terms ( plus the US jewish money lobby that:-
    America can never hope to be the arbiter of a ” reasonable and sensible” peace agreement between Palestine and Israel.
    They the USA are and always have been clearly biased and that is why the current talks broke down.
    My god they are offered $BN in AID?, effectively military equipment bribes to agree to stop settlements for 90 days, and still wont do it. Why because thats a Palestinian pre condition ( and very reasonable under previous road map agreements).
    Every time negotiations get close to getting underway Israel either renews old points of disagreement or creates a new crisis Gaza attack or the Interdiction of shipping to Gaza. The rest of the world criticises this and America is stony silent.
    America please get out of Israeli/ Palestinian peace negotiations you automatically doom them to failure!!
    Guest 5

  • Esoterikgirl

    Crimes Against Humanity only count if the US want to make it an issue for political gain or “new world order” positioning.