The facts of that matter are that in some places of the world, at some moments in history, you have policymakers deciding in precise terms how many calories an imprisoned population needs to survive. Of course, this happens in actual prisons everywhere. It also happens in Gaza today, as Israeli planners decide how many calories are needed to sustain the Palestinian population of 1.5 million people without creating a “humanitarian catastrophe” while they pursue their “political” weapon of siege against Hamas and the civilians of the Gaza Strip. And it happened in the concentration and Nazi-run labor camps of the 1930s and 1940s.
Surely, the Nazi camps were incomparably worse (strictly nutritionally speaking). Right? Well, sort of.
Nutritional planning in Auschwitz
According to Yediot’s “journey into the Nazi records“—i.e. “Satan’s administration”—carefully archived documents reveal that on a randomly selected day (Monday, December 7th, 1942), a “hard laborer” in Auschwitz received 450 grams of bread, 30 grams of margarine, and 125 grams of cheese. This yields a total of 605 grams per “hard laborer”. In calories, 450 grams of bread is about 1,200 calories, 30 grams of margarine comprises about 175 calories, and 125 grams of cheese constitutes about 425 calories (all numbers approximate). So the daily caloric intake of an Auschwitz laborer in December 1942 was about 1,800 calories. Note two things: (1) this is the absolute minimum recommended daily intake for men, according to the American College of Sports Medicine, and (2) billions of the world’s poor people live (and hunger) today under this caloric intake. I make these comments only by way of context; they should not be read to mean that Nazi nutritional policy had any positive qualities whatsoever. Exactly the opposite: they kept people at the bare bones of working survival so they could just manage to continue living as productive slaves.
Nutritional planning in Gaza
What about Gaza? After an Israeli NGO named Gisha sued the Israeli government under freedom of information legislation in order to find out exactly what is allowed for import into Gaza, and why, we now have a much better picture of Israeli siege planning. In particular, the court case surfaced four documents that describe the details of Israel’s siege, which is considered a “central pillar in the means at the disposal of the State of Israel in the armed conflict between it and Hamas.” The documents lay out details about how goods requests are processed, how shortages in Gaza are monitored, and the list of approved goods.
The fourth document, of primary importance here, is titled “Food Consumption in the Gaza Strip – Red Lines,” and it establishes what Israel considers to be the minimum caloric intake needed Gaza’s 1.5 million inhabitants, according to their age and sex. Thus, Israeli planners have given careful consideration to the minimum amount of calories to be allowed in to Gaza to simultaneously serve as a weapon against Hamas, to attain Netanyahu’s strategy of “no prosperity, no development, no humanitarian crisis” but still ensure the Palestinians get on a diet, in Dov Weisglass’ “joking” words (“It’s like a meeting with a dietitian. We need to make the Palestinians lose weight, but not to starve to death.”).
The Israeli government argued in the court case that releasing the specific numbers of calories, and the goods lists (which include terrorist goods like coriander, crayons, and pasta), would damage national security, so we do not know the exact numbers for comparative purposes.
What we do know comes from two main sources. The first, the Gaza Gateway project, charts goods entering versus goods needed; typically allowances comprise between 25% and 33% of estimated daily need for Gaza’s 1.5 million residents. We also know from the IDF spokesperson (via the IDF Twitter feed: @IDFSpokesperson) the daily amount of goods they allow into Gaza. Let’s take yesterday to be our random day. According to the IDF tweet, 109 truckloads were allowed to enter (this is very, very close to the mean over all days, and is thus representative of average daily allowances) with 1,853 tons of humanitarian aid.
Now, how to compare? Well, let’s be as generous as possible to the IDF. Let’s assume all these tons of aid have no packaging and so every single gram aid has caloric value (to humans); this is, of course, an absurdly strong assumption that works in the favor of the IDF’s “benevolence.” Under this assumption, then, the IDF yesterday let in almost 2 billion grams of food—1,681,000,000 grams to be exact. For every individual in Gaza, therefore, the IDF allowed in about 1,120 grams of food.
Of course, our assumptions were stringent and unrealistic, so the real quantity of food is probably very much lower. We know from an IMF study that “75 percent of the population has been forced to reduce the quantity of food they buy, while 89 percent reduced the quality.” But we cannot calculate calories because Israel won’t tell us what it allows in. Making these numbers even more unrealistic is the fact that this humanitarian aid includes shelters (from international agencies, foreign governments, and NGOs) and other non-edible items; this also means the amount of food is lower. If we assume that only one quarter of the humanitarian aid is non-edible, then we are left with something like 840 grams of food per person in Gaza. This is a reasonable upper bound on possible, per-capita nutritional allowances for Gaza.
This (admittedly rough) estimate suggests that Israel allows Gazans to consume (at most) about 40% more grams of food than the Nazis did their Auschwitz laborers. So generous!
The lavish humanitarianism illustrated by Israel’s Gaza policy is the final, definitive proof that critics of the Gaza siege are anti-Semites, as far as I am concerned. Israel’s siege differs from Auschwitz’s nutritional policy by 40%! Time for the critics to shut their mouths.
Or not. As long as you have scientists and military officials sit down to determine the lowest possible caloric intake you can provide to an imprisoned population, and then write policy documents explaining your methods, you are culpable for such comparisons, hyperbolic or not.