Pasta, lentils, jam all rejected
During the last days of previous prime minister Ehud Olmert's term, the Israeli cabinet made a decision that there would be "unfettered" access of food and medical supplies to Gaza. But Israel's Defense Ministry, which controls the borders, has yet to implement that decision. That was in late March. But numerous aid agencies say they've seen no change, and myriad food products languish on trucks and in warehouses, are rejected as "luxury" items that don't fall into the category of humanitarian assistance, or are turned down for unexplained reasons.
"The government of Israel said it would allow the transfer of food items on an unrestricted basis to Gaza, after it's been ascertained that these are food products. But we have not seen any change on the ground," says Sari Bashi, the executive director of Gisha, the Legal Center for the Freedom of Movement, based in Tel Aviv.
"Even if they say all food is allowed, Israel has created an extremely onerous bureaucratic process that has made it nearly impossible to get many basic foodstuffs into Gaza." Ms. Bashi says. The process includes complicated manifests of food being sent in by various aid organizations, which can be rejected at any point in the process and not always for clear reasons. Trucks are checked, unloaded, and reloaded several times over the course of days, raising shipping costs. In recent months, all of the following items have been rejected at one point, and later allowed in only after it became an embarrassing international issue: pasta; lentils; strawberry jam; chocolate; and halvah, a Middle Eastern sweet made of sesame. A shipment of "reinforced nutritional bars" were turned back because low-level military officials misunderstood the manifest and thought they were steel bars, which – like other building materials – are not allowed into Gaza.