April 18, 2013

An Open Letter to the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland and sponsors of the

Food For Thought Festival, April 18 - 21, 2013

We, the undersigned, applaud the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland for organizing a four-day event to benefit the Oregon Food Bank, an organization that does much to address the problem of food insecurity affecting low-income Oregonians and whose mission is "To eliminate hunger and its root causes ... because no one should be hungry."

We find it troubling, however, that the Food For Thought Festival culminates with a Celebration of Israeli Independence Day, because the Israeli government is responsible for serious food insecurity among Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank.

Israel placed the 1.5 million people of Gaza under a siege in 2005. The siege has been responsible for large-scale food insecurity in Gaza. Oliver de Schutter, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food has stated that "approximately two thirds of Gazan households are food insecure."

The food insecurity results from both a deliberate policy of restricting the amount of food that can be imported into Gaza, and from Israeli imposed restrictions on the amount of food that can be produced by the people of Gaza themselves. Under the siege, Israel drastically reduced the number of food trucks that were allowed into Gaza. The idea, said a senior Israeli official, was "to put the Palestinians on a diet but not make them die of hunger."

Once abundant food sources within Gaza are no longer available to the people there. Israel has prohibited fishermen from fishing beyond a three-nautical-mile limit, despite a provision in the Oslo Accords that guarantees fishing rights to 12 nautical miles. Many fishermen have had to abandon their trade because of the scarcity of fish close to the shore. Israel has prevented Gazans from entering and farming a broad strip of arable land along the border. Orchards, fields of grain, and poultry farms have been destroyed. The UN Special Rapporteur has stated that "Approximately 35 per cent of Gaza's arable land and 85 per cent of its fishing waters are totally or partially inaccessible due to Israeli military measures." The Special Rapporteur called on Israel "to immediately lift restrictions on access to land and sea " in order for agriculture and fishing to thrive.

A similar though less severe situation is present in the West Bank where Palestinian agriculture has been severely compromised by the Israeli occupation. Arable land in the West Bank has been taken for Israeli settlements, Israeli only roads, and other Israeli purposes. Barriers such as the separation wall make it difficult or impossible for Palestinian farmers to reach their fields. The water supply is controlled by Israel and is often not sufficient for Palestinian farms or personal consumption requiring many Palestinians to buy bottled water.

The food insecurity in Gaza has had severe consequences, especially for the children. In 2007 the prestigious British medical journal, The Lancet, published a study showing that malnutrition was on the rise in Gaza. In some parts of Gaza malnutrition was so severe that 30 percent of children suffered from stunted growth. In addition an inadequate diet was believed to be a factor in growing infant mortality. Health care experts estimate the infant mortality rate at 27 deaths out of 1,000 live births in Gaza, compared with an infant mortality rate of 4 deaths per 1,000 births in Israel. In Gaza, over 58% of school children are anemic because of nutritional deficiencies.

Israel is a signatory to the Fourth Geneva Convention. Under the convention, any country that controls the borders, air space and coastal waters of a territory, as Israel does with Gaza and the West Bank, is considered an Occupying Power. As an Occupying Power, Israel is bound to protect the people living under its occupation.

Again, we support the intent of this festival as it is raising funds for the Oregon Food Bank and highlighting issues of food insecurity in our community. Because of our concern about Israel's disregard for international law and that country's responsibility for food insecurity among Palestinians, we ask that the Federation separate the Celebration of Israeli Independence Day from the Food For Thought Festival, for example by formally ending the festival before the Celebration of Israeli Independence Day. We also call on the sponsors to request that the Federation make such a separation.

Friends of Sabeel--North America
PO Box 9186
Portland, OR 97207


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