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Well-watered and soldier-free: the good old days on Palestinian farmland

Eva Bartlett | In Gaza

23 July 2009

The young farm worker wasn’t oblivious to the danger: working in the Israeli-imposed “buffer zone” is no task for the faint-hearted. But, like so many, he either needed the paid labour, or his family depends on the land.

The farmers had returned two days after their land was again ravaged by Israeli military bulldozers and tanks: 2 and 4 of each respectively. The war machines ate up the land, finished off a house they’d not quite destroyed the last time, and tore up a water source, the farmers’ well.

The day after the incursion, Yousef, one of the farmers, had dared to peek at the well, doing so furtively although it is on their land. The Israeli army incursion into Abassan Jeddida, just east of southern Gaza’s Khan Younis, had ended the same afternoon it started –July 21st –but the farmers knew all too well that Israeli military jeeps, hummers, tanks and military bulldozers lay just 400 metres away over the Green Line border, and that the Israeli soldiers running the machines are generous with their gunshots.

Yousef’s land lies near that of land where Anwar al-Buraim (27) [**note: al-Buraim is also found transliterated as al-Ibrim] was martyred on January 27th, shot dead by Israeli soldiers as he worked the land. It’s the same land where his cousin Mohammed al-Buraim (20) was shot in the ankle weeks later, also targeted by Israeli soldiers as he worked. The cousins were farm labourers, working to support large, impoverished families living in the region.

From his assessment of the well, Yousef gathered that the reason he couldn’t water his crops was that the motor had been destroyed. The following day, accompanied by ISM human rights workers, two of the farmers set to repairing the razed electrical lines and motor.

As the morning quickly heated up, farmers in nearby fields worked hurriedly to harvest parsley, wanting to finish before the intense heat as well as before any intense Israeli army shooting.

Plump hot chilli peppers and fresh parsley evidence how recent the incursion was: just two days without water, the plants are surviving. Much more and they will begin to wither, like life in the “buffer zone”.

27 dunums (1 dunum=1000 square metres) of chillis and 10 dunums of parsely depend on the destroyed water source.For Palestinians in Gaza, these are two of the most vital ingredients.

The farmers returned unsuccessful, but undefeated: if they can find and afford the parts to repair the motor to the well’s pump, they can re-gain their source of water. But in encaged Gaza, under a full siege which allows less than 40 items into the Strip, finding replacement parts could prove difficult, expensive, and could mean waiting for items to come through the tunnels.

He knows his farming life is hard, dangerous, filled with impossible obstacles…but does the young farm worker know how easy it could be, without the collective punishment of the Israeli army’s indiscriminate shooting at civilians in and beyond the Israeli-imposed‘300m buffer zone’, the burning of cropland, and the destruction of such infrastructure as wells, irrigation piping, greenhouses, farming equipment and tractors? Yes, he knows, he remembers, he longs for those days again. The good days when a chilli ripened under the sun, and was watered and harvested without haste.