Eva Bartlett | In Gaza
19 September 2009
On 15 September, we join farmers and residents, including a contingent of women, youths and men, in a non-violent walk to the border region east of Beit Hanoun in the north of Gaza, singing and chanting as they march past Israeli army razed fields and destroyed water tanks and cisterns. The march is in the tradition of popular resistance in Palestine, more widely known worldwide in the villages of Bil’in and Ni’lin, but equally practised all over occupied Palestine, including Gaza, in the simplest of acts: farming and accessing land which the Israeli authorities’ policies continue to attempt to render barren and void of Palestinian life.[In the two well-known occupied West Bank regions, Bil’in and Ni’lin, the Israeli occupation army has ramped things up to such a violent suppression of non-violent voices that the April 17th killing of Bil’in villager, Basem Abu Rahme (29, strong, gentle, slain by an Israeli-soldier-shot, high-velocity tear gas canister to the chest from a close distance) , was the 18th murder of non-violent protesters against the separation Wall (11 of these murdered were under 18 years; 7 were 15 years old or under).]
The Beit Hanoun protesters’ message: for Israeli soldiers to stop targeting farmers, for Israeli authorities to end the (intentional) practice of driving Palestinian farmers off of their land. They call also for access to water, highlighting that in that region all but a single water source have been destroyed. This tank serves 40 dunams (1 dunam is 1,000 square metres) of farmland.
What has led these citizens to take up flags and placards? An on-going series of Israeli army targeted-shootings, tank and bulldozer invasions, destruction of farmland, and kidnapping of Palestinian civilians, rendering even the simple act of tending trees on farmland impossible or highly dangerous, risking injury or death from Israeli gunfire.
Since the end of Israel’s 23 day winter massacre of Gaza, another eight Palestinian civilians have been killed in the Strip’s border regions, including four minors (3 boys and 1 girl) and one mentally disabled adult. Another 28 Palestinians, including eight minors (7 boys, 1 girl) and 2 women, have been injured by Israeli shooting and shelling, including by the use of ‘flechette’ dart-bombs on civilian areas.
It’s an apt name and a struggle that goes back months, years, but gets almost no recognition in the international corporate media. Neither civilian deaths while farming, nor the steady non-violent resistance to Israeli land annexation seem to be sensational enough.
But while these Beit Hanoun civilians are unarmed, they are not naïve, not passive.
“Buhrrrah, wa dam, nafdiq ya Falasteen: Our soul and blood, we sacrifice for you Palestine,” they chant.
They tell us their first choice is to live and farm peacefully in their region near the border to Israel. But if it comes to it, they will die on their land, for their land, for their families, while farming.
They have little-to-no choice.
With Gaza’s borders firmly sealed shut under the internationally-complicit, Israeli-led and Egyptian-backed siege on Gaza, there is no option for emigration, no option for work in Israel or Egypt, no option to start up new businesses importing goods…
When considering these civilians and farmers, it is imperative to recognize that 95% of Gaza’s industry has been shut down by Israeli attacks and the siege. That roughly one third of Gaza’s farmland has been swallowed by a no-go, Israeli-imposed ‘buffer zone’ in which Israeli soldiers reserve the right to shoot-to-kill.
Roughly a decade ago, Israeli authorities unilaterally established an off-limits ‘buffer zone’ on the 150 metres of land extending along the Green Line border between Gaza and Israel. Since inception, the ‘buffer zone’ has swollen to over 1 km in the east and 2 km in the north (during and immediately after Israel’s 23 day massacre of Gaza in winter 2008/2009), to the present 300 metre off-limits area (heralded in May 2009 by the dropping of leaflets which stated:
“The Israeli Defence Forces repeat their alert forbidding the coming close to the border fence at a distance less than 300 metres. Who gets close will subject himself to danger whererby the IDF will take necessary procedures to drive him away which will include shooting when necessary.”
The ‘buffer zone’ swallows prime, fertile agricultural land, cutting off another means of self-sustenance in a Strip that has been under siege since after Hamas’ election in 2006.
International bodies, including the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), the World Food Program (WFP), and the World Health Organization (WHO) note that between 35% to 60% of Gaza’s agricultural industry has been destroyed and rendered useless [from the winter Israeli massacre of Gaza and from various Israeli invasions, attacks, burning of crops, and the impact of the siege].
Whereas formerly Gaza production met half the Strip’s agricultural needs, the effects of attacks and siege on Gaza has devolved the agricultural sector to what the Gaza-based Agricultural Development Association of Gaza aptly cited as a “destruction of all means of life.”
We pass farmers on a donkey cart loaded with plastic jugs filled with water. They ask how they are supposed to water, let alone reach, the paltry few trees on their land near the ‘buffer zone’.
We continue walking, getting a close look at the heaps of rubble which were water tanks and wells. The march reaches a larger well, it’s covering now at a wounded 45 degree slant, the sweet water within off-limits to farmers and their trees.
While speeches are made, pledging to continue to farm, continue to non-violently resist this flagrant Israeli bullying and land-grab policy, some of the weathered farmers in the area approach, keen to share their miseries to those who would listen.
Salem As Saed is 59, has 4.5 dunams of land which once held orange and olive trees until occupational bulldozers ground them to the earth. He has 17 children who he is unable to support; they are all dependent on food-aid handouts.
Awad, (55) has 17 in family and no means of income. His land has been razed, water sources destroyed. Of the 93 dunams of trees he once had, the vast majority have been destroyed. Awad has planted new trees, but these are scant in number and failing from want of water.
He has a further 30 dunams closer to the border, which he cannot access, has not accessed in years. Two years ago, Awad was shot by Israeli soldiers in the area of the Israeli watch tower at the border. He says that he was working with his son some 500 metres from the fence when the Israeli soldiers began shooting without warning. He was hit by a bullet to his inner thigh; his son was abducted and imprisoned for 28 days.
The speeches end and demonstrators kneel, beginning to pray on their land.
The demonstration ends without incident, though the daily dangers remain once the cameras are gone.
As we walk back towards Beit Hanoun, we discuss some those recently assassinated and injured in the buffer zones at the hands of Israeli soldiers.
On the morning of 9 September, and also in the Beit Hanoun border region, Maysara al Kafarna, a 24 year old from Beit Hanoun, was shot in the foot by Israeli soldiers at the Green Line border between Gaza and Israel. The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) notes that the youth was 350 metres from the border fence when targeted.
PCHR reports that a few hours later, at 10 am, Israeli soldiers invaded as deeply as 700 metres into areas north of Beit Hanoun, firing at homes and farmland.
Five days prior, Israeli soldiers shot dead a 14 year old boy, targeting him with a bullet to the head. PCHR reports that in the afternoon of 4 September Ghazi Al Zaneen and family were walking in the northeastern Beit Hanoun region to agricultural land they owned 500 metres from the border when –with no warning messages or warning shots –Israeli soldiers opened sustained fire at the family, the last bullets hitting the boy and the family car as the father evacuated his son. Critically injured, Ghazi died the following day.
On 2 September, according to PCHR, when Israeli occupation forces invaded 150 metres into northern Beit Hanoun, Palestinian resistance confronted the invasion, defending themselves against the occupiers’ invasion. In the firing that ensued, a 17 year old, ‘Abdul ‘Aziz al-Masri, living in the region was shot in the foot. Not farming, the youth was subject to danger due to the Israeli invasion.
A week prior to that, on 23 August, PCHR reports Israeli soldiers opened fire on areas to the east of Beit Hanoun, shooting 63 year old Fawzi Ali Wassem in the thigh. The farmer was on agricultural land 1,800 metres from the border.
The morbid list of ‘buffer zone’ fatalities and injuries continues in Beit Hanoun regions (and throughout the Gaza Strip):
-Saleh Mohammed al-Zummara, 66, injured by a gunshot to the left hand and ‘Ali Mohammed al-Zummara, 65, injured by shrapnel in the back from Israeli soldiers’ firing on 3 June, according to PCHR.
– Ziad Salem abu Hadayid, 23, is shot in the legs when Israeli soldiers shoot on Palestinian farmers on 20 May, according to the Al Mezan centre for Human Rights.
-We find Ahmed Abu Hashish’s decomposed body, missing since 21 April, is found shot dead, presumably by Israeli soldiers, in the eastern Beit Hanoun border region on 14 June. As we and Local Initiative volunteers search for then remove the body, we come under close and intense fire from the Israeli soldiers at the border. We are clearly, visibly unarmed; the shooting intesifies when the soldiers see that we have located the body. It is pure spite.
And this is without mentioning the equally brutal assaults on other regions along the ‘buffer zone’. Nor Israeli soldiers’ intentional arson of Palestinian crops. Nor mentioning the abductions of civilians –the latest, 5 minors from Beit Lahiya’s bedouin village region. Abducted on 6 September as they herded their sheep and goats, they are:
1. Mohammed ‘Arafat Abu Khousa, 17;
2. Sameh ‘Abdul Qader Abu Hashish, 15;
3. Fraih Qassem Abu Hashish, 12;
4. ‘Aa’ed Hazzaa’ Abu Hashish, 16; and
5. Ibrahim Shihda Abu Jarad, 17.
Look carefully at the faces in the above photos: these are the civilians facing the world’s fourth most powerful military. These are the people eeking a living or living in a region which has been arbitrarily cut off and assaulted by the state which purports to ‘defend itself’. Look carefully, and hope that they are not among the next to be martyred by Israeli assaults.