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Wheat harvest met with live ammunition in Gaza “buffer zone”

International Solidarity Movement

13 June 2010

Israeli forces attacked women farmworkers and international human rights activists with heavy gunfire during three days’ wheat harvest in the southern Gaza Strip. The Israel-imposed “buffer zone” illegally claims over 30% of Gaza’s arable farmland. In Khoza’a village, east of Khan Yunis, substantial wheat remains unharvested despite severe poverty and food shortages, as a result of the attacks.

Tuesday, the first day of harvest, did not take place inside the 300m “buffer zone”. However, snipers approached the harvest in Israeli military Jeeps on two occasions, shooting live ammunition around five
women who were crouching to hand-collect the wheat with four International Solidarity Movement (ISM) activists. The women laid down in the wheat during the attack but did not leave, and harvest continued after the Jeeps had left. Activists communicated the non-threatening nature of the work to soldiers with a megaphone.

A more severe attack was levied Wednesday, as the harvest continued within 300 meters of the fence. 5 ISM activists and 2 journalists were present as Israeli military Jeeps approached at 7 a.m. and fired
several rounds, similar to the previous day. At 8:30, the Jeeps parked on a small hill near the fence. Snipers stood atop the Jeep closest to the workers, with a clear view of the obviously non-threatening hand-
harvest. Israeli snipers then rained over 50 rounds on the women, activists and journalists, causing the women to crawl along the ground and shriek with fear. Rounds of live bullets hit within a meter of
people’s heads, meaning any deviation would almost certainly hit someone. The harvest finished at 10 a.m.

Thursday, the final day of harvest, was cut short by two gunfire attacks at 8:00 and 8:30 a.m. Roughly 20 rounds were fired very close to the farmers and 3 ISM activists present. The women were evidently
more fearful of attack, and those present agreed that a third attack was imminent and would target them. This proved a correct assumption as, soon after finishing at 8:45, 4 jeeps arrived and remained at the
fence. The wheat will likely remain unharvested.

“We were shot at repeatedly with live ammunition; the deafening fizz and crack of the bullets flying past our ears”, states ISM activist Adie Mormech. “The women courageously returned after each attack. On
the last day, after snipers had already come twice and fired many rounds quite close, it was clear that someone would be intentionally hit if we stayed. Consequently, the wheat will not be harvested. It is
infuriating that this violence continues against what is clearly a peaceful endeavor to farm the third of Gaza’s arable land which is patrolled by the Israeli military.”

While unemployment levels hover near 42% in Gaza and 60% of its 1.5 million residents lack food security,¹ Israel’s illegal buffer zone greatly exacerbates the humanitarian crisis. 30% of Gaza’s arable farmland, and some of its most fertile, lies within the buffer zone.² Farmers who attempt to work in the zone face live fire and crop destruction. The number of crops grown in the zone has consequently been reduced from a diverse range to wheat and other less labor-intensive harvests, which further negatively impacts the nutrition and economic condition of Gazans. An additional 17% of farmland was destroyed in Israel’s war of aggression,³ making 47% (nearly half) of Gaza’s farmland now marginally usable.

The buffer zone has also reduced Gaza’s fishing zones to 1-3 miles offshore. In the first four months of 2010, 19 naval attacks led to two shootings and three arrests, as well as numerous confiscations of fishing equipment. The narrow fishing zone, in which over 3,600 fishermen work daily, is gravely over-fished.²

Israel’s decision to instate a 300-meter buffer zone is in violation of Oslo Accords, and people are routinely shot as far as two kilometers from the border. Israeli attacks in the buffer zone injured 50 persons and killed 14 between January and April 2010. In the past twelve months, at least 220 Israeli attacks have been carried out, with 116 coming since the beginning of 2010 (as of April 30th).²

¹ PCHR Fact Sheet: The Illegal Closure of the Gaza Strip
² PCHR Fact Sheet: The Buffer Zone in the Gaza Strip
³ Oxfam: Failing Gaza: No rebuilding, no recovery, no more excuses