18 August 2010 | ISM Gaza
On Tuesday morning a demonstration in Gaza by Palestinian activists from Local Initiative Beit Hanoun, with four International Solidarity Movement volunteers and other international activists and journalists was met with live ammunition fired by the Israeli army.
Soldiers opened fire on protestors in the buffer zone in Beit Hanoun, near to the Erez crossing but the demonstration succeeded in moving a section of the barbed wire fence dividing land on the Gazan side of the border.
Saber Al Za’anin lead the chanting against the occupation, siege and attacks on Palestinian farmers in Beit Hanoun, accompanied by about thirty Palestinians, nine international activists and a press team. The crowd marched towards the wall around the Erez crossing and one of the watch towers was open, evidently monitoring as the group approached the wall at about 100 metres. The barren waste land all around was a result of forced neglect – the place has rendered out-of-bounds to Palestinian farmers due to the threat of Israeli snipers and shelling.
The buffer-zone is 300 metres wide and stretches along the entire border fence on the frontier with Israel. Violent attacks by the Israeli military on anyone in the area have recurred consistently – and frequently live ammunition has been used against peaceful demonstrators and even farmers harvesting crops. According to the Palestine Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) the violence of the ‘buffer zone’ enforcement means that over 30% of Gaza’s most useful arable land “cannot be worked without severe personal risk, causing the loss of livelihoods.”.
“This was the first time anyone has entered this area of Palestinian land since the beginning of the siege. Farmers had long ago given up working on it because of the dangers”, Saber told us. Ssoon after an attempt was made to remove the twisted barbed wire fence positioned by the Israel army to divide two Palestinian fields.
A sniper was stood on top of one of the checkpoint towers and once protestors started to move the fence, live bullets were fired within 5 – 10 metres of the demonstrators. Two further attempts were made to move the fence and the firing increased, dust clouds rising from the ground where bullets bounced around people’s feet. The men and women on the demonstration returned for cover, fortunately without casualties except for some minor scratches from dragging the fence.
History of Attacks
In recent years the land around the Erez border has seen frequent attacks.
Kamel Iswalim’s family and brothers’ families lived just 500 metres from the border, right next to where the demonstration began. There had always been regular incursions and every six month the families were corralled by the IDF and shut into one room for hours. In 2006, his brother’s small two-room house was demolished by bulldozers. In 2007, the whole area was shot at by tanks, and Kamel was hit in the leg. On 5th January 2009 during the bombardment and ground assault on Gaza that left over 1400 Palestinians dead, Kamel’s house was targeted.
Soldiers came to the front of the house at night, yelling in Hebrew that the family must leave the house within five minutes. They got shot at while coming out of their house, and they had no time to grab their belongings. Then they watched it being bulldozed, together with their five water wells and all of their trees. “Go to Gaza City and never come back again”, they were told by the soldiers. Kamel’s family lost everything they had and shortly after his father died from a heart attack from the ordeal. In total, there were ten houses destroyed in that area along with Gaza’s sole agricultural college. They are unable to farm any of the 13 dunums of land they lost – they cannot even enter it anymore, let alone rebuild their house despite it being further than 300 metres from the Israeli border.
“I have five sons and five daughters”, Kamel said. “I can’t offer them anything. I have two sons in college, and don’t know where to get the money from to enable them to finish their studies.” The whole family is now living in a hut on land which is one kilometer from the border, and it doesn’t belong to them. But farming this land gives them a salary of 50 dollars per month – 50 dollars for a family of twelve. “When we were last shot at?” Kamel laughs sadly. “We are shot at pretty much every day, even here, one kilometer from the border.” His neighbour Ab Dir Kadel Rahmed tried his luck and spent four years rebuilding his house, after it was destroyed in 2006. It lasted six months before the Israeli military demolished it again.
“I call the western governments to stand up and stop what’s going on here. It’s enough”, Kamel says. “Enough lives were destroyed, enough people were killed. It’s just enough.”