13 April 2011 | International Solidarity Movement, Gaza
We left Gaza city early; we were going to Faraheen, a small village near the buffer zone to help farmers plant peppers. Israel has declared a 300 meter “buffer zone” along the entire border with Gaza. What does the buffer zone mean? Simply, that Israel will shoot anyone who approaches within 300 meters of the border. They don’t really have rulers though; usually they don’t even have soldiers. Just remote control guns controlled by teenage conscripts in the basement of a military base somewhere, maybe an office park, maybe the soldiers telecommute, that would be more convenient for them. For the soldiers, it is basically a video game, push a button on your mouse, and shoot a farmer.
The fields that we were planting aren’t actually in the buffer zone, but they are close, and even being close to the buffer zone is dangerous – it isn’t easy to judge distance with a mouse. April 6th was a beautiful day; the weather was perfect, no wind and not too hot. A drone hovered overhead; occasionally bursts of remote controlled shooting came from the Israeli gun towers that line the border. They weren’t shooting at us; they were shooting at some other anonymous farmer trying to work on his land. Maybe they were shooting at an unemployed man who went to collect rocks near the buffer zone? The importing of cement is banned by Israel, and it is in desperate need to repair the damage from Operation Cast Lead and to accommodate the needs of the growing population.
We didn’t manage to finish planting all of the peppers on Wednesday, so we went back to work on Thursday. The ‘weather’, the farmers joked, wasn’t so good on Thursday, there were a lot of drones, and occasionally the thunder of distant bombing reached our ears. We kept working, what else could the farmers do? They have to plant their peppers to feed their families. The weather kept getting worse as the day wore on, more drones, more thunder. We finally broke for lunch when the Apaches arrived. They hovered over the border like giant evil mosquitoes. Lunch lasted for three hours while we waited for the Apaches to leave. Then back to work. We quit at sundown.
We still hadn’t finished planting all of the peppers, so back to work on Friday. The goal was to finish before noon so the men could go to the mosque. The weather was even worse and the thunder of the bombs was closer; Israel had killed three in Khuzaa, the neighboring village, overnight. There was no electricity, and therefore no water. There is no 24 hour electricity in Gaza, they aren’t allowed to import enough fuel for the power plant, and it was attacked during Operation Cast Lead, so you get electricity when you get electricity. Not having electricity to run the irrigation pumps makes planting peppers rather painful. You take two fingers, jam them into the earth, make a hole, and put the pepper in the hole. If the earth is wet and the soil is loose it is ok, but if the earth is dry it isn’t easy.
The thunder finally reached us just as we finished planting the last of the peppers. It was loud, somewhere in Faraheen. We hadn’t noticed any Apaches in the air, but the noise of the drones had become like background noise – always there. The men took me to my friend’s house. Faraheen was on the news. The younger children were afraid of the bombing, but a bit excited to see their village on the news. The excitement didn’t last. Etufa, the oldest daughter came into the room. She had just heard that a friend of hers had been killed in the bombing. The room grew silent. Etufa went to her room to cry.