“Sometimes, I have to risk my life to survive”
24 July 2013
On Sunday 14 July 2013, Israeli forces patrolling the border fence northeast of Beit Hanoun fired in the direction of a group of workers who were collecting metal and plastic scraps from a landfill which is located around 400 metres away from the border fence. As a result, Khaled Shehada Hamad, an eighteen-year-old worker who was present at the site, was injured. The other workers immediately brought Khaled by donkey-cart to the nearest hospital in Beit Hanoun, where he received first aid. He was then transferred to Kamal Odwan hospital in Beit Lahia, where he received medical treatment for an injury in his upper left leg. Khaled was discharged from hospital a week after the attack when his condition stabilised.
Lying on his bed, waiting to be discharged, Khaled describes the incident: "I was preoccupied with my daily work, collecting my tools to go back to Beit Hanoun. Along with a number of friends, I go to this landfill almost every day to collect metal, plastic, copper, or any other scrap materials that I might sell later. We were about to leave at around 2pm when I felt a sudden heat in my upper leg. Something had hit my leg. I started screaming after I fell to the ground. It was only then that I saw an Israeli jeep passing in the distance. I only saw the jeep after I was shot. I couldn't see the soldier though. He must have targeted me while in his military jeep."
"When I got shot, I could still feel shrapnel in my leg. The shrapnel from the bullet also caused damage to my right hand. It is an explosive bullet, I was told. The entrance is small but where the bullet goes out, it's larger, and it causes severe damage. The doctors said I still had some shrapnel in my leg and it would take a long time before they can be removed. It might take years," added Khaled, gazing at his hand which still bore the scars of the shrapnel.
"My friends gathered around me and they lifted me onto a donkey cart. We could not call the ambulance as it is hard to get a phone signal in that area." Khaled was transferred to the nearest hospital in Beit Hanoun, around 1.5 kilometres away from the border area where he was shot. However, the hospital was not equipped to deal with his injuries so he was then moved to Kamal Odwan Hospital.
Khaled was shot while working in a landfill around 400m away from the border fence. Israel has unilaterally imposed an illegal "buffer zone", an area prohibited to Palestinians along the land and sea borders of the Gaza Strip. The precise area designated by Israel as a “buffer zone” is unclear and this Israeli policy is often enforced with live fire. In accordance with the ceasefire agreement that ended Israel’s last military offensive on the Gaza Strip in November 2012, the Israeli Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) in an online statement on 25 February 2013 declared that farmers could access lands in the border area up to 100m from the border fence instead of the previously-imposed 300 meters. However, this reference, along with the reference to the increased fishing area at sea, was later removed from the statement. Then, on 11 March 2013, an Israeli army spokesperson, in a letter to GISHA, stated “the residents of Gaza are required not to approach within 300m of the security fence”.
The arbitrary and changing parameters of the so-called "buffer zone" has led to huge confusion among the civilian population living around the border area, whose agricultural lands, their main source of livelihood, can only be accessed with high risk. In reality, attacks against civilians take place anywhere up to 1.5 kilometres inside the border fence. This means that 35% of the Gaza Strip's agricultural land can only be accessed under high personal risk, as Israeli attacks may result in injury or death of civilians.
Khaled seemed aware of the danger that his work entails; however, being one of the main breadwinners for a family of 12, he had no other choice. Khaled explains: "We heard that people would sometimes get shot at in the border areas, especially farmers, but I never thought this would happen to me. I convinced myself that this was a safe area so that I could go on with my work. I used to see many other people working in the area which comforted me. Some people came all the way from Gaza City to work here. I was not even the closest person to the border fence. There were people working in areas closer to the fence. It is up to the soldier's mood, apparently, where the limits of the border areas are. If we were breaking the rules by being in the “buffer zone”, then why did they not shoot at those people? It is arbitrary, I tell you."
Khaled was forced to leave school when he was 14 years old. Along with two of his brothers, he has been wandering around landfills to collect scrap materials that he can trade for some money to support his family. "I usually go to work in these landfills at around sunrise and go back at 2pm. I then try to find anyone who will buy what I have spent the morning collecting. My father works in the municipality. His income is not sufficient. He cannot afford to raise 10 children with the very humble salary he is paid every couple of months. I have been working since I was 14. I go everywhere to collect the metal. Often, it is dangerous. But, there is no other way of sustaining our livelihood. Sometimes, I have to risk my life to survive; where else should I go?"
Khaled’s difficult economic situation is not a special case. It rather speaks of the deterioration in the humanitarian situation due to the Israeli-imposed closure of the Gaza Strip, which violates the economic and social rights of the people on a daily basis. In 2012, the percentage of Palestinian families living under the poverty line reached 40%. This large segment of the population has no access to social protection and is denied their fundamental right to a life of dignity. The unemployment rate in the Gaza Strip rose to 33% in the third quarter of 2012, according to the Ministry of Labour. 45% of young men in Gaza and 78.1% of the female young population are unemployed and struggling to sustain the livelihood of their families.
Last month, PCHR presented a report to the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights and the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, titled ‘Israeli policies severely affecting sources of livelihood in the Gaza Strip’. The report provided the UN Special Rapporteurs with an overview of the situation facing farmers, fishermen, factory workers, and their dependents in the Gaza Strip by presenting individual cases. It also outlined how the different industries, which are the main sources of livelihood in Gaza, are affected by the unlawfully-imposed travel and import restrictions, the virtual ban on exports, and unwarranted military attacks carried out against civilians and their property.
Khaled still does not know when he will be able to walk again, and believes that he was directly targeted by the Israeli soldier. He explains, "I do not know why I was targeted by the Israeli soldier. If he had shot in the air, we would have had the chance to escape, but he did not. It must have been a sniper's shot. He must have known that he would cause me injury or even kill me."
Since the November ceasefire, PCHR has documented the killing of four Palestinian civilians by Israeli forces, and the injuring of 100 others, including 24 children, in the ‘buffer zone’. Another 62 civilians were arrested by Israeli forces in the same area, including 34 children.
Israel’s attacks against Palestinian farmers in the Gaza Strip constitute a violation of international humanitarian law as codified under Article 147 of the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention. Moreover such attacks can constitute war crimes under Articles 8(2)(a)(i) and (iii) Article 8 (2)(b)(i) of the International Criminal Court’s Rome Statute. The implementation of the ‘buffer zone’, maintained through attacks, constitutes a measure of collective punishment, which is prohibited under Article 33 of the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention. The right to work, including in just and favourable conditions, is provided for under Article 6 and 7 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). Moreover, Article 11 of the ICESCR recognizes "the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family, including adequate food, clothing and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions."
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