‘All we want is to farm our land peacefully’

Civilians in Gaza continue to suffer from Israel’s restrictive buffer zone

By Ghada Snunu

60-year-old Abu Te’mah, a farmer in Gaza, says there are parts of his land he cannot reach, despite Israeli announcements about easing the "buffer zone" after the November 2012 ceasefire. (Photo: Ghada Snunu)

The Israeli authorities have been imposing the so called "Buffer Zone," or Access Restricted Areas (ARA), in the Gaza Strip since 2005, prohibiting Palestinians from safely accessing large swathes of their land. The ARA extends along the entire northern and eastern perimeter of the Gaza Strip, adjacent to the "Green Line" with Israel. Although Israel has always said that the ARA extends 300 meters from the border, in practice, at certain points and in certain areas, it has ranged up to 1,500 meters [1]. The ARA includes residential areas and prime agricultural land and water resources. 35% of Gaza’s cultivable land is located within the ARA [2]. Access restrictions in the ARA are enforced through a range of mechanisms that include the use of live fire and the destruction, damage and confiscation of property, putting at risk the lives and well-being of those who enter prohibited areas or the vicinity of such areas.

After the ceasefire understanding of 21 November 2012 that ended the Israeli military operation "Pillar of Defense," 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. Later, on 11 March 2013, an Israeli army spokesperson announced that it would allow free access up to 300 meters and that some Palestinian farmers would be allowed to coordinate entry to areas that are located closer to the fence. However, the army has refused to provide information on how one might coordinate entry into the ARA [3].

Abu Te’mah, 60, a father of 8, is one of tens of thousands of farmers who have been prohibited from accessing their land in the ARA. Abu Te’mah owns 35 dunams located between 100 and 600 meters from the fence with Israel in the south of the Gaza Strip. "We were very happy to hear about the easing of the restrictions in the area and we rushed to see our land that we hadn’t been able to access for years," Abu Te’mah said.

Abu Te’mah’s land had been planted with olive, almond, fig and other trees, but the Israeli army repeatedly bulldozed his land, destroying them all as well as water wells in the area. The repeated destruction of his land forced him to grow rain-fed crops such as wheat and barley that don’t require much caring and attendance. ‘‘After the ceasefire I thought of investing in my land but who can guarantee that the Israeli army will not destroy them again, every few days there is an incursion. We even still have parts of our land that we cannot reach,’’ Abu Te’mah explains. Abu Te’mah has incurred major financial losses over the years, and now he is burdened with debts that he can’t meet.

Entry into the ARA remains unsafe and precarious despite the current improvements in the ARA. Killings, injuries and incursions continue to be reported in the ARA. Four Palestinians have been killed and 112 others injured in the ARA since 21 November 2012 [4]. One of the fatalities was a man killed on a farm approximately 1.2 km from the fence. ‘‘We risk our life every day but we don’t have alternatives,’’ Abu Te’mah said.

Abu Te’mah recently planted only 8 dunams of his land with vegetables to make a living and feed his family after receiving some support from one of the local charities. However, he is not able to access sources of irrigation water in the area due to the Israel's restrictions. "We are forced to get water from water wells outside the ARA at high cost which we cannot afford most of the time," Abu Te’mah said.

Most of the water wells in the area have been destroyed by the Israeli army during their incursions and military operations, leaving farmers with no water to irrigate their land. 306 water wells in the ARA have been demolished by the Israeli military since 2005 at an estimated cost of 9 million dollars [5]. More than 50% of the land in the ARA is not cultivated due to the access restrictions and unavailability of reliable water supplies [6].

Abu Te’mah and other farmers in the area are struggling to maintain their way of life in the face the Israeli restrictions. "Our land can become a paradise if there are no restrictions and water is available," he says. "All we want is to farm our land peacefully."

Israeli restrictions, killings and destruction of property in the ARA are gross violations of International Human Rights Law and International Humanitarian Law, particularly the 4th Geneva Convention and constitute a measure of collective punishment, which is prohibited under the Convention. Israel, as the occupying power in the Gaza Strip, is obliged to abide by its obligations under international law, lift the restrictions in the ARA and ensure the protection and well-being of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

[1] Protection Cluster, Access Restricted Areas update, July 2013. 

[2] EWASH, Factsheet: Water and Sanitation in the Access Restricted Areas of the Gaza Strip, December 2012.

[3] Gisha, Gaza Gateway: Facts and Analysis about the Crossings, June 2013.

[4] OCHA, Protection of Civilians Weekly Update, April 2013.

[5] EWASH, Factsheet: Water and Sanitation in the Access Restricted Areas of the Gaza Strip, December 2012.

[6] Ibid.

Source: http://mondoweiss.net/2013/08/all-we-want-is-to-farm-our-land-peacefully-civilians-in-gaza-continue-to-suffer-from-israels-restrictive-buffer-zone.html

Ghada Snunu is from Gaza City and she is the Gaza Advocacy Officer for EWASH Advocay Task Force campaigning for water rights for Palestinians.

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