What caused the Israeli soldiers to shoot a deaf farmer today? Was he threatening? Was it because the group of farm labourers had successfully worked quickly to harvest their day’s wages? Was the sight of retreating, unarmed, clearly non-threatening civilians too tempting to resist?
Whatever the motivation, the result is another casualty of Israeli soldiers’ malevolence: a 20 year old deaf farmer, Mohammad al-Buraim, working the land to support his family of 16, may not walk easily again. The bullet which targeted his ankle penetrated straight through and landed in the tire of the truck he’d been pushing.
Abu Alaa, owner of the land and Mohammed’s uncle, said: “When they first shot, we knew it wasn’t ‘warning’ shots. We started to run away. They shot again.”
Another farm labourer from Khan Younis, Yasser Rizek Samoud (20), was next to Mohammed when the Israeli soldiers’ shooting broke out.
“We had stopped our work and were ready to leave. The truck wasn’t starting. We were pushing the pickup truck. The Israeli soldiers started shooting at us from the border area. Mohammed was hit in the leg. I carried him about 2 metres before they started shooting again. We were able to get him to a truck on the road, which took him towards the town. An ambulance picked him up from the truck and took him to Nasser hospital in Khan Younis.”
Samoud attests there was quiet before the Israeli soldiers shot al-Buraim. “There weren’t any (Palestinian) fighters, there was nothing happening except for us farming. We work because we need to. We get 20 shekels a day, it isn’t a lot, but it’s the only work we can get.”
It was 17 February approximately 10:15 am and farmers were leaving the land they’d harvested, roughly 500 m from the Green Line. The lightly-dressed, unarmed farmers were clearly visible to and seen by the several Israeli army jeeps and the Hummer which had patrolled the border fence, stopping for long intervals to watch the farmers work, then moving on.
The farmers’ proximity to the border fence was more than off-set by the very visible nature of their work and of all present, including the 5 international human rights workers wearing bright vests and using a megaphone. The farmers’ tools are a kitchen knife slightly sharper than one used for eating, binding cord, and donkey carts or pickup trucks to haul away the harvest.
Before the shooting occurred, the Hummer sat directly across from the working farmers for over 30 minutes, observing. There was no threat from the farmers who glanced worriedly at the vehicle from time to time but otherwise kept swiftly working. Israeli soldiers inside the vehicle would have had no problem seeing the actions of the farmers cutting and binding spinach and parsley, and loading it into the back of a small pickup truck.
The farmers finished for the morning, packed the truck, and attempted to leave. Still unarmed.
The Israeli soldiers shot at the sides and backs of unarmed farmers pushing their pickup truck which had stalled. Even after al-Buraim had been hit, the shooting continued although the snipers would have been able to see that someone had been shot.
The firing continued as the farmers, surrounded by international human rights observers, walked away from the field and took shelter behind a nearby house, reaching it at around 10:30 am. Israeli soldiers continued to shoot at the farmers and internationals taking cover, for a period increasing their shots to every 5 seconds, with that unmistakably close “pftzzzz” of the bullets whizzing past.
After time, internationals evacuated farmers in 2 groups, again surrounding them as we walked, wary of the sniper’s abilities.
Given that the soldiers were shooting at the backs of retreating, unarmed, farmers and internationals, the pretext of ‘defending the border’ or Israeli soldiers’ having felt ‘threatened’ becomes blindingly transparent.
There was no shooting from the Palestinian side, no threat, no reason to shoot, other than malevolence. The farmers were clearly involved in the task of working the land, and the internationals accompanying them were visibly and audibly recognizable.
U.K. citizen Jenny Linnel also present during the shooting said: “The farmers were in the process of leaving when the IOF shot. And the IOF continued to shoot as the farmers tried to leave, continued to shoot, sniper-style, as the farmers cowered for cover. It was aggression for the sake of aggression.”
The life of a farmer is never easy, and is all the more difficult for farmers in the “buffer zone,” the band of land which has been imposed and extended arbitrarily to 1 km from the Green Line (on the Gaza side, not the Israeli side) by the occupying force which insists it has ‘withdrawn from Gaza’ [yet somehow controls borders, imports and exports, and the entry of humanitarian aid (entry denied), and which can impose no-go zones in a land not its own, for its ‘safety' (as with the separation wall cutting deeply into the west bank and carving the occupied land into smaller, militarily-controlled, chunks, the imposition of a "buffer zone" on Palestinian land in Gaza begs the question: if Israel is erecting the Wall and imposing no-go zones out of safety concerns, why not do so on Israeli land?)].
Were farming merely made difficult due to the ban of seeds and fertilizers into Gaza, as well as the ban on machinery replacement parts (extended to hospital equipment replacement parts, and replacement parts for basically anything that breaks down in Gaza), people could perhaps get on with it. But with Israeli soldiers’ near-daily shooting on Palestinians living on, working on, their land in an arbitrarily confiscated zone, then farming becomes seriously problematic.
Ironically, as we near-daily accompany farmers in these troubled ‘buffer zone’ regions, vigilantly keeping watch of the many jeeps scurrying to and fro and taking long pauses parked directly across from wherever we are farming, we see unhindered farming activity on the Israeli side: crop-dusters circle in wide arcs, tending the plots below with chemicals and planes unavailable to Gaza; tractors plow the land…in broad daylight! At a leisurely, unworried pace!
Back in the Gaza prison, farmers struggle with broken trucks, hand-harvesting, and an obstacle course of bullets.
Israeli soldiers have made a regular practice of targeting civilians, including farmers, in the arbitrarily-imposed “buffer zone,” a practice that continued throughout and despite the June 19 ceasefire.
And while the demeanor of the farmers makes it evident that they are accustomed to being shot at, they are nonetheless clearly afraid. Until this close call, their need to work the land had overridden fear for their lives. A sort of resigned determination seemed to guide them, along with the adage, “hek iddinya,”(“This is our life”), explaining in words and gestures that they have little option but to continue working the land, for the produce itself or for a mere 20 shekels a day.
Yet, Abu Alaa says they will not go back to the fields any time soon. “How can we go back? Its too much now, too dangerous. We will wait until it feels calmer.”
From his hospital bed, charismatic and likeable Mohammed al-Buraim, assures that he’ll be okay, even after the assault. But no way will he go near the field. “You think I’m crazy?!” he signs.
The shot was so near. It could have taken his life. Just a few feet up…just a slightly slower, slightly faster reaction… it was close. They were close to again killing an impoverished farm-worker.
On 27 January, in the same area, IOF soldiers killed 27 year old Anwar Zayed al-Buraim, shooting him in the neck while he picked vegetables on land approximately 600 metres from the Green Line. Anwar was Mohammed’s cousin.
These fertile rural eastern border areas of the Gaza Strip are emptying, because farmers, many of whom have farmed here for generations, are now too frightened to live and work on their own land. The confines of the Gaza Strip, which is just forty kilometers long and ten kilometers wide, are being shrunk even further by relentless Israeli invasions, by the imposition of an arbitrary and expanding “buffer zone” and by the targeting of civilians and farmers trying to live on and earn a living from their land.
Mohammed al-Buraim marks the fourth shooting of Palestinians in the ‘buffer zone’ in the last few weeks. The three shootings prior to Mohammed’s were: on 18 January, Maher Abu-Rajileh (24), from Huza’ah village, east of Khan Younis, was killed by IOF soldiers while working on his land 400m from the Green Line; on 20 January, at 1 pm, Israeli soldiers shot Waleed al-Astal (42) of Al Qarara, near Khan Younis, in his right foot; and on 27 January, Anwar al-Buraim was shot in the neck and killed.
While attacks on farmers in other border communities, especially those on the Israeli side, would not go unnoticed, somehow the international community remains silent about these deaths, injuries, and breaches of international law.
Just as the international community has stooped silently complicit to the siege on Gaza which has denied Palestinians of every conceivable means of existence and livelihood, so too are international leaders silent to the oppression of the farmers and fishermen, the poorest and the bravest, facing Israeli fire and ending up like Mohammed, Anwar, or 23 year old Rafiq who was targeted 2 miles off Gaza’s coast while in a small fishing boat. Israeli soldiers sprayed the boat with bullets, the ‘dum-dum- exploding bullets hitting Rafiq in the back and exploding into numerous tiny shrapnel pieces which pierced his lungs and remain dangerously close to his spine, impossible to remove.
These are not isolated and random instances. They are part of the policy of cutting off any means of self-sufficiency the Palestinians try to engage in, and of continuing in the efforts to break Palestinians’ will, efforts which have included a years-long, brutal siege, a 23 day bloody war killing over 1370 Palestinians, and the ongoing targeting of civilians throughout the Gaza Strip.
*Mohammed’s blood, found near the abandoned truck he and others had been pushing when the firing began.
*taking cover while more shooting continues.
*new bullet hole from today’s shooting
*bullet fragment found embedded in the truck
Gaza desperately short of food after Israel destroys farmland: Officials warn of ‘destruction of all means of life’ after the three-week conflict leaves agriculture in the region in ruins
Peter Beaumont in Gaza
The Observer, Sunday 1 February 2009
Gaza’s 1.5 million people are facing a food crisis as a result of the destruction of great areas of farmland during the Israeli invasion.
According to the World Food Programme, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation and Palestinian officials, between 35% and 60% of the agriculture industry has been wrecked by the three-week Israeli attack, which followed two years of economic siege.
Christine van Nieuwenhuyse, the World Food Programme’s country director, said: “We are hearing that 60% of the land in the north – where the farming was most intensive – may not be exploitable again. It looks to me like a disaster. It is not just farmland, but poultry as well.
“When we have given a food ration in Gaza, it was never a full ration but to complement the diet. Now it is going to be almost impossible for Gaza to produce the food it needs for the next six to eight months, assuming that the agriculture can be rehabilitated. We will give people a full ration.”
The FAO estimates that 13,000 families who depend directly on herding, farming and fishing have suffered significant damage. “Before the blockade and the attack,” said Ahmad Sourani, director of the Agricultural Development Association of Gaza, which runs programmes with charities such as Britain’s Christian Aid, “Gaza produced half of its own food. Now that has declined by 25%. In addition, a quarter of the population depends on agriculture for income. What we have seen in large areas of farmland is the destruction of all means of life.
“We have seen a creeping process of farmers being forced out of the buffer zone around Gaza’s border. Before 2000 we could approach and farm within 50m of the fence. After Israel’s evacuation of the settlements in 2005, the Israeli army imposed a buffer of 300m. Although it is elastic, now there are areas, depending on the situation, where farmers cannot reach their farms in safety within an area of over a kilometre. It is indirect confiscation by fear. My fear is that, if it remains, it will become de facto. Bear in mind that 30% of Gaza’s most productive land is within that buffer zone.”
The wholesale destruction of farms, greenhouses, dairy parlours, livestock, chicken coops and orchards has damaged food production, which was already hit by the blockade.
Buildings heavily damaged during Israel’s Operation Cast Lead included much of its agricultural infrastructure. The Ministry of Agriculture was targeted, the agriculture faculty at al-Azhar university in Beit Hanoun largely destroyed, and the offices of the Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committees in Zaitoun – which provides cheap food for the poor – ransacked and vandalised by soldiers who left abusive graffiti.
Although international and local officials are still gathering figures, they believe that scores, perhaps hundreds, of wells and water sources have been damaged and several hundred greenhouses have been levelled, as well as severe damage inflicted on 60,000-75,000 dunums of Gaza’s 175,000 dunums (44,000 acres) of farmable land.
As well as the physical damage done by Israeli bulldozers, bombing and shelling, land has been contaminated by munitions, including white phosphorous, burst sewerage pipes, animal carcasses and even asbestos used in roofing. In many places, the damage is extreme. In Jabal al-Rayas, once a thriving farming community, every building has been knocked down, and even the cattle killed and left to lie rotting in the fields.
In al-Atatra, Ahmad Hassan, 65, the overseer of an orchard that once had hundreds of lemon and orange trees, surveyed an area flattened by bulldozers. “This was the well,” he said, showing a pile of bulldozed concrete. “We can clear the ground in two weeks. Then what? The well is gone. The pump has been destroyed. And where will the trees come from to replant the land?”
Van Nieuwenhuyse said: “Already, the price of meat has tripled since the Israeli operation began. What is more worrying is the situation over vegetables. Protein we can help with, but before this there were already deficiencies in the diet. Now they will have to rely on Israel.”
It was a view echoed by Hassan Abu Etah, the deputy agriculture minister in Gaza. “It has all been hugely damaged. And it affects all of Gaza, not simply the farmers. We produced some of what we needed. It makes you wonder whether they wanted to change Gaza from production to consumption.”
In the heavily damaged village of Khuza’a, near Khan Younis, Salam Najar surveyed the no-go zone that extends from the last houses in the village to the border fence where Israeli farmland begins. “Most of the families here have farmed that side. Now no one feels safe to go there. They have destroyed it all.”