(strawberries, Beit Hanoun. Before the siege, strawberries and flowers were exported to European markets. Since the siege, there has been no way to export the berries, and with local markets flooded, their value is relatively worthless.)
26 November, 2008
It has been nearly 3 weeks now that Israel has kept all crossings with Gaza closed, including the Erez crossing used by aid workers, journalists, and the rare Palestinian who attains an exit permit (and whose exit permit is honoured by the Israeli soldiers at the crossing).
Last week, at a demonstration at Erez which jointly-called for the opening of the crossing, the lifting of the siege, and the release of the 3 Palestinian fishing boats still being held by Israel, one of Israel’s routine F-16s flew much lower than usual over the crowd, an attempt at intimidation. The F-16s have been prowling the skies, their engines scream-announcing their presence, and periodic sonic booms threatening a return of the massive sonic boom campaigns of recent years.
[sewage draining into the sea]
The siege is visible and audible, one can even smell it. Stretches of Gaza’s coastline reek from the raw sewage being pumped into the sea, no where else to contain it, no way to treat it. Taxi rides offer time to lament the skyrocketed prices of everything. “Kief el souk il-yom?” the driver asks. “Rhedi!,” the reply, and the list of exorbitant prices begins. Talk shifts to the closed borders and to the half-hearted hope that they will open. “Our country is destitute because of this. We have nothing now: no gas, oil, food…even books and pencils, we don’t even have these.”
Taxi rides also affords the time to explain to potentially-unaware internationals in Gaza that there is nothing here: no water, no gas, no wheat for bread, no electicity. Fish ishi! is the all-encompassing expression (there’s nothing!).
Gaza’s power plant shut down on November 13, re-starting with the sparse shipment of fuel but shutting down anew shortly after, due to broken parts and no replacements. The areas outside of Gaza city are harder hit, suffering power outages as much as 16-20 hours a day, by accounts of those living in northern camps like Jabliya, Beit Hanoun… and further south.
The lack of electricity is not a minor inconvenience. At home, it shuts down refrigerators, cuts out study time, and compounds the absence of cooking gas meaning that food is cold and with little to no bread in many areas, most carbohydrates are missing. Whereas these carbohydrates are now a staple in a diet which has become increasingly out of reach for Gaza’s 80% who live below the poverty line, the absence of bread, rice, pasta is a serious blow to sustenance.
(incubator reliant on electricity to function. Photo: Pauline McNeil)
In hospitals, power used to operate medical equipment and hospital infrastructure comes more and more from fuel-powered generators, themselves overworked and failing. When there’s no fuel, there’s soon no power.
(lamp-lit night, Beach Camp, Gaza City)
The images of old-fashioned looking lanterns and reading by candlelight are true. The rumours of candle scarcities are true. Those lucky enough, wealthy enough, to have a generator and to have secured fuel for it, pollute the night with its noise and its fumes.
Even the UN’s Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) is feeling the closures, reporting that after 20 days of continued border closures, they had to suspend food aid to over 750, 000 aid-dependent Palestinians. A small shipment on November 24 replenished only 10% of UNRWA’s daily needs, according to its Director, John Ging.
Israel’s systematic withholding of everything –food, medicines, water, education –is enhanced by Israel’s attacks on fishermen and farmers. The latest violation of Gaza’s fishing waters –20 nautical miles off Gaza’s shores, according to the Oslo Interim Agreement –saw 15 fishermen abducted and detained, 3 fishing trawlers confiscated, and 3 international observers arrested and deported. On completely bogus grounds.
Previous and on-going fishing attacks include water-cannoning fishermen, drenching they and their boats, and everything on board. And firing live ammunition at the boats. And firing live ammunition at the fishermen themselves.
The farmers in the “buffer zone” –which can be from 150 m to 1000 m from the border with Israel, suffer the devastating destruction of their land, their crops and trees, of chicken barns, and even their homes (shot-up water tanks, windows, pipes) as well as farm equipment (tractors, irrigation piping), at the hands of Israeli soldiers, their armoured tanks, their armoured bulldozers.
The last incursion came just days ago, on the morning of November 25, in al-Fukhari neighborhood, east of Khan Younis. Israeli forces entered with nine armoured tanks and two armoured bulldozers , demolishing greenhouses and ripping up vegetable plots. One week earlier, on November 18, Israeli forces invaded near Rafah, using three tanks and two bulldozers, and destroyed agricultural land.
Israeli soldiers attack farmers attempting to work their land, be it in or outside of the imposed buffer zone, by firing live ammunition at the farmers.
“You don’t go out at night here,” Mohannad said of the area near the buffer zone east of Khan Younis. “Never, it’s too dangerous.”
He explains that his family has land near the buffer zone. “They damaged everything,” he says, referring the the continuing invasions by Israeli forces, in spite of the June ‘truce’. “What can we do? we just wait and watch.”
These assaults, this harassment, coupled with the closed borders, the ban even of seeds, and the 65% unemployment, is why Palestinians in Gaza are food-aid-dependent. These competent and capable people who’ve worked the land for generations now find themselves prevented physically or by lack of materials, from growing their own food or harvesting the seas.
“People are stressed,” Osama told me yesterday. “What do you expect, when we’re locked in an empty cage?”
(hauling in 100m of lines, set in 10m deep waters)
(the last haul)
Those who fish off Gaza’s beaches note smaller catches. Partially, its the weather, the time of year –the early days of winter see smaller catches. But its also the pollution of the waters, killing off the fish, and the restriction on deep sea fishing which means more boats and nets scour the areas close to shore, compete for the depleting stocks.
One of many groups of mostly young men working the hand nets this morning reported they’d brought in 15 kilos so far, a good catch today, from dropping their nets 100 metres out and hand-hauling them back in, repeatedly. The catch was to be divided among 8 families, many of whom are otherwise unemployed.
(photo: ISM. Buffer zone in Beit Hanoun; vast tracts of land go unused)
In Beit Hanoun yesterday, surrounded on two sides by Israel’s wall, and hence by two areas of ‘buffer zone’ the land is flat, largely treeless, with soil that begs to be worked. In the last few years especially, the ravaging of Beit Hanoun has increased, extending from its central areas of skeletal houses, to the razed agricultural land which once held orange, lemon, and olive trees, fields of wheat, and plots of vegetables.
The ‘truce’, which has brought almost no tangible relief to Palestinians –and which has seen their borders closed even more tightly– has at least meant that the routine shelling in these buffer zone areas is paused. There is still the soldiers’ shooting to contend with, but some of the farmers are willing to risk it a bit, if it means they can use some of their land to grow vegetables or graze sheep.
There is much here in Gaza: the beauty of the land, the beauty of the people, the dignity, humour, and poise of Palestinians; the shameful, internationally-backed siege which daily tightens the noose around an already strangled people.
(pumping water into a rooftop storage tank, in lieu of a working house water pump)
(demonstration at Erez crossing, November 20)