where is the buffer zone?


published    By Eva Bartlett

At 8:30 on November 15, a number of young men went as usual to the land near Gaza’s northern border with Israel, intending to catch birds. Amjad Hassanain, 27, was among the bird-catchers hunting near the border fence when Israeli soldiers began shooting.

The shots which missed the other bird-catchers hit Hassanain, grazing his shoulder.

Cameraman Abdul Rahman Hussain, filming in the vicinity, reports having seen the group of bird-catches head north.

“We were near the former Israeli settlement of Doghit,” said Hussain, referring to the area northwest of Beit Lahia in Gaza’s north.

“I had gone to the border area to photograph a young bird-catcher. We were about 400 m from the border fence, but when we heard the shooting, we moved back to around 1 km.”

According to Hussain, the other men had to carry the wounded Hassanain 1 km from the site of injury, then transferred him to a motorcycle and finally to a car.

“He was covered in blood, I couldn’t tell where he was hit,” said Hussain.

Hussain, there to document the work of bird-catchers, was surprised by the shooting.

“They always go there to catch birds. They put their nets close to the fence in order to catch as many as possible.” Like the bird-catchers, Hussain believed the Israeli soldiers along the border were familiar enough with the bird catching activity that they wouldn’t shoot.

Two hours later, Mahmoud Mohammed Shawish Zaneen and seven other farmers took a break from their work plowing land east of Beit Hanoun.

“We had three tractors with us. We’d been working since 8 am, planting wheat. At first we worked about 450 metres from the border fence, but later we were 700 metres away.”

The farmers had paused to drink tea when Israeli soldiers began shooting.

“The tractors were stopped and we were sitting on them. There were about seven Israeli soldiers, on foot. They shot the other tractors and then shot mine. They didn’t give us any warning, just started shooting.”

The bullet which pierced Zaneen’s left calf continued into his right calf.

Since the end of the Israeli massacre of Gaza last winter, at least nine Palestinians have been killed, and another more than thirty-four injured, by Israeli shooting and shelling in the border areas in Gaza’s north and east.

Ahmed Sourani, of the Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committee (PARC) has long been aware of the impact the Israeli-imposed “buffer zone”, a north-south width of 150 metres from the border fence at inception a decade ago. Currently, Israeli authorities warn that anyone within 300 metres of the border fence risks being shot.

Not only is the agricultural land within 300 metres of the border rendered off-limits, but also that of adjacent land, also subject to Israeli shooting.

Following the Israeli massacre of Gaza last winter, Sourani said that “PARC is fearful that the Israelis will extend that military zone to reach 2 km or more to the east and 3 km to the north, then turn it into a de facto situation.”

The impact on the agricultural industry of the Israeli-led siege on Gaza, the Israeli massacre of Gaza, and the imposition of the “buffer zone” has been profound:

International bodies cite 60,000-75,000 dunams [1 dunam is 1000 square metres] of farmland they say is now damaged or unusable.

World Food Programme (WFP) and the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) said anywhere from 35 percent to 60 percent of the agriculture industry was destroyed by Israel’s attacks on Gaza.

Mahmoud Zaneen, still recovering from his injuries, says that his family of four has lost its only source of income.

“I usually work every day, if I can. I make 50 shekels per day.”

Until his legs recover, the family will be minus even that meagre salary. But Zaneen, despite his injuries, is determined to return to the fields.

“If there is work, I’ll go again.”



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