*Palestinian farmers, fishermen and workers are regularly subjected to Israeli soldiers’ gunfire and shelling on Palestinian land and sea.
Two years ago, just after Israeli soldiers fired live ammunition at 6 or 7 unarmed Palestinian farmers (and those of us accompanying them on due to such regular Israeli attacks) on land in Abassan Jadida, southeast Gaza, with continuous and dangerously close machine gun fire for roughly 45 minutes, the Canadian embassy in Tel Aviv declared that the Israeli firing on unarmed Palestinian farmers and those of us with them…was just fine with Canadian representatives.
The farmers –men in the early twenties, paid labourers, as well as an older farmer –had harvested parsley on a plot of land 500 metres from the fence between Gaza and the rest of occupied Palestine for over two hours without incidence, Israeli jeeps driving past along the border but not shooting.
The area along the border is flat land, treeless (bulldozed by the Israelis over the years), and by Israeli imposition with crops no taller than wheat, which is also routinely bulldozed or burned (near time of harvest). It is an open area and the Israeli soldiers half a kilometer away across the border fence can see with clarity who is on the land and what they are doing. If they don’t see with military binoculars, there are drones with cameras and military towers along the border.
But that day as other days the Israeli soldiers saw the farmers and those of us with them, and they decided to menace.
As the farmers finished piling bundles of parsley onto the donkey cart, the Israeli firing began. Flat as the terrain is, there is virtually no where to take cover when Israeli soldiers fire. The farmers dropped to the ground, we stood with hands up and fluorescent yellow vests on.
*scene from accompanying farmers in Gaza
With my glasses for long distance sight, I could see 4 Israeli military jeeps and between 3 and 4 Israeli soldiers huddled on a dirt mound. These dirt mounds line the border, a strategic vantage point on which to drive up Israeli jeeps, tanks, hummers, or from which Israeli soldiers assume sniper positions on their farmer prey.
What others would assume were ‘warning shots’ now came within metres of us. I had never heard a bullet’s whizz prior to that day, but whizz those bullets did past our heads.
After 45 minutes of the firing, harassment to be sure but lethally close harassment, we had edged close enough to the Israeli war-toppled house to take cover from the firing.
It was after this that the Canadian embassy called me, beginning with questioning on my whereabouts, finally realizing I was not being shot at by Palestinians, but by Israelis.
“How do you know it is Israeli soldiers shooting at you?” she’d [Heather, from the Canadian embassy] asked. I mentioned the 4 jeeps, the soldiers on the mound, the shots from the soldiers on the mound (I didn’t have time to go into past experiences with Israeli soldiers in this very area and a little further south, similar experience of farmers being fired upon while we accompanied them.).
Heather asked if the soldiers had stopped firing, to which I told her, ‘no, they kept firing when we attempted to move away, hands in the air. They fired as we stood still, hands in the air. ” She suggested these were ‘warning shots’ at which I pointed out that warning shots would generally be in the air or 10s of metres away. These were hitting and whizzing past within metres.
She had no further thoughts at time, but did call back minutes later with Jordie Elms, the Canadian attache in the Tel Aviv office, who informed us that “Israel has declared the 1 km area along the border to be a ‘closed military zone’.”
True, Israel has declared the 300 metres to be a no-go zone. But without the legal jurisdiction to do so. An illegal imposition that Jordie was just fine with. He added: humanitarian and aid workers need to “know the risk of being in a closed area”.
The risk of being on Palestinian land that Israel has arbitrarily closed (rendering farmers land-less, incomeless, rendering Gaza with a significant decrease in local produce) is the risk of being maimed or killed by live ammunition and of being shelled by tank fire or by dart bombs. It would be nice to be surprised by Canada’s blind stance with Israel, but I am not.
SOME OF MY PREVIOUS ARTICLES ON FARMING IN GAZA:
endless casualties of Israel’s “buffer zone” [Nahal Oz shooting April 14]
IOF assaults on Land Day demos: 4 youths shot at close range [March 30 shootings]