first published at IPS, by Eva Bartlett (*blog version longer than published version)
“It was the first day of the cease-fire. An Israeli soldier shot once in the air and within seconds shot me in the leg. He was only a few metres away.”
Haithem Abu Dagga, 26, an electrician and farm labourer, will not be able to work for as many months as it takes his right leg to heal. The bullet exited his leg but fractured his shin bone in the process.
The Nov 21 Gaza cease-fire stipulates that, among other things, the Israeli army will not wage incursions into Palestinian land, air, and sea, and Israel will not target Palestinians in the border regions of Gaza. As of the first day of the cease-fire, Israel had already violated these provisions. From the evening of the 21st and throughout the following days, Israeli drones and F-16s have continued to dominate Gaza’s airspace.
In the days following the cease-fire, Israeli military bulldozers entered Palestinian land, under what an Israeli army spoke-person called “routine activity,” and Israeli soldiers shot at unarmed Palestinians farmers and civilians in border regions.
The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) reports that in the period of Nov 22-29, Israeli soldiers killed one Palestinian civilian and injured “42 civilians, including 7 children” in the border areas of Gaza.
Abu Dagga, a farm labourer from the rural agricultural region of Abassan, was among a number of Palestinians who hoped that the Israeli army would abide by the cease-fire. When they walked on land which most had not accessed for a decade, they did so believing that they no longer had to fear being shot at by Israeli soldiers.
Since just over a decade ago, the Israeli-imposed “buffer zone” has been unilaterally extended by Israeli authorities from the initial 50 metres to the current 300 metre “no-go zone.”
According to the United Nations’ Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the 300 metres off-limits area extends in areas to at least 1.5 km. PCHR has documented the Israeli army targeting of Palestinian civilians as far as 2 km from the border.
The area annexed by the no-go zone and extended high-risk areas equates to 35 percent of Gaza’s agricultural land. Formerly known for its lush fruit, olive and nut tree growth, the border regions are some of the most fertile areas in the Gaza Strip and formerly produced a wide variety of vegetables, grains, and pulses.
Under the recent Israel-Gaza cease-fire agreement, the no-go region should have ceased with the cease-fire.
The Nov 22 walk on Palestinian border land began positively for Abu Dagga. “We walked right up to the fence. The Israeli army came in a number of jeeps, and got out and watched us.” A few minutes later he was on the ground and bleeding, wounded by an Israeli gunshot fired at close range.
A PCHR report notes that six were injured by Israeli gunfire in the Abassan area that day, as well as two others further south in the eastern Rafah border region.
The first border area killing occurred two days following the cease-fire. According to PCHR, on Nov 23, Anwar Qudaih, 20, and hundreds of Palestinians in the eastern Khan Younis region went to exercise their right to be on Palestinian land. Israeli gunfire targeted Qudaih in the head and injured twenty other civilians.
In northern Gaza, Mahmoud Naim, 21, was with a group of friends who on Nov 28 likewise wanted to walk on formerly off-limits Palestinian land.
“There were 15 of us. We went to my family’s land near the border fence. We just wanted to relax, drink tea, and enjoy being on our land,” said Naim.
While he saw an Israeli jeep approach, Naim didn’t see the Israeli soldier inside a heavily-fortified concrete military tower.
“There was no warning, the soldier just began shooting at us.”
A nasty flesh wound, the bullet went in and out of his rib cage area, just shy of his heart.
“We’d gone there two days earlier without problems. No shooting, no soldiers. I don’t know why they shot at us this time.”
Earlier the same day, Hassar Nseir, 27, collecting rubble for re-sale, was shot in the leg by an Israeli soldier.
Defence for Children International reports that in the period of Mar 2010 to Dec 2011, Israeli soldiers shot at least 30 children collecting gravel in border regions.
A Jan 2009-Aug 2010 OCHA report cites 51 Palestinians killed, including 11 children, and 237 injured, including 49 children, by Israeli attacks in Palestinian border areas.
A later Jan 2010 to Oct 2011 OCHA report notes at least 38 Palestinians were killed, 372 injured by Israeli soldier attacks.
Chief among the many reasons Palestinians risk their lives to access land near Gaza’s border is the need to farm their land. But rubble collectors, bird catchers, and even families who merely want to visit their land also risk being targeted by Israeli soldiers. In Sep 2009, an Israeli soldier shot Ghazi Zaneen, 14, in the head while with his family on Beit Hanoun land 500 metres from the border.
Walking in the 300 metres near the border fence, deep tank tracks have rutted the land, turning flat earth into unworkable moguls. Farmers say that the latest Israeli bombings also targeted farmland throughout Gaza, leaving behind vast craters.
Weekly Israeli tank and military bulldozer land-razing invasions are just one aspect of the Israeli army’s violating Palestinian territory. Israeli soldiers have also burned crops ready for harvest, systematically bombed and bulldozed water wells and cisterns, abducted farmers and rubble collectors working near the border, demolished and damaged hundreds of homes within 300 metres from the fence and beyond throughout the border region, destroyed innumerable chicken and cattle farms, and with these acts destroyed Palestinian farmers ability to earn a living, feed their families, and contribute desperately-needed affordable produce and protein to the markets of Gaza. The Israeli army has killed and injured tens of Palestinians protesting the Israeli policy of killing and destruction in the border regions.
The UN’s OCHA reported in Aug 2010 that “305 water wells, 197 chicken farms, 377 sheep farms, three mosques, three schools, and six factories” in Gaza’s border regions have been destroyed by the Israeli army.
The same report noted that certain factors increased the risk of being shot at by an Israeli soldier, including: being a man; being in a small group (4-6 people); wearing a veil; entering with a donkey cart; entering between dusk and dawn, characteristics which inevitably pertain to Palestinian farmers and civilians in the border regions.
“We want it to be like it was before, to be able to work on our land,” says Hussein Hamdan, 62, from Abassan. Roughly half of his 30 dunams (1 dunam is 1000 square metres) lie within the no-go zone, the other half within Israel. “We want to stop the tanks from entering and tearing up our land.”
Other Israeli army tactics include burning Palestinian crops, destroying wells and cisterns, and demolishing homes and livestock farms throughout the border regions.
“Is the 300 metres the Israelis say is off-limits now accessible? Can we safely access and work on our land now?” These are the resounding questions that farmers like Hamdan ask as they await their chance to return to their border area land without fear of being shot, bombed, or abducted by an Israeli soldier.
Between the Fence and a Hard Place [OCHA Aug 2010]