Sunday, November 30, 2008

ISM Gaza Strip: IOF bulldozers and tank on Gazan land east of Khan Younis

Posted on the ISM webpage on: November 30, 2008

On Thursday the 27th of November a group of ISM volunteers who were accompanying farmers and monitoring the situation in Khouza’a east of Khan Younis, observed a concentration of IOF (Israeli Occupation Forces) behind the Green Line. At about 10.15 a.m. two D-9 armoured bulldozers and a tank crossed the fence and entered the Gaza Strip. Farmers in Khouza’a stopped working in their fields and started to return home. ISM volunteers accompanied them and in the same time were taking footage proving the incident.

The IOF forces entered for about 100 to 150 metres and started to move northbound along the Green Line towards Al Faraheen, whilst approaching Palestinian houses and the school in Khouza’a. The Israeli bulldozers were destroying whatever lay in their path along this stretch of Palestinian land, although most of it is not worked by Palestinian farmers as they are prevented from reaching it by IOF shooting.

By the time the two bulldozers and the tank reached Al Faraheen, they were supported by at least two more tanks behind the fence. Together they continued their operation towards Al Qerrara. According to Palestinian residents, this type of military activity inside the Gaza Strip is not unusual, even in the time of ceasefire; however this was the third consecutive day that it was repeated in the area east of Khan Younis.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

ISM Gaza Strip: Shots against farmers and internationals in Al Faraheen

Posted on the ISM webpage on: November 25, 2008

In the morning of Sunday the 23rd of November, several international human rights observers accompanied Palestinian farmers to plough their field close to the green line, in the village of Al Faraheen, east of Khan Younis. At about 10 o’ clock Israeli soldiers behind the fence started to shoot. A tank could also be seen moving in the area behind the fence. The international HROs used their megaphones to communicate the international presence and to demand that the shooting cease immediately.

The Palestinian farmers decided to postpone the work. The international HROs remained in their positions till the moment that it seemed that the shooting has stopped. Then they accompanied the Palestinian farmers towards their houses. At some point there was some more shots, probably against one of the Palestinian residents who had left the group, following the path to his house, cross the field. The international HROs immediately positioned themselves between him and the green line, from were the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) soldiers were shooting, until he left the area. Despite the fact that the agricultural work was not concluded, the international presence may have prevented a more serious attack like the ones that often occur all along the Green Line, leaving Palestinian civilians injured or even dead. (An incident like that was reported on the 24th of November, at the northern border of Gaza strip, where a Palestinian civilian was shot in the leg by Israeli troops).

The internationals remained in Al Faraheen and accompanied another Palestinian family who lives near the Green Line and has repeatedly suffered attacks from the IOF before. For a while, they accompanied the family and their friends during their work in the vegetable garden right beside the house, where they have been attacked by the Israeli army many times in the past. Some of the internationals continued the accompaniment for the rest of the day and throughout the night, until the next morning. No other incidents were reported.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Weed pulling threatens armed Israeli soldiers

Posted on the ISM webpage on: November 17, 2008

By Donna Wallach

Al-Faraheen, Abasan Al-Kabeera, Gaza Strip, Palestine, 12th November 2008

On Wednesday 12th November, five international volunteer Human Rights Observers, most of them members of ISM Gaza Strip, went to Al-Faraheen, east of Khan Younis to pull weeds in the radish garden at the farm of Jaber Abu-Rageliyah and Leila Abu-Daga and their five children, and to establish an international presence. They live on a farm just 700 meters from the fence which separates Gaza Strip, Palestine from Israel. It is a very dangerous area for them to live and farm.

On 1st May 2008 Israeli occupation force soldiers invaded Al-Faraheen Abasan Al-Kabeera and destroyed all the trees, crops and chickens on Jaber’s farm – ruining his livelihood and denying him and his family the healthy organically homegrown food they eat. Israeli occupation force soldiers have been destroying farms all along the eastern border of the Gaza Strip, 300 – 500 meters deep, to enforce an arbitrarily declared “Buffer Zone”. Every tree, every crop, every chicken farm, every sheep farm and every hot house within this area bulldozed, demolished destroyed – this agriculturally rich soil made into a desert for hundreds, if not thousands, of Palestinian farmers. They are still denied their right to farm their lands and are often shot at when attempting to. Jaber has been shot at numerous times in the past weeks for weeding his now tiny garden just 100 meters from his farmhouse.

On this warm autumn day, a few volunteers arrived early and met Jaber waiting at the gate outside the temporary house where his wife and daughters spend the night. The windows to the farmhouse have been shot out and it is now too cold for them to sleep there. Jaber and his young son sleep in the farmhouse each night to establish their presence and to protect it from possible demolition.

Leila and the two youngest daughters greeted their guests and in traditional Palestinian hospitality invited them to a delicious breakfast of yogurt, olives, babaganooz, homemade bread, hawayig (a special Palestinian jam) and of course very sweet tea. Finally it was time to go to work, pulling weeds in the radish garden.

As soon as the volunteers began pulling weeds they witnessed at least three jeeps driven by Israeli occupation force soldiers on the road along the border fence. The soldiers often stop their jeeps, get out and lie on the ground and shoot at unarmed Palestinian farmers who have come to their fields to work. All the farmers are struggling to return to their farms to provide a livelihood and sustenance for their families. There are also towers built every 5 kilometers along this fence and armed Israeli occupation force soldiers sit in these towers and shoot at and spy on Palestinians who live in the area.

Very soon more HRO volunteers arrived and joined the weed pullers. After a while amidst the chatter, the newer volunteers wanted to see the banner hung on the destroyed chicken-house, next to the radish garden, it says “International Presence” in big black letters. The banner is hung each time the volunteers come to the farm. This day, as the volunteers stood looking out towards the destroyed fields and the border fence, they noticed that soldiers had gotten out of the jeeps. Almost immediately the soldiers opened fire. One of the volunteers quickly went to get the bright yellow reflective vests that some of them wear when they work in the fields in the “Buffer Zone”. Two volunteers used the bullhorns they had brought and were yelling to the Israeli soldiers: “Stop shooting!” “We are unarmed!” “Palestinian farmers have the right to farm their land!” This time the shooting only lasted a few minutes.

Soon-after the HRO volunteers noticed lots of gunfire and explosions in El-Gerrara, another small farming community to the north of Al-Faraheen. Then they heard and saw two helicopters in the sky. A quick phone call revealed that special forces of the Israeli occupation force army had invaded El-Gerrara and the resistance fighters were battling against the invasion, to protect the people and the land from this illegal incursion. Later on the volunteers learned that four young Palestinian men had lost their lives defending the lives and the land of El-Gerrara – all were deeply loved by their families and friends who are now mourning over this very big loss and sacrifice. All the men were 30 years old and younger and were married with young children at home.

As soon as the shooting and explosions were over, all the volunteers, Jaber, and his friends resumed pulling weeds, but much time had passed and soon the Human Rights Observer volunteers had to leave. Only half of the radish garden had been weeded. There were enough volunteers to have finished the weeding that day, but too much time was wasted during the shooting. Such is the every day existence of the Palestinians, life is always interrupted by the Israeli occupation force soldiers, the occupation and the siege.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

ISM Gaza: Resistance is plowing the fields of Fukharee

Posted on the ISM webpage on: November 12, 2008

Fukharee, Gaza Strip, Palestine, 11th November 2008

By Donna Wallach

On Tuesday 11th November 2008, four international Human Rights Observers accompanied some farmers to plow their fields for wheat, rye and lentils. The day started out with a long walk to the field. As in previous accompaniments to the “Buffer Zone”, the fields waiting to be plowed were close to the fence separating Palestinians farm lands from Israel.The farm lands of the Gaza Strip located on the eastern border have been turned into a desert by the Israeli occupation force army - destroying all the crops, trees and hot houses that existed 300 – 500 meters inside.

Tuesday’s accompaniment enabled a few Palestinian farmers to plow their lands – something they haven’t been able to do for at least 5 years! If they go by themselves to their fields they are shot at and face imminent death or permanent injury. When international HRO volunteers are out in the fields alongside the Palestinian farmers, the Israeli occupation force soldiers seem to be more reluctant to shoot to kill or to wound and maim.

The work began at 09:30 and by around 10:30 the Israeli occupation force soldiers drove up to the fence in three jeeps. After about 15 minutes of standing the soldiers started shooting their rifles, at first a few shots into the air and then above the heads of the volunteers – it was only a few shots. The tractor driver immediately left the field when the shooting started, to make sure the tractor wouldn’t be damaged. The volunteers and the farmers stood together in defiance of the soldiers shooting at unarmed civilians. Soon the tractor came back to the field and the driver accompanied by the Human Rights Observer resumed plowing.

At around 11:40 the volunteers walked to a nearby field and accompanied another farmer to plow 12 dunams of his land.This time without the soldiers or the gunshots.

The next field was the largest, 50 dunams, and took the longest. At around 14:15, when most of the field had been plowed, three jeeps again drove up to the fence and soldiers got out with their guns and shot a few shots. The volunteers yelled at the soldiers “Stop shooting!” “We are unarmed” “We are on Palestinian land.” “The Palestinians have the right to farm on their land.” The shooting didn’t last long and soon the soldiers got into their jeeps and drove away. The Israeli occupation force soldiers had been watching all day, from before their first attack in the morning. It was a rather ridiculous action on their part to drive up in three jeeps and open fire again when it was so clear that all were unarmed and were just farming.

The loud outcry of outrage at denying farmers to farm their lands and provide a livelihood for their families and to feed the people is overwhelmingly silent! The time is now to roar at the injustice. It is an act of terrorism to shoot at a farmer holding a pail of seeds as he or she sows the fields or at a tractor driver plowing the earth so that the seeds can bury themselves into the dirt and become the food of sustenance.

It was a major victory for the farmers of Fukharee – 72 dunams of land were plowed. The lentils will be ready for harvest in a month and a half, the rye soon after in three months, and the wheat will be ready in the spring, five months from now. What a difference to look out into the fields and see freshly plowed rows and no longer the desert-like fields of weeds and sticker bushes.

Friday, November 7, 2008

ISM Gaza Strip: Sowing lentils, reaping bullets, in Khouza’a, Gaza Strip

Posted on the ISM webpage: November 7, 2008

Khouza’a, Gaza Strip, Palestine, 6th November 2008:

By Donna Wallach

A number of Palestinian farmers went to their fields yesterday (6th November) to sow seeds for crops of wheat, lentils and rye to be harvested in the spring. Some internationals, volunteering with ISM Gaza, accompanied the farmers as they worked – the first time in five years for most, if not all of these, farmers.

The Palestinian farmers brought buckets filled with seeds, and the ISM volunteers walked with them up and down and across the land, sowing the seeds. Once the first plot of land had been sown a farmer with a tractor came and plowed the seeds into the land. Of course it wasn’t the way they would plant their crops if they could have the best circumstances. The land was full of weeds and thorns and not really prepared for sowing seeds – however, considering that the farmers are shot at whenever they go to their land, they need to plant their crops in the quickest way possible.

Soon after the farmers started sowing their seeds, two Israeli occupation force jeeps drove to the fence and across from the field that was being worked soldiers got out of the jeeps and lay down on the ground aiming their guns. The Palestinian farmers saw the jeeps and the soldiers and continued to work their land. After these farmers finished sowing seeds another farmer came with his tractor and started plowing the field. It wasn’t long before the Israeli occupation force soldiers started shooting. At first their shots were in the air, but very quickly the soldiers were shooting directly at the Palestinian farmers and at the ISM volunteers. The farmers quickly left the field. The ISM volunteers remained with their arms raised and yelled to the soldiers to stop shooting – bullets were landing within two to three feet where the volunteers were standing and some heard bullets
whistling past their ears.

Another larger jeep type vehicle arrived and at least 10 more Israeli occupation force soldiers got out. Four of them walked towards the border fence and positioned themselves close to it, clearly a sign that they knew there was no danger to them from the Palestinian side. The gunfire continued off and on and the ISM volunteers continued shouting to the soldiers “Stop! Stop shooting!”. The volunteers were also making phone calls to the ISM West Bank media office, journalists, their friends and their consulates. They were also receiving phone calls, one volunteer was called by friend who had heard on the radio that Palestinian farmers and ISM volunteers were being shot at in Khouza’a. Finally, after a few hours had passed, the soldiers got into the jeeps and they left. The ISM volunteers remained in the field for at least ten minutes and then took a short break.

During this entire time, since the morning, Israeli farmers had been farming their land, one was driving his tractor right up against the fence – it was crystal clear there was no danger to the Israeli occupation force soldiers or to the farmers. In fact, the Israeli farmers remained working their land the entire day, even while bullets were flying over the heads of the non-violent ISM activists.

During the first break from the onslaught of Israeli gunfire, other Palestinian farmers came to the field and started sowing seeds in another plot of land in the same field. A farmer brought his tractor and started plowing the seeds into the field. By this time Israeli occupation force soldiers returned in a jeep and again they shot at the Palestinian farmers and the accompanying ISM volunteers. The Palestinian farmers left the fields and the ISM volunteers remained. This time when there was calm, more farmers came to the field and started sowing their seeds in their plots of land and a second tractor came and was plowing. At around 1:40pm the Palestinian farmers had finished working this area of land – 15 dunams had been sown and plowed. All the farmers and ISM Gaza Strip volunteers left the fields satisfied of the work accomplished and the volunteers were invited back the following day to work 45 dunams of land in another field with other farmers. It was a good day of solidarity work.

Updated on November 7, 2008

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

ISM Gaza reports from the Olive Harvest Campaign 2008 in the ‘buffer zone’

Posted on the ISM webpage: November 5, 2008

This is a compilation of reports of Olive Harvest in Beit Hanoun and Beit Lahiya, 11th, 13th, 16th & 30th October

Video by Fida Qishta

ISM Gaza Strip volunteers living in the Gaza Strip have been assisting farmers living in the Buffer Zone areas of Beit Hanoun and Beit Lahiya with their olive harvest during the month of October. In 2005, Israeli Occupation forces declared a 500 meter wide area, deep into the rich agricultural land of Gaza Strip, as a “Buffer Zone”. The entire Eastern border of Gaza Strip has become a desert in the past few years, while once it fed and sustained the 1.5 million residents, most of it is now empty fields of dirt, with maybe a lone tree, reminding all that the land was once full of olive, clementines, lemon, orange, date and many other trees and crops.

The morning starts off with lots of vibrant singing of Palestinian folk songs and as the day progresses, there is less singing and more chatting back and forth between the olive harvesters. There is always a strong spirit and of course the very welcoming tradition of offering Arabic coffee and tea throughout the day. If the harvest lasts through the lunch time, food is prepared and brought to the field, plastic is spread out on the ground and everyone sits as delicious Palestinian food is served.

Presently it is still dangerous for the Palestinian farmers to go to their land, even just to stand there, the Israeli occupation force soldiers are still based at the borders and they still shoot at farmers seen in the fields. The idea of planting crops to harvest is a dream for the future to many farmers. Yet some farmers have succeeded to replant their olive trees for the third or forth time, and a few very fortunate farmers still have their older olive trees to harvest. It is these farmers the ISM Gaza Strip volunteers have been harvesting olives with, those farmers who have been steadfast in nonviolently resisting the Israeli Occupation and the Siege by continuing to farm under the imminent threat of having all their crops and irrigation systems destroyed yet again.

Some of the groves have been small, maybe half a dozen or so trees and the trees have been young, just a few years old – replanted for the third or forth time. Two groves have been large, with the lucky older trees that have somehow succeeded to survive the death blows of the Israeli bulldozers and tanks and Israeli occupation force soldiers. Three times the ISM volunteers have traveled from Gaza City to Beit Hanoun (11th, 13th, & 30th) and once to Beit Lahiya (16th October), to join the Local Initiative Group to pick the olives, a vital and locally produced food source for the Palestinian people. Olives, olive oil and olive oil soap are traditions of Palestinian livelihood that go back decades. If the Israeli soldiers are not prevented from continuing the destruction of the olive trees, this tradition could be gone forever.