- Published on Wednesday, 26 December 2012 18:05
Ibrahim Abutair, an 85 year-old Palestinian farmer from Abbsan, eastern Khan Younis, was picking olives with his 15 year-old niece, Ameera, on 17 November when the field they were working in was hit with three Israeli rockets, killing them both instantly.
The escalation in violence between 14-22 November left at least 103 Palestinian civilians and four Israeli civilians dead. Over a thousand Palestinians and 200 Israelis were injured in the cross border violence, during which around 1,240 Israeli airstrikes hit Gaza and Palestinian militants fired around 1,480 rockets towards Israel, with some rockets reaching as far as Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
Palestinian farmers in Gaza, many of whom have had their livelihoods decimated by the ongoing blockade and by Israeli government imposed access restrictions that have prevented them from reaching their traditional farmlands, were hard hit by the conflict, as the escalating violence made it unsafe for them to work. While many farmers stayed home during the violence, others, like Ibrahim and Ameera, took the risk because they could not afford to let their harvest rot.
Ibrahim's son, Sami, says that up until 2002 his family was doing a decent business in farming, but since then Israeli government access restrictions have kept them from cultivating 8 dunums of land and the blockade has prevented them from exporting what produce they do grow, leaving the family to survive on sometimes as little as 10 NIS a day from local vegetable sales. While struggling to cope with the loss of his loved ones, Sami is now also burdened by the financial loss brought by the airstrikes which hit his fields, causing the bulk of his crops to burn and leaving him with craters to fill and military debris to clean up.
An assessment by Oxfam partner PalTrade has found that the recent escalation of violence cost the agricultural sector in Gaza around $120 million, including the overall loss of spoiled and destroyed crops as well as infrastructure damage to farming land, greenhouses, and water wells and irrigation systems. As the sole crossing to Gaza remained mostly closed during the violent conflict, agricultural exports were also set back, with farmers' associations reporting a loss of at least $150,000 from produce farmed for export which spoiled while the crossing remained closed. Strawberry and carnation farmers were amongst those suffering the greatest loss, as the violence occurred during the peak of harvesting season.
While the ceasefire understanding reached on the 22 November gave farmers hope of recovering some of their land to which they have been denied access in the access restricted area, Sami and other farmers Oxfam spoke to said that it is still unclear to them where they are allowed to go. While initial reports after the ceasefire understanding stated that farmers would now be able to access land up to 100 meters from the perimeter between Gaza and Israel, farmers claim they have been given no official reassurances and 3 farmers have been injured by Israeli fire in the access restricted area since the ceasefire understanding was announced.
Sami said that until he is given clarity about what land he can access he will not feel safe. "We used to move around freely on our land, going to the perimeter with Israel and coming back without any restrictions. Even with the ceasefire I am scared to go back there."