ACTNews, GAZA – The sun was yet to appear on the eastern horizon of Gaza but K Hitam Ismail (49) was already going uphill to the hilly areas of West Bank. The mother of three was on her way to her olive plantation in the Khallet al-Abhar area of Deir Ballout which is five kilometers from Ismail’s abode. In front of her, there were lines of olive trees that are used as her source of income to support her three children.
Ismail has become an olive tree farmer for decades. At that time, while she was farming, tears were coming out of her eyes. Ismail remembered her wide and fertile plantation that has been much decreased compared to years ago.
On December 6, Israeli bulldozers and their dozens of armed forces stormed Palestine farmers-owned farmland in West Bank. Ismail's land was one of them. A total of 3,400 olive trees were destroyed within a day, making it one of the largest destruction to date, in West Bank.
Ismail wailed even more remembering the destroyed olive trees were ones that she had cared for for more than a decade. During the raid, Israeli bulldozers also had grounded hundreds of dunam land (1 dunam equal to 1,000 meters) belonging to Palestinian farmers. Locals fear that the land will be confiscated and used as an illegal construction site for Israeli settlers.
“Within only five hours, they have destroyed our entire hard works these past few years. Furthermore, after the trees were uprooted, they even confiscated them. Some were cut down and sprayed with chemicals to kill the remaining crops," said Ismail, describing the incident on December 6, when Israeli forces destroyed part of her land.
Apart from olive trees, Israeli armed forces have also ravaged 40 almond trees, 40 fig trees, and 30 grape plants within Ismail’s land. She estimated the loss was around 300,000 shekels or around IDR 1.3 billion. Ismail said that her dream of sending her children to university had been dashed when the attack hit her land.
Destroyed land and food insecurity
What was happened to Ismail has also happened to other Palestinian farmers not only in West Bank but also in Gaza. The 365 kilometers square city is occupied with many residents whose lives rely on farming.
During Israel’s eleven days aggression on Gaza last May, missiles from Israeli airforces were also targeted to the Gazans’ agricultural land. The Palestinian Ministry of Agriculture stated that not only did the farmers fail to harvest and suffered heavy losses, the attack also made the breeders lost their source of feed.
In addition to direct attacks, Israel is also destroying Palestine’s food security through its odd policies. After the aggression, Gazan farmers are not allowed to go outside to manage their lands. As a result, many of their lands are neglected due to a lack of nutritional intake of the plants.
A Gazan farmer, Suhail al Masri said his peach orchard was almost ripe when the Israeli ban was started to be enforced. During the ban, Masri did not go to his garden in the Khan Younis region, in southern Gaza. He could not irrigate the land or collect his harvest. His hopes of enjoying a bountiful harvest have now run aground since 80 percent of his harvest is all rotten.
It did not stop there, in early July, Israeli authorities made a new policy regarding the tomatoes export out of Gaza. Farmers must remove the tomatoes’ crowns before exporting. Otherwise, the tomatoes will not be allowed out of Gaza.
This is certainly very detrimental to farmers. Removing the crown will both take extra time and lead the tomato to rot faster.
"We were surprised when Israel ordered that the tomatoes to be exported must be without a crown. Tomatoes without a crown will not be useful for consumers. Hence, we stopped exporting because of strict restrictions. Israel does want products from Gaza to be exported," said Saleem, a tomato farmer in Gaza.
According to the Palestinian Ministry of Agriculture, Israel has imposed such an absurd policy that only aims for the destruction of the Palestinian tomato farming sector. The enforces policy is considered very dangerous and unscientific. It has nothing to do with science, production, and technology, as well as the tomatoes’ cleanliness and quality.
Nizar Alwaihidi, a General Manager at the Palestinian Ministry of Agriculture says that the climate in Gaza is very suitable for farming. However, he says that being a farmer in Gaza is a difficult job. Israeli zionists use the agriculture sector to discipline the Gazan residents who intend to fight back.
"Israel deliberately crushes the infrastructure of the agricultural sector. In every aggression they committed, they also target agriculture. From my perspective, the destruction of agriculture is the destruction of the food security system in Palestine," explained Nizar.
The damaged agricultural sector has made it difficult for the farmers to meet the Palestinians’ food needs. A lack of food supplies also causes a rise in food prices. For Palestinians who mostly are underprivileged, buying food supply can be considered as the biggest expense for their families.
They also target the sea
Food is not only obtained from the agricultural sector but also fisheries. Many Palestinians, especially the Gazans are fishermen as the area is directly adjacent to the Mediterranean Sea. Many residents are still very dependent on marine catches to meet their food needs.
Unfortunately, the fisheries sector is also targeted to be blockaded by the Israeli zionists. According to the Oslo agreement signed in the early 1990s, Israel only allows Palestinian fishing boats to sail as far as 20 nautical miles (37 km). However, the reality is quite different. Currently, Israel only allows Gazan fishermen to sail as far as 12 nautical miles (22km) from the coast.
A Gazan fisherman on a simple boat. (UNRWA/Tamer Hamam)
On several occasions, oftentimes, Israeli authorities ban Gazan fishermen from going to sea for a certain period of time. This instability affects the livelihoods of approximately 4,000 fishermen as well as their families, and other thousands of workers involved in the industry. For those who resist and force themselves to go to sea, Israel will certainly shoot live ammunition at the fishermen which has happened several times, causing many fishermen to be killed or injured, while their boats were sunk into the sea.
Khaled al-Habil (55) is also another Gazan fisherman who has been working since he was a child. Khaled inherited his job from his father and grandfather who were all fishermen for generations. Khaled's family is directly affected by Gaza's fishing zone restrictions. The amount of his collected catches including fishes, shrimps, and shellfishes continues to decrease every year.
"Fishing is the only skill we are good at, however, the blockade does not allow us to do our job peacefully and comfortably," Khaled said.
Khaled mentions that fishermen’s issues are not only the fishing restriction but also the difficulty to get spare parts for their ship engines in Gaza. Khaled also said that he and his family actually owned a boat large enough to catch quite a lot of fish. However, the ship has been damaged and has not been used in the last two years.
It is not that he doesn't want to fix it, but Khaled couldn't get the spare parts to repair the ship. "The severe shortage of equipment and the fishermen’s prevention to get into the Gaza Strip is what the Israeli authorities should be dealing with," Khaled said.
Have no power to fight back
Being under the shadow of Israeli occupation, makes Palestinians lose their right to protest the harmful policies by Israeli authorities. If they resist, Israel will retaliate with brutal attacks on them.
At the end of August, hundreds of Palestinians protested near the Israeli fence that surrounds the Gaza Strip. They demanded the blockade easing on Gaza that has been going on since 2007. However, the peaceful protests were instead returned with fired live bullets by Israel that killed a 12-year-old child and injured dozens of other Gazans.
Not long after the protest, Israeli warplanes fired four missiles at two different locations in Gaza including Shuhada Street in the south of Gaza City and Beit Hanoun City in northern Gaza. As a result, severe damage and fires occurred in buildings and land in the affected areas.
The incident was only one of many Israeli attacks that were carried out following protests from Palestinians, making them become powerless to fight for their own food needs.
The World Food Programme (WFP) announces that in 2021, nearly seven out of ten Gazans are poor with half of the workforce is unemployed. The situation makes it difficult for them to afford food that causes food insecurity in seven out of ten households in Gaza.