Majid Abdel Aziz Wahdan (52) in the land he
farms in Beit Hanoun


Following its disengagement from the Gaza Strip in September 2005, Israel unilaterally
and unlawfully established a so-called ‘buffer zone’, an area prohibited to
Palestinians along the land and sea borders of the Gaza Strip. The precise area
designated by Israel
as a “buffer zone” is unclear and this Israeli policy is often enforced with
live fire. In accordance with the ceasefire agreement that ended Israel’s last
military offensive on the Gaza Strip in November 2012, the Israeli Coordinator
of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) in an online statement on
25 February 2013 declared that farmers could access lands in the border area up
to 100m from the border fence instead of the previously imposed 300 meters. However, this
reference, along with the reference to the increased fishing area at sea, was
removed from the statement later. Then, on 11 March 2013, an Israeli army spokesperson,
in a letter to GISHA, stated “the residents of Gaza are required not to approach within 300m
of the security fence”.

 

“We were very happy when we heard about the ceasefire and couldn’t
wait to start sowing our farm lands again,” says Majid Wahdan (52) while
sitting down under a tree in a plot of farmland in Beit Hanoun. 

 

Wahdan, a farmer and father of four daughters and three sons, had
been living in north east of Beit Hanoun for 35 years when, in 2003, his
family’s three storey house and farming land, located approximately 400 meters from the
border with Israel, were bulldozed. “In total 36 dunums of land, which I share
with my brothers, were razed. Three and a half dunums of the plot belongs to
me. Many water wells in the area, including on our land, were destroyed as
well. Assistance from charity organizations made us get by,” says Wahdan as he
recalls the days when his home and livelihood were turned into a ‘buffer zone’.
Wahdan and his family now live in a different part of Beit Hanoun.

 

He continues: “I replanted my own land twice between 2003 and the
war in November. I put citrus trees in the land, which were bulldozed both
times, destroying hundreds of tons of crops. Because the army prevents us from
planting tall trees, we are now forced to plant low vegetable crops. After the
November war I decided to risk it and go back to my land and the plot I rent
right next to it. I planted wheat and watermelons. I really hope these crops
can reach their harvest. The reason I planted watermelons is that they are
cheap and only take around 70 days to grow. I don’t know what will happen so I
want to quick crops that can be harvested quickly, before the ceasefire is over
again.”

 

In addition to planting crops, Wahdan also rebuilt the water wells
and irrigation networks: “In 2006 I went back to my land to rebuild a water
well, but the army destroyed it after it was completed. The same happened in
2008 and 2009. The last time I fixed it was three weeks ago. Farmers who have
lands closer to the border have problems with accessing water.” Wahdan argues
that water which runs through the aquifer in the area is the main reason for
land razing: “I believe that the reason they level our lands is that fact that
we have water that is good for farming. We have sweet water under the lands and
they want to use it. This is a water war.”

 

The repeated destruction of his farming investments, have forced
Wahdan to farm his land differently; “if I had a free choice, I would plant
citrus trees like orange and lemon trees. I’ve always had citrus trees and they
are much more profitable than the short vegetable crops. Also, instead of
investing in my own land, I started working on other people’s land, further
away from the border. I farm two plots in Beit Hanoun, besides my own land. I
couldn’t take any risks. Even now, we have to wait and see with the ceasefire.
It is impossible to predict anything.”

 

Wahdan has incurred major financial losses over the years, and
says: “there is no remedy or compensation for what we have lost. The damages of
all that I’ve lost over the years, my home and all the crops, is around
$250,000. I receive support from charities so that I’m able to tend to the
land. They give us water irrigation networks, seedlings, and fertilizers. It
helped us to get back on our feet here in the farmlands near the border. I farm
the land together with my brothers and the workers we hire. We all have big
families, so many people rely on the harvesting of these crops for their
income.”

 

Farmers in the Gaza
border areas regularly come under attack from the Israeli forces positioned at
the border. Wahdan recalls: “2011 and 2012 were the most difficult years for
us. We were shelled and shot at. Anywhere within 1 kilometer from the
border fence we would be at risk of getting shot by soldiers. That is different
since November.”

 

Despite the change post-ceasefire, Wahdan thinks that stated
policies are of limited value for farmers who are tending their lands:
“official Israeli announcements stating where we can and cannot go, are not
important. We don’t care about what the leaders say. What matters to us is
which soldier has his shift. Shepherds who herd their sheep are allowed to walk
near the border by some soldiers while others shoot at or around them. The
shooting comes from soldiers who are trigger-happy. I have witnessed many
attacks on farmers, both shooting and shelling. Despite the attacks, we must
remind the soldiers that this is our land and that we have the right to access
it. And if the situation remains calm, I will rebuild my home on my land.”

 

Since the November ceasefire, PCHR has documented the killing of
four Palestinian civilians by Israeli forces, and the injuring of 65 others,
including 17 children, in the ‘buffer zone’. Another 48 civilians were arrested
by Israeli forces in the same area, including 19 children.

 

Israel’s
attacks against Palestinian farmers in the Gaza Strip constitute a violation of
international humanitarian law as codified under Article 147 of the 1949 Fourth
Geneva Convention. Moreover such attacks can constitute war crimes under Articles
8(2)(a)(i) and (iii) Article 8 (2)(b)(i) of the International Criminal Court’s Rome
Statute. The implementation of the ‘buffer zone’, maintained through attacks,
constitutes a measure of collective punishment, which is prohibited under
Article 33 of the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention. The right to work, including
in just and favourable conditions, is provided for under Article 6 and 7 of the
International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).
Moreover, Article 11 of the ICESCR recognizes "the right of everyone to an
adequate standard of living for himself and his family, including adequate
food, clothing and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living
conditions."

 

 

Wahdan walking in a plot of land he farms in the northeast of
Beit Hanoun, with the border and an Israeli army post in the background

 

 

A shepherd herding sheep near the border fence northeast of
Beit Hanoun

 

 

Wahdan and two of his grandsons next to the demolished
family home in northeast Beit Hanoun