Farmers at Gaza’s Edge Try to Make Ends Meet Between Economic Squeeze and Israeli Sniper Fire

Palestinians work their fields for a pittance — thanks to the economic woes caused by Israel's blockade.

In late March, Amr Samour and his friend Ahmed al-Shami left their homes at 2:30 a.m. to harvest parsley in fields not far from the city of Khan Younis, in the eastern part of the Gaza Strip. For the men, it was their fifth day in a row going to the same place to do the same work, which neither particularly enjoyed, but the 25 shekels — about $8 — they were offered at the end of a tiring 10-hour shift helped put food on their families’ tables.

They had no reason to think the morning of March 30 would be any different. By about 4 a.m., they had already filled a number of boxes of freshly cut parsley when they heard a loud boom from the east, where just a kilometer away, Israeli troops are permanently positioned. Al-Shami recalled Samour asking what the sound was before the early morning’s dark blue sky exploded in a flash of red. Both men were knocked to the ground.

Al-Shami, covered in shrapnel, managed to get up and check on Samour, who had suffered more severe wounds on his abdomen and head. Moments later, another shell exploded near them. Al-Shami was knocked to the ground again. Not long after, both men were taken to the hospital where al-Shami would learn that Samour had succumbed to his wounds.

Israel later said that its army fired on men who it said were engaged in “suspicious activity” near its border fence with Gaza.

The violence directed at protesters was another reminder of how deadly the Gaza Strip can be for Palestinians. Those who toil in the fields of this occupied territory, though, never needed reminding.

In recent months, the world turned its attention to the Gaza Strip, where Palestinians held a number of demonstrations along the 1949 armistice line that separates the besieged territory from Israel. The demonstrators, many of whom are refugees from lands on the other side of the fence, have been calling for their right to return. Israeli snipers, perched across the fence, used live fire to kill more than 100 Palestinians. Thousands more have been injured.

For those who don’t follow the Israeli-Palestinian conflict closely, the violence directed at protesters was another reminder of how deadly the Gaza Strip can be for Palestinians. Those who toil in the fields of this occupied territory, though, never needed reminding.

Farming in Gaza became a dangerous profession during the Palestinian uprising in the early 2000s, when Israel, citing security concerns, created a “buffer zone” of 1000 meters into the Gazan side of the armistice line. More than one-third of Gaza’s farmlands are located in this area, and in an immensely overcrowded and blockaded territory, that’s agricultural land that’s too valuable to not use.

The Israeli blockade, which began not long after it unilaterally withdrew settlements from Gaza in 2005, means that Palestinians have no control over crossings in and out of the territory. Importing pesticides and other crucial farming materials is difficult and expensive, while the export markets for fruits and vegetables are entirely unpredictable, such that they exist at all. Much of the produce grown in Gaza can therefore only be sold in local markets.

Yet the prices for produce are suppressed inside the territory. Palestinians’ inability to consistently access the outside world — and three major Israeli assaults in the last decade — have left the territory’s economy in a shamble. Youth unemployment is around 60 percent, while 80 percent of Palestinians in Gaza are dependent on foreign aid. All of this means that food prices remain so low that Gazan agriculture as an industry is an unsustainable venture.

Were it not for aid packages from international aid organizations — which, for its part, the Trump administration ended U.S. contributions to earlier this year — the farming industry would collapse, and so, too, would Gaza’s food security.

Despite the economic pressures and Israeli sniper fire, Palestinian farm workers continue to spend their days in the fields, not knowing if each might be their last.

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