October 18, 2020. In the morning hours of Tuesday, October 13, Israeli tanks and bulldozers entered Gaza, reaching up to 300 meters into the Strip. The incursion took place in the Khan Yunis District, near Khuzaa and Abasan Al Kabireh, damaging wide swaths of farmland. According to Gaza-based human rights organization Al Mezan, the last time an incursion resulted in such serious damage to crops in Gaza was in 2014.
The Israeli army regularly conducts incursions into the “buffer zone” area in Gaza, including entering with bulldozers and heavy equipment in order to raze vegetation, flatten roads and expose the terrain. Israel has claimed this activity is necessary for “security reasons.” Figures released by Al Mezan indicate that between January and August 2020 Israel invaded Palestinian farmland near Gaza’s parameter fence on 34 occasions.
Hassan Shahin, one of the farmers who witnessed the incursion, told Gisha that he and his peers saw the tanks and bulldozers entering the Strip, but could not have foreseen the scale of the destruction they would cause. Shahin has an eight-dunam plot (almost two acres) near Jakar Road, which runs parallel to the fence at a distance of about 300 meters from it, where he grows eggplants with his uncle, Yousef. They chose to grow eggplants because they are relatively inexpensive and because the plants are not tall; they believed that this would dissuade Israel from flattening their land. Shahin says his uncle stood in front of the bulldozers, holding up his eggplants and waving at them to stop, but to no avail.
According to local farmers, about 25 dunams (more than six acres) of crops, as well as irrigation systems and piping, were destroyed as a result of the incursion. Ismail Abu Taimah’s spinach and parsley field sustained severe damage. “I planted ten dunams,” he says, “and I still haven’t paid for the seeds and the water.” Abu Taimah was planning to harvest the parsley this week. “At first, I couldn’t believe my eyes. I started yelling for them to stop. It felt like I was in a nightmare. Every meter the bulldozer drove further into the land felt like it was running over me.”
In 2020, Israel conducted aerial herbicide spraying on two occasions, in January and April, resulting in damage to crops. “It looks like the Israeli military wants us to internalize that living and working in this area is impossible,” Abu Taimah says. “We’re facing a stifling economic crisis,” says farmer Faiz Sukar, whose crops were damaged by the aerial herbicide spraying in April.
The repeated, ongoing harm inflicted by Israel to farmers’ livelihoods, and to Gaza’s economy as a whole, is grave and must stop, especially during a global economic crisis, amid concerns over food security for Gaza’s residents. Israel has an obligation to protect the rights of individuals living in an area over which it yields significant control. Its deliberate violation of these rights is both illegal and morally reprehensible.