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What’s 25,000 flowers?


 

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*Abu Alaa, bringing food for his donkeys and camels

“I worked on farms in Israel for 15 years,” Abu Alaa, the owner of the land said.  “We had a good relationship, and the Israeli farmers loved my bread, Palestinian bread, and our baclawa (”baklava”) sweets. I had to stop working there when Israel closed our borders, stopped giving permits to Palestinians to work in Israel.”

Abu Alaa lives in Khan Younis and owns land in the newly-extended “Buffer Zone”, the strip of land along the Green Line which, from North to South, cuts into Palestinian land by a full 1 km now.  When the Buffer Zone was ‘only’ 300m, it was already 300 m too much land absorbed by the Israeli military occupation forces.

Now that it is an arbitrary 1 km, are the people whose livelihoods have been decimated in every imaginable way from the siege (choking Gaza ever since just after Hamas was elected) meant to lay down their farming tools, give up self-reliance, and stand in aid lines for aid that is anyway unavailable? Like any competent people, Palestinians do not want to be aid-dependent; they crave for the right to self-sufficiency and the chance at an economy rather than receiving (or not receiving, as it goes these days) UN and other charitable hand-outs.

Israel’s ongoing control of Gaza and its borders has meant that those farmers able to produce vegetables, fruit or flowers cannot export them.  The meagre concession for Valentine’s Day, enabling a pathetic export of 25,000 flowers, was just that: meagre and pathetic. For the last 3 years, the flower and strawberry exports have near-completely ceased.

Whereas former years saw over 40 million flowers exported for sale in European markets, Israel finally deigned to allow out a fractional 25,000, much too little, much too late.  Last year farmers fed flowers to their animals, in protest and frustration at the closed borders.

And this year, aside from continuing the blockade on any semblance of an economy, Israel and ever-complicit Egypt have prevented vital aid from entering Gaza.  The aid is there, but the gateway is not.

So the farmers within, who try to earn a living, and simultaneously provide the vegetables used around Gaza, continue their non-violent struggle to exist, working their land and harvesting their onions, parsley, radishes, spinach, beans…to the rhythm of Israeli soldiers’ gunfire.

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*freshly-picked and bundled spinach

Sayed works on land near Abu Shaheen’s fields. He’s far too accustomed to the near-daily firing from the IOF at the border: when I see him gazing toward the border for a long time, I assume he is watching for the Israeli soldiers, jeeps, and tanks. But suddenly he moves purposefully away, toward the cistern. He tinkers with something and shortly a burst of water erupts where he had been looking. The irrigation has been fixed.

Yet whenever the shooting starts, Sayed and the others have a routine: he explains how farmers on his field crawl to a ‘safe’ area when the shots ring out. Lying face-down in that depression in the field, the farmers are temporarily out of the line of fire, though they must lie there and wait for the shooting to cease, the soldiers to leave.

Nineteen year old Alaa Samour, from Khan Younis, works on Abu Shaheen’s New Abassan land to add 20 shekels a day to his parents’ insufficient income.

On 28 December, Alaa was crawling just as Sayed had re-enacted when he was hit by the Israeli soldiers’ firing. “They’re always shooting at us. Everyday they shoot at us,” he said, pulling his shirt back to reveal the shoulder wound he received while trying to flee the sudden breakout of gunfire from the IOF soldiers at the fence.

“We were cutting parsley and the soldiers began shooting. We started crawling away. When I got to the road, where we were out of the line of fire, I realized my shoulder was bleeding and that I had been shot.”

Yet one month later, out of necessity, Samour was back in the fields risking his life to bring in money for his family.

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The farmers worked swiftly on 15 February, harvesting Abu Alaa’s land for 3 hours -with the only interruption being a break for Baklawa (honey nut sweets) -while Israeli military vehicles patrolled the length of the fence. The jeeps moved back and forth, at times 2 jeeps stopping, soldiers getting out and moving between them. Another jeep would join the duo, the Hummer came next…They would disperse, then reappear, sometimes minutes later, sometimes half an hour later.

Each time the jeeps dispersed, we all felt a false and fleeting sense of relief that no shots were fired. Yet the certainty of their return was proven time and again. Coupled with the financial stresses of a broken market, the psychological trauma of the 3 week war on Gaza, the uncertainty the farmers felt was one of dread, not knowing if that day the IOF would again start firing on them. The last return ended with the inevitable shots being fired, from soldiers perched atop of a cluster of jeeps. Thankfully, that day’s shots were less enthusiastic, seemingly not as interested in hitting their target as in just maintaining the collective terror and apprehension the farmers feel daily.

[the following photos by Fida Qishta]

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*Sayed, breaking to discuss past attacks from the Israeli soldiers.

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*irrigation rigged and remarkably working, although the pipes have been damaged and the water cistern beyond toppled in previous Israeli army assaults.

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*toppled water container

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*demonstrating the crawl to safety

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*Alaa, shot in the shoulder 28 December while trying to escape Israeli gunfire

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*harvesting ‘gleanings’ between parsley rows, to lay out to dry for use as animal feed.

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*dried and drying

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