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“Sometimes, I have to risk my life to survive”

Khaled Hamad (18) at Kamal Odwan Hospital,
Beit Lahia


On Sunday 14 July 2013, Israeli forces patrolling the border fence northeast of Beit Hanoun fired in the direction of a group of workers who were collecting metal and plastic scraps from a landfill
which is located around 400 metres away from the border fence. As a result, Khaled
Shehada Hamad, an eighteen-year-old worker who was present at the site, was injured. The other workers immediately brought Khaled by donkey-cart to the nearest hospital in Beit Hanoun, where he received first aid. He was then transferred to Kamal Odwan hospital in Beit Lahia, where he received medical treatment for an injury in his upper left leg. Khaled was discharged from hospital a week  after the attack when his condition stabilised.


Lying on his bed, waiting to be discharged,
Khaled describes the incident: “I was preoccupied with my daily work,
collecting my tools to go back to Beit Hanoun. Along with a number of friends,
I go to this landfill almost every day to collect metal, plastic, copper, or
any other scrap materials that I might sell later. We were about to leave at around
2pm when I felt a sudden heat in my upper leg. Something had hit my leg. I
started screaming after I fell to the ground. It was only then that I saw an
Israeli jeep passing in the distance. I only saw the jeep after I was shot. I
couldn’t see the soldier though. He must have targeted me while in his military


“When I got shot, I could still feel
shrapnel in my leg. The shrapnel from the bullet also caused damage to my right
hand. It is an explosive bullet, I was told. The entrance is small but where
the bullet goes out, it’s larger, and it causes severe damage. The doctors said
I still had some shrapnel in my leg and it would take a long time before they
can be removed. It might take years,” added Khaled, gazing at his hand which
still bore the scars of the shrapnel.


“My friends gathered around me and
they lifted me onto a donkey cart. We could not call the ambulance as it is
hard to get a phone signal in that area.” Khaled was transferred to the
nearest hospital in Beit Hanoun, around 1.5 kilometres away
from the border area where he was shot. However, the hospital was not equipped
to deal with his injuries so he was then moved to Kamal Odwan


was shot while working in a landfill around 400m away from the border fence. Israel
has unilaterally imposed an illegal “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 later removed from the statement. 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”.


The arbitrary and changing parameters of
the so-called “buffer zone” has led to huge confusion among the
civilian population living around the border area, whose agricultural lands,
their main source of livelihood, can only be accessed with high risk. In
reality, attacks against civilians take place anywhere up to 1.5 kilometres
inside the border fence. This means that 35% of the Gaza Strip’s agricultural
land can only be accessed under high personal risk, as Israeli attacks may
result in injury or death of civilians.


Khaled seemed aware of the danger that his
work entails; however, being one of the main breadwinners for a family of 12,
he had no other choice. Khaled explains: “We heard that people would
sometimes get shot at in the border areas, especially farmers, but I never
thought this would happen to me. I convinced myself that this was a safe area
so that I could go on with my work. I used to see many other people working in
the area which comforted me. Some people came all the way from Gaza City
to work here. I was not even the closest person to the border fence. There were
people working in areas closer to the fence. It is up to the soldier’s mood,
apparently, where the limits of the border areas are. If we were breaking the
rules by being in the “buffer zone”, then why did they not shoot at those
people? It is arbitrary, I tell you.”


Khaled was forced to leave school when he
was 14 years old. Along with two of his brothers, he has been wandering around
landfills to collect scrap materials that he can trade for some money to
support his family. “I usually go to work in these landfills at around
sunrise and go back at 2pm. I then try to find anyone who will buy what I have
spent the morning collecting. My father works in the municipality. His income
is not sufficient. He cannot afford to raise 10 children with the very humble
salary he is paid every couple of months. I have been working since I was 14. I
go everywhere to collect the metal. Often, it is dangerous. But, there is no
other way of sustaining our livelihood. Sometimes, I have to risk my life to
survive; where else should I go?”


Khaled’s difficult  economic
situation is not a special case. It rather speaks of the deterioration in the
humanitarian situation due to the Israeli-imposed closure of the Gaza Strip, which
violates the economic and social rights of the people on a daily basis. In
2012, the percentage of Palestinian families living under the poverty line reached
40%. This large segment of the population has no access to social protection
and is denied their fundamental right to a life of dignity. The unemployment
rate in the Gaza Strip rose to 33% in the third quarter of 2012, according to
the Ministry of Labour. 45% of young men in Gaza and 78.1% of the female young population
are unemployed and struggling to sustain the livelihood of their families.


Last month, PCHR presented a report to the UN Special Rapporteur on
Extreme Poverty and Human Rights and the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to
Food, titled ‘Israeli policies severely affecting sources of livelihood in the
Gaza Strip’. The report provided the UN Special Rapporteurs with an overview of
the situation facing farmers, fishermen, factory workers, and their dependents
in the Gaza Strip by presenting individual cases. It also outlined how the
different industries, which are the main sources of livelihood in Gaza, are
affected by the unlawfully-imposed travel and import restrictions, the virtual ban
on exports, and unwarranted military attacks carried out against civilians and
their property.


Khaled still does not know when he will be
able to walk again, and believes that he was directly targeted by the Israeli
soldier. He explains, “I do not know why I was targeted by the Israeli
soldier. If he had shot in the air, we would have had the chance to escape, but
he did not. It must have been a sniper’s shot. He must have known that he would
cause me injury or even kill me.”

Since the November ceasefire, PCHR has
documented the killing of four Palestinian civilians by Israeli forces, and the
injuring of 100 others, including 24 children, in the ‘buffer zone’. Another 62
civilians were arrested by Israeli forces in the same area, including 34



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.”