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Occupied Lives: stranglehold on farmers tightens




Hate’em Kdair,
53, is a farmer in Beit Lahia in the northern Gaza Strip. He and his wife have
four sons and three daughters, and live with Hate’em’s mother and father. He
was in grade nine when he left school to assist his father, who was facing
financial difficulty, to work on the land.


His story
represents that of farmers in the Gaza Strip.

Between 1991 and
the second intifada in 2000, Hate’em exported various produce, including
tomatoes, potatoes and flowers, to Israel and Europe. He notes that since then,
however, the “borders have become impossible” and he is unable to export his
produce. Previously, his income mainly depended on the export of strawberries
and flowers; due to the closure policy exports of these products have seen a
sharp decline. Israeli authorities only allowed the export of exceptionally
limited quantities of strawberries and flowers, 398.8 tons and 6.6 million tons
respectively, which represents 7.75 percent of Gaza’s strawberry production and
8.33 percent of its flower production. Annually, Gaza produces approximately
1,500 tons of strawberries and 60 million flowers[1].

recounts that during one of Israel’s frequent incursions, tanks destroyed farmers’
crops starting a cycle of farmers restoring the land only for it to be destroyed
again by tanks. Hate’em was forced to use the money he had saved during
profitable times to restore the land.

A few hundred metres away from
where he grows his crops is the border wall built by Israel to enclose Gaza.
During tense times it was risky for him and other farmers to work the land as
Israeli forces often opened fire on them. Being unable to work equals no income
and because the land he uses for his crops is rented from the land owner, his
rental debts continue to rise. He added that the farmers who utilize rented
land have reached an agreement with land owners to document the debts until
such time that it can be paid.  “The
owners of the land understand, only if a farmer works will they take their share,”
says Hate’em. Adding that “If we don’t sell, we’ll fast.”

According to
Hate’em, Israel sometimes requests, for example, several tons of sweet peppers,
and grants the necessary export permit. He packages and sends the truckloads to
the border only to receive a call from the truck driver saying that he has been
waiting for, often times, two to three hours. After two to three days the
produce goes off and needs to be pulped. The farmers are then sent a bill for
this process.

In the past, the
trucks of the company used to export their goods had refrigerators which kept
the goods fresh. He also recalls a time when his produce reached Europe within
one day when they were able to use Beit Hanoun (Erez) crossing. It now takes
two to three days plus one more day for inspection in Israel through Karm Abu
Salem (Kerem Shalom). This crossing has been made the only commercial crossing
in the Gaza Strip despite the fact that it lacks the operational capacity required
to meet Gaza’s basic needs[2].

The goods, no longer fresh, are still sent to Europe. Once again the farmers
are sent a bill for the costs associated with transporting the goods to Europe.
In 2004, he stopped growing strawberries and flowers altogether, “some
(farmers) went on growing but got the point by 2008.” Hate’em added simply
that “the farmer was broken in this battle, the situation is getting worse.”

Farmers now
produce for the local market but sell their items at a loss. He says they
sometimes accumulate 10kg of various crops to be sold at half the price it
takes to produce “imagine what kind of loss we have… It is a long life tragedy
living this life.”

He attributes
the limited ability to sell their crops to the employees of the Palestinian Authority
who are able to spend money when they receive their salaries.

Fellow farmer,
Ahmed Mahmoud Tobail, sitting alongside Hate’em as he told his story adds that their
hardship increased when United Nations Volunteers stopped assisting farmers to work
the land. “It costs to hire workers and I cannot afford that, only people with
children can keep working because their children can help them, I have no children.”

“With the
problems we face in agriculture, Gaza is going to die. Farmers will have to
take the decision to stop farming,” says Ahmed.

[1] PCHR, State of Gaza Border Crossings, 16 October 2010 – 20
February 2011

[2] Read more about the impact of
making Karm Abu Salem (Kerem Shalom) the sole commercial crossing of the Gaza
Strip in a report by PCHR, State of the Gaza Strip’s Border Crossings, 01 – 30
June 2011