November 01

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Gaza Dispatch: “Maybe your legs. Maybe your heart.”

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Last week I traveled to Shujaia to meet farmer Abdusalam al-Manasrah. His family has owned land near Gaza’s eastern border since Ottoman times. “Every speck of soil is mixed with my sweat and the sweat of my father, my grandfather and my grandmother,” he told me. The family tended olive trees on the land for generations.

In 2000, at the beginning of the Second Intifada, the Israeli army bulldozed the old groves to create better sight-lines from the border fence. Abdusalam planted wheat where his trees used to be, but the Israelis burned the fields when the wheat grew too high. “The Israeli army wants to see empty land,” he said. Then, during the war in 2008, the army extended the buffer zone to 300 metres from the border. Now Abdusalam’s fields lie in the no-man’s land. He cannot access them at all.

We stood on the road leading to his field, and to the border just beyond them. I asked him what would happen if I walked to his fields right now. “Maybe you can reach the buffer zone line,” he said. “After the line, they will shoot warning shots. If you keep walking, they will shoot the ground in front of your feet. Within 100 metres, I don’t know. Maybe your legs. Maybe your heart.”

Abdusalam has a second plot of land where he grows garlic, and a third that is near the edge of the buffer zone. A local NGO will supply seeds and plant this field for him – potatoes and onions, he said – but he won’t invest his own money and efforts there. There is no guarantee the field will remain accessible long enough for him to turn a profit. He is not willing to gamble.

Before I left Abdusalam he reminded me of the international community’s angry response to the Taliban’s destruction of some ancient Buddha statues in Afghanistan a few years back. “Palestinians respect Buddha and the historical sites,” he said. “But we see the world move for mere stones. They do not move for humans.”

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