BEIT LAHIA, August 18 (JMCC) – About 700 meters from Gaza’s northern boundary with Israel, 24-year-old shepherd Salman Abu Jarad leads 30 sheep through a thirsty field planted with watermelon in Beit Lahiya
You see, he points with a stick of wood at a swathe of land closer to the border fence, it is full of green grass, but I cannot go there. It is fatal.
The green grass is in the ‘no-go’ area. Lots of people have been killed or injured by Israeli soldiers when they get there or come close to it, said Abu Jarad, his head covered with a kuffiya, the traditional Palestinian headdress.
Israeli soldiers shot and killed two of his ewes, he says, and he himself has been fired on numerous times.
I used to have 60 sheep,” the shepherd goes on, “but I sold half of them because there is not enough grass and I cannot afford animal feed for them.
In July 2008, Israel announced a no-go area or buffer zone 300 meters deep inside the Gaza Strip. In practice, however, the boundaries of the access-restricted area are unclear and can extend as deep as 1.5 kilometers into Gaza.
Marwan Abu Safiyya, a farmer from Jabaliya
, has an orchard closed to the borderline, but cannot get there now. Those who approach the area may be shot and killed by Israeli soldiers stationed in watch towers or patrolling tanks.
The area was once fertile agricultural land, full of green groves, fresh water wells and homes, he laments. Now, the land lies fallow and many of the people have left.
Friends of mine left their business,” he says. “They had a chicken farm but either closed it or moved it because of the no-go area.”
Last year, an elderly man, his grandson and their friend were killed while barbecuing hundreds of meters from the boundary in eastern Gaza.
Ibrahim Sayyed, 92, his 17-year-old grandson Hossam, and Ismail Abu Oda, 22, were killed by shelling from an Israeli tank.
Ibrahim’s son, Nabil, 51, says that the three were 500 meters far from the boundary fence. It was Eid al-Fitr,” he recalls, “dad was watching the sheep and the two boys were cooking barbecue when the Israelis killed them.
THREAT TO LIFE
The international aid organization Oxfam reports that 67 civilians, including 17 children, were killed by the Israeli army in the no-go area between January 2009 and July 2011. In addition, 545 Palestinians, 120 of them children, were wounded in the same period.
Many children risk life and limb collecting gravel and scrap metal near the boundary fence to earn money for their families.
Numerous armed Palestinians have also been killed and injured in the buffer zone, but these casualties were not included in the survey.
Walid Abu Samra, from Beit Lahia, said that he owns at least 70 dunums in the no-go zone, but he cannot use them.
Before, we were not allowed to reach our land. Then, after the Israeli disengagement in 2005, I reclaimed the land, dug a water well and established a water network, Abu Samra says, but the Israelis destroyed everything again and imposed the buffer zone. Now I cannot go there once again.
Israel says that the area is a combat zone and that Palestinian militants use it as a base for shooting handmade Qassem rockets at Israeli towns and planning ambushes on Israeli patrols.
ILLEGAL ON TWO COUNTS
But Khalil Shahin of the Palestinian Center for Human Rights in Gaza says that the no-go zone violates both international law and signed agreements between Palestinians and Israelis.
The Palestinian- Israeli agreements say that the two sides agree on 50 meters of buffer zone inside the Palestinian side, but Israel imposed facts on the ground and expanded this, Shahin explains.
He says that, while Israel officially announced that the zone extends 300 meters inside Gaza, soldiers fire on Palestinians who are as far as two kilometers from the boundary. “Any buffer zone between countries should be implemented after a mutual understanding, says Shahin.
The no-go zone extends to the Mediterranean Sea, where fishermen are not allowed to sail more than three nautical miles from the coast without being fired on by Israeli warships.
Tracking of the no-go zone by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics shows that the Israeli army has de-facto seized 24 percent of the Gaza Strip’s 365 square kilometers. The areas where the no-go zone extends 1.5 kilometers into Gaza extend for 58 kilometers, slicing off 87 square kilometers from the densely-populated Strip.
Several times, Israeli helicopters have dropped leaflets over Gaza warning people from approaching the border fence. The Israeli Defense Forces is taking all necessary measures to prevent people from approaching the area, including opening fire,” says a warning leaflet from May 2009.
Bedouin Hassan al-Eir used to live east of Jabalia in northern Gaza, but said he left his home and rented one in Jabaliya refugee camp
My home is just 800 meters far from the borderline,” he says. “It was very dangerous to live there because the Israeli soldiers in the watchtowers or tanks open fire repeatedly.”
Farmers are unable to get to their orchards there, and several water wells were destroyed. These fertile areas will become wasteland.
In an August 2010 report, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs found that overall, the land restricted area is estimated at 17 percent of the total land mass of the Gaza Strip and 35 percent of its agricultural land.
OCHA estimated that 178,000 people, or 12 percent of Gaza’s population, have been directly affected by the no-go zones on land and sea.
Palestinians protest the no-go zone through an organization that organizes activities. International supporters of Palestinians sometimes accompany farmers and herders in the buffer zone area. Some of these internationals have been shot and wounded.