Gaza – Ma'an – Gaza farmers gathered in Beit Hanoun on Wednesday demanding access to arable lands currently under Israeli control as part of a unilaterally imposed no-go zone.
"The issue is not a humanitarian case, it is purely political," said organizer Amjad Al-Shawa of the Palestinian International Campaign To End The Siege On Gaza stressing that the absence of farmland prevented residents from perusing their livelihood.
Conference organizer Sabir Za’anin said the policed zone along the Gaza-Israel border has reached some 22,500 dunums (22.5 square kilometers), equal to 6.25 percent of the Gaza Strip, and taking up what officials estimate to be 20 percent of arable land.
Israeli patrols of the area have become more frequent since 2008 limiting access to agricultural lands near the Gaza border and preventing farmers from planting, maintaining, and harvesting crops, Za'anin explained during the conference.
"For many farmers, trying to make a living or to stop relying on Israeli or smuggled in goods is risking their lives," Za'anin said, accusing Israel's latest easing of the siege to be symbolic. "Without access to land, how can we live?" he asked, reiterating a common complaint from Gaza residents who say they are tired of receiving aid and would prefer to regain jobs back in the shut-down factories.
Member of the International Solidarity Movement Adi Marmash estimated that at least one-third of the arable lands of Gaza were in fact under Israeli control in the no-go zone. With the outskirts of cities taken up by camps of displaced persons, and with farmers reporting an ever-wider area of lands policed by Israeli forces, Mormech said he was sure the percentage had exceeded 20.
Za’anin, the conference organizer, told participants that the committee would make a renewed effort to bring the issue to the international community saying, "We will continue to oppose Israeli plans [to confiscate land]; we will stick to our rights despite it all."
Kamal Sweilem, a farmer from northern Gaza who has access to only a small portion of his lands due to the no-go zone, said he and his friends and neighbors wanted only "to cultivate our lands, to keep them green," and added that it was a tragedy that the weight of the international community must be behind Gaza farmers if they are to successfully water their trees.
The farmer, joined with union and committee organizers, issued a joint appeal to the international community to demand that Israel relinquish its hold on the no-go zone and allow farmers to access and cultivate their lands.An earlier version of this article misidentified Adi Marmash, who works with the International Solidarity Movement