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Donkeys the only means of transportation for Palestinian farmers

June 7, 2015 11:55 A.M. (Updated: June 10, 2015 10:59 A.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Uncommon as it may be to see a beast of burden making use of a highway, in the western outskirts of Bethlehem the sight of donkeys walking up and down Route 60 has become a daily occurrence due to Israeli restrictions on movement.

Donkeys are in many cases the only means of transportation for Palestinian farmers wishing to access their fields in Area C after Israel closed the main agricultural roads leading to them.

Even where it is possible to take tractors and heavy machinery onto the fields, locals have reported Israeli authorities confiscating them, sometimes for lacking proper registration but also for coming too close to illegal Israeli settlements.

"I travel tens of kilometers back and forth on the back of my donkey to access my land near the Gush Etzion settlement bloc," Ibrahim Issa Mousa, a farmer from the village of al-Khader south of Bethlehem, told Ma'an.

He said his donkey is his only means of transportation, without which, "I would never be able to reach my land after the Israeli occupation closed all exits and agricultural roads appropriate for vehicles."

Similarly, Riziq Muhammad Salah said that the donkey has become "one of the most important means of transportation, and the best for plowing the land in light of inaccessibility by tractors."

Aside from their inefficiency, however, donkeys are also expensive for farmers.

"Donkey prices range from 250 Jordanian Dinars (about $400) to 800 Dinars (about $1300)," Salah said, adding that farmers are also required to buy specialized equipment, including packsaddles and metal boxes for loading.

Omar Naim, who sells and makes packing and tilling equipment, told Ma'an that he has seen an increasing number of customers in recent years.

Al-Khader has seen thousands of dunams of land cut off by the Israeli separation wall, with access only possible through a road connecting with Route 60.

The illegal Gush Etzion settlement bloc now sprawls across the village's former land, and settlers have often been reported to have attacked Palestinian farmers and uprooted olive trees.

A report by the UN Special Coordinator (UNSCO) for the Middle East peace process last month called on Israel to loosen restrictions on in Palestinian land classified Area C.

The report said that Israeli restrictions in Area C have hindered the Palestinian economy, adding: "Rolling back Israeli restrictions would substantially improve prospects for sustained growth and likely result in a major increase in Palestinian GDP."

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