Al Mezan Center for Human Rights (Al Mezan) is pleased to issue its latest report on the situation of the Palestinian agricultural community in the “buffer zone”, the no-go military area enforced by Israel within the territory of the Gaza Strip.
Since September 2005, the buffer zone—also known as “access restricted areas” (ARA)—has been the scene of continuous attacks against Palestinian civilian individuals, properties, and objects by the Israeli military. Over the years, Al Mezan’s monitoring and documentation has exposed Israel’s violations of international human rights and humanitarian law in the ARA, including the killing, destruction of property, arrests, and destruction of means of subsistence.
The 28-page report, “Farming in a Buffer Zone. The conditions Gaza farmers face under closure”, documents the Israeli violations against Palestinian farmers in the ARA in the period between 2018 and 2020. It is supported by first-hand documentation gathered by Al Mezan’s researchers and field workers through surveys, data collection, and field visits, as well as interviews and accounts of victims and witnesses.
Al Mezan’s database indicates that during the reporting period Israeli forces engaged in four main patterns of violations that targeted the Palestinian agricultural community in the ARA. These are:
Figures show that between 2018 and 2020, Israeli forces opened fire on Palestinian farmers and farmlands 1,150 times, killing four farmers who were working their lands and injuring four farmers and seven civilians residing in the ARA. Over the same period, all types of attacks carried out by the Israeli military affected a total of 5,236,297 square meters of Palestinian farmland.
Most notably, Al Mezan’s findings reveal that in the past year, Palestinian farmers in the ARA experienced an increase in the Israeli violations against them compared to 2018 and 2019. The largest area of affected farmland was also documented in 2020 of the past three years. This means that, while the world was overwhelmed with concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic, Israeli authorities escalated its perpetration of human rights violations against Palestinian farmers and their property in the ARA.
According to Al Mezan’s documentation, violations continued steadily in 2021. On 21 February, Israeli forces sprayed toxic herbicides over agricultural lands east of Khan Younis City for hours. Similarly, on 18 February 2021, they opened rainwater dams, thereby flooding Palestinian agricultural lands near the perimeter fence east of Gaza City, causing great material losses in agricultural crops. It is worth noting that this was not the first time that Israeli forces opened rainwater dams during 2021, as they did so on January 20. While Israeli authorities refused to acknowledge that they have indeed opened the dams, Al Mezan's record points to the fact that these sudden flows of water cannot be natural.
What emerges from this report is a clear picture of an agricultural community that is being targeted by near-daily use of excessive force. Al Mezan is particularly concerned that the frequency of these attacks will lead increasingly more Palestinian farmers and residents to abandon their lands in fear for their lives. Moreover, such persistency is also indicative of Israel's intentions to preserve and reinforce the physical containment of Palestinians residing in the Gaza Strip—a practice that serves to retain the fragmentation of the Palestinian people in order to maintain their subjugation within Israel’s overarching apartheid regime.
Accordingly, at the end of the report, Al Mezan put forth a number of recommendations addressed to the international community, the European Union, and its Member States, asking them to:
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