Yousef Shaheen (34) owns a wheat farm in Abasan Village, east of Khan Younis. On Friday, 1 June 2012, at around 6:30 in the morning, Yousef got a phone call from a friend saying that part of his wheat farm had caught fire after one of Israel’s apache’s had fired at the land: “I rushed to the farm and found Israeli tanks on site, so I could not do anything about it.”
This is just one of the latest incidents in a series of land razing incursions conducted by Israeli forces, as part of their illegal policy in relation to the so-called ‘buffer zone’ along the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip. The exact areas designated by Israel as a buffer zone is unknown, but, in May 2009, Israel announced that the buffer zone would extend 300 meters from the border between Israel and the Gaza strip, extending into the Gaza Strip. In reality, however, it can extend up to 2 kilometers.
This makes life for Gazans very difficult, as the width of the Gaza Strip is only about 5 kilometers at its narrowest point. Incursions into the buffer zone typically take the form of land leveling using bulldozers or aerial attacks. Israel’s policy is also frequently enforced with live fire; as stated by Yousef, “before bulldozing farms, they open extensive fire without warning. If there are people around, some die and some are injured.”
At the time of the attack on 1 June, Yousef was at home with his wife and their 3 children preparing to go to the farm. Their wheat farm consists of 17 dunnums and lies roughly 500 meters from the border fence.
7 dunnums out of the 17 were burnt in the Friday incident. The value of losses incurred is estimated to be USD $5,500: “This is my land whether it is 500 meters from the fence or 2 meters from it. I have earned my living from this land for 20 years and I will not abandon it.”
Yousef further indicates that Gazan civil defense forces arrived at 7:30 am to put out the fire, but could not proceed without ICRC coordination with Israeli forces. It was not until later on, at approximately 11 am, that the fire was finally put out.
Yousef points out that this is not the first incursion on his land: “My land has been bulldozed around 15 times. In early 2009, one of my workers was shot and killed and another was injured.” He also had a well and water tank on the farm at one point, both of which were destroyed in earlier incidents: “If I choose to leave, my land will be turned into a closed military area, but my presence and that of other farmers makes it harder for this to happen. I would rather stay and face the confrontations.”
Yousef is not the only farmer whose life was been devastated by Israel’s latest attack. In the Friday incident, farmland and bundles of gathered wheat belonging to neighboring farmers were also burnt, though Yousef was not sure what the extent is of the total damage from the 1 June 2012 attack.
“It took me six months to prepare this wheat for harvest and now I have all these losses,” says Yousef, as he points at a cloud of black ash being swept across the farm by the wind: “I only have experience in farming. If I leave, what else will I do? How will I support my family? This land was left to me by my father, and it belonged to my grandfather. I will also leave it to my children when I die.”
The direct targeting of a civilian object constitutes a war crime, as codified in Article 8(2) (b) (ii) of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. Similarly, under the Fourth Geneva Convention Article 53, the destruction of private property is prohibited unless rendered absolutely necessary by military operations.
The subsequent enforcement against private property in the buffer zone results in Palestinians being unable to use the property necessary for the production of food, violating numerous human rights provisions, including the right to adequate food contained in Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
To see a video narrative given by Yousef Shaheen please click here.