For the last 3 years, Yousef Shaath has been the Cash Crops Project Manager for the Agricultural Relief Committee (PARC) in Gaza City. This particular project has been operating since 2006, just before the closure of the Gaza Strip: “The Cash Crops Project helps farmers by supplying them with inputs for their crops, providing necessary training to properly grow the crops, capacity building to help them succeed and, finally, marketing assistance to get the products outside of Gaza.”
With farmers assisted throughout the Gaza Strip, this program has helped enormously during a tough economic time: “Before the closure of the border, farmers in Gaza would plant 1,000 dunnums of carnations each year without help; they would plant 3,000 dunnums of strawberries without help.
With the closure of the borders, there is no market for these products. Last season, we were able to support 187 dunnums of carnations and 350 dunnums of strawberries. Next year, even less will be planted if the border closure is not lifted.” It is currently estimated that only 127 dunnums of carnations can be supported next year, a significant decrease of almost 96% in just 5 years.
The problem facing PARC is an inability to get exports out of the Gaza Strip. At the moment, the only possibility to get products to Europe is through Israel, who has created a system that almost guarantees that Gazan products will not leave the Gaza Strip: “Before, at the Karni crossing, it was easier to get exports out.
Products were always refrigerated and the process was smooth. At Kerem Shalom, the process is long and dangerous for the products.
When our trucks arrive, we have to put the products out in an open area, which is not refrigerated or even covered. Then, after the product is inspected, it is carried on a truck, which is also not refrigerated or even covered. Only then is the product transferred onto a proper transport vehicle.
If the products are left outside a fridge for more than 20 minutes, the quality begins to decline. The border officials know this. So, even if we can get a truck of products to the border, there is no guarantee it can be exported.
Out of the 10 trucks that reach the border, maybe 5 or 6 end up exporting products of a good quality.” At the moment, Israel only allows 10 trucks per day, maximum. However, although the border is supposed to be open 5 days a week, Israel often closes it with little notice, which means that yet another 10 trucks of products will not be exported.
In January, Israel only allowed the exportation of 1,205,550 flowers and 172 tons of strawberries, 2,384,300 flowers and 33 tons of strawberries in February, 2,384,300 flowers and 7 tons of cherry tomatoes in March, and 2,490,000 flowers in April. This reflects the significant decrease in exports noted by PARC.
Although PARC does their best to help farmers, without a lifting of the border closure, there is little they can do: “Gaza has excellent farmers. They are highly trained and Global Gap certified. If the border was open, there would be possibilities and profit. We have high quality products here and they are well-known. If the border was open, these farmers would not need our help, they could be self-sufficient again.”
The Cash Crops Project was designed to be a temporary measure to assist Palestinian farmers during the tough times of the closure: “This was intended to be a temporary measure. [PARC] has no pressure tool to persuade the Israelis. We need more pressure by the international community and donors.”
Israel claims that exporting presents a security risk, but Yousef points out that the closure “affects hundreds of families, increases unemployment, poverty and a potential for violence. When people see no light at the end of the tunnel, there is always potential for violence.”
The Cash Crops Project, while providing short-term assistance, is unsustainable under the current closure regime: “2 years ago, we helped about 47 farmer’s plant carnations, 80 farmer’s plant strawberries and 50 farmer’s plant vegetables. In total, we helped about 180 farmers that year. We are optimistic that the border will open one day and we plan for it. However, we cannot support the farmers forever.”
The closure of the Gaza Strip, enacted by Israel as a form of ‘economic warfare,’ constitutes collective punishment, and is explicitly prohibited under Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.
The closure regime also violates a number of provisions of international law, including, for example, the obligation under Article 43 of the Hague Regulations to maintain the material conditions under which the occupied population live.
Given, inter alia, the resultant poverty in the Gaza Strip and the foreign aid needed to support the population, it is clear that Israel’s policy also violates its obligation under international human rights law to ensure the progressive realization of economic, social and cultural rights in the Gaza Strip.
To see a video narrative given by Yousef Shaath please follow the link below