Farming in Palestine
By Kathy Kattenburg
The Gaza Strip is a sliver of land sandwiched between the Mediterranean Sea and Israel, and bordering Egypt for seven miles on the southwest. It is 25 miles long and seven miles at its widest point.
Gaza is among the most densely populated places on earth — 1.5 million people are crammed into 146 square miles – and among the poorest: Eighty percent of its residents live under the poverty line. Almost half are unemployed. Food insecurity, hunger, and malnutrition are widespread.
Israel’s response to Hamas’s win in the democratic elections held in January, 2006 – a full-scale economic embargo – has crippled Gaza’s economy and made life even harder. For a while, humanitarian goods like food and medicine were getting through, but in early November Israel shut down all the crossing points between Gaza and the outside world. Gaza has become essentially a prison with no way to get in or out.
The effect on Palestinian agriculture has been catastrophic. With the Israeli market closed to them, farmers cannot sell their crops. Even subsistence farming is not an option because the products needed to prepare land for growing crops cannot get past Israeli checkpoints. Arable land is turning to desert as machinery sits idle and crops spoil in the fields.
The embargo and sealing of the borders has done grave harm to every sector of Gaza’s economy. Without raw materials such as chemicals, fuel, and electricity that are needed to run factories; machinery parts and building materials for the construction business; and international markets for unique Palestinian industries like flower-selling, these commercial enterprises have collapsed and tens of thousands of jobs have been lost. Palestinians can’t even fish anymore, because the Israeli military has made the ocean off limits; anyone going out in a small boat to try to get a meal for their family risks arrest and imprisonment if caught by the IDF.
Palestinians — both in Gaza and the West Bank– have almost no independent control over their own natural resources, such as fresh water. Aquifers along the Mediterranean supply most of the Gaza Strip’s supply of water for drinking and agriculture, but intrusion of ocean water into those aquifers is greatly increasing the water’s salinity. As a result, Gazans must get their fresh water from outside their borders – and that is difficult given Israel’s iron grip on the border crossings.
Palestinians living in the West Bank are not currently subject to an economic embargo, but the large settler population there and Israel’s continued military occupation has made Palestinian agriculture extremely problematic. Since 1967, Israel has allowed hundreds of thousands of Jewish settlers to colonize the West Bank – and although these settlements take up only three percent of Palestinian land, the vast security and infrastructural apparatus that maintains them makes Palestinian economic and political sovereignty impossible.
First, all the settlements (over 100) are connected to each other and to Israel by a system of bypass roads, which are surrounded by buffers that take up even more land, and that isolate Palestinians in physically non-contiguous islands. Dozens of Israeli military outposts provide security for the settlers, while leaving Palestinians vulnerable to settler violence.
In addition, Israel controls all natural sources of water in both Gaza and the West Bank. An elaborate network of dams and pumping stations divert the lion’s share of the water from three underground aquifers and the Jordan River Basin to the settlements and to Israel itself.
And then there is the Wall – deceptively named, because it is much more than a simple barrier. Variously called the Separation Wall, the Segregation Wall, and the Apartheid Wall (Israel calls it the Security Wall), it is “a series of 25-foot-high concrete slabs, trenches, barbed wire ‘buffer zones,’ electrified fencing, numerous watch towers, thermal imaging video cameras, sniper towers and roads for patrol vehicles.” (Palestine Monitor, The Wall, factsheet)
Instead of following the Green Line, the Wall is being built in a circuitous path so as to enclose Jewish settlements and annex Palestinian land. Doing it this way will cost Israel millions of extra dollars.
Almost 40% of fertile Palestinian land is being confiscated to make room for the Wall. Close to 200,000 West Bank Palestinians will be either partially or completely enclosed by the Wall when it is finished, including many farmers who will be physically separated from their land, and will need permits to be allowed outside the “no man’s land” between the Wall and the Green Line to plant, oversee, and harvest their crops. The Wall is built on the Western Aquifer, which means that Palestinians’ access to water for drinking and for agriculture will be highly restricted and not under their control. If, under these conditions, Palestinian farmers are even able to grow their crops, they will then face severe constraints in selling them.