Last week marked the 4th anniversary of Operation Cast Lead, Israel’s deadly 23-day military offensive launched in 2008, which resulted in the killing of 1,167 civilians and injury to 5,300 more in Gaza. It also caused widespread destruction of infrastructure in the already besieged Gaza Strip, which had been struggling under the Israeli blockade since 2007.
The weight of this anniversary is felt even more deeply because of the impacts of the most recent Israeli military escalation on Gaza, Operation “Pillar of Cloud,” which ended just over a month ago. We have previously shared some of the firsthand accounts of the impacts of Operation Pillar of Cloud from Grassroots partner the Palestinian Center for Human Rights. We now have more information about the specific impacts of military offensive on agriculture in Gaza. Grassroots partner the Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committees (PARC) issued a report on “Damages since the Last Israeli Attack against Gaza Strip.” PARC reported that by the time of Operation Pillar of Cloud, Palestinian governmental and civil society organizations had only been able to rehabilitate 20 percent of the total agricultural damage inflicted in 2008 on trees, vegetable crops, livestock, and agricultural infrastructure. Now, the added impacts from the most recent military escalation compound the previously existing damages. PARC shared several findings from the Palestinian Ministry of Agriculture:
- Over 1,000 Israeli rockets and mortars targeted farmland in the Gaza Strip (out of a total of 1,643 missiles and projectiles fired).
- These weapons caused extensive damage to groves of fruit-bearing trees, including olive, citrus, almond, and apple trees, both from direct impact of Israeli missiles (which caused holes up to 15 meters deep and 30 meters wide), as well as from volatile impacts which reached a perimeter of up to 300 meters from each impact site.
- Bombs caused direct damage to 2,000 acres of farmland planted with vegetable crops, and indirect damage to an additional 5,000 acres of farmland that farmers were unable to reach during the time of the offensive. In addition, areas that were not immediately damaged could suffer long-term negative effects from the “volatile fragments and toxic gases” released by Israeli weapons.
- An estimated 1,000 greenhouses were directly destroyed, with an additional 1,000 greenhouses indirectly destroyed by “scattering stones over long distances, Nylon rupture and the inability of farmers to reach their greenhouses.”
- Deaths of a large number of chickens and other livestock, as well as negative impacts on Gazan fishing communities (both those who were unable to fish at sea and those with fish-farming operations whose fish died).
- Total value of agricultural losses from Operation Pillar of Cloud is estimated at over $20 million.
These agricultural losses are of course on top of the human losses, whose values are incalculable. PARC shared a story of Mahmoud Hamdi Abu Sawaween, a 62 year-old farmer who lost his life during the second day of the recent attack on Gaza: «It was the first day when IOF [Israeli Occupying Forces] announced the war on Gaza on Wednesday afternoon, November 14, 2012. The farmer Mahmoud was sitting in his home watching the news with his family, the same as many other families in Gaza, where stress and fear characterized the atmosphere of his home as the image of the last war [Operation Cast Lead] flashed back in their eyes. «At 10:00pm on the first day of the attack, the farmer Mahmoud heard a big bomb near his house, so he went with his nephew to check on his farm, and his son followed him later. Mahmoud’s nephew recalls, «While we were walking to our farm, my Uncle Mahmoud shouted to me to run away; however, the shelling became faster and another bomb fell on us, leaving my Uncle Mahmoud dead with his wounds while throwing me away; later while I was at the hospital I found out from my brother that he had found me covered with mud and blood, thrown a few meters away from our land on an olive farm. Mahmoud’s son added, «It was one of the worst nights in my life. The strike was so strong that it left a hole 10 meters in depth on one dunum area of our land. All the windows of our home were broken, we lost 6 heads of sheep and the water pump was damaged, as well as a number of 35 different kinds of trees. It is [one thing] to bear all of these losses, but the loss of my father is unacceptable.»
Our hearts are heavy with sadness at the loss of life in so many forms – especially knowing that our US tax dollars continue to fund the Israeli military. Grassroots remains committed to supporting the efforts of organizations and social movements in Gaza that are working to recover from the damage, as part of their overall efforts for rights to land, water, and food sovereignty. At the same time, we will continue to engage in coalitions and alliances with organizations in the US that aim to hold accountable our own government and corporations that profit from the Israeli occupation. Here’s to a new year that we hope brings us all closer to a just peace. Photo courtesy of Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committees (PARC).