Palestine Monitor, 6 October 2010
New research from Defence for Children International (DCI) shows that Gazan children are routinely fired upon if they stray too close to the border fence. They have documented 10 cases since May, of which six took place beyond Israel’s stated exclusion zone of 300m. Many more are expected in the coming weeks.
Khaled I, 16, used to collect gravel in the industrial zone by the fence. On July 31, 600m from the border, he was shot in the thigh with a 250mm calibre bullet that hit an artery and hospitalised him for 15 days. “They (Israeli soldiers) saw us every day and knew very well we were gravel collectors”, Khalid told DCI. He says he will not return to work, even though “gravel collection is good because construction materials are banned from entering Gaza”.
That gravel collection, which yields $0.80 per bucket and $10 per day, is seen as attractive is testament to the continued deprivation in the strip. Despite a slight relaxation of the Israeli embargo on allowing goods to enter Gaza, construction materials remain for the most part banned. If the current rate of 30 trucks per week continues, the UN estimate “Gaza will return to its pre-war position in 2045”. While large numbers of Gazans continue to live and work in bombed-out buildings, the demand for materials from any source will continue, keeping teenagers busy in the dangerous fields by the border. Khalid saw “hundreds” of collectors at work the day he was shot.
In May 2009, the Israeli army dropped thousands of pamphlets over Gaza warning that anyone who entered areas within 300m of the fence would be endangering their life. To date, this limit has never been marked. This unilateral decision was a huge advance on the Oslo agreement of 50m, and to this was added a ‘high risk’ zone extending up to 1.5km. There have been documented shootings even beyond this distance. DCI have questioned the legal legitimacy of such sweeping, de facto land closure, most strongly where it has precedence over international humanitarian law that expressly forbids the deliberate targeting of civilians.
The Office for the Co-Ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) found that the zone was predominantly arable land, essential for local farmers. By their figures, 35% of land with potential for cultivation falls within these areas. Crop production has followed a steep decline in recent years, as many farmers are unwilling to risk fire through tending their land. On the other side, the 20 nautical miles reserved for fishing in Oslo has been slashed to three since 2007, depriving the market of its other staple resource. Between January and April, at least ten fishermen were shot by the navy.
“Unless Israel alter orders on the border, or there is economic change we will continue to see these incidents”, said a senior DCI source. Their priority is to reduce the number of shootings rather than to hold those responsible to account. “Since Goldstone there have been two convictions (over Cast Lead), two soldiers for using a child as a human shield and one for a stolen credit card, and that was after amazing international pressure”, the source said, indicating the futility of attempting to make Israeli soldiers accountable.
In the watchtowers along the border, remote-controlled weapons that soldiers compare to Playstation controllers have enabled them to open fire easily and casually. The authorisation procedure takes under two minutes. A 21-year old soldier in the control room famously told Haaretz “its very alluring to be the one to do this”. The frequency with which donkeys and domestic animals are gunned down inside the fence speaks eloquently of that allure.
For families scratching a living in war-torn Gaza, the potential income from the border zone is often too important to pass up. Their children must play the game and hope that soldiers are merciful.
Learn more about the problems of children in Gaza from DCI Palestine http://www.dci-pal.org/english/home.cfm