Those people out there who still wonder where the Palestinian Mandela or Gandhi is should start paying attention to the numerous peaceful actions going on throughout Palestine. Non-violent resistance to the Israeli occupation, akin to the weekly protests in Bil’in and Ni’lin against the illegal wall, is now becoming a weekly occurrence in the Gaza Strip. It’s a story that deserves more attention.
The International Solidarity Movement and the activist group Local Initiative Beit Hanoun led a March 1 protest that marched to 50 meters from the Erez border with Israel.
The weekly protests in Gaza are challenging the Israeli-imposed “buffer zone” that extends 2 kilometers inside Palestinian land, though Israel says the zone reaches 300 meters into Gaza. Because of the zone, Gaza’s farmers have been denied access to their arable land near the border and only reach it at enormous risk. The zone has also severely affected Gaza’s fishermen, who are restricted to fishing only 3 nautical miles out from Gaza’s coast, a limit in complete violation of the Oslo Accords that allowed fishermen to venture out 20 miles. If the fishermen venture out further, they are harassed, shot at, and arrested.
Israeli troops shot at the demonstrators near the end of the March 1 protest, as they often do at any Palestinian who enters the “buffer zone.”
When I was in Gaza two months ago, Daragh Murrary, a legal officer for the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, explained to our delegation that, “the buffer zone is an illegal thing [under international law]. You’re not allowed to do it. There’s no military justification for it.”
Here’s more about the March 1 action from the International Solidarity Movement:
Thirty activists from the Local Initiative Beit Hannoun and the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) participated in the weekly demonstration asking for Palestinian land to be returned to its rightful owners. The activists gathered at the site of the University College for Agriculture which now lies in rubble following air attacks during operation Cast Lead.
The activists walked towards the Erez border chanting “Down with the Occupation” and “With my life and soul I will free you Palestine”. The activists reached 50 meters from the border and there Saber Zanin, Director of Beit Hannoun Local Initiative, spoke about the hardships farmers face on a daily basis as they attempt to plough and farm their land. Farmers risk being shot at either by Israeli snipers or from the automated tower machines which line the Gaza-Israel border zone. Speaking in Hebrew to the Israeli soldiers present within the watch tower, Zanin explained to them that the crowd was gathered on Palestinian land and that they had a right to be there by international law.
Zanin referred to the new regulation created by Israel upon Gaza that no person could come closer than 300 metres from the border. In reality, human rights groups within Gaza have documented that farmers have been shot at 2 km from the border.
As the demonstration came to a close and the activists started making their way back, shots were fired very close to the activists. A member of the ISM spoke to the Israeli soldiers through a microphone and asked the soldiers why they were firing upon civilians. The soldiers continued to fire as the group left. Seven shots were fired in all.
This “buffer zone” has denied access to 30% of Gaza’s farmland, as the border region includes some of Gaza’s most fertile land, according to a March 2009 report by the United Nations’ Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Israel is denying Palestinians the right to farm on their own land, severely affecting their livelihoods and means of sustenance. In recent weeks, according to the blog Farming Under Fire, the Israeli Defense Forces have shot and wounded a farmer and detained Gazan workers at the border.
According to a report by the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, in all of 2009, excluding the attacks of Operation Cast Lead, 69 people have been injured and 37 people killed by Israeli violence directed at people in the "buffer zone."
For more information on how the "buffer zone" has impacted the lives of Gazans, you should check out the excellent blog of Eva Bartlett, who is a Canadian human rights advocate, journalist and activist with the International Solidarity Movement inside Gaza.