Gaza, the Palestinian enclave on the Mediterranean coastline, continues to suffer from the ongoing siege by the Israelis. Farmers as well as fishermen are regularly shot by Israeli troops on land and sea, as they go about their daily lives. In this short video, some insight is given into the plight of these Palestinian farmers and fishermen who are aided and protected by foreign volunteers who brave the risk of Israeli violence by offering themselves as human shields to try and prevent these civilians from being shot.
I’ve met Manu Pineda in one of his visits to Gaza–as so many people I’ve first known through social media, and then it happens that we meet in person. He told me about his work here in Gaza, and it was impressive to know how they put their lives in danger to protect the farmers and the fishermen so that they can do their job without the continuous Israeli violations. I told him that I was interested in going with them to see what they’re doing, also because I’ve never been to the border strip where the farmers work. But it wasn’t easy for me to wake up at 5 am to do so! They also go with the fishermen in the sea beyond the limited area (6 miles) to protect the fishermen from the Israeli navy while fishing and stay there for a whole day, 24 hours! But obviously I can’t do that, I can’t run away in the sea if anything happened, and I can’t swim.
Recently Manu came back to Gaza from Spain with a group of international volunteers in a delegation from his association, Unadikum, based in Barcelona, Spain, to work with farmers and fishermen to protect them from getting shot by the Israeli soldiers. One of these volunteers, Christopher Reeves, was an American journalist living in Egypt, and I found it an interesting opportunity to go with them and make a video for my at-home project for a university in the US, to make interviews and see what they’re doing.
I miraculously managed to wake up that early and leave with them to the border strip. There we found the farmers ready and waiting for us to start their work, preparing the land for planting. I had to wear a vest to protect myself from getting shot– because they would not shoot on an international wearing a vest! I went with the group and the farmers beyond the limited area, right in front of the fence, where we can see the Israeli jeeps coming to check us out. I put the camera on record and zoomed in, watched the soldiers coming out of the jeeps getting closer to us and pointing their guns on us.
I watched through the camera and I believe I’ve never felt or heard my heart beat that way; I’ve never seen a soldier before, I’ve seen them once on my way to Jerusalem, but they were not pointing their guns on me this way. Ironically, this terrifying feeling faded away when they shot in the air to warn us that they were here and ready to shoot on us at any moment. And that’s what they did, they kept shooting around us to force us to leave and then they kept throwing tear gas. The first one fell right in front of me, and it smell so awful that I couldn’t breathe.
Whenever they shoot around or throw tear gas, you’d find Manu or one of the group shouting via speakers, asking them to stop. Manu was shouting “Please stop shooting, we are civilian people, please let these people work in their land, don’t shoot”, and I sarcastically asked him why he’s so polite while talking to them. He replied that he used to curse them before but they would get pissed, and once they warned him by shooting between his feet, and he knew if he did it again, they won’t hurt him because he’s internationalist but they would shoot one of the farmers instead to provoke him.
I interviewed Reeves, the American journalist, on our way back and I spent some time with them before they left Gaza. Though initially they had some bad attempts at the border, they eventually managed to leave Gaza. Currently Unadikum is organizing a project that allows more volunteers from all over the world to continuously come to Gaza and work as human shields with farmers and fishermen, including journalists and those who are interested in documenting the stories of these people and the situation they face in Gaza under the suffocating siege.
As they say on their website, “Our most important commitment, which will always be our priority, is our presence ‘on the ground’ with those Palestinians directly confronted with occupation forces.”
Do we think we need more of these internationals in Gaza to protect our people and tell our stories? Are they braver than us to go that close to the Israeli soldiers without caring to get shot or not? And who would guarantee that the soldiers won’t come the next day and destroy what the farmers did under the protection of internationals? Well, it happens!
These international solidarity activists come from all over the world to “the largest open-air prison”, they work with its people, they write their stories, they protect them while working in the field, they document what they see in this place, and they suffer the travel obstacles, just like the people in Gaza, now stranded due to the continuous closure of the Palestinian-Egyptian border.