Gaza faces failed harvests after the bombardment by Israel

“It is unacceptable that staff of international aid agencies with expertise in emergency response are still not given full access into Gaza, and that the crossings are not fully operational for humanitarian and commercial flows of goods and people,” said Charles Clayton, head of the Association of International Development Agencies.


Samir Sawafiri pointed at several dozen hungry chickens scavenging for food between the crushed bodies of nearly 65,000 other birds strewn across a destroyed farm in Zeitoun in Gaza City.

“They are all that is left and I have nowhere to put them,” he said. The poultry farms around Zeitoun used to be the Gaza Strip’s main provider of eggs, according to Oxfam. Little but twisted metal and crumbling concrete now remains of the poor suburb on the eastern outskirts of Gaza, one of the areas hit hardest during the war.

“I evacuated on January 9,” Mr Sawafiri said. “Three days later, on January 12, tanks came with bulldozers and levelled the fields. They wanted to spoil the economy – that is the only answer. There is no justification for what they did.” Israel says that Zeitoun is a known Hamas stronghold, and that militants used its fields to launch Qassam rockets into Israel.

International aid groups say that while Israel’s continuing restrictions on the flow of goods and relief workers into the devastated enclave is hampering emergency efforts, the destruction of Gaza’s agriculture means that harvests are likely to fail and the Strip will depend more on handouts.

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In its efforts to choke Hamas, Israel has also frozen the flow of cash into Gaza, meaning that people have no money to buy basics. There are strict curbs on iron and concrete imports to prevent the militants rebuilding bunkers and rocket arsenals. But that also means that the 100,000 people who the UN says are homeless are once again refugees, as were their grandparents, who flooded Gaza after the 1948 Israeli war of independence.

Aid groups say only 100 or so trucks are being allowed in every day, while even before the fighting at least five times that number was needed.


In addition, there is pilfering. “There is quite a bit missing,” one UN worker said. “On some trucks it is 15 to 20 per cent of the goods. We don’t know who is taking it – the Palestinians or maybe Egypt, or Israel.” Another aid worker said that gunmen had been involved in some of the aid diversion. “We are well aware that hijackings do take place,” he said.


Zeitoun was one of the first areas that Israeli soldiers captured during their invasion. Mr Sawafiri has buried the dead in his neighbourhood, but the chicken carcasses remain. No one is sure how to dispose of them.

It will cost tens of millions of dollars to rebuild the farms, said Fuad ElJamassi, director of Gaza’s Environmental and Health Ministry. Israel will not allow live animals to be brought in through the crossings, but Dr El-Jamassi hopes that it will approve the import of fertilised eggs, which farmers can take to a hatchery.

Touring the farms yesterday, he said that, while Gazans would rebuild the farms, they had no idea how to confront the possible long-term effects of unexploded ordnance and chemicals said to have rained down on their fields during the fighting. “There were many chemicals used here by the Israelis – there has been chemical dust in the air,” he said. “We need experts to come tell us what to do, if this is safe. There are no experts here.”

Israel has allowed only a handful of international aid workers into Gaza to assess the emergency relief efforts, but NGOs say that the system is haphazard and some appear to be blocked for no reason, making planning expensive and difficult.

“It is unacceptable that staff of international aid agencies with expertise in emergency response are still not given full access into Gaza, and that the crossings are not fully operational for humanitarian and commercial flows of goods and people,” said Charles Clayton, head of the Association of International Development Agencies.


Another aid worker put it more bluntly: “Gaza needs to be fed through its mouth, not to be fed anally.”

January 26, 2009
Sheera Frenkel in Zeitoun and James Hider in Jerusalem

Source: The Times

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