Friday, November 23, 2012

While Gazan's Celebrate A Real Victory, Israel Violates Ceases Fire

Gaza "buffer zone" with border fence in the distance

While Gazans returned to land to which they had long been denied access, Israeli troops fired across the border, killing one Palestinian. Other than 12 Palestinian rockets attacks that occurred within 30 minutes of the formal Wednesday 9:00 PM cease fire, this is the first violation of the ceasefire and comes after more than 24 hours of quiet.

According to the New York Times:
A group of Palestinians went to Abassan, a border area east of the southern town of Khan Younis, on Friday to pray on their land, and ended up throwing stones at soldiers, who responded with gunfire. … 
Capt. Eytan Buchman, a spokesman for the Israeli military, said that about 300 Palestinians were demonstrating at various points along the border fence on Friday, prompting Israeli soldiers to fire warning shots in the air. Then some demonstrators “tried to damage the fence and cross into Israel,” Captain Buchman said. “When that happened, the forces fired at their feet.” … 
Witnesses and Hamas police officers said the shooting Friday happened near the spot where a missile fired by Palestinian militants injured three Israeli soldiers in a jeep stationed along the border fence earlier this month. 
They said that as many as 2,000 people had flocked to the area on Thursday in celebration of the cease-fire, and that hundreds returned Friday morning. Many of them had not been that close to the border in a decade or more: it was considered too dangerous at least since the onset of the second Palestinian uprising in 2000, and became officially off limits starting in 2008. 
An Israeli government official said on Friday that, as part of the latest cease-fire understandings, Israel agreed to discuss the buffer zone with the Egyptian sponsors of the truce. But, the official added, no negotiations have taken place yet. For now, the official said, Israel’s regulations for maintaining the zone and the army’s rules of engagement remain unchanged. 
A Palestinian who approached the security fence on Friday, Eyad Qudaih, 38, said he had not visited his modest farm measuring around 1.7 acres close to the fence in the 12 years he had lived in one of the few scattered houses in the buffer zone. The feeling of standing on his land, he said, “was like someone who is hungry and had a big meal, grilled sheep with nuts.” 
Someone planted a green Hamas flag on a long pole atop the fence, and a smaller Palestinian one nearby, unimaginable sights only a few days ago. Some Palestinians talked to Israeli soldiers through the fence, according to witnesses and photographs posted on the Internet. 
But around 11 a.m., shooting broke out, according two witness — Eyad Qudaih, a cousin of the man who was killed, and another family member, Samih Qudaih. They said the bullets came from an Israeli watchtower and a jeep, and that there had been no stone-throwing to provoke them.

The celebrations and the subsequent shooting highlight one of the lesser known but more significant ways that Israel has made life miserable for Gazan’s over the last five years (and perhaps longer.) In 2008, Israel officially – and unilaterally – declared a 300 metre buffer zone long the border fence between Gaza and Israel. (In reality Israel often enforces the zone to much greater depth.) Of course, the buffer zone was entirely on the Gazan side of the fence. It was to be a no-go zone. Any Palestinian in the buffer zone could be and, not so rarely, was shot. People who where unlucky enough to live or farm land in the zone where simply out of luck.

How much land are we talking about? Officially 15.9 square kilometres, or 4.4% of the land base of Gaza: almost all of it agricultural land. In a tiny, over crowed territory that cannot produce enough food to feed itself, this is socially and economically significant, over and above the psychological and financial losses of the families affected. This is the size of the official buffer zone. The defacto buffer zone was probably 60% larger (500 meters deep, 26.5 square kilometers, 7.25% of the Gaza land base.)

One of the clauses of Wednesday’s cease fire agreement was that Israel would ease restrictions on Palestinians' access to these lands. Many Gazans took them at their word. One paid with his life.

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Update:  The Jerusalem Post has an article about the same incident. The headline reads: "Hamas polices Gaza border after IDF fire kills man by fence: IDF says group of Palestinians tried to breach border"  Below is the picture that accompanied the article.

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