Gaza Farmers Further Squeezed by the Occupation
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Gaza Farmers Further Squeezed by the Occupation

***image2***Farmers in Gaza have started a grassroots call for a boycott on Israeli goods as the Occupation simultaneously floods Palestinian markets with their products and disallows Palestinian farmers to sell their products in the West Bank or the ’48 lands or any kind of export. At the end of last week, farmers gathered in front of the fortified checkpoint “Karni Terminal” in South Gaza. The farmers decided to protect their crops and gain control over their livelihoods by threatening to burn all Israeli produce that enters Gaza in response to the Occupation policies that strangle and destroy Palestinian farmers.

Farmers who harvest strawberries in the Gaza Strip staged a second protest on Saturday January the 14th, this time in front of the Ministry of Agriculture. They demanded that the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) ensures their products can be marketed outside Gaza, while protecting Palestinians from Israeli produce that flood into Gaza without any restrictions. This has been responsible for destroying local Palestinian markets and denying sustainable livelihoods for Palestinian communities in the West Bank and Gaza.

The protests were triggered by a series of discriminatory procedures the Occupation employs. The system of exploitation – and eventual destruction – of Palestinian farmers is based on a contract forced upon them 30 years ago by the now semi-governmental Israeli company Agrexco. Having been given the monopoly on agricultural exports from Gaza by Israel, the farmers are forced to accept the company’s stranglehold to sell and export their crops. Left without any other viable choice, farmers are dependent on Agrexco which sets prices, quantities and time of export. The demonstration requested the Ministry to halt this relationship, to stand up against the Occupation and to support the people in their struggle to take control over their economic activities.

***image3***Every Palestinian farmer is obliged to label crops as Israeli Agrexco products in order to be able to export them through the Occupation monopoly. The Occupation Ministry of Agriculture forces the Palestinian farmers to undergo expensive Israeli testing procedures before any kind of export is possible. Strawberries are to be put in small plastic boxes, indicating the place of production and the weight of the box before and after packaging. All these procedures raise the production costs enormously, yet the Occupation monopoly company places the weight of all these expenses on the farmers.

Over several decades, strawberries have become a major export product from Gaza. The availability of labor, water resources and wells, and the warm climate all form an environment for mass cultivation. While production for internal consumption has been neglected, the Occupation policies have stimulated extensive export production. Output in Gaza is around 20-30 tons of strawberries per day, but currently the Occupation refuses to allow exports above 10-15 tons. Without the Occupation, still there would be no overproduction as Palestinians would be able to sell their produce to the West Bank and export it to Europe according to demand.

Restrictions and procedures imposed by the Occupation, including the fortified checkpoints and closures, create delays that inevitably cause the strawberries to rot while in transit. Meanwhile, West Bank consumers are forced to eat the strawberries of the Occupation.

Last month, the farmers in Gaza lost approximately $71,000 as a result of the imprisonment of the people and the economy. If nothing changes, losses are expected to double in January. Again, military and economic means are working in tandem to destroy the Palestinian farmers in villages such as Beit Lahya where the Israeli military is waging daily attacks and has devastated many strawberry farms.

“Disengagement” has shown yet another ugly face. The system of brute military occupation, walls and killings is still propped up by a sophisticated dynamic of economic exploitation and slavery that leaves Palestinian farmers without any choice but resistance to the Zionist project.