Boston artist Steve Mills - realistic painting

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Gaza - Occupied Lives: Fear at the Border

Gaza - Occupied Lives: Fear at the Border

The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR)

Nabeel Al-Najjer outside of his family's home, an Israeli watchtower visible in the distance

May 2, 2012

For families living near the Gaza-Israeli border, fear is a part of daily life. For Nabeel Al-Najjar, his wife, and their 6 children, the sound of gunshots is as normal as the bleating of their sheep.

The Al-Najjaris located close to the 300 meter "bufferzone," unilaterally imposed by the Israeli forces. Living only 500 meters from the Israeli border in the Khuza’a village, east of Khan Yunis, has placed their home and lives in continuous danger. Set against the backdrop of his wheat field, with two Israeli watchtowers in sight, Nabeel discusses his new specially designed home with concrete slab walls instead of brick, constructed in the hopes of preventing Israeli bullets from entering his home. He was forced to rebuild the house after 4 Israeli bulldozers destroyed all of the homes in the area at 7am on 13 January 2009. It has been rebuilt with an underground floor, to help protect the family from future attacks.

After the last attack on 10 April 2012, Nabeel is considering putting iron sheets over the windows facing the border, and constructing a 3 foot concrete barrier around the house: "we are always at risk, but I do my best to minimize it for my family." As he shows one of the 7 heavy metal bullets that were shot from a jeep on the Israeli side of the border towards his home, and points out the holes in the top of his walls and shrapnel in the cupboard, he talks about how this room was where his children used to study. During the last offensive, the house came under attack: his son was standing in the doorway, while Nabeel was hiding on the floor with one of his daughters – it is a miracle that the three of them survived: "my children are programmed to run now when they hear gunshots and bullets. They run to the basement."

His wife is also afraid that he will be hurt while tending their farm, which runs quite close to the border. Two weeks ago, a 34 year old women, a mother of 8 children, was shot in the head nearby while collecting grass.[1] This woman, Nabeel and their other neighbours are not fighters; they are simply people trying to live their lives under the constant threat of danger. Nabeel states that "we do not hear bullets every day, but consistently."

The threat does not end with the setting of the sun. At night, everyone is forced to stay inside the house, as any movement in the yard would immediately result in an Israeli bullet: "at night, it is like a ghost town. We do not visit our families or friends."

This constant threat has affected Nabeel’s livelihood as a farmer. Before the offensive, he had a 2,700 meter field and 90 trees (olive, mango and lemon), which he used to lovingly tend. It was all bulldozed by Israeli forces, and the family’s animals were killed. Only a few trees remain, and his field of wheat. He no longer has the will to tend to his trees, or to reinvest in their livestock. With Israeli watchtowers and patrols an ever present sight, it is easy to understand why Nabeel is wary to start over again, only to have it taken away.

Even his house, which he has so carefully built to protect him and his family, remains unfinished. There is no paint on the walls and the kitchen was built in the basement by request of his wife, out of fear. There is no question, however of him moving somewhere else: "this was my father’s land; it is where I was born. Everyone I know is here; I cannot leave my home."

Yet, despite the constant threat of injury or death, Nabeel has hope: "my children are clever. I want them to be able to be independent. They can get an education in Gaza, but there are no opportunities for them after that now. God willing, there is a future for them here." Nabeel also quietly stated that "the Palestinian people are good. If the Israelis really believed in God, they would never do this to other people." As he determinedly builds a life on the land of his father at the Israeli border, a quiet strength is evident.

Under Article 53 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, the destruction of private property is prohibited unless rendered absolutely necessary by military operations. Likewise, under Article 33, civilians cannot be punished for offences they have not committed. Nabeel and his family are civilians, the so-called 'protected persons’ of international humanitarian law. There is absolutely no military necessity justifying these attacks, which constitute war crimes, as codified in Articles 8(2)(b) (i) and (ii) of the Statute of the International Criminal Court.

[1] Noted in our Weekly Report On Israeli Human Rights Violations in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (12 – 18 April 2012), published 19 April 2012.

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