Israel forces food to rot in Gaza

Absurd rules imposed by Israel have increased costs for Gaza's tomato growers (Abdallah al-Naami)

Abdallah al-Naami

The Electronic Intifada  /  July 20, 2021 

Suhaila al-Louh becomes distressed when she sees her nursery farm. “Something inside me dies every time I go there,” she said.

Israel bombed her nursery – located near the city of Beit Lahiya – repeatedly during its May attack on Gaza. The seedlings of tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and potatoes that Suhaila’s team had planted were destroyed; so were greenhouses and the irrigation system.

The bombing also brought back extremely painful memories. Israel killed Suhaila’s husband, Khader, in July 2014, when it subjected Gaza to another major attack.

Suhaila depends on her modest income from farming to support eight members of her family.

After the first time that Israel bombed her nursery in May, Suhaila went to check on it with her sons and their wives.

“We tried to find things that had not been damaged,” she said. “But we could not find anything.”

“I am 60 years old,” she added. “I have invested everything I could into developing my business. And in the blink of an eye, everything was destroyed.”

While most of the images from Gaza broadcast around the world during May showed Israel targeting urban areas, the plight of farmers must not be overlooked.

Absurd conditions

A recent report by the European Union, the World Bank and the United Nations cited estimates that up to $45 million worth of damage was caused to farms and businesses reliant on agriculture.

Gaza’s agriculture ministry has published even higher figures. It calculated that more than $200 million worth of losses were incurred – both directly and indirectly – by the agricultural sector.

Along with bombing farms, Israel prevented the transport of food from Gaza to the occupied West Bank.

The restrictions imposed in May were not lifted until late June.

And that lifting came with absurd conditions.

Israel insisted that stems had to be removed from tomatoes. Otherwise, they would not be allowed through Kerem Shalom, the Israeli-controlled crossing for goods entering and leaving Gaza.

Israel’s stipulation – which placed extra costs on tomato growers and reduced the shelf life of their produce – was subsequently dropped. Israel has, however, threatened to reintroduce it in August.

Ahmad al-Astal runs a 50 acre farm in the Khan Younis area of southern Gaza.

Growing potatoes, tomatoes, eggplants and peppers, he usually sells his produce to the West Bank.

Yet for several recent weeks, Israel blocked him from transporting any crops out of Gaza.

“Our storage facilities are full of rotting vegetables,” he said. “We’ve stopped picking crops and now all you can see are piles of rotting vegetables everywhere.”

“No choice”

It was not economically viable to sell his produce within Gaza. Due to Israel’s transport restrictions, there was a glut of produce inside Gaza.

Prices at local markets slumped as a result.

“Picking the crop and transporting it to the market cost me more than what I eventually gain when I sell it in the market,” Ahmad said. “So I have no choice but to leave the crop in storage, hoping that we will be able to sell it outside Gaza again before long.”

Ahmad had to cut his workforce from 70 to just seven.

Ali al-Astal, one of his staff, said: “Normally, you would see the workers roaming through the greenhouses, taking care of the plants and picking the crops. But now our work is just getting rid of the rotting vegetables.”

Israel’s restrictions had a marked effect on Gaza’s fishers and its aquaculture sector.

Yasser al-Haaj is the owner of al-Bahhar fish farm.

Each month around 30 tonnes of fish are transported from Gaza to the West Bank, he has stated.

More than 18,000 fish are estimated to have died in Gaza’s fish farms because of Israel’s restrictions.

Recent months have been disastrous for Al-Haaj.

Not only were solar panels and tanks at his fish farm damaged during Israel’s attack, but he was unable to sell in the West Bank, a vital market for him.

“Gaza’s markets cannot absorb the amount of fish we produce,” he said. “When exports stopped, we could not sell our fish so we had to keep them in the tanks. Each tank now has around three times the amount of fish it can usually contain. And the fish have started to die. Our losses are increasing every day.”

Abdallah al-Naami is a journalist and photographer living in Gaza