Saving seeds, counting cows: work of a ‘terror’ group ?

Demonized by Israel, the Union of Agricultural Work Committees helps people in Gaza grow their own food (Ashraf Amra - APA Images)

Rami Almeghari

The Electronic Intifada  /  January 26, 2022

Ibrahim Abu Ghoula has a farm near the boundary separating Gaza and Israel.

He is in an extremely vulnerable situation. On many occasions, the Israeli military has invaded his land in tanks, causing great damage to his crops.

Abu Ghoula has managed to keep working, with aid from the Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC).

During the current winter season, the UAWC tilled his land – located to the east of Maghazi refugee camp – and supplied him with seeds and fertilizers.

“They have been helping our family for 10 years now,” he said. “Without their support, we would not have been able to take proper care of this land.”

It is not certain that UAWC will be able to continue with its vital assistance. In October last year, it and five other Palestinian groups – all campaigning for human rights or providing social services – were designated as “terrorist” organizations by Israel.

One major aim of the designation was to starve the groups of money.

That objective has been partly realized. The Netherlands – one of Israel’s leading allies in Western Europe – has announced that it has ended its financial contributions to the UAWC.

The Dutch decision was taken despite a year-long probe by its foreign ministry finding there was no evidence to substantiate Israel’s claims that the UAWC is an arm of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

Empowering women

Yasir al-Jbour is among the many farmers in Gaza who have benefited from an irrigation project implemented by the UAWC in 2020. He owns a small farm close to the city of Khan Younis.

“This area now has a constant water supply,” said al-Jbour. “Before this project, farmers only had water once or twice a week through a service run by the local municipality.”

The Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees is another group that Israel designated a “terrorist” organization in October.

Randa Harara works for the UPWC’s administration in Gaza City. Along with more than 13,000 others, she was injured during the Great March of Return protests in Gaza during 2018.

Unlike many others who were injured then, Harara has made a good recovery after being shot in one of her legs. She gains immense satisfaction from her work.

“It was shocking to hear that the UPWC had been labeled a terrorist organization,” said Harrara, who is still in her twenties. “That is impossible. The UPWC empowers women. They began with me from scratch.”

The UPWC has raised awareness about the plight of female prisoners and held workshops on health and legal issues over the past few years. It also runs cooking courses in which participants learn how to make delicious desserts.

Symbolic

Tagreed Jummah, a senior figure with the UPWC in Gaza, insisted that political parties “have nothing to do with our projects.”

She stated that the UPWC gives practical and psychological support to women and children.

“If women and children are terrorists – in Israel’s eyes – then all Palestinians are terrorists,” Jummah said. “Is that sane?”

While the UPWC is separate from the Union of Agricultural Work Committees, both have a strong gender dimension to their activities.

In recent years, the Union of Agricultural Work Committees has also organized campaigns on such issues as women’s rights to own and inherit land.

The UAWC has also provided advocacy training to many women.

Other UAWC activities in Gaza include repairing fishing vessels, equipping poultry farms with solar panels and undertaking a census for cows.

A particularly important project has been the development of a seed bank. Set up by the UAWC more than a decade ago, it has collected a large variety of Palestinian seeds.

Rare varieties of Palestinian seeds such as black carrots, white cucumbers and yellow cauliflower have been preserved as a result.

While the seed bank was initially focused on the areas surrounding Hebron and Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank, it has become active in Gaza over the past few years.

“The aim of the bank is to protect Palestinian crops and achieve some degree of self-sufficiency,” said Saad Ziyada, a UAWC spokesperson.

Projects like the seed back are rich with symbolic significance.

Israel and its supporters in the Zionist movement have sought to uproot Palestinians and erase their culture. Through extreme violence, they have caused great suffering.

Yet Palestinians have shown a great determination to keep themselves and their heritage alive.

The UAWC has been at the forefront of such efforts. No doubt that is why Israel has declared war against it.

Rami Almeghari is a journalist based in Gaza