‘The Green Girls’ turn to agriculture amid economic crisis in Gaza

Aseel al-Najjar, Nadine Abu Rouk, and Ghaida Qudeih on their agricultural land outside of Khuza’a (Bashaer Muammar)

Bashaer Muammar

Mondoweiss  /  February 22, 2022

Due to the difficult economic conditions in Gaza two groups of women are turning to agriculture to provide for their families. “This land is not merely soil; it is our strength, hope, and soul,” says Aseel al-Najjar.

After years of striving desperately to find careers in their professional fields, more young people are turning to agriculture to provide for their families in light of the difficult economic conditions in Gaza. 

In particular, two groups of young women, one in Khuza’a and another near Deir al-Balah, are returning to the land their ancestors took great pain to persevere in an effort to share the dangers and difficulties of building a new life and career farming the land. 

The Green Girls 

Close to the Apartheid fence erected by Israel on the Gaza frontier, Aseel al-Najjar, 28, rents land in Khuza’a, east of Khan Younis along with Nadine Abu Rouk and Ghaida Qudeih where they started their project “The Green Girls”

The young graduates failed to find careers in the fields they majored in, business and education, and are now turning to agriculture. “The difficult financial situation I survived with my family has prompted me to seek work in every field,” says Al-Najjar. “Agriculture was not my first choice.” 

And yet, Al-Najjar’s group has succeeded through their tireless work throughout the year in turning an area of eight acres into a beautiful green piece of land. “Once we harvest a crop, we start planting the land with a new seasonal one,” Aseel explains.  

East of Deir al-Balah, another group of young women headed by Amani Bashir, 30, is utilizing their family’s land to turn it into a source of income. “It is not the opportunity that creates us; we are the ones who create opportunities,” Bashir tells me.  

Heading to the land in the early hours of the morning, Bashir is accompanied by her friend Faten and cousin Nadine, who share in watering crops, fertilizing the land, and picking fruit. They cooperate with each other like a beehive while swapping stories about their lives. 

Bashir is a mother of two children, and she graduated with a degree in Web Design Development, but was not able to find enough work as a freelancer to provide for her family. “We suffer a lack of electricity and internet, which constitutes a great obstacle for every freelancer,” she says. 

Nadine Bashir, 28, also a mother of two children, explained that it is difficult to juggle working on land and motherhood. She said, “It was not easy as I used to accompany my son to school, come to the land, and then come back to prepare lunch, but now I’ve adapted.” 

In winter, the situation gets even worse. The streets in Deir al-Balah and Khuza’a are badly damaged which makes travel difficult. Al-Najjar complains, “This winter was extremely harsh and bitter, damaging a large quantity of crops due to frost.” The muddy streets of both two areas are flooded with rainwater, making access to the land difficult. 

The impact of the siege 

Despite these women’s best efforts, their attempts to build the agriculture section in Gaza is constantly in danger due to Israeli aggression.

The land Al-Najjar works is only 500 meters from the Apartheid fence and constantly exposed to the threat of bulldozers and the spraying of pesticides and toxic gases by the Israeli occupation forces stationed at the fence.  

The presence of the Israeli forces on the border frightens Al-Najjar and the women working with her. She says, “Many times we refrained from going to the land for many days for fear of bulldozers, which adversely affect the crops that need continuous attention.” 

The repeated Israeli bombing of Gaza has also affected the fertility of vast areas of agricultural lands. Some of the lands are no longer suitable for cultivation and some have limited cultivation success. “We made a great effort to make agriculture work on the land, and we are still struggling to make it better,” says Nadine Bashir.  

Nadine and Amani Bashir planted cabbage, and have found their sizes vary, some very small and some large due to the lack of fertility of the land. 

Adham al-Basiouni, a spokesman for the Ministry of Agriculture in Gaza, told Mondoweiss that the recent Israeli aggression on Gaza in May 2021 caused about 55 million dollars in losses to the agricultural sector. 

Al-Bassiouni added that nearly 6,000 farmers were affected by the indiscriminate Israeli bombing, which prevented farmers from reaching the lands, thus exposing hundreds of cultivated acres to damage.

One of the most important challenges facing farmers is the lack of equipment for farming. Both Bashir and Al-Najjar complained about the unavailability of some equipment in the Gaza Strip due to the Israeli closure of the crossings. 

Al-Najjar said that the presence of the Israeli occupation constitutes a huge obstacle to agriculture, and Bashir is constantly afraid that a new Israeli bombing campaign will affect the land and the crops. 

Support from the community 

Although life in rural areas is extremely difficult, people are always trying to support each other. The Green Girls project didn’t cost Al-Najjar much to start as other farmers in Khuza’a were her initial source of support and funding.  

Al-Najjar leased the land from an owner who refused to take any payments until the first crop would be harvested. She explains, “One of the reasons we work in agriculture is because agriculture is the primary industry for most people in the area who helped and supported us.” 

Nadine Bashir explains that using her father’s, husband’s, and relatives’ experience helped her in her project as she had learning to do. “We would all come with our families, make breakfast together, and sit happily chatting about the land and crops.” 

In the year since Amani Bashir first created a Facebook group for women in her area to discuss their issues, she has become an inspirational figure to many women who have voluntarily rushed to help her on the land.  

She tells Mondoweiss that when she posts about her project on the group, she receives hundreds of comments from women who want to learn and also want to start working on their families’ abandoned lands. Bashir says proudly, “They came as volunteers to help us so they gain experience and start their own businesses.” 

Working on the land is a heroic tale. Palestinian woman, both rural and urban, are able to challenge daunting circumstances with only their determination and steadfastness. 

With a trembling voice and eyes brimming with tears, Al-Najjar finishes talking with me by stressing that her close relationship to the land is completely different now than it was before working in agriculture. She says, “This land is not merely soil; it is our strength, hope, and soul.” 

Bashaer Muammar is a Palestinian activist and translator from Gaza, and a graduate of English Language and Art from Islamic University of Gaza