BY JOST FRANKO
“Remember where there used to be trees full of clementines, and peaches, and olives here, remember?” asked five-year-old Zain upon my return to Rafah, after the last war in 2014. “The soldiers took them,” he explained. Like most farmers, his father Sami Qudaih cannot afford to buy his family a new home and cultivate land in a safer part of the Strip. They’re forced to build and rebuild their home, war after war, on the land from where the eyes can only see the border, and sniper towers surround children’s playgrounds.
Most of the Palestinian farmland in Gaza is located at the so-called buffer zones—a no man’s land that was established as a safety barrier by Israel. Bullets and tank shells frequently land in their fields, and shrapnel often decorates their homes. Even though the official length of the “safety zone” is 300 metres, in reality, the buffer zone can extend up to 1,500 metres from the fence (border with Israel), and is enforced with lethal force.
Jihan and Mohammad Abu Daqqa were raising five children in the town of Khan Younis. Their house was roughly 300m from the Israeli border. After the war in 2014, they were left with nothing—their land was bombed and so was their home. The harvest they were storing in the shed next to the house was also destroyed along the way. “I’ve been through dozens of wars, I’ve witnessed everything. Our home was always affected, but not to this dimension,” Mohammed Abu Daqqa recalls. “But when I hear stories from others, I’m just thankful my family is alive.”
War has critically weakened the agricultural economy and destroyed much of the farmland. During my previous visit to Gaza Strip in the same period, it was harvesting season. After the 2014 war—the Operation Protective Edge—olives, clementines and eggplants were not there to be harvested.
We were sitting in Khalil Zaanin’s farm in the northern part of the Strip, when a man on a donkey cart passed us by. They greeted each other by raising a hand. A little after, Khalil told me, that the man, a fellow farmer, has lost 17 members of his family in the 2014 war—and he was the only one that survived.“It’s a life with no guarantees whatsoever…whether you have plans or not, it doesn’t matter,” says Khalil.
Jost Franko is an independent documentary photographer from Slovenia.
The photo story of the December 2016 issue of Fountain Ink.