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Gaza border residents live under constant Israeli fire

Israeli troops regularly fire on Gaza's border residents, with locals suspecting Israel is trying to reestablish a buffer zone inside the Gaza Strip.
A member of Palestinian civil defense extinguishes a fire at a Hamas training camp after it was hit by an Israeli air strike in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip December 24, 2013. A Gaza sniper shot dead an Israeli civilian over the border on Tuesday and Israel hit back with air strikes on two Hamas training camps which hospital officials said killed a Palestinian girl near one of the targets. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa (GAZA - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST) - RTX16TBF

KHAN YOUNIS, Gaza Strip — Iyad Kodeih lives 400 meters away from the border overlooking the town of Abasan, east of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip. He looks with suspicion toward a group of Israeli military jeeps driving a few meters away from the border fence, hoping that calm will continue to prevail. Kodeih looks worriedly at his watch and warns this Al-Monitor correspondent, “It is 4 p.m. You have only one hour to finish your report and get out of this place.” At 5 p.m., he said, Israeli soldiers start shooting sporadically at the houses in Gaza.

On a dirt hill adjacent to his house, which looks like “a sponge full of holes,” Kodeih talked about living along the border. “Life here is hell on earth. With nightfall, people flee their houses and go to their neighbors’ who live a little behind, a strategy they adopt to escape death,” he said.

Kodeih shared that Palestinian social life in the area is almost paralyzed and that visitors dare not come to the area because they fear for their lives. Meanwhile, the local residents live in a state of ongoing terror, hoping to avoid the bullets stopped by the walls of their homes.

“My wife's family did not want us to continue living in such danger, so they offered us a piece of land to live on. My wife sold her gold jewelry so we could afford to build a new house, which was targeted by Israeli shelling that reduced it to rubble,” Kodeih confided.

This bitter reality is also suffered by farmers, shepherds and gravel collectors, who risk being shot by Israeli forces as they go about their business. Their only fault is that they refuse to leave their homes and lands.

Farid Abu Anzah, a farmer packing up to leave his field, adjacent Kodeih’s house, said, “Those soldiers keep shooting at us. Every time it happens, I hide behind the rock wall until calm is restored, and then I go back to work.”

Abu Anzah explained to Al-Monitor that he owns​​ 10 acres [40 dunams], which is part of a larger holding of ​​19 acres [80 dunams] owned by a tribe. “The soldiers shoot at us whenever we try to till and cultivate the land because of its proximity to the border.” He added, pointing to a number of nearby houses, “Dozens of people have fled their homes and left their land for good after some of their loved ones were shot. This is what the occupation is seeking to achieve.” 

Talal Okal, a political analyst based in Gaza, believes that the purpose of firing on residents along the border is, indeed, to force them to leave and then to reestablish a 500-meter buffer zone inside Gaza. He told Al-Monitor that the Israelis' actions are causing damage to the Palestinian economy, which depends heavily on agricultural production for the provision of food for the population.

According to a report by the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR), ​​agricultural land in the border area totals 62.6 square kilometers, which is 35% of all farmland in Gaza and 17% of ​​the territory. The PCHR report emphasizes the inability of farmers to access their land, highlighting that the Israelis were using live ammunition to target residents in the area.

Israel and the Palestinian armed factions signed a cease-fire agreement, mediated by Egypt, in November 2012, after Israel launched Operation Pillar of Cloud against Gaza. The agreement included removal of the Israeli buffer zone inside Gaza's eastern border and allowing farmers to carry on their traditional livelihoods there without risk.

Abu Anzah said that Israel has not complied with the truce and voiced concerns that it would launch a new aggression against Gaza that might once again reduce his agricultural land to waste.

According to Okal, Israel has violated the agreement since the day it was signed. “The occupation forces sought to send a message to the people of Gaza and the resistance factions through these violations whereby the truce means submission, not security and stability.”

According to a statement published by the Al-Mezan Center for Human Rights, since early 2013 until Jan. 6 this year, 154 Palestinians have been victims of shooting in the border area. This figure includes 11 dead (among them 2 children), 70 wounded (including 13 children and 4 women) and 73 detainees (among them 35 children).

The center noted that a group of children had been targeted on Jan. 2 as they walked near the eastern cemetery, in the north. Adnan Abu Khater, 16, was hit by a live bullet in the pelvis and died the following day. On Feb. 13, Ibrahim Mansour, a gravel collector, was killed by a bullet to the head in eastern Gaza, and another gravel worker, Rafiq al-Horkalli, was shot in his right foot.

According to Rami Abdo, director of the Euro-Mediterranean Observatory for Human Rights, Israel has committed serious violations of international law and international humanitarian law by targeting residents of the border areas. Abdo explained to Al-Monitor that a number of victims have filed lawsuits in Israeli courts to obtain compensation. “But these lawsuits did not succeed as a result of complicity between the military and the Israeli judicial institutions,” he added.

Abdo said that those affected have also filed lawsuits before European courts through the “international jurisdiction gateway,” but, he contended, “Israel has managed to downplay the risk of these prosecutions by putting pressure on states to amend their laws.”

“Facing these obstacles, only one legal means can hold Israel accountable — the prosecution of its leaders before the International Criminal Court," Abdo asserted. He believes that this will be achieved through the political will of the Palestinians through the Rome Statute.

Until then, residents of the border areas have few options left. Their last resort would be to surrender to Israel’s suspected intentions and leave their homes and agricultural lands for life in a safer place.

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