Reference : V-P-IL-E-00823
Date : 11/2007
Caption : Gaza strip, El Qarara village. An ICRC agricultural project.
Photographer : KÖNIG, Andrea
Confidentiality level : public
Publication restrictions : publication without restrictions
Copyright : ICRC
Description : ICRC website, The ICRC worldwide, Middle East and North Africa, Palestine:

19-11-2007 Stories from the field

Gaza: date palms and olive trees on levelled land
Over the past two decades, farmers of the community of El Qarara in the Gaza Strip have seen their land levelled and some of it taken over completely as security zones were expanded. The ICRC is helping the farmers rehabilitate their land, livelihoods – and community spirit.

"It was like paradise here. Everything was green. We had citrus trees and could export our products abroad," remembers Abdel, a farmer of El Qarara in the Gaza Strip. But this was many years ago.

He first began to lose bits of his land in the 1990s, when some land was confiscated to build a road linking the former settlement block of Gush Katif to Israel. With the beginning of the second Intifada, he lost more land, as the security zone along the road was expanded. His land was levelled and his trees uprooted.

"First they took land for the road. Later they took more land for the security zone on both sides of the road. Then they destroyed my brother's house that was too close to the security zone of the road," he remembers.

Homes and livelihoods destroyed

His brother Saleh adds, "By exporting our crops in earlier years, we earned much more than we could spend. But with the loss of land, our income gradually became smaller. I put all my savings into the house. It was destroyed in 2004. I could not rebuild it. I have no money left." Saleh moved back to his father's house. With the second Intifada, land was levelled on both sides of the road resulting in a loss of up to 700 meters on each side, from 2000 to 2004 over 20 houses were destroyed in El Qarara.

Left to their own devices, it is doubtful that many farmers would have rehabilitated their land by themselves. Some were too discouraged from their long history of continued loss of land and others did not have the financial means to rehabilitate either land or the destroyed wells.

Since 1948, the population of the Gaza Strip has dramatically increased. One inherited plot of farming land is not sufficient anymore to feed an entire household. Every farming household has to have access to the plots of its extended family in order to survive on full time farming.

Over the last few decades, infrastructures have been added without taking into account previous land tenure arrangements. In addition, land levelling operations of the farming land has resulted in farmers not being able to identify their plot boundaries. This has led to tensions within the community over land tenure issues.

Working together once again

With the assistance of the ICRC, the levelled land has been cleaned, fenced and two wells have been rehabilitated for the irrigation of agricultural land, in order to help the farmers re-cultivate and thus, contribute to improving their household economy as well as reuniting the community.

"There is a lack of water in the Gaza Strip, but also the quality of water has dramatically worsened over the past years," says Marc Beuniche, the ICRC's agronomist in Gaza. "This, in addition to the increase in population density means that the agricultural sector cannot be restored as it was before the second Intifada." Therefore, the ICRC has decided to assist the community of El Qarara with trees consuming less water and which are more resistant with regard to salinity. So far, 917 date palms have been purchased locally and planted in El Qarara with a second phase of the same programme planting an additional 7,000 olive trees in the near future.

In order to generate an immediate income for the farmers until they can harvest the trees for the first time in approximately five years, a part of the rehabilitated land will be used for vegetables such as eggplant and okra, as these vegetables are the most resistant to the current water supply available on the Gaza Strip.

"This project not only helps us rehabilitate our levelled land," says Abdel Hadi Abu Hadaf, "it made the community talk and work together again. This is worth more than money."

Original material : digital
Resolution : 2048x1536
Orientation : landscape
Colour/B&W : colour