Does Israel deliberately flood Palestinian land?
For many years, farmers in Gaza have complained about how sudden flows of rainwater have destroyed their crops.
A recent report by the human rights group Al Mezan suggests the cause of many flooding incidents it has documented “cannot be natural.”
Samir Zaqout, a representative of Al Mezan, said that the conclusion was based on what researchers from his organization have witnessed “on the ground” this year.
Researchers, he added, had observed a “rush of water” behind the barrier separating Gaza from Israel following heavy rainfall. The water could then be seen entering Gaza from the Israeli side.
“What we believe is that there are large water pools used for collecting rainwater [inside Israel] and when these pools are full, they release the water toward the Gaza Strip,” Zaqout said.
“Lost in the blink of an eye”
In February, farmers working near the boundary between Gaza and Israel had planned to gather crops so that they could be sold in markets. Yet when they went to work one morning, the farmers saw their land – located east of Gaza City – had been flooded.
“The harvest season was lost in the blink of an eye,” Musad Habib, a farmer in the area, said. His crops included eggplants, tomatoes, lettuce and potatoes.
Musad, 54, blames Israel for the flooding.
Israeli troops want to end farming near the boundary so that they have “a clearer view of the area for military purposes,” Musad said.
“They have fired shots at us many times before,” he added. “They are trying to force us into leaving our land.”
The Israeli military has been previously documented using crop-dusting planes to spray herbicides believed to be carcinogenic along Gaza’s eastern boundary.
It has also razed agricultural and residential land inside Gaza to increase its soldiers’ field of vision.
Musad had planned to have a small celebration the day he found his crops destroyed. If the harvest was successful, he would have ordered a takeaway meal from a restaurant and relaxed with his family that evening.
Instead, he went home from work that day with a deep sense of sadness.
The destruction of his crops has worsened his financial problems, which were already acute. With seven children, two of them married, he is the main breadwinner for his extended family.
“Not even birds are safe”
Hussein Habib owns a poultry farm near Musad Habib’s fields.
Early on the same February day, Hussein received a phone call from another farmer, alerting him to how much of the land had been flooded.
Hussein rushed to his farm. The scene awaiting him was extremely distressing.
He immediately tried to rescue as many of his 1,000 birds as possible. Around half of them could be saved but it was too late for the rest.
They had drowned.
“Not even birds are safe from Israel’s occupation,” Hussein said. “Gaza is densely populated and there isn’t much space to grow crops or to run poultry farms. That is why farmers have to work in the border area; it is away from where people live.”
“We know that it is dangerous and that the Israeli occupation may fire at us at any time,” he added. “But we have no real choice. It is very hard to make a living in Gaza.”
Before Hussein and his colleagues suffered their losses, Israel had already been accused one other time this year of deliberately flooding Gaza’s land.
In January, Muhammad Abu Asir’s crops of eggplant, lettuce, tomato, cucumber, parsley and watercress were flooded.
He tried to salvage what he could and spread soil over the farm he leases in the hope that he would have something, however small, to gather at harvest time. Yet his land was flooded once again the following month.
Aged 50, Abu Asir has suffered greatly from Israeli violence. His home in al-Shujaiyeh, a neighborhood of Gaza City, was destroyed during a major Israeli attack in 2014.
“I constantly face the risk of being killed,” he said. “My four sons have asked me to give up farming. But there is no other job I can do. My whole life is connected to the land.”
“I am extremely distressed,” he added. “Do Israeli farmers have the same problems as us? If there were attacks on them, Israel would accuse Palestinians of terrorism. The constant Israeli attacks on Palestinians struggling to make a living are terrorism.”
According to Al Mezan, Israel deliberately flooded Gaza’s farms on seven occasions during 2020. Approximately 50 acres of land was affected as a consequence.
Human rights campaigners raised evidence that suggested a policy of deliberate flooding with the Israeli military last year. Amit Shohanski, a legal adviser to Israel’s army, responded by saying that it was “not responsible for administering and operating water reservoirs in the areas adjacent to the Gaza Strip.”
The military, Shohanski claimed, “did not act in any way to regulate or divert water from the reservoirs on the Israeli side in the direction of the Gaza Strip, if that is indeed what transpired.”
Samir Zaqout from Al Mezan noted that it was not the first time that Israeli troops had “denied their crimes.”
“If they admitted to these crimes, then they would be responsible for compensating farmers for the harm caused. And the farmers would be able to sue Israel. So this is not something that the Israelis are going to admit.”
Amjad Ayman Yaghi is a journalist based in Gaza.