Today we went to Beit Hanoun to help the farmers to pick cabbage. Its sounds like boring hard work, especially as it was raining quite hard off and on while we were there but actually it was a really enjoyable and interesting day. When we arrived at the field we joined a group of young farm labourers who made the morning very enjoyable with their singing, laughing and joking as we worked quickly to gather as many cabbage in a short period of time as possible. The field we were working on was quite some distance from the fence, we only heard gunfire twice and didn’t feel directly targeted, the jeep only showing itself once on the treeline before stopping behind a small hill in the distance. We helped pile the motorized cart high with cabbage and chatted in the rain until the cars arrived to take us back into Beit Hanoun.
While we were chatting one of the farmers talked about his Grandmother and the stories she told him about her childhood here. We were stunned when he told us that she had talked about being able to go from Beit Hanoun to Hebron in only half an hour in those days. It was something we hadn’t thought about, when your in Gaza everywhere in the West Bank seems like such a long way away but when you think about it it makes sense, it’s actually only around 40km. To get there today takes a minimum of 2 days with no stop, Beit Hanoun – Cairo-Round the Southern tip of the Sinai via Sharm El Sheikh to cross at Taba into Israel then on to Hebron. That is of course if you are a privileged International, for a Palestinian there are a whole new set of problems.
Beit Hanoun is an interesting town, it’s directly across the border from Sderot. A place I’ve heard of very often and met a couple of residents of but never had the chance to visit. The countryside here is gently rolling low hills and as you leave Beit Hanoun to reach the fields you see Sderot in the distance. Built right up to the border, mainly nestled in between two hills with some of the red roofed buildings of the town on top of one and a large army installation with radio towers on the other.
Being so close to Sderot has meant that Beit Hanoun comes under huge pressure with all houses within one and a half miles of the border bulldozed, mainly in 2009 and all of the citrus trees which used to cover this landscape destroyed in order to leave clear lines of sight for the Israeli Military. Every building facing Sderot shows serious damage from shelling bombing and gunfire, and across the town there are damaged houses. Why is it that I had never heard of Beit Hanoun before I came to Gaza and yet Sderot is on the lips of every Israeli and everyone who defends the Zionist policies of Israel, ingraining it on everyone’s conciseness? Perhaps because there are so many places in Gaza which have the same damage, the same experience of attack, destroyed homes and death due to Israeli Military action? Whereas Sderot is special, in Israel it is the one place which has seen regular rockets causing some structural damage and very occasional death. Is it too much to ask that the violent death or injury of a human being is treated with the same shock and grief whichever side of the border it’s on? That the damage to lives and property is judged by the same standards wherever they occur?
By Theresa in Gaza