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The siege that will not lift
Wednesday, July 21, 2004

FOR NEARLY a month now the Israeli army has besieged the northern Gaza Strip agricultural town of Beit Hanoun, creating there a humanitarian disaster. The army has blocked off the main routes to the town with tanks and piles of sand, so that the residents of Beit Hanoun have access now to only one sandy route in and out of the town, which they must pass on foot, or if they are lucky, by donkey or horse-drawn cart.

Furthermore, those taking this route to enter or leave the town are always at risk of being shot at from the surrounding Israeli tanks.

A limited number of United Nation Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) and other local charity trucks have been allowed into Beit Hanoun to deliver food supplies.

However, the supplies that have been allowed in are far from sufficient. According to UNRWA, although it managed to deliver by July 14 some 370 tons of food to Beit Hanoun, providing food for more than 20,000 persons, this is only two-thirds of the population of the besieged town. The remaining third have not been reached.

Moreover, the food has arrived late.

Sirriya Mustafa Hamad, 60, mother of 10, walks quickly to keep up with her grandsons who are riding a donkey-drawn cart packed with flour, oil, lentils, sugar and rice just received from a local UNRWA distributing center.

"This is the first aid we have received for 17 days. My son hasn稚 been able to buy us any food at all so far・this food is priceless," Sirriya says pointing at the bags of flour on the cart.

Sirriya reaches her house where her sons start carrying the bags of flour into the house.

"Everybody・she continues 杜ust be home by nine p.m. now because the Israeli soldiers start moving around the town after that・there is continuous gunfire at night."

Indeed, a recent UNRWA press release speaks of the difficult conditions of the inhabitants of Beit Hanoun saying they, "have been living under sever hardship since [the town] was cut off from the rest of Gaza by the Israeli army on June 28. Fresh food supplies have been running low, employees have been unable to reach their work and in some areas the Israeli army has destroyed the water and electricity infrastructure."

Since the eruption of the Intifada almost four years ago, Beit Hanoun has been invaded by the Israeli army dozens of times, under the pretext of thwarting the firing of Qassam rockets by Palestinian activists there. The most recent invasion came just two days after Qassam rockets killed two Israelis.

However, whatever reason the army may give for its incursions into Beit Hanoun, its major activities there have been the leveling of the orange groves that make up the agricultural town.

According to the Beit Hanoun Municipality, during past incursions excluding this current invasion, some 5,000 dunums of, mostly citrus, trees have been bulldozed down by Israeli forces. In addition, an estimated 1,500 dunums of citrus trees have been destroyed in the current invasion.

As if this were not enough, the major infrastructure of the town of 40,000 inhabitants has also been destroyed.

Ibrahim Hamad, mayor of Beit Hanoun, says, "all water, power supplies and telephone lines have been cut and most of the sewage system has been destroyed.・

Hamad continues, "The town's industrial and agricultural facilities have also been ruined. This town used to export honey, cheese and other produce to Arab countries," he added.

Khalil Al Za'anin, a local farmer, said he would not plant new trees to replace those that were destroyed unless international guarantees are given to the Palestinians that Israel will stop "bulldozing our farms."

"The Israeli bulldozers have destroyed what remained of my farm during this invasion," says Al Za'anin. Most of his vegetable farm had been dug up previously by Israeli bulldozers when the army invaded the town and stayed there for over a month a year ago.

Al Za'anin continues, "The Za'anin clan alone has lost more than 2,000 dunums of land which was the source of income for 50 families.・ The army has also demolished dozens of houses during this current invasion into Beit Hanoun.

The house of 20-year-old Anas Ahmad Qallub, who studies law at Al Azhar University in Gaza, was destroyed on July 12. Whilst sitting inside a tent erected over the rubble of his destroyed house near to the western entrance of Beit Hanoun, Qallub watches the inhabitants of the town walking to and fro.

From that high place he also gets a good view of the town, particularly of the huge orange groves that extend deep inside the town.

"The bulldozers didn't stop destroying those groves for weeks," says Qallub.

Qallub also describes the way houses in his neighborhood have been besieged by the army, with nobody able to reach them to provide its inhabitants with food or even to check if anyone inside is hurt.

"A nearby house was besieged by the army for several days,・says Qallub. 展 hen a Red Cross car recently passed by one of the houses, the owner of the house waved a white flag to draw its attention, upon which Israeli soldiers broke into the house and beat the man up," he continues.

But perhaps, worst hit by the siege of Beit Hanoun are those whose houses are surrounded from all sides by the army and who therefore cannot step outside at all.

Um Salah Ashor, mother of 13, who lives in the eastern part of the town, cannot leave her house because it is totally surrounded by the army.

Speaking to her on the telephone she said, "We have almost run out of food and nobody knows how long this siege will continue. I am even feeding my children less to try and make the food last."

Furthermore, a few days ago she was contacted and told her brother had been killed during the current invasion.

She describes how she could barely sneak out of the house to attend his funeral.

"After the funeral all I could think about was my children who I had left at home,・says Um Saleh. 的 was terrified I would get shot on my way home・ I sneaked through orange groves to reach my house," she said.

Just how long those orange groves will continue standing remains to be seen.

Mahmoud Habboush,
(-Published July 21, 2004ゥPalestine Report)


Destruction of Beit Hanoun [1] (July 2004、UNRWA)

Destruction of Beit Hanoun [2] (July 2004、UNRWA)

Destruction of Beit Hanoun [3] (July 2004、UNRWA)

Destruction of Beit Hanoun [4] (July 2004、UNRWA)

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