To Change Your Life, Make Something Grow
Gaza Green Girls reclaiming their lives through agriculture
“This land is not merely soil; it is our strength, hope, and soul.” Aseel Al-Najjar
What do you do as a young woman living under siege, threatened by periodic bombing and shooting, held captive in Gaza, sometimes called “the world’s largest open air prison?” If you’re like Aseel Al-Najjar and her friends, you start a farm.
As described by Palestinian journalist Bashaer Muammar in a story on Mondoweiss, three women in their 20s graduated college and rapidly found that, in the devastated economy of Gaza, there were no jobs for them. They decided to do create something everyone in Gaza needed, more food.
There was a piece of land near their town of Khuza’a, unused because of the difficulties and dangers of farming 500 meters from the barbed wire border wall, under the eyes of Israeli snipers. Although soldiers sometimes shoot from there or drive bulldozers over the land, the friends decided that, given a chance, the land could provide for their families.
They dubbed themselves the Gaza Green Girls, rented some land and started learning how to farm and restore the soil. “Through their tireless work,” writes Muammar, “they have succeeded in turning an area of eight acres into a beautiful green piece of land.” They started by growing peas and carrots and have since expanded into a wide range of vegetables and fruits. They rotate crops to keep the land active and replenish the soil.
“Once we harvest a crop,” says Al-Najjar, “we start planting the land with a new seasonal one.” This reminds me of the Cuban organic urban farms, where customers buy a plant; farmers pull it out of the ground and immediately plant another one in its place.
According to their Facebook page and Instagram, they have gone almost completely organic now. They do a lot of composting. The Israeli blockade doesn’t allow many agricultural inputs anyway, and the Green Girls hope using restorative-type agriculture will help the land keep producing.
They are developing community supported agriculture, promising potential customers:” reliable safe food, home delivery, safe quality and taste, and no use of harmful chemicals.” It seems to be working; more Palestinian farmers are adopting these practices. But the threat of Israeli violence is ever present.
Farming under occupation
Imagine farming land when you don’t know from day to day if the land will be bombed. Imagine being a plant trying to grow in such hostile conditions. According to Bashaer Muammar, “The repeated Israeli bombing has affected the fertility of vast areas of agricultural lands.” Due to contamination from bombing, “Some of the lands are no longer suitable for cultivation and some have limited cultivation success.”
Along with bombing, Israeli soldiers often spray herbicides from drones and crop dusters, damaging crops, Palestinian farmer Youssef Abu Maghadid told the journal Middle East Eye. “Sometimes this happens only a few days before the harvest season… You can imagine the amount of losses we endure,” said the 47-year-old farmer.
Israeli soldiers also spray tear gas to keep people away from the border fence, and the gas forces farmers to stop working the land for hours at a time. These attacks limit the district’s food supply so more people go hungry.
Adham al-Basiouni, a spokesman for the Ministry of Agriculture in Gaza, told Mondoweiss that the recent Israeli aggression on Gaza in May 2021 caused about 55 million dollars in losses to the agricultural sector. Al-Bassiouni added that nearly 6,000 farmers were affected by the indiscriminate Israeli bombing, They couldn’t reach their lands, “thus exposing hundreds of cultivated acres to damage.”
The occupation limits farming in other ways. Bombed out streets make it hard to get to and from the land or to bring equipment. The border blockade makes it impossible to sell produce to customers outside Gaza. It prevents purchase of agricultural equipment and supplies. The limitations on Internet use and electricity blackouts make communicating and marketing far more difficult.
Despite all the oppressive obstacles, the Green Girls and other female farmers are finding that growing food helps them survive and thrive amid the occupation. According to the Israeli non-profit gisha.org, farming brings women together, building communities to help each other with child care and other life challenges.
30 year old farmer Nadine Bashir told Mondoweiss, “We made a great effort to make agriculture work on the land, and we are still struggling to make it better. The occupation, the fence, the border crossings keep us from pursuing our dream, but we are not giving up.”
Working the land seems to give the women of Gaza strength. Al-Najjar says her whole attitude toward the land has changed since she started farming. “I see that land is not merely soil,” she says. “It is our strength, our hope, and our soul.”
The attitude of loving land and growing things on it pulls them to defend it any way they can. It means continually working to heal and enrich the land and protect it from damage. It’s what we need all over the world. They are healing the land and themselves and resisting oppression by doing so.
Growing things is a powerful way to heal the Earth. But it seems restorative agriculture can only go so far, if industrial capitalism/colonialism is against it. We see this in the Ohio Valley of the United States, where the Amish have farmed organically for 150 years, protecting their land. Now a train full of chemicals has blown up nearby and may (or hopefully may not) poison their land for years.
Outside forces can cripple the best restorative farming practices. Israel bombs and gasses Gaza farms, making it very hard to grow safe food. It’s as if industry and the colonial powers are making war on the land itself.
I’m not sure people and land can win this fight. But maybe the most powerful stand we can take is to start growing things ourselves.
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