Children of the gravel

On Saturday, May 22, 2010, Hasan, 17, was shot in the leg in the now-defunct Erez industrial area in the northern Gaza Strip: “I was collecting gravel with the other workers, when one of the Israeli soldiers in the watchtower fired a shot which hit me in the right leg. I immediately fell to the ground in great pain. Everyone started running away, except for one youngster who I didn’t know, who came and tried to help me, but he couldn’t lift me”. In the meantime, the soldiers kept firing and the boy who came to help Hasan also had to run away. Finally, Hasan was rushed to hospital. “My leg was in a cast for two months, and now I still can’t walk properly and feel pain whenever I move it. I don’t know when I will be able to walk again, even though my family needs the money, and there are no other alternatives”.

One month later, on June 7, 17-year-old Awad was shot in the same place: “At around 9:30 A.M., I bent over to pick up some gravel when I heard a shot being fired. The bullet hit me in the right knee and I fell over in great pain. Youngsters around me started running in all directions and I saw my brothers running towards me”. Awad fainted, waking up later in hospital. “Since that day, I’ve been feeling numbness in my right leg and I can’t walk on it like I used to”.

About two weeks later, on June 22, 16-year-old Abdullah was shot while working in the evacuated Israeli settlement of Elei Sinai: “It was around 6:00 A.M. I heard a shot being fired from the Israeli watchtower and I immediately fell to the ground in great pain. My brothers and cousins rushed towards me and put me on the cart and rushed me to the main road. My ankle was bleeding and I felt it going numb”. Abdullah was rushed to hospital, where he underwent an urgent operation. “I still feel pain in my right leg and I don’t know whether I will be able to walk normally again or not”.

 These disturbing testimonies were recently published on the website of the Palestinian branch of Defense for Children International (DCI), which defends children’s rights worldwide. The three boys’ stories point towards the difficult economic situation in the Gaza Strip, where young people put themselves at risk and work as gravel collectors along the border fence with Israel in order to support their families. Furthermore, the testimonies illustrate how despite the “disengagement”, Israel continues to restrict movement inside Gaza. According to international organizations the restrictions are enforced in 17% of the total area of the Strip, however, the boundaries of the restricted areas are not clearly marked for the population and the terms of access to them have not been explained. (A U.N. Report on the subject shows that in the first seven months of 2010, seven residents were killed and 94 were wounded in the buffer zones). Just this week it was reported that four people were killed and several more injured by military fire near the border fence.

The testimonies show that many young people work daily collecting gravel in the Erez industrial park and the evacuated Israeli settlements in the area. Furthermore, according to their testimonies, at the moment the boys were shot they were not doing anything that could have been perceived as dangerous. Why, then, did the soldiers shoot the boys? Was everyone who was shot really suspected of being a terrorist or trying to infiltrate Israel? What rules of engagement were the soldiers following? We requested a response to the testimonies from the IDF spokesperson, but by the time of publication it had not yet been received.

Since the declaration of the easing of the closure of Gaza in July 2010, Israel has allowed about 600 trucks of construction materials into the Gaza Strip, or in other words, about 4% of need. As long as Israel continues to forbid the entry of building materials into the Gaza Strip, the informal gravel industry will continue to flourish and young people will continue to risk this dangerous option to support their families.

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