Abu Halima next to the damaged greenhouse. Photo by Mohammed Azaiza
Abu Halima next to the damaged greenhouse. Photo by Mohammed Azaiza

There is a hydroponic greenhouse in northern Beit Lahia that is considered one of the most successful agricultural technology projects in the Gaza Strip. Based on innovative water-balancing techniques, the project manages to maximize land use and reduce water consumption. Last spring, the farm’s two dunams (about half an acre) produced some 800 kg of green beans, 30,000 heads of lettuce, 7,000 heads of broccoli and about a ton of herbs. On May 19, 2021, the greenhouse was hit during air and artillery strikes by Israel, destroying the bean crop and other seedlings and damaging the structure as well as equipment inside it.

The hydroponic project was founded in 2019 by Abdallah Abu Halima, a 34-year-old married father of three, who received a degree in geographic information systems from Al-Azhar University. Abu Halima started the project in search of solutions for the challenges faced by local farmers – the scarcity of farmland, the high cost of preparing land for crops, and the water shortage. Another goal was to supply seasonal, organically grown vegetables year-round.

The project’s success exceeded Abu Halima’s expectations. He employed a staff of 11, including three of his brothers, and received a lot of interest from large companies and academic institutions. Shortly before the latest round of hostilities, two medical herb companies, Bader and Haniya, had launched a pilot project to grow their plants using Abu Halima’s hydroponic methods. The pilot’s success would have significantly contributed to the expansion of Abu Halima’s business.

“When you’re a young academic who can’t find work in your field, and the situation in Gaza is so hard, it’s depressing,” says Abu Halima. “When you manage to start a project that’s the first of its kind in the Middle East, you become someone very special. The universities are in touch with me, various institutions wanted to publish information about my work. It filled me with pride. But within minutes, all my investment and efforts were lost.”

Rebuilding the hydroponic farm, Abu Halima says, is a particularly challenging task. “I worry I’ll suffer the same fate as farmers and various businesses did in 2014,” he says. “Back then, the focus was on housing, which is certainly important, but entrepreneurs and farmers received no compensation. I want to rebuild, but how and where should I start?”

Even if he secures funding, the restrictions Israel imposes on the entry of goods into the Strip, particularly those it defines as “dual-use,” complicate the prospect of reconstruction. The plastic containers used to grow the plants and the pumps used to water them are not available in Gaza, and neither are fertilizers, which are heavily restricted if not blocked entirely by Israel.

“We live under a tight closure,” says Abu Halima. “Closure isn’t just a word, it’s an action. You understand the meaning of the term when you need something and have to run all over the Strip looking for it. Even when you invest, put in the effort, and create new things out of nothing – suddenly, without warning, they send you back to square one.”