For the first time in five years, stands selling grapes, figs, peppers and cucumbers in the south of the Sheikh Ajlin neighborhood, across from the concrete military post guarding Netzarim, were operating this summer. The stands are not far from what was once a road connecting the coastal road to the Salah al-Din road that has been swallowed up by the surrounding sands. These desolate sands were once vineyards and fields, and the Sheikh Ajlin area once offered one of the most breathtaking views in the entire Gaza Strip: sea to the west, with soft sand dunes gradually covered with climbing vines, pepper plants, tomatoes and fig trees.
In the past five years, all of the vineyards and fields surrounding the settlement, covering a radius ranging between 50 cm. to one kilometer, were uprooted. Were it not for the more distant vineyards that still stand, no one would know that this is one of Gaza's most fertile areas.
Farmers sell their crops from small stands along the coast throughout the year. This year, on the eve of the withdrawal, they dared to go as far south as the now-invisible connecting road.
Most of the sellers are youths from the Shamelekh family; some 2,000 members of the family live in Sheikh Ajlin.
"Maybe it was my grandfather, maybe my great-grandfather, who planted our first grapevines," said Abu Khalil Shamelekh. A distant relative, Abu Ali Shamelekh, said the exact same words. They said the vineyards are at least 70 years old. About 20 years ago, the farmers tore out the vines and planted vegetables to gain a year-round income. Some farmers lease out part of their land, some hire day laborers, some do all the work themselves.
The latter was the case with the parents of Abd al-Samad Shamelekh, 10, who sent him to pick eggplants and cucumbers on June 21, 2002. It was a Friday. At 5:00 or 6:00 A.M., shots were heard. Palestinians shot an improvised anti-tank missile at an IDF post. A soldier was seriously wounded. The IDF returned fire and sent a bulldozer to demolish a PA police post.
By 8:00 A.M., everything was quiet. Traffic resumed on the coastal road, and the children went back out. Shortly after 9:00 A.M., a few neighbors rushed in and said that Abd al-Samad was shot. His parents ran to the hospital and found him dead. The IDF Spokesman's Office told Haaretz at the time that it had probably responded to renewed Palestinian fire, but journalists and residents who came to document the army's destruction of crops following the missile strike said the only shooting was from Netzarim or from an IDF tank.
Dozens of people, mainly women and children, laid on the ground and buried their faces in the sand, terrified. Abd al-Samad was killed. And then the bulldozer destroyed his family's eggplant and tomato fields.
Abd al-Samad was one of 114 Palestinians killed in the Netzarim area in the past five years, and one of 17 children under the age of 16, according to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights.
According to another human rights organization, Mezan, 38 of those killed belonged to one of the Palestinian military organizations that conducted military actions against settlements or IDF positions in the area. Five were killed under unclear circumstances, four were assassinated, and 19 were killed east of Netzarim in demonstrations during the outset of the intifada.
On August 28, 2002, the Al Hajin family was in its vineyard. It was a period of calm, Abu Ali Shamelekh related. The family often slept near their vineyard, even after the harvest. They slept on mattresses, under the stars, where anyone could see them - especially the IDF, with its night vision equipment.
A few weeks before, Othaman Al Hajin told Haaretz that an officer came to the vineyard. His wife, Ruweida, explained their presence there. The family felt safe after the visit, but shortly before midnight on August 28, three flechette shells were fired at the family. No Palestinian fire preceded the shells. According to the IDF, the commander believed there was "incriminating combat activity." Ruweida Al Hajin and two of her sons were killed by the shell, which is filled with small, sharp darts that penetrate the body. Some are still visible in the walls of the house next door.
For Abu Ali Shamelekh, Netzarim is 114 people killed, including 17 children; 1,915 dunams of destroyed vineyards and fields; and 105 houses that were demolished and another 35 partially torn down.
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