Gaza fishermen AP June 11, 2010
Palestinian fishermen preparing their boats before leaving the Gaza City port to fish on the Mediterranean sea. Photo by AP
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Over the last ten years, the Israel Defense Forces have increasingly restricted Palestinian access to farmland on the Gazan side of the Israeli-Gaza border as well as to fishing zones along the Gaza beach, a United Nations report revealed Thursday.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) wrote in the report, complied in cooperation with the World Food Program (WFP), that Israel's justification for these restrictions was the prevention of attacks on Israel, including the firing of rockets.

The report was compiled in an effort to understand the extent of the restrictions as well as their effect on the Palestinians' sense of personal security, their ability to make a living and their ability to access services. The report was based on more than 100 interviews and focus group meetings, as well as the analysis of data gathered from other sources.

According to the report, since 2008 the IDF has prevented access to land up to 1,500 meters outside the Green Line, and to naval zones up to 4.5 kilometers from the shore. All in all the IDF restricts access to 17 percent of Gaza's territory. At sea, the fishermen are completely barred from 85 percent of the naval territory to which they are entitled under the Oslo Accords.

The report estimates that some 178,000 individuals are directly affected by these access restrictions.

According to OCHA, the IDF enforces uses life fire on individuals who enter restricted zones. Though in most cases the troops fire warning shots, 22 people have been killed and 146 have been wounded in such incidents since the end of Operation Cast Lead in January 2009. The report further argues that this method of enforcement violates international humanitarian law, and that the local Palestinian population was never informed by Israel of the exact nature of the restrictions.

The research conducted by OCHA also suggested that the IDF has leveled farmland and destroyed personal property situated in restricted areas in efforts to keep Palestinians out. The farmers who own the lands have tried to make up the lost income with alternate forms of farming, the report argues, but their ability to harvest their crops is limited and the profits from the alternate methods comprise a fraction of the income generated on the original land. OCHA estimated some $308 million in losses as a direct result of the Israeli restrictions.

Most of the farmers interviewed for the report said that since the expansion of the restricted zone they have lost more than two thirds of their income. Others reported that their income has been entirely eliminated. The same was true for Gaza fishermen, who have lost an estimated $26.5 million over the last five years.

Other effects of the restrictions include the deterioration in the quality of food consumed by Gazans, gradual changes in diet (from fresh produce and meat to carbohydrate-rich cheap items), decrease in school attendance and a decrease in the age of marriage for girls, the report maintained.

The IDF policy also affects access to schools, seven of which are inside restricted areas, the students' and teachers' security, the quality of education and academic achievements, the report argued.

OCHA called on Israel to lift the restrictions immediately and fulfill it international humanitarian obligation. The organization especially stressed its call on Israel to refrain from opening fire at civilians and destroying their personal property.