The Qudaih family’s four-dunam farm complex includes a greenhouse that Abd el Haleem Qudaih built and that he transforms with the seasons —contingent on the absence of war, blockade, or destruction by air raids and tanks. Since 2006, the greenhouse, necessary to grow tomatoes for export, has been repeatedly destroyed.

Agricultural fields and greenhouses in Khuza’a

Just before the Second Intifada, which began in September 2000, the Qudaih family’s relationship with their Israeli neighbors seemed to be impro-ving. A new initiative called the Leadership Agricultural Cooperative, assembled under the auspices of the Histadrut (General Organization of Workers in Israel), allowed the region’s farmers, including Abd el Haleem, to improve agricultural production through increased access to supplies and markets. But the expansion of Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank brought an escalation of violence to the area, resulting in, first, the intifada, and then, among other things, the unilateral design and construction of another Israeli wall around and the West Bank, which cut off farmers’ access.

After the 2003 Oslo talks, the situation in Gaza began to rapidly deteriorate. In 2004, the Israeli government launched the construction of a new wall around the Gaza Strip, further enclosing the area and expanding Israeli presence. Israel’s twenty-one settlements—designed, constructed, and inhabited since 1967, when Israel took hold of the Gaza Strip after the Six-Day War—continued to expand. However, after increasing protest from the international community, which held that Israeli settlements in Gaza violated Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, Israel began to formally disengage from the strip.

This disengagement was finalized on 12 September 2005. Israel evacuated its settlements and army posts from the Gaza Strip, retaining exclusive control over Gaza’s airspace and territorial waters. The government continued to monitor and blockade Gaza’s coastline and patrol the external land perimeter of the Gaza Strip, with the exception of its southernmost border, where Egypt retained control of the border and where European monitors supervised crossings.

By 2006, the Israeli fence around Gaza was completed, and the movement of people and goods, including produce, grew more restricted. Two border-crossing points were designated for the movement of people — the Erez Crossing into Israel in the north and the Rafah Crossing into Egypt in the south — with three points — the Karni Crossing into Israel in the east, the Sufa Crossing further north, and the Kerem Shalom Crossing on Gaza’s southern border with Egypt — designated for goods, produce, and materials.

Around the same time, Israel seized and cleared land along the new fence, including the Qudaih family’s, and declared it a buffer zone, bulldozing twenty of the family’s olive trees in the process.

Not long after, Hamas took control of Gaza through Palestinian elections, leading to cross-border raids and war. Over a number of weeks, the Israeli military fired artillery rounds into Gaza and bombed buildings in its Operation Summer Rains, killing at least 240 Palestinians, at least half of whom were civilians. The Qudaih farm was one such target. The farm, including the two family greenhouses, was fully destroyed, leaving the family without the resources to reconstruct. With their greenhouses demolished, the family had to stop producing tomatoes and to shift to vegetables that could grow outside, such as onions, potatoes, and squash.

The Qudaih family’s destroyed date palms, olive trees, and greenhouse following Operation Summer Rains.

After a couple years, the family managed to rebuild the greenhouse, but it did not last. In 2008, during Operation Cast Lead, the newly built greenhouse, the farm’s irrigation system, and the family’s date palms  were all at least partially destroyed.

In 2014, two consecutive operations, Returning Echo and Pillar of Defense, both involving direct attacks on Khuza’a, further damaged the farm. That same year’s Operation Protective Edge then saw the village bombarded by air, cut off from the rest of the strip, and besieged by tanks, with some 80 percent of its buildings—including, again, the Qudaih family’s greenhouse, along with the home of some extended family—severely damaged and destroyed.

Natural pollination at the Qudaih’s greenhouse

While the greenhouse was finally rebuilt in 2016 and remains intact, the war forced the Qudaih family to develop new models of self-reliance on the farm—namely, to transition from their market-driven export of agricultural produce to subsistence farming, which continues to be the model by which the family lives.

Foundation for Achieving Seamless Territory, 2021