Artillery Bombardments Disrupt Gaza Life

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Palestinians in Gaza are dispirited and frustrated by daily artillery attacks from the Israeli military. The bombardments are in response to Gaza rocket attacks on Israel. Strawberry pickers in Gaza are afraid to come to work and no one can move around much after dark.

LINDA GRADSTEIN reporting:

This is Linda Gradstein.

It's the height of the strawberry season in Gaza and everyone here knows that the best strawberries are from Becklahia(ph), a small village less than a mile from the Israeli border. The strawberries in Mohamed Zarzak's(ph) fields, each one the size of a plum, look too perfect to be real.

Zarzak, a 26-year-old father of one, says this should be his best month of the year. But he says Israel's daily shelling of the area is making life unbearable.

Mr. MOHAMED ZARZAK (Strawberry Farm Owner): (Through translator) The artillery, it's day, morning, evening, night, every time. We live here in horror. The workers, the people, the farmers are all afraid, you know, to stay a long time here. They have damaged all the agricultural system here.

GRADSTEIN: One of his workers, 21-year-old Muneer Tambura(ph), says shrapnel from an Israeli artillery shell landed just a few feet away from him last week, as he was working in a neighboring field. He brings over a rusty chunk of metal, the size of a memo pad with jagged edges and drops it on the ground.

Muneer's cousin, 18-year-old Hisham(ph) Tambura, says the shelling is so heavy at night they can't sleep. He says he's afraid to come to the strawberry fields now. But, says Muneer, the workers feels they have no choice.

Mr. MUNEER TAMBURA (Strawberry Harvester): (Through translator) Well, life is difficult, and we have to get some money to survive. No work in Israel, no work inside Gaza, so what can we do? I am the breadwinner of the whole family.

GRADSTEIN: Farm Owner Mohamed Zarzak says the Tamburas are lucky they still have jobs. He's already laid off 15 of his 25 workers, even though the crop is ready to be picked. Usually Zarzak exports most of his crop via Israel to Europe. But Israel has closed the Carney(ph) Crossing Point for most of the past month, and Zarzak is forced to sell his berries on the local market in Gaza for a fraction of what he usually gets.

The closure of the crossing has also stopped goods from entering Gaza. United Nations' officials say stocks of wheat, sugar and cooking oil are dwindling in Gaza and could begin to run out within days. Israeli officials say the Carney Crossing is closed because of specific warnings of planned terrorist attacks.

And they say the frequent Israeli shelling of Northern Gaza is a response to Palestinian rocket attacks on Southern Israel. But Mohamed Zarzak says it's not fair that he pays the price for the Kasam rockets that are fired at Israel from this region.

Mr. ZARZAK: (Through translator) On this day the Palestinians fire rockets at them, we are the ones paying the price. They hit our land, not the Kasam launchers or the guys who fire rockets.

GRADSTEIN: Zarzak says that when the Israeli soldiers left Gaza last summer after 38 years of occupation, he thought life would improve for the Palestinians. He acknowledges that he can travel freely in Gaza now without having to pass through Israeli checkpoints. But he says in most ways, life is worse than it was before. During the years of occupation, Zarzak says he made about $15,000 a year, a very good income in Gaza. But this year, he says, he's $25,000 in debt.

Linda Gradstein, NPR News.

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