Saturday morning in Gaza. We were crouched down in the middle of Israel’s so-called buffer zone, listening to Israeli gunfire – directed at us.
They were warning shots – over our heads. But still close enough to convince all of us it was not a good idea to hang around.
With two film crews, four cameras, four international volunteers and a foreign journalist present, I foolishly thought that perhaps the Israeli army would not open fire inside the buffer zone.
That perhaps they would drive up in their jeeps, take a look and then head off.
But the experience of the Mavi Mamara, when Israeli soldiers killed nine activists, should have taught me that the presence of foreigners and media is no deterrent when it comes to the Israeli army.
The buffer zone is Palestinian farm land adjacent to the Israeli-controlled border around Gaza.
Israel has declared it a no-go area for “security” reasons. Venturing inside, in the area between the border and 300 metres out, is risking being shot by the Israeli army.
Sometimes they shoot even beyond the 300-metre mark.
But the buffer zone is important to Palestinians too. Thirty per cent of Gaza’s most arable farm land is here.
Now, though, most of it is has fallen fallow.
Any houses or sheds here were bulldozed by Israel during the January 2009 war.
Farming under fire
Today only the most stubborn, brave or committed of Gaza’s farmers continue to work their fields inside the buffer zone.
We met one of them – Abu Thaima.
He has three wives, more than 20 children and before the war he also had a profitable farm.
Now his old house is a pile of cement in the buffer zone, surrounded by weeds.
But he is defying Israel. He has planted his crop by hand. No machines are allowed inside here. And now he’s ready to harvest the crop.
Abu Thaima leads the group of women into the buffer zone. Apparently Israel is less likely to shoot Palestinian women than men.
A few minutes later, Israeli jeeps arrived and the firing started.
It was the first time I had heard live gunfire. No rubber-coated bullets or tear gas here. This was the real thing.
Gaza’s ‘human shields’
While Israel was firing, four international volunteers – so-called human shields -stood their ground. Wearing fluorescent vests they recorded the incident on small video cameras.
Throughout the intermittent gunfire, Adie Nistelrooy, a British activist, calmly spoke to the Israelis through a loud speaker. I doubt they could hear him. But somehow the voice of reason was oddly reassuring.
Niestrooy said: “This is a peaceful event, these are women and children collecting their wheat, we just want to collect the wheat and go home, that’s all. There’s nothing wrong with that, is there?”
Yes there is something wrong with that.
Inside the buffer zone Palestinians are not allowed to farm. Or collect their wheat. Not even by hand. And not even by women.
Women under fire
Some of the women were so terrified by the gunfire they crouched behind a pile of straw.
It was a pathetic scene. Israeli army trucks 150 metres away, automatic weapon fire bearing down on us from the border, and here were these frightened women, hoping the straw would provide some type of cover.
The gunfire stopped for a while, and then started up again.
It was time we all left the buffer zone.
Some of the women ran out of the fields. The week before the gunfire had been much closer, whizzing past their heads.
On this day very little harvesting was done.
But Abu Thaima says nothing will stop him from working his land. He will continue to go into the buffer zone to plant his crops and harvest them.
It is his land and he cannot abandon it.