Neil Young has recognized that farmers are on the frontlines in the struggle against genetically modified foods. (Bill Woodland)
In addition to the numerous voices calling for Neil Young to cancel his 17 July concert in Tel Aviv, the Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC) in Gaza is urging the Canadian rock star to show solidarity with Palestinian farmers. The UAWC is appealing to Young’s lifelong commitment to keeping family famers on their land and encouraging him to maintain the same convictions he has displayed when supporting farmers in North America.
In 1985, Young, along with Willie Nelson and John Mellencamp, organized Farm Aid, a concert to support family farms in the United States and raise awareness about their struggles in a changing economy. Since then, Farm Aid has not only been an annual concert attended by thousands but has grown to become a national organization that “provides services to farm families in crisis” and — through its online Farmer Resource Network — helps famers access the resources they need to maintain sustainable and profitable practices in a changing market and despite natural disasters.
In recent years, Young has praised farmers for standing on the frontline in the fight against Monsanto, an agrochemical company responsible for genetically altered seeds and foods around the world.
In Gaza, where food insecurity has been a major concern since the Israeli blockade was imposed in 2007, it is not uncommon for farmers to experience water shortages, with the result that they have to use sewage water for their plants. When food can be grown regularly, farmers often have to suffer the misery of their produce rotting on trucks while being held at Israeli crossings.
Worse still, as the farmers point out in their letter, is the violence many of them undergo on a regular basis. Due to the high population density of the Gaza Strip (the ninth highest in the world) and its size (25 miles long and 3.7 to 7.5 miles wide), most of the fertile and available land for farming is along its boundary with Israel, exposing the farmers to constant harassment and attack by the Israeli military.
As part of the growing global campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel, the farmers in Gaza are asking Neil Young to heed the call he has answered already at home. No farmers should be pushed off their land.
Here is the text of the letter to Neil Young from farmers in Gaza:
Dear Neil Young,
We are Palestinian farmers and agricultural workers in the besieged Gaza Strip.
As you have stood many times for farmers and agricultural workers around the world, you would have undoubtedly found yourself meeting some of the most dignified, hard-working and family-oriented people. You will know that the life of cultivating the land is not easy. For Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, you would have to see the reality to believe what the Israeli occupation military forces do to our farming livelihoods, families and communities (many for whom you plan to perform in July this year). Try and imagine continuing our lives as farmers while:
- Getting shot each day while planting or harvesting our crops with live ammunition by armed Israeli soldiers behind a fence with F-16 machine guns.
- Having our crops and land overturned and destroyed by enormous American-made bulldozers protected by jeeps, tanks and snipers of the Israeli army.
- Having our farmhouses crushed or demolished, losing our possessions, farming equipment, livestock and water wells.
- Having huge areas of farmland bombed, with crop growth stunted by contamination from banned chemical weapons such as white phosphorous.
- Having replacement equipment, rebuilding of houses, restocking of crops made impossible by a medieval Israeli blockade of our border, preventing materials and equipment from reaching the population, such as saplings, pesticides and fertilizers, plastic sheets for greenhouses and hoses for irrigation.
This is our daily life in the Gaza Strip. We ask for the simple right to live and work as farmers do anywhere in the world, instead of having the work and livelihoods we love destroyed by an occupying army no Western government or international institution will stand up to.
With Willie Nelson [and] John Mellencamp, you organized the first Farm Aid concert to raise awareness about the loss of family farms and to raise funds to keep farm families on their land. We share our solidarity with you and the entire world’s farming community. We also wish that you respond to the call of Palestinian farmers to not tolerate the Israeli occupation and siege that has suffocated our people and left our farming communities devastated.
The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has documented the brutal edge of Israeli policy that punishes and denies access to our own farms, seriously affecting the lives of 113,000 people or 7.5 percent of our total population. Regular shootings make farming in the “buffer zone” next to the border “high risk,” where 35 percent of the most arable Palestinian land is situated.
There are frequent incursions by Israeli bulldozers accompanied by jeeps and tanks, levelling the best land and destroying our property. The value of agricultural and other property destroyed from 2005 to 2010 is estimated [to be] at least $308 million. Ninety percent of this cost is represented by fruit trees, greenhouses, chicken and sheep farms and water wells. Due to the blockade the lost agricultural output in this “buffer zone” totals 75,000 tons per year, representing lost income of more than $50 million.
More importantly for us farmers, our culture, self-determination and attachment to the land has been taken away from us. The Israeli military has demolished over 150 water wells in the restricted areas since 2005 and routinely destroys any crop taller than 80cm, forcing farmers to grow basic crops such as barley or wheat.
In Israel’s 2008-09 Cast Lead attacks on Gaza that killed 1,400 Palestinians in three weeks, including over 330 children, a total of 46 percent of agricultural land in the Gaza Strip was assessed to be inaccessible or out of production. Residue from phosphorous and artillery shells seriously impact the quality of the food that farmers are able to produce and have impacts on health. After the recent November 2012 Israeli onslaught on Gaza, the ministry of agriculture in Gaza estimated that the agricultural sector incurred losses totalling $21 million.
The generating capacity and reliability of the Gaza power plant was massively impaired over the past eight years by the destruction of six transformers by an Israeli airstrike in 2006 and the restrictions of the seven year Israeli blockade have significantly restricted the import of spare parts, equipment, and fuel. Recently we have suffered day after day with access to only six hours of electricity.
For farmers, as well as the other impediments, this means at least 140,000 dunums of land [a dunum is 1,000 square meters] planted with fruits and vegetables are at risk of drought due to inability to use 85 percent of the agricultural wells operated with electricity. Reduced production and incomes for Palestinian farmers have left 80 percent of Palestinians in Gaza dependent on food aid.
Mustapha Arafat, a farmer from Zeitoun, Gaza City says, “The daily aggression suffered by us the Palestinian farmers every day must be highlighted to the world, so people can understand the reality of the attacks and the suffering that has continued throughout the recent ‘ceasefire.’ The boycotts of Israeli companies in agriculture are so important as the Israeli occupation has destroyed our farming production and denied us the possibility of exporting our own products. International pressure on Israel from people of conscience is the only way our own economy will be allowed to develop and for us to live normal lives.”
Thomas Jefferson, author of the US Declaration of Independence said, “Cultivators of the earth are the most valuable citizens. They are the most vigorous, the most independent, the most virtuous and they are tied to their country and wedded to its liberty and interests by the most lasting bands.”
In “Last of His Kind,” the words of your song resonate with farmers across Palestine:
“Don’t say much for the future
When a family can’t survive.
I’d hate to say the farmer
Was the last of his kind.”
We are tied to our land, but we are being forced off it, watching rich land eaten away by erosion that the Israeli army, which at gunpoint does not allow us to cultivate, and kills us if we do. We ask you to show solidarity with the farmers and their families of Gaza, by refusing to perform for the regime that is doing everything to destroy our means, our livelihoods and our communities.
Union of Agricultural Work Committees Association