Perished livestock and destroyed crops leave ordinary Gazans facing financial ruin
The bile-inducing, overpowering smell was the first sign that something was very wrong.
Then came the truly distressing sight: dozens of dead cows, some with open infested wounds, strewn across the grounds of a partially devastated farm yard.
One lonely beast had managed to survive, mooing plaintively in distress beside its stricken fellow animals.
Nearby lay a solitary dead horse, again dead from its injuries, in a sight eerily reminiscent of Pablo Picasso’s Guernica painting, in which the artist depicted the aerial bombing of a civilian population by Fascist forces during the Spanish civil war.
Most of the animals died as a result of the bombardment of the Sha’af neighbourhood, on the eastern edge of Shejaiya, one of the areas to have borne the brunt of Israel’s ground offensive that began on July 17.
Some have also died from starvation and dehydration after farmers were forced to flee in the face of the military advance.
With more than 1,300 Palestinians dead – including many women and children – human suffering has been the inevitable focus of Gaza’s three weeks of war.
Yet the deaths of cattle and livestock – while heart-rending and cruel in itself – points to another cost of the conflict: economic.
Farmers like Mohammed Ahmed Abu Ajwa, 32, who owns the Sha’af cattle yard along with his eight brothers, say they face financial ruin from the losses inflicted by the conflict.
“My brothers and I have lost 100 dairy cows and 70 oxen for meat, as well as several camels,” he said. “Each cow is worth US$3,000 (£1,777), so we think we have lost more than $500,000 (£296,000) from this war. It’s very difficult for us. This is a family business that we have inherited from our father, who built it up from money he earned working in Saudi Arabia.
“It’s all we know. We cannot do any other job. We will just have to try and bring the business alive again after this. There is no other way.”
Gazan farmers say livestock have perished and crops have been destroyed as Israeli tanks and artillery vehicles have cut a swathe through agricultural land during the offensive. Since such zones have been declared effective no-go areas during the current conflict, there is no way of verifying such claims.
But the loss of animals that help to keep the local economy running is evident enough. Besides the 16 people killed in the shelling of an UNWRA school in Jabaliya on Wednesday used to shelter fleeing families, were several donkeys.
The animals had been used to cart the many of the families’ meagre possessions to the school after they had been ordered to evacuate their homes. In normal times, they would be a source of income – used to transport fruit and vegetable carts to and from local markets.
On Wednesday, outside Jabaliya elementary girls school, they cut a grim sight. At least eight lay dead in the morning heat – their entrails hanging out, attracting a swarm of flies. Two others clung desperately to life as the human beings inside the makeshift refugee camp recovered from the previous night’s trauma and wondered where they could find a safe haven.