Ayelet Heller’s grim documentary focuses on the Palestinian strawberry farmers at Beit Lahiya in Gaza. While these non-political agricultural workers would prefer to just plant their strawberries and be left alone, they wind up in the middle of the May 2005-April 2006 military conflict between Israel and Hamas, which followed the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza.
Strawberries, it seems, are the only food sold for export as Palestinian produce (they are marketed only in Europe), but they can only get to market via Israel. When Israel sealed the border crossing with Gaza, the Beit Lahiya strawberries could not be transported and were dumped in garbage bins. The result was a catastrophic disruption of the agricultural economy and a cruel punishment for the men and women who labored over the crops.
The film shows the gruesome effects of the seemingly endless military struggle, with Israeli helicopters firing rockets into Gaza City and on the rural roads around Beit Lahiya (one missile leaves a crater that stretches deep into the ground). Much of the film is devoted to the process of growing strawberries – if you ever wondered what a strawberry plant looks like and how the fruit is cultivated, this film provides excessive detail from start to finish.
However, the heart of “Strawberry Fields” comes from the farmers who just want to go about their business without being drawn into fighting that continually destroys Gaza. The frayed patience and barely concealed anguish displayed here provides a heartbreaking portrait of people who are constantly denied the pursuit of peace and prosperity.