By: George Kurzom
agricultural land in Gaza Strip destroyed by Israeli chemical spraying
Exclusive to Environment and Development Horizons:
For the past few years , the Israeli army has been intensively spraying chemical herbicides on farmers’ lands in Gaza, in the process destroying land and crops under the pretext of security. Over the long years of occupation, it has become common to see images of the Israeli military vehicles uprooting trees and green areas in Gaza Strip. However, what has not been known to many is the systematic destruction of Palestinian lands via the spraying of herbicides from the air since 2014. Afaq Environmental Magazine addressed this Israeli sabotage of lands in its February 2017 edition. The following report reveals new and serious information on the Israeli chemical war against the farmers of Gaza.
The areas treated by Israeli chemical spraying are located in the eastern and southeastern border area of the Strip, in the so-called “buffer zone”. According to official Palestinian statistics, the border area encompasses some 29 square kilometers of agricultural lands , equivalent to about 25% of the total agricultural land in the Gaza Strip. They consist mostly of cultivated lands representing the food basket of the population in Gaza and employs nearly 30 thousand farmers. In recent years, Israel has sprayed pesticides on hundreds of dunums east of Gaza City, destroying most of the crops in that area. In early February of this year, some farmers witnessed with their own eyes the destruction of their fields and crops as Israeli planes sprayed herbicides onto their lands.
Following the spraying, affected farmers expected to be compensated by the Palestinian Ministry of Agriculture for their financial losses that they had incurred, which was estimated at hundreds of thousands of dollars. Representatives from the ministry came to the affected areas to assess the damage, but farmers have not received any compensation until this moment.
Afaq Environmental Magazine, revealed information through some human rights organizations that the "Gaza Division of the IDF” was responsible for the incident as it had ordered the spraying of agricultural lands. Al Mezan Center for Human Rights in Gaza also regularly documents the spraying and investigates the damage caused to farmers. Estimates by the Palestinian Ministry of Agriculture indicate that since 2015, more than 14,000 dunums of agricultural land in Gaza have been affected by Israeli spraying. They have also estimated the total damage to crops such as spinach, okra, corn, parsley, wheat, peas and barley. The ministry says that thousands of dunums of pasture lands have been damaged this year alone by spraying. During the Israeli spraying operations carried out between October and March 2017-2018, the herbicide “Glyphosate” was used in most cases, but also “Oxyfluorfen” and “Dioron”.
Spraying a tool against terrorist activity"
In June 2016, a group of farmers filed claims to Israel for compensation of the losses they incurred due to the spraying of their lands specifically the ones that took place in October 2014. The claims were filed through human rights organizations such as Adalah, Mezan and Gisha (an Israeli human rights organization). In November 2017, the Israeli Ministry of War rejected the claims for several reasons, most notably that "the reason for the spraying is the operational need resulting from hostile terrorist activity in the area, which makes spraying a military measure that grants the state immunity against claims for damages." This Israeli response was an explicit acknowledgment by the IDF for its responsibility for the deliberate and systematic destruction of farmers' land in Gaza.
According to the Freedom of Information Act, Gisha submitted a petition to the Israeli court, because most of the information was not provided by the Israeli Ministry of War, or as the latter alleged that the information was not available. This legal procedure revealed the type of herbicides used in the sprayings was mainly glyphosate. It was also revealed that the Israeli Ministry of War was directly implicated in the spraying as they had issued the orders and had contracted a civil airlines (Telem and Kim- ) to carry out those operations. It was also found that the Israeli Ministry of Agriculture had nothing to do with spraying.
In January 2018, a hearing session was held on the petition of Gisha in Tel Aviv main Court, where the Israeli Ministry of War presented to Judge Judith Schofman confidential information, on the basis of which the judge decided not to reveal any further information of the sprayed areas. In a way, the Israeli court had conspired with the Israeli army by providing them with a "legal" cover to carry out the crimes against residents and farmers in Gaza Strip.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) reported its observations, including results from chemical analyses of the herbicides it had conducted in an Israeli laboratory, revealed that the herbicides destroyed Palestinian crops over 2,200 meters away from the Gaza border fence and that some crops were completely damaged.
Afaq Environmental Magazine’s research on the types of herbicides used by the Israeli army show that these herbicides may remain in the soil without decomposition for a number of years and that both the inhaling of these chemicals or consumption of contaminated crops may cause serious diseases. In general, herbicides are carcinogenic and can cause genetic and reproductive abnormalities. According to the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), glyphosate (the active ingredient in many herbicides used by the Israeli army against Palestinians) is considered to be a cause of cancerous tumors in humans. Based on medical records in the US, , blood and bone cancers are the most common cancers caused by the glyphosate pesticide.
Furthermore, oxyfluorfen pesticide (used against Palestinians by Israel) causes liver damage and also damages the soil due to its long half- life (a few years). Dioron pesticide (also used by Israel) damages the spleen, bone marrow and liver, causes poor fertility, underdevelopment and abnormalities in blood chemistry and it also damages the soil because of its long half-life.
Pesticides…weapon in colonial wars
Israeli chemical spraying operations occur mainly in the so called "buffer zone" areas bordering Israel. The term "buffer zone" refers to undefined geographical areas imposed by Israel within the Gaza Strip and along its coastline, imposing restrictions on movement and economic activity (specifically agriculture and fishing). The area and distance from the border of the buffer zone are constantly changing according to Israeli "security" considerations.
The economic impact of the buffer zone is significant. Farmers in Gaza are hesitant to grow the more profitable crops because the financial losses they will incur will be higher in the case of an Israeli spraying. The spraying also has tremendous affects on some important means of income from professions such as beekeeping and hardening, professions that are mostly dominated by women.
Thus, under the pretext of "security", Israel is waging an undeclared economic and chemical war against our people in the Gaza Strip, which has serious the medium and long term consequences as well as a direct threat to public health, the environment and livestock.
Translated by: Ghadeer Kamal Zaineh
Edited by: Nidal Atallah