By: Alaa El-Moqayad
Toxic Israeli pesticides pollute and destroy agricultural soil in the Gaza Strip
Exclusive to Environment and Development Horizons (Afaq magazine):
A scene that has been repeatedly occurring yearly since 2014, Israeli planes flying at low heights over agricultural lands on the border strip in the eastern Gaza Strip, then suddenly spraying toxic chemical pesticides on crops under “security pretexts”, which inflicts heavy losses on farmers, and puts the environment, soil and public health at risk.
The area of agricultural lands at the borders reaches about 86,000 dunums, where more than 30,000 farmers work and which is the only source of livelihood for hundreds of families from those areas. This type of Israeli aggression means adding insult to injury, especially with the bad economic conditions and the lack of food security for more than 60% of the population of the Gaza Strip.
Muhammad al-Shanti, a Palestinian farmer who works with his father in an agricultural land of 50 dunums in the town of Beit Hanoun in the northern Gaza Strip, confirms that the occupation authorities spray toxic pesticides on agricultural lands under the pretext of “clearing the lands” adjacent to the apartheid wall to be able to easily watch over it.
While Al-Shanti was working in his land, one kilometer away from the apartheid wall, he talked to Afaq Environmental Magazine about the suffering of Palestinian farmers: “Israel is working to spray the border lands with toxic materials as part of a systematic policy to destroy the agricultural sector and increase the burden on the shoulders of farmers".
He followed his speech with a sigh of pain, saying: Israel, through its planes, carries out sudden spraying of lands without prior warning, with agricultural pesticides that burn vegetative plants, and the dangerous thing is that the sprayed substance remains for a long period of time in the soil, which negatively affects the fertility of the soil and causes great damage to it.
The impact of these pesticides affects livestock, as it is usually forbidden to graze in the areas that were targeted by “spraying”, and thus livestock keepers are forced to buy food for them at their own expense, instead of the available “sprayed” weeds on those lands.
But when livestock eat poisoned plants before destroying them without paying attention, this leads to the death of a large number of them, and in both cases the farmer incurs huge financial losses.
Muhammad Jumaa, a farmer whose land is closer to the apartheid wall in the north, suffered an “economic catastrophe” two years ago, after an area of 20 dunums was damaged by the occupation’s toxic pesticides.
Jumaa had planted his land with zucchini, hoping for a bountiful season, but on a windy winter morning, the occupation planes sprayed the border areas with these pesticides, which caused him to lose 70% of his land crop. In this case, the farmer is forced to destroy his damaged crops himself, as it is forbidden to pick them or sell them, as they are not suitable for any use, and he may bear losses and the burden of transporting them to waste dumps.
Effects and Risks
The Afaq Environmental Magazine reporter contacted Al Mezan Center for Human Rights to talk about Israeli pesticides and their dangers, and she was informed of a report issued by the Center in October 2019 entitled “The Effects of the Occupation’s Spraying of Chemical Pesticides in Access Restricted Areas.” The report stated that Israeli planes fly at low heights of 20 meters above the ground, and spray pesticides that reach a depth of 1200 meters inside the territory of the Gaza Strip, which leads to burning crops and causing heavy losses to farmers.
As for the types of materials used in spraying, they are "Glyphosate, Oxygal, and Eurbex"; Its stay in the soil is estimated (70-80) days, which means that the material takes a long time to decompose, and this would affect the quality of the soil, weakening its fertility, according to the report.
The damage extended to more than 70% of the livestock which are located on the border of the strip, as the lives and offspring of sheep and fetuses are at risk, especially beehives that are directly damaged due to sudden spraying.
In July 2018, a report in Haaretz newspaper shed the light on Israel's use of pesticides and its dangerous effects on the area of the wall surrounding Gaza Strip, to prevent plants from growing, and to keep the area empty so that Israel could easily monitor it.
Spokesman of the Palestinian Ministry of Agriculture in the Gaza Strip, Adham al-Basiouni, says that the process of spraying agricultural lands in the border areas with toxic chemical pesticides is subject to the mood of the Israeli occupation authorities.
Al-Basiouni tells us that the 5 targeted agricultural areas on the border strip constitute 25% of the total agricultural area in the Strip, and are a major source of food for the population, explaining that "spraying them with toxic pesticides causes the destruction of crops, harms the environment and exacerbates the suffering of farmers."
Usually, agricultural lands are sprayed with these pesticides in two periods each year (December-January) and (March-April). He adds, "The occupation deliberately sprays when the winds are in the opposite direction (towards Gaza), and the plants are at the peak of growth, to ensure the largest possible targeting of the sector's winter and summer crops, according to Al-Bassiouni.
It shows that the damage to land crops on the border strip for this season is limited until this moment, reviewing the damages of the past two years; In 2021, it exceeded 1,000 dunams, while the damage in 2020, exceeded 4,000 dunums.The spraying operations lead to total destruction of leafy crops such as "spinach, parsley and Rocca", in addition to partial damage to other crops such as "wheat, barley, beans, peas" and others. The effect of toxic pesticides begins days after the spraying process, according to Al- Bassiouni, when it gets into the tissues of various plants, immediately affecting the plantings, and forming barriers to germination in other stages.
Speaking on behalf of the Ministry of the Agriculture, Al-Bassiouni addresses the most dangerous aspect of the impact of these substances, saying: "The leakage of toxic pesticide residues into groundwater is a great environmental threat to the health of the consumer on the long run."
Translated by: Rasha Abu Dayyeh