Israeli Planes Spray Herbicides Inside Gaza for Fourth Time This Year
Israeli planes have been reported spraying herbicides over land inside the Gaza Strip on four occasions in 2017, including twice in the last two days.
Israeli planes sprayed herbicides inside the Gaza Strip for the second day running on Wednesday and the fourth time this year, according to local farmers and Israeli rights NGO Gisha. A video published on Wednesday, allegedly of the crop-dusting, shows a plane flying low and spraying over farmland.
*** Scorched earth policy in Gaza ***Israeli planes sprayed herbicides near the perimeter fence around Gaza this morning, for the second consecutive day. The spraying on both days are the first reported incidents of spraying since January. The Palestinian Ministry of Agriculture in the Strip is currently assessing damage to the crops of local farmers. Riad Salim Al Nasser is a farmer in Gaza. He rents 70 dunams (roughly 17 acres) of land, about 200 meters from Gaza’s perimeter fence, where he grows peppers, watermelons, parsley and other crops. Al Nasser told Gisha’s field coordinator yesterday that at around 8:00 AM he saw two Israeli military tanks approach the fence, and witnessed soldiers igniting a substance that created thick smoke, possibly in order to check the wind direction. At 8:45 AM he says he saw planes spraying herbicide west of the perimeter fence, that is, within the Strip.Al Nasser also reported that most of the crops in the area have been recently sown, making them especially susceptible to the herbicide spraying. Other crops had been covered in plastic sheeting and recently uncovered to enjoy the warming weather of the season. He is very concerned by the prospects of further damage to his crops, considering crops were also harmed in the last round of spraying, which took place only months ago. He emphasized that farmers have not been compensated for the damage to their crops. The spraying of herbicides exacts a heavy price on members of Gaza’s farming community, who are among the poorest and most vulnerable in the Strip as it is. Al Nasser says that the area of his plot closest to Bureij camp is already completely flattened as a result of previous bouts of spraying and devoid of vegetation. Wael Thabet, director of the Flora Protection Department in the Ministry of Agriculture in Gaza told Gisha that the department received reports yesterday about spraying in several areas in the east of the Strip: spanning from Beit Hanoun in the north all the way to Khuza’a, Khan Yunis, in the south. This morning spraying took place in the “buffer zone” east of Khan Yunis and Al Karara. Employees of the Gaza Ministry of Agriculture have collected samples from the sprayed fields and are conducting tests to evaluate the damage caused. The results of their assessments will be available soon. Thabet also emphasized that the reported spraying had taken place west of the perimeter fence, that is, within the Strip.According to the Palestinian Ministry of Agriculture, the spraying conducted during January this year damaged approximately 3,400 dunams (roughly 840 acres) of crops.Responding to a Freedom of Information petition filed by Gisha, the Israeli Ministry of Defense said in September, that the spraying takes place only on the Israeli side of the fence, in the security barrier area. Given the extent of the damage deep inside the Strip, this reply is far from satisfactory. The ministry failed to explain why the spraying was carried out, and why the same result could not be achieved using less destructive methods. This recent round of spraying demonstrates that Israeli authorities continue to implement a scorched earth policy in the area near Gaza’s perimeter fence – for no apparent reason and without explanation.Video by Saleh Mohammad a-Najar, this morning.
Posted by Gisha LCFM on Wednesday, April 5, 2017
Palestinians who reported the incident said that the planes had dusted near the Gaza border fence, and the Gaza Ministry of Agriculture is investigating the extent of the damage from the herbicides sprayed over the last two days. Around 840 acres of crops were damaged during the last round of spraying in January 2017, according to Gisha.
The dusting of Palestinian-owned farmland inside the Gaza Strip did not begin this year. As +972 reported at the time, Israeli planes sprayed herbicides over vegetation in Gaza for several consecutive days in December 2015, damaging over 400 acres of crops.
The IDF confirmed to +972 that it was responsible for spraying the farmland, but didn’t elaborate as to why, beyond the amorphous designation of “security operations.” A number of Palestinian farmers have since demanded compensation from the State of Israel for what they cite as nearly $3,000-worth of damage to their crops.
Israeli planes have returned to spray herbicides numerous times since the end of 2015. The government, meanwhile, has contradicted itself over the area it claims to have targeted: despite the IDF’s confirmation to +972, and later to Gisha, that it had sprayed herbicides inside the Gaza Strip, the Israeli Ministry of Defense later claimed in a court hearing on the issue that the work had been carried out by private companies — and only on Israeli territory.
Palestinian children take pictures of each other in the no-go zone near Erez crossing, during the weekly demonstration against the occupation in Beit Hanoun, Gaza Strip, Tuesday, February 7, 2012. (Anne Paq/Activestills.org)
Since 2000, Israel has maintained a no-go area inside the Gaza border fence — formally referred to as the “Access-Restricted Area” (ARA) — which currently reaches 300 meters inside Gazan territory. The army enforces this buffer zone with everything from “less-lethal” weapons to live ammunition and tank fire, making it a particularly deadly stretch of land. Israeli bulldozers also reportedly enter the Gaza Strip on a regular basis to level land inside the ARA.
Farmers and scrap collectors who venture near the border are frequently targeted by Israeli sniper fire, including those who were apparently well outside the buffer zone. Most recently, a 15-year-old Palestinian, Yousef Shaaban Abu Athra, was killed when an IDF tank opened fire at him and two companions, who were wounded. The army claimed that the three had been acting suspiciously.
In addition to the land buffer zone, Israel restricts Palestinians to fishing within six nautical miles of the Gaza coast, and the navy regularly opens fire on fishermen who are deemed to have ventured further away from the shoreline.
This year marks a decade since the start of Israel’s siege on the Gaza Strip. Israel controls Gaza’s airspace and territorial waters, as well as all of its land crossings save for Rafah, which is controlled by Egypt and closed on all but the rarest of occasions. Gaza’s exports and imports are also controlled by Israel, as is the movement of people — residents and otherwise — in and out of the enclave.
At the time of writing, the IDF Spokesperson had yet to respond to a request for comment on the latest incident of crop-spraying. Should a response be received, it will be included here.
By Natasha Roth