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Land in eastern Gaza declared a disaster zone due to Israel use of herbicides

Palestinians commemorate Land Day
Gaza farmland, 16 April 2016 [File photo]

The Palestinian Ministry of Agriculture declared arable lands in eastern Gaza to be a disaster zone on Monday, after the Israeli army repeatedly sprayed the area with chemical herbicides.

Despite a year-long break from such practices, the Israeli authorities confirmed on 22 January that they have resumed unannounced the spraying of herbicides along the fence along the nominal border of the Gaza Strip, Haaretz has reported. It was said by the Ministry of Defence to be necessary “based on security needs… but solely [takes place] within Israel territory.”

However, an investigative report by Forensic Architecture, a research agency based at Goldsmiths, University of London, found that “aerial spraying by commercial crop-dusters flying on the Israeli side of the border mobilised the wind to carry chemicals into the Gaza Strip, at damaging concentrations.”

Analysis of first-hand videos from fields close to the border fence revealed Israeli armed forces using smoke from a burning tyre to confirm the westerly direction of the wind, ensuring that the chemicals landed in the Gaza Strip.

READ: Israel continues to flood Gaza farmland

The Israeli army said it has acted under the country’s “Plant Protection Law”, which enforces regulations on plant protection and the monitoring and prevention of diseases. Officials thus claim that spraying practices at the Gazan border are identical to those used across the country.

However, such use of chemicals between 2014 and 2018 damaged 14,000 acres of land in Gaza, destroying all the crops grown there. The latest spraying has damaged an estimated 2,000 acres of land so far, the Palestinian Ministry of Agriculture reported.

According to the Guardian, no Palestinians have ever received compensation for the damage caused by the spraying of chemicals by the Israelis, despite a petition from human rights groups in Haifa and Gaza. In contrast, farmers in the Israeli agricultural town Nahal Oz allegedly received compensation in 2015 after suing the authorities for the loss of crops.

READ: Israel once again bans import of cement to Gaza

Forensic Architecture reported that herbicide spraying predominantly takes place during key harvest periods, targeting spring and summer crops, with Glyphosate the most commonly used chemical. However, Glyphosate was declared “carcinogenic in humans” by the World Health Organisation’s Cancer Research Agency in March 2015. The chemical has since been ruled safe for use by various US and European safety agencies, although several environmental groups have opposed this ruling.

The UN Information System on the Question of Palestine (UNISPAL) noted concerns over the ability to predict where, and in what concentration, toxic chemicals will land. In a report to the General Assembly in September 2019, it was said that as “damage cannot be reasonably predicted by the army… such herbicides should not be used in such close proximity to the fence.”

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