It is once again that time of year when farmers who cultivate land near Gaza’s perimeter fence nervously glance up at the sky, tensing up at any sound of a motor. Twice a year, Israel sends planes to spray chemical herbicides on and near the border, which are carried by the wind sometimes deep into the Gaza Strip, destroying crops that are the sole source of income for hard-working farmers.
This week, Gisha’s field coordinator went to talk to Saleh A-Najjar, with whom he met a year ago. A-Najjar leases 35 dunams (roughly 8.65 acres) in the area, where he grows spinach, beets, fava beans, peas and corn. A-Najjar estimates that three of the five dunams of spinach are ready for picking and the rest need about three more weeks. Fearing he might lose the entire crop if the spraying begins without notice, and because of the economic hardship in the Strip, he offered a buyer the entire crop at half price. On a good day, he could sell a dunam of crops for 2,200 shekels (about USD 590). The buyer requested to wait a few more days for the crops to ripen, making A-Najjar anxious. His top concern is not losing his entire investment.
Another farmer, Ahmad Abu Taimah noted that farmers suffer tremendous losses due to the spraying, and that the Israeli military refuses to acknowledge its responsibility for the damage. Though the authorities in Gaza assess the damage and various organizations record and report the data, Abu Taimah says the farmers are not being compensated by anyone. In the first six months of the year alone, around 8,200 dunams (about 2026.26 acres) of crops were impacted by Israel’s spraying. Despite the high risk, farmers return to the area because they don’t have another choice and given the shortage of jobs in the Strip.
Some farmers tried to prepare ahead of time and covered their more expensive crops. A-Najjar says he planted three dunams of corn 300 meters from the fence. A kilogram of corn seeds costs 220 shekels (about 59 USD). Al- Najar covered the entire 15 kg field in plastic for fear of the herbicide spraying.
A-Najjar says that this year, he leased only half the area he had leased in the past because of the spraying and his financial situation. The losses from spraying have thrown farmers into a spiral of debt to agricultural equipment suppliers. “Every year we plant again, hoping to cover the losses from the previous year, and then the spraying, twice a year, without warning, they destroy everything.
“We have young men working with us for less than 30 shekels (about USD 8) a day, and our children. Everyone keeps an ear out for the sound of the spraying aircrafts and tries to see if they can smell the smoke from the tires the Israelis burn when they spray, to find out which way the wind is blowing. This has been happening every year since 2013.”
Video report from farmers living in the buffer zone we posted last winter. Nothing has changed.