Thursday, January 16, 2020. On Tuesday, January 14, 2020, Israeli crop-duster planes flew along the perimeter fence separating Gaza and Israel, spraying chemicals assumed to be herbicides into the Strip. Israel continued to conduct aerial herbicide spraying along additional sections of the perimeter fence on Wednesday, January 15, as well as this morning. Each morning, the spraying was conducted sporadically for about four hours, with the sprayed chemicals reaching Palestinian farmlands inside Gaza.
Today, human rights organizations Gisha, Adalah and Al Mezan sent a letter (Hebrew) to Israel’s Minister of Defense Naftali Bennett, Military Advocate General Sharon Afek, and Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit with an urgent demand to refrain from conducting further aerial spraying of herbicides inside and near the Gaza Strip, due to the severe damage to crops and the health risks to Gaza residents.
Palestinian farmers who were working the land west of the perimeter fence on Tuesday morning told Al Mezan that at about 7:20 am, they saw plumes of black smoke emanating from Israel’s side of the fence, a practice used in the past as a means to discern wind direction. A few minutes later, crop-duster planes flew along the perimeter fence spraying chemicals believed to be herbicides, carried by westward-blowing wind into the Gaza Strip. Over the course of the three days, aerial spraying was conducted in areas adjacent to the fence stretching between Beit Hanoun in the north of the Strip and Deir al-Balah in its center.
Israel’s practice of conducting aerial herbicide spraying was first documented in 2014. The spraying is typically carried out without prior notification or warning to Palestinian farmers. Crop dusters fly at very low altitudes (as low as 20 meters) mostly over the Israeli side of the perimeter fence but have, on some occasions, reportedly flown over Palestinian territory. Israel conducts the spraying when the wind is blowing westward, which carries the chemicals deep into Gaza. Herbicidal chemicals have reached distances as far as 1,200 meters into the Strip in previously documented incidents of spraying. In the past, Israel has carried out the aerial spraying about twice a year, once in December/January, impacting winter crops, and then in April, impacting summer crops.
It is estimated that a total area of 7,620 dunams of arable land in the Strip has been affected by aerial spraying since 2014. Palestinian farmers have sustained widespread damage to their crops and incurred immense financial losses as a result, which drove some to stop cultivating the fields near the perimeter fence due to the associated risks. No incidents of aerial spraying were documented in 2019.
In 2019, the London-based research agency Forensic Architecture published an investigation into the practice. By utilizing satellite imagery and drift analysis to determine the extent of damages sustained inside the Gaza Strip, the investigation corroborated previous findings by Gisha, Adalah, and Al Mezan that Israel’s aerial spraying of herbicides has damaged lands and crops deep inside the Strip.
In 2016, responding to a Freedom of Information request submitted by Gisha, the Israeli Ministry of Defense disclosed (Hebrew) that the chemical agents used in the spraying include glyphosate (“Roundup”), which had been declared a ‘probable carcinogen’ by the World Health Organization and the use of which has been banned in many countries around the world.
Data collected on the impact of aerial herbicide spraying in the past five years strongly indicates that the spraying poses a potential threat to the right to life as it directly undermines food security and health of the civilian population in Gaza. Human rights organizations Gisha, Adalah and Al Mezan stress that such disproportionate action, with detrimental impact on livelihoods and the health of the civilian population, is unlawful under both Israeli and international law. The organizations call on Israeli authorities to immediately cease all aerial spraying activities in and near the Gaza Strip and provide adequate reparation for those who have sustained financial losses as a result of the practice.
To view footage of the crop-duster plane filmed on Wednesday, January 15, see here.
To view the letter (in Hebrew) from Gisha, Adalah and Al Mezan, see here.