Israeli planes spray crops inside Gaza for second time this week, fourth this year

  • Since late 2015, Gisha has reported at least six incidents of herbicide spraying by Israeli planes, four of them this year, near the perimeter fence, damaging hundreds of acres of crops in Gaza
  • Contradicting the IDF Spokesperson’s statement that Israel sprays in the “buffer zone” inside Gaza, the Ministry of Defense claims spraying is only done over Israeli territory

Wednesday, April 5, 2017: Yesterday (Tuesday) and again this morning, Israeli planes sprayed herbicides over the fence that separates the Gaza Strip from Israel, near Palestinian farmland. According to local farmers, the planes sprayed on the west side of the fence, that is, inside Gaza.

This is the second wave of spraying inside Gaza this year, and the Gaza Ministry of Agriculture is currently assessing the damage to the crops. In the last rounds of spraying, which took place in January 2017, 3,400 dunams (~840 acres) of crops inside Gaza were damaged.

Since late 2015, Gisha has reported at least six incidents in which Israeli planes sprayed herbicides that damaged cultivated fields inside Gaza. The spraying severely harms a population that is already one of the poorest and most marginalized in the Strip. Farmers receive no compensation for the damage to their sole source of income, and most are left with heavy debts.

Responding to a Freedom of Information Application made by Gisha, in February 2016, the IDF Spokesperson confirmed (Hebrew) that Israel sprays herbicides from the air inside the Gaza Strip, that it had done so “for more than two years” and that decisions on spraying are made by the Ministry of Defense.

Gisha, therefore, filed a Freedom of Information Application with the Ministry of Defense asking for information about the herbicides that are used, the decision-making process, spraying times, preparations for spraying, the size and location of the areas sprayed, what is known about the impact spraying has on the ground and whether alternatives had been considered. Months went by and no answer was received. It was only after Gisha filed an administrative petition to compel the ministry to provide the information that the ministry told (Hebrew) the Tel Aviv District Court that spraying is conducted by private Israeli companies “only over Israeli territory, along the Gaza security barrier.”

In the course of legal proceedings (Hebrew), the Ministry of Defense initially (Hebrew) claimed it had no information about the size and location of the sprayed areas, or spraying times, but after a repeat request (Hebrew) from Gisha the ministry changed (Hebrew) its answer, admitting it had the information but could not divulge it due to concerns over “national security, and the safety of those conducting the spraying.”

In this context, we note that a decision given in 2007 in a petition filed by Adalah against directives issued by the Israel Land Authority to spray the cultivated fields of the Bedouin community in the Negev desert, the High Court of Justice ruled (Hebrew) that aerial spraying was unlawful and could pose health risks. Another question that should be asked is why Israel is harming Gaza’s agricultural sector and the chances of its fragile economy to recover, against Israel’s own professed, security interests?

Israel’s choice to maintain control over numerous aspects of life in Gaza comes with responsibility to allow normal civilian life. Spraying herbicides inside the Strip needlessly harms the livelihoods of its residents and may pose a danger to their health. Israel must cease this practice immediately.