Israeli planes spray herbicides over Gaza’s perimeter fence, damaging crops and livelihoods

Farmers inspecting damaged crops after another round of herbicide spraying

Farmers inspecting damage to their crops after another round of spraying. Photo by Gisha

January 9, 2018. On Sunday morning, as Gisha’s lawyers were making arguments before the District Court in a petition to compel the state to respond to a Freedom of Information application regarding its policy on the use of aerial herbicide spraying near the Gaza perimeter fence, planes employed by the military flew over the northeastern Gaza Strip, spraying herbicides.

Every year, during this season, the military hires planes to fly near the fence and spray herbicides, which cause damage to agricultural fields sometimes deep inside the Strip. The extent of the damage depends on the wind’s direction and strength. It will take a few days for the Palestinian Ministry of Agriculture to assess the damage from Sunday’s sortie. Last year, more than 3,500 dunams (865 acres) of crops were damaged, in some instances to the point of total loss. Israel does not compensate farmers, nor does it give them advance warning of the exact time of the spraying, which would allow for necessary preparations.

Responding to a Freedom of Information petition filed by Gisha last year, the Ministry of Defense said that the spraying takes place only on the Israeli side of the fence, but did not address questions on the effects of the herbicides inside the Strip, despite repeated accounts indicating severe damage. The state claims it must use spraying in order to “raze” the area. However, it refused to disclose whether this goal could be pursued through less destructive means. Yesterday, the court reviewed classified documents and accepted the state’s position that exposing information regarding the exact location of the areas where herbicides are used could put national security at risk, though the actions have been carried out and completed. Following submission of the petition, the Ministry of Defense agreed to provide Gisha with the exact dates on which spraying took place.