The Israeli army sprayed herbicides in the Gaza Strip late last year, causing damage to hundreds of acres of Palestinian farmland. Now the farmers want an investigation — and compensation.
A number of Palestinian farmers are demanding compensation from the State of Israel for damage their crops and land sustained as a result of the IDF aerially spraying herbicides inside the Gaza Strip last year, a practice first confirmed by +972 Magazine.
In late December, the IDF confirmed to +972 that it used crop-dusters to kill off vegetation — and perhaps inadvertently, agricultural crops — inside the Gaza Strip. No other Israeli media outlet had reported on the practice at the time.
“The aerial spraying of herbicides and germination inhibitors was conducted in the area along the border fence in order to enable optimal and continuous security operations,” a military spokesperson said in December.
According to Palestinian officials, over 420 acres of land were damaged by that round of spraying.
In a letter to Israeli military officials on behalf of Ibrahim Abu Ta’aymeh, a spinach farmer from Khan Younis, three Israeli and Palestinian human rights groups detailed NIS 11,400 (nearly $3,000) in damages.
The rights groups, Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, Gisha – Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, and Al Mezan Center for Human Rights, are demanding an investigation and monetary compensation on behalf of Abu Ta’aymeh.
A letter like the one sent by the legal organizations, is the first step if one plans to file a more formal lawsuit.
Abu Ta’aymeh’s spinach crops, on plot of land adjacent to the border that he has been farming for 12 years, is his family’s sole source income. His crops were reportedly damaged two months prior to the incident reported by +972, in October 2015.
“The Israeli military’s aerial spraying of herbicides constitutes a violation of both Israeli constitutional and administrative law, as well as of international humanitarian and human rights laws,” Adalah said in a statement Monday, citing international legal obligations to protect civilian and humanitarian interests, and to respect the right of civilians to food.
The three human rights groups have also sent Israeli authorities letters of complaint on behalf of seven additional Gaza farmers and landowners who also suffered damage from IDF spraying of herbicides.
The IDF has for years imposed a lethal no-go buffer zone along the Gaza border. The army killed at least 16 Palestinians and wounded at least 379 more who entered or approached the no-go zone in recent months, most of whom were participating in demonstrations along the fence.
Farmers and scrap collectors are also regularly targeted as they approach the fence. Palestinians often claim that those shot were outside the restricted area. Rarely are there any allegations that those shot were armed.
“Spraying crop-killing pesticides, like opening fire at people of all ages and gender in the vicinity of the fence, puts civilian lives at risk and hurts livelihoods,” Gisha spokesperson Shai Grunberg told +972 in December. “By virtue of Israel’s substantial control of the Gaza Strip, international law requires it to facilitate normal life in the Strip.”
Israeli ground forces regularly enter the Strip in order to clear obstructions to army’s line of sight, including by demolishing structures and trees. The logic behind the herbicidal clearing of foliage and crops along the border area, one might assume, is to clear a line of sight for soldiers seeking to identify threats.
The Israeli army has provided contradictory information regarding the no-go zone over the years, including the area’s specific size and its procedures for engaging (shooting at) civilians who enter it for various reasons. From explanations given in recent months, it appears that the no-go zone stretches 300 meters from the fence but that farmers are allowed to approach up to 100 meters by foot. Those distances tend to differ from area to area, according to Gisha.
The army has not disclosed how it distinguishes between farmers and other civilians, or civilians and combatants, however.
“A primary principle of international humanitarian law is the distinction between combatants and civilians,” Israeli human rights group B’Tselem wrote in a report on the no-go zone in Gaza. “When it is unclear if the persons are civilians or combatants, they must be treated as civilians.”
During the Vietnam war, the United States famously sprayed Agent Orange, napalm and other herbicides and defoliants to destroy vast swathes of jungle in Vietnam for military purposes. After the health and environmental effects such practices became clearer, however, the international community initiated the Environmental Modification Convention restricting the use of herbicidal warfare, which came into force in 1978. Israel is not a party to the convention.
In addition to enforcing a lethal buffer zone along its land border with Gaza affecting Palestinian farmers, the Israeli army also imposes strict, and sometimes deadly restrictions on the maritime areas in which Palestinian fisherman may fish.
Israel withdrew its troops from Gaza more than a decade ago but its military still controls the Strip’s land and sea borders, airspace, maritime zone, population registry, and decides which people and what goods may enter and exit. While Gaza also has a land border with Egypt, the Rafah crossing is a passenger terminal only and is rarely open for more than three or four days every few months.