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Israeli planes spray farmlands close to Gaza with toxic herbicides

A Palestinian woman collects mint in her family farmland, in Beit Lahiya town, northern Gaza Strip, on July 28, 2021. (Photo by Reuters)

Israeli planes have reportedly sprayed toxic chemical substances and dangerous pesticides on farmlands near the Gaza Strip as the Tel Aviv regime presses ahead with its acts of aggression against the besieged and impoverished Palestinian coastal enclave.

According to London-based online news outlet Middle East Eye, Israeli crop duster planes have been spraying the area in close proximity to the fence separating the Gaza Strip from the Israeli-occupied territories for four days in a row.

The report, citing eyewitnesses, added that the frequency of the spray is determined by the direction of the wind, and that the spray stops when it rains, or when the wind blows “in the opposite direction”.

“They only start spraying along the fence when the wind blows west, in the direction of the Palestinian lands, in order to allow the herbicides to cover a larger area inside our lands,” Palestinian farmer Youssef Abu Maghadid said.

“But when the wind starts blowing east, they immediately stop because it would harm them.”

The Israeli ministry of military affairs has defended the aerial spraying, claiming that it is necessary to destroy “vegetation that obscures soldiers’ view of the area.”

Maghadid said Israeli authorities intentionally damage Palestinian crops in the eastern farmlands using various tactics over the years.

“We have been going through the same scenario for years now, every couple of weeks they send drones to spray our lands to damage the crops so that they can monitor the area more clearly.

“Sometimes this happens only a few days before the harvest season… You can imagine the amount of losses we endure,” the 47-year-old farmer said.

Palestinian farmers also have to deal with the constant firing of tear gas by Israeli forces deployed along the fence.

Rights groups state that Israel has been conducting aerial herbicide spraying near Palestinian farmlands for several years, and the activity is typically carried out “without prior notification or warning to Palestinian farmers".

Israel carries out the spraying when the wind is blowing westward, which transports the chemicals “deep into Gaza”, reaching distances “as far as 1,200 meters into the Strip", activists say.

“Since 2014, the clearing and bulldozing of agricultural and residential lands by the Israel military close to the eastern border of Gaza has been complemented by the unannounced aerial spraying of crop-killing herbicides,” the research group Forensic Architecture found in 2019.

The London-based agency spent over a year examining the environmental and legal implications of the Israeli practice of aerial spraying of herbicides along the Gaza border.

“This ongoing practice has not only destroyed entire swaths of formerly arable land along the fence, but also crops and farmlands hundreds of meters deep into Palestinian territory, resulting in the loss of livelihoods for Gazan farmers,” it said in a statement.

Gaza has been under Israeli siege since June 2007. Around 40,000 Palestinians apparently depend on farming as their only source of livelihood in the coastal sliver of land.

The situation deteriorated when the Israeli army launched another onslaught against Gaza in May 2021. The Palestinian Ministry of Agriculture estimates that the military aggression inflicted a loss of $204 million on the region’s agricultural sector.

“We are still struggling with the consequences of the last attack on Gaza that causes us huge damage due to the shelling and leveling of lands, as well as abandoning the crops throughout the 11 days of the attack and then having to deal with Israel’s decision to close the borders and prevent exports,” local farmer Iyad Abughleba said.

“We are not ready for another year in which our agricultural lands are targeted continuously,” he added.

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