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Plane releases herbicides over crops, illustrative.(Photo by: PXHERE)
Israel stops spraying herbicides along Gaza border for first time in 5 years
Halt comes after four-year-long campaign by three human rights groups; winds carried the chemicals westward into the Strip “at damaging concentrations” and “causes indiscriminate damage."
For the first time in five years, Israel has not sprayed herbicides along the Gaza border, which was previously done by the Defense Ministry to ensure that troops have a clear line of sight into the Gaza Strip.

The halt follows a four-year legal campaign by human rights organizations Gisha–Legal Center for Freedom of Movement; Adalah–The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel; and Al Mezan Center for Human Rights.

Israel has admitted to carrying out aerial spraying some 30 times between 2014 and 2018, which according to Haaretz destroyed 1,400 hectares (3,560 acres) of crops and fields over the five years.

According to the human rights groups, the last time herbicides were sprayed was in December, damaging numerous crops deep inside Gaza and harming the livelihood of farmers and herders in the Hamas-controlled coastal enclave.

In January, the three organizations sent a letter to Defense Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Military Advocate-General Sharon Afek and Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit, asking to put a stop to the practice.

According to the left-wing webzine +972, the three groups stated that the chemical being sprayed had been determined by the World Health Organization to be a carcinogen, which is not meant to be used in aerial spraying due to health risks and also the risk posed to nearby crops.

In response, Israel said that “special precautions are taken in order to minimize the reach of the chemical agents, and that the spraying is supervised and regulated.”

But a report by London-based research agency Forensic Architecture found that while the commercial crop dusters hired by the Defense Ministry operated on the Israeli side of the border fence, the winds carried the chemicals westward into the Strip “at damaging concentrations” that “causes indiscriminate damage,” where “the effects are readily controllable, and the extent of damage on Palestinian farmland per spray is largely unpredictable.”

According to the report, “when effective drift control techniques are not applied, the Israeli army cannot mitigate the reach of the chemicals sprayed along Gazan farmland,” and that “this ongoing military practice along the eastern border exacts a heavy price on Gaza’s farming community and the broader civilian population.”

The report, which examined spraying carried out in April 2017, found that sprayed herbicides spread over 300 meters (985 feet) into the Strip.

“It is crucial that Israel commit to terminating the practice altogether in order to enable Gaza’s agriculture sector to develop and prosper,” the three groups said in a statement on Sunday, adding that “the aerial spraying infringes on fundamental human rights and violates Israeli and international law.”
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