The Ecological War on Gaza


Satellite image of herbicide concentration on the Israel-Gaza border. (Forensic Architecture report video)

Rob Goyanes, Jewish Currents, September 9, 2019

FOR CENTURIES, the plains that comprise modern-day Gaza were lush with citrus orchards. Though early Zionists claimed to have pioneered the orange industry, Palestinian farmers had maintained orange groves—specifically of the sweet “Jaffa” orange that would later be co-opted as a symbol of Israeli ingenuity—for export since the 1800s. In some cases, these orchards were passed down by generations of Palestinian families. Arabs and Jews set up mutual orange enterprises in the early 20th century, but things started to change following Israel’s War of Independence in 1948, and especially following the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. 

Citriculture largely disappeared from Gaza in the second half of the 20th century, due in large part to Israeli bulldozing of the orange groves. Through the course of investigating the disappearance of the orchards, a researcher with Forensic Architecture—a research agency based at Goldsmiths, University of London, composed of architects, software developers, and others who investigate human rights violations—learned that the low-lying crops that replaced the groves in recent years were potentially dying due to Israeli actions. This prompted the agency to take a closer look at crop disappearance in Gaza.

In July, Forensic Architecture released a report titled “Herbicidal Warfare in Gaza,” detailing the results of their investigation, which finds that the crop deaths were caused by herbicides sprayed by Israel and carried into Gaza by the wind. The findings raise the disturbing possibility that the Israeli military has been engaging in a form of ecological warfare (a possibility first reported by +972 Magazine in 2015). 

“The actual campaign against the citrus was sustained during the Oslo and Madrid peace processes,” says one of the researchers, who asked not to be named because of safety concerns (the report itself was not published anonymously, and lists all participating researchers by name). During the peace processes in the 1990s, he adds, Israeli bulldozers systematically destroyed orange groves. Israel claimed this was necessary because “orange groves were used as a shelter for terrorists.”  

Israel occupied and illegally settled Gaza between 1967 and 2005, after which it pulled out its settlements. Israeli bulldozing during this period was a significant factor in the decimation of Palestinian orange orchards, and Gazans typically didn’t have the money or resources to maintain the groves that were left. Soon, according to the researcher, Palestinian farmers began gradually replacing citrus trees with crops that couldn’t be said to provide cover for terrorists, and were cheaper to maintain, including strawberries, cherry tomatoes, and herbs.

Ever since Hamas took power in Gaza in 2007, Israel has maintained a crippling economic blockade, accompanied by periodic bombing campaigns that have killed thousands of civilians. Israel has established and patrolled a “buffer zone,” up to 300 meters or more in some areas, which stretches the entire length of the Gaza side of the border since 2014—roughly the time when a significant number of the lower-growing crops grown by Palestinian farmers close to the border started to die. According to farmers’ testimony—which appears in the Forensic Architecture report and has also been reported on elsewhere—land in the buffer zone, which was previously used by Palestinians as agricultural and residential space, has been razed and bulldozed regularly by the Israeli military for the purpose of surveillance and military operations. When the crops started dying, farmers saw planes spraying herbicides over the Israeli side of the buffer zone, and they assumed the herbicides were to blame.

The Israeli military bulldozes agricultural land in the border zone with Gaza. Image: screenshot from Forensic Architecture report video

Working with several NGOs and Palestinian ministries, the researcher collected leaf samples, testimonies, and video footage. Based on a visualization technology called Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI, a remote sensing tool that uses satellite imagery to measure the health of vegetation), it’s clear that there was significant crop loss during the years that the Israeli military was spraying herbicides, from 2014 to 2018. The images, captured in the days after the sprayings, show many red patches throughout the farmlands, indicating loss of vegetation. 

With further analysis provided by a fluid dynamics expert, Forensic Architecture concluded that the herbicides—including glyphosate, the primary chemical in the weedkiller Roundup—were being carried by the wind onto Palestinian farmlands a few hundred meters away, and that they were having a significant negative impact on crops. 

This appears to have been no accident. “Every single farmer I’ve spoken with says that before each spraying they see a plume of smoke coming,” the researcher says, adding that the sprayings happen without any warning to the farmers. “The Israeli army, in the information they’ve given us through the Freedom of Information request, admitted that among the preparations that they practiced on the ground prior to spraying, incendiary tires was one of them.” Incendiary tires are tires that are burned to determine the direction of the wind. In this case, it seems they were used to ensure that when sprayings occurred, they went toward Gaza, rather than Israel.

According to Forensic Architecture’s researcher, some Palestinian farmers have said that they’ve lost between half a million and a million shekels’ worth of crops since 2014, or approximately $140,000 to $280,000—significant sums considering that Gaza is under an economic blockade, and that nearly 70% of Gaza’s population is classified as food insecure. “It’s not really so much about what’s going to be exported, it’s more that people rely on these crops,” the researcher says. 

In 2014, eight Palestinian farmers sought compensation for crops damaged by Israeli herbicide spraying, but all were rejected; according to Israel’s Civil Damages Order, Israel is “not liable for damage to the residents of the Gaza Strip.” In 2015, a kibbutz on the Israeli side, which had also sustained damage to its crops from the military spraying of herbicides, was initially denied compensation on the basis that it was already receiving compensation for its proximity to Gaza. Besides the damage to crops, Kibbutz Nahal Oz argued that the herbicides also lead to land toxicity, preventing the planting of watermelons. The kibbutz ultimately won about $16,000 in compensation from the Israeli Ministry of Defense.  

I asked the Israeli Ministry of Defense a series of questions about the use of herbicides, and it responded with the following statement: “The defense establishment conducts weed control, in which the material is sprayed from the air, for operational purposes—among them, removing potential cover for terror elements, which may threaten the citizens of the State of Israel (particularly the communities living adjacent to the Gaza border), as well as IDF troops.” It added that the spraying of herbicides “is conducted only over the territory of the State of Israel. It is carried out by companies specialized in the field, in accordance with the law.” Indeed, the spraying is occurring on the Israeli side of the border—but borders are porous, and they do not stop harmful chemicals carried by the wind. The Ministry did not respond to repeated requests for clarification regarding the burning of tires to assess wind direction. 

When the Israeli Ministry of Defense says that it carries out the sprayings “in accordance with the law,” it is unclear whether they mean domestic law, international law, or both (human rights groups have maintained that Israel is breaking both by doing so). In 1977, the Convention on the Prohibition of Military or Any Other Hostile Use of Environmental Modification Techniques, an international treaty on ecological warfare, banned “any technique for changing—through the deliberate manipulation of natural processes—the dynamics, composition or structure of the Earth, including its biota, lithosphere, hydrosphere and atmosphere, or of outer space.” Though Israel is not a signatory to this convention, the practice of spraying herbicides for military purposes does seem to fit the definition of such a technique. (The United States is a signatory to the treaty, as well as Israel’s major military ally and patron. The US State Department ignored repeated requests for comment on Israel’s use of the practice.)

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Gideon Levy: Let the Annexation Begin


A Palestinian man waters goats and sheep in the Jordan Valley, West Bank, August 21, 2019. (MOHAMAD TOROKMAN – REUTERS)

Gideon Levy, If Americans Knew, September 12, 2019

There’s no longer any real debate in Israel. The right wants to annex Palestinian land openly, and the center wants to annex, but deceive us. All that’s left now is to admit to the world that in reality Israel annexed the West Bank many years ago… it’s one country with an apartheid system.

Reposted from Ha’aretz

Here’s one campaign promise by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that we should hope will be fulfilled: annexing the Jordan Valley to Israel. So far, no other campaign promise has been as encouraging as this one. Not one Zionist party has offered even a hint of an idea that could shake up the existing situation like this annexation proposal, and the status quo is crying for a shake-up.

I obviously won’t vote for Netanyahu, but I hope that this time he keeps his promise. Let him annex the Jordan Valley, and afterward the entire West Bank. Let him turn the reality in this territory into a political reality, without hiding it any longer. The time has come for truth. The time has come to put an end to the great masked ball that Israel and the world have been holding for 52 years already.

The apparently eternal reality in this territory should be translated into legal language. The Jordan Valley was annexed long ago, as was the entire West Bank. The Green Line has been erased; nothing remains of it.

All that’s left now is to say so officially. To admit to Israelis and to the world: Enough with the occupation, we have annexation. There are no settlements, there are towns. The two-state solution has been put to death, and it actually happened long ago. What remains is one state, in which the only battle will be over the system of government.

There’s no longer any real debate in Israel. Immediately after Netanyahu promised annexation, Benny Gantz, the great hope of the enlightened public, delivered the word of the opposition: He, too, is in favor of the Jordan Valley in perpetuity.

If so, what is all the criticism of Netanyahu for? For his lack of intention to keep his promise. People to Netanyahu’s left have been criticizing him for saying he’ll annex the region without him really meaning it. What more could we ask? Between the right, which wants to annex and announce it, and the center, which wants to annex but deceive us, the choice is easy. The only debate that remains is about the future of the Adei Ad settlement outpost, and that’s no longer important. Evacuating the Baladim outpost will no longer change anything either.

[Adei Ad and Baladim are illegal Jewish outposts in the West Bank, both of which have been sites of violence against Palestinians, Israeli forces, and visitors.]

Netanyahu’s choice of territory to annex is no accident. There’s something symbolic about it. The Oslo process began with “Jericho first,” and its death will be pronounced with “the Jordan Valley and the northern Dead Sea first.”

But there’s also a great deal more than symbolism here. Most Israelis have never considered the Jordan Valley occupied territory. Ever since our colonialist enterprise began, its settlers have been seen as “residents,” and even as pioneers, while its settlements have been seen as kibbutzim and moshavim – more stellar examples of Zionism.

In those settlements there are no prayer shawls and ritual fringes – there are Jewish masters and Thai farm laborers, like in every kibbutz and moshav. Also Palestinian farm laborers who earn shameful, exploitative, criminal wages. The Labor Party, the first and foremost party of occupation, has seen the Jordan Valley as an inseparable part of any agreement ever since the 1967 Allon Plan, which deserves to be remembered and condemned because no other plan has done more to perpetuate the occupation.

[Levy writes elsewhere: “Although it was never officially adopted, the Allon Plan, drafted in 1967 by Yigal Allon – an iconic figure from the War of Independence and afterward a leading politician – was in large measure implemented. Its aim: to cut off the West Bank from Jordan by means of two roads…and to establish settlements and army training camps alongside both highways.”]

The consensus about remaining in the territories began right here, between Hemdat and Almog. This was the first “settlement bloc” to enter the consensus, and it wasn’t even called a settlement. Most Israelis see no difference between Maskiot and Ro’i [two illegal settlements], in the Jordan Valley, and Beit Alfa and Heftziba [two kibbutzim in Israel], located between the Jezreel and Beit She’an valleys. All are in the Israeli valley.

But this is one of the worst evils of apartheid and transfer that the occupation has ever produced. Behind the modern names…hide greedy and sometimes violent farmers. Here, a quiet transfer of communities of shepherds has been carried out, just like in the South Hebron Hills.

Anyone who still doubts the existence of apartheid ought to visit the Jordan Valley. The water, the land and the freedom – which are divvied up there via blatant segregation based on nationality, with no shame – tell the entire story. Nothing could be more just than for the Torah of annexation to go forth from here.

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2020 Colors of Palestine Calendar

Online and from MRSCP

Resistance Art’s 2020 Colors from Palestine calendar is a tribute to the late Palestinian Poet Mu’in Bseiso (1926 – January 23, 1984). His words spoke of resistance, love, torture chambers and naked walls, children coloring on a beach, exile —the endless exile and the resistance against it.

MRSCP plans to order some of these calendars for fall sales; if you would like to reserve one, please contact RafahSisterCity at yahoo.com. You can view the calendar online (and buy it directly) from Resistance Art.

Fall Olive Harvest Delegation to Palestine

EyeWitness Palestine still has some openings available for their fall delegation. Scholarships are available.

The Environmental Justice and Olive Harvest delegation is your opportunity to visit Palestine during the olive harvest season — a culturally rich and important time. Hear from farmers and learn of the importance of agriculture to the economy and culture. Learn about threats to the environment, the exploitation of natural resources, and the struggle of Palestinian communities to maintain access to land and water.

There are folks from Wisconsin going who would love to have your company!

He got into Harvard. And now he finally got into the United States.


Ismail Ajjawi, a Harvard freshman who said he was was denied U.S. entry because of his friends’ social media postings, arrived in Boston in time for the start of classes. He is pictured in his home near the El Buss refugee camp in Lebanon. (United Nations Relief and Works Agency)

JAWEED KALEEM, Los Angeles Times, SEP. 3, 2019

A Palestinian student who flew to Boston last month to attend Harvard but was a denied entry to the United States has been allowed into the country in time for the start of classes this week, the university said.

Ismail Ajjawi, 17, was at the center of an uproar involving top Harvard officials, immigrant advocates, international student organizations and thousands of student petitioners after the Harvard Crimson newspaper reported that immigration officials held him on Aug. 23 at Logan International Airport while combing through his social media accounts before canceling his visa.

The incident underscored concerns at Harvard and other universities over the ability of international students and scholars to enter the country as the Trump administration curtails legal immigration.

In a welcome letter Tuesday to students, Harvard President Lawrence S. Bacow highlighted immigration barriers for students.

“Since May, the obstacles facing individuals ensnared in the nation’s visa and immigration process have only grown,” he wrote. “Various international students and scholars eager to establish lives here on our campus find themselves the subject of scrutiny and suspicion in the name of national security, and they are reconsidering the value of joining our community in the face of disruptions and delays.”

Ajjawi was a top student in Lebanon, where lived as a refugee outside the southern city of Tyre and attended United Nations schools. He received a scholarship from an international nonprofit to attend Harvard, where he planned to study physical and chemical biology en route to becoming a surgeon.

He was allowed into to the U.S. on Monday after he “overcamve all grounds of inadmissibility,” a spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection said in a statement.

The spokesman did not answer a question about what had changed. Previously, immigration officials had said that Ajjawi “was deemed inadmissible to the United States based on information discovered during the CBP inspection.”

His family released a statement through its attorney, describing his experience as “difficult and anxiety-filled.”

“We truly appreciate the efforts of so many individuals and officials in Lebanon, Washington, Massachusetts and at Harvard that have made it possible for our son Ismail Ajjawi to begin his studies,” it said.

He arrived on campus just in time for his class photo, said the attorney, Albert Mokhiber.

Theodore Kattouf, president of Amideast, the nonprofit that awarded Ajjawi his scholarship, released a statement saying that he was “pleased that Ismail’s Harvard dream will come true after all.”

“Ismail is a bright young man whose hard work, intelligence and drive enabled him to overcome the challenges that Palestinian refugee youth continue to face in order to earn a scholarship,” it said.

Ajjawi did not reply to Facebook messages seeking comment.

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