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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Gaza’s Little Chef



Khuloud Rabah Sulaiman, We Are Not Numbers, May 20, 2019

“I want to be one of the best chefs in the world,” says Mahmoud Abu Nada. That, despite the fact that he lives in the blockaded Gaza Strip, is just 12 years old and suffers from leukemia.

And…while he is not yet known to the world, Mahmoud has become the first child chef in Palestine, regularly working in one of Gaza’s most well-known restaurants. 

Mahmoud was diagnosed with blood cancer at the age of 8, and physicians determined he needed a bone marrow transplant. But, although the first children’s cancer department in the Gaza Strip opened in February to treat blood cancers and related diseases (which make up roughly 80 percent of malignancies among local children), bone marrow transplants and radiation still are available only outside. Experts in Italy offered to perform the procedure free of charge, and Mahmoud’s parents applied for a medical exit permit. However, Israel rejected it without any explanation.

Exit permits hard to get

The al-Mezan Center for Human rights estimates there are about 9,000 persons with cancer in Gaza, including 600 children. According to the center, more than 40 percent of these children would receive better care outside of Gaza. Yet the World Health Organization says 61 percent of permit applications for medical treatment were approved on time last year, 31 percent were answered too late or not at all, and the rest were rejected.

Mahmoud’s father cannot afford care in Egypt, and the treatment there is often substandard. Thus, Mahmoud must rely on regular pain killers, blood transfusions and chemotherapy treatments every two weeks. The boy also must stay home from school, since his body cannot fight off the infections to which he would be exposed by other pupils.

“I was overwhelmed with sadness when I had to leave school,” Mahmoud says. “But I decided not to give up, so I started homeschooling. With the help of my mum, but I do my school exams.”

Mahmoud has loved watching his mother cook since he was old enough to walk, and when he began spending so much time at home, he discovered cooking programs online. They became a way to break the boredom, and he watched them for hours. He practiced in the kitchen–imitating his mother making sandwiches and fresh juices but with his own variations. His first creation was a spin on the traditional sandwich: For his 17-year-old sister, Yasmeen, he rolled traditional taboon bread with his own tomato sauce mixed with egg, peppers, olives, mushrooms and a blend of spices.

“My siblings also always ask me to make noodles and shakshuka because they like the way I prepare them,” he adds. Shakshuka is a Palestinian dish a dish of eggs poached in a sauce of tomatoes, chili peppers and garlic.

A chef is born

When Mahmoud first started cooking at such a young age, his father was afraid he would burn himself. But he soon changed his mind.   

“My father thought about locking the kitchen at first, but then he encouraged me to keep up with my talent,” he says with a big grin.

Mahmoud shared the “fruits” of his skills with other kids at Gaza’s Basmit Amal Association for Cancer Care, where he made breakfast sandwiches for his fellow participants. In one of the association’s activities, held in the Gazan restaurant Oregano, Mahmoud wore a chef uniform and made various sandwiches for 60 children with the help of the chef. He was amazed by Mahmoud.

Once the initiative finished, Mahmoud asked the chef to allow him to work with him in the restaurant’s kitchen. Although Palestinian law forbids child labor, the chef accepted him as a trainee after he passed a test, including the recognition of spices.

“I impressed the chef when I recognized all of them only by smell,” Mahmoud said. “What else impressed him is that I mastered the use of kitchen tools.”

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March 18, 2019
Israeli Politics Decoded with David Sheen

Online from the Palestine Center
Washington, DC
12 noon – 1 pm Central Time
Listen live

“Gaza is eviscerated. Apartheid is entrenched in the West Bank. Inside official Israel, the ruling party openly promotes racial hatred towards Arabs and Africans.

How popular are these belligerent policies among Israeli Jews? And how can we make sense of Israeli politics — where dozens of parties run for parliament, and double-digits get in — with wild swings, seemingly, in who holds power?

Journalist and human rights defender David Sheen will give an unflinching interrogation and a compelling analysis of the state of Israel/Palestine under Trump and Netanyahu.”

More info

Maia Project Update

Latest Maia Water Filters in Rafah (28 Feb 2019)
from Josie Shields-Stromsness, Middle East Children’s Alliance

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• Congregation Shaarei Shamayim: Shamayim.org
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Death of Detainee Fares Baroud: An Example of Deliberate Negligence


Palestinian Center for Human Rights
Ref: 16/2019, February 7, 2019

 

Yesterday, 06 February 2019, a Palestinian detainee who spent 28 years in Israeli jails, Fares Mohammed Baroud (51), from al-Shati’ refugee camp in western Gaza City, died only hours after transfer from “Ramon” Prison to “Soroka” Hospital in circumstances raising suspicions of deliberate medical negligence by the Israeli authorities, especially since he suffered problems in the stomach, heart and liver. PCHR calls for an immediate and impartial investigation into the death circumstances of Baroud and is concerned that the Israeli authorities might have procrastinated in providing Baroud the immediate and appropriate medical treatment. PCHR also condemns the Israeli authorities’ neglect of the recurrent calls to release him though they knew of the deterioration of his health condition.

The Israeli forces arrested Baroud on 23 March 1991 and issued a life imprisonment sentence against him in addition to 35 years. Baroud had suffered many health problems during his detention in the Israeli jails, including problems of the stomach, kidney, liver and chest, in addition to suffering asthma. He was also placed for years in solitary confinement; the last was for 4 years consecutively between 2012 and 2016, causing a deterioration of his health condition. Last year, he underwent a surgery to remove part of his liver and suffered complications; however, the Israeli authorities did not offer him adequate treatment. Yesterday, 06 February 2019, his health condition rapidly deteriorated and he was taken to “Soroko” Hospital in Beersheba in Israel where his death was declared only hours after his arrival at the hospital.

The death of Baroud sheds light on the general deterioration of Palestinian detainee conditions in Israeli jails, showing the extent of the punitive measures taken against them, particularly the medical negligence they undergo and the inadequate treatment hundreds of patients receive, particularly those suffering from chronic and serious diseases.

Thus, PCHR holds the Israeli government fully responsible for the death of detainee Baroud and lives of dozens of sick detainees who would face the same fate if the policy of medical negligence continued while detaining them in inhuman and tough conditions, being subject to physical and psychological torture and not receiving adequate healthcare. At this time, PCHR:

  1. Calls for an immediate and impartial investigation into the death circumstances of detainee Baroud;
  2. Calls upon the International Committee of Red Cross to increase its follow-up of the conditions of Palestinian detainees and prisoners in Israeli jails and their detention circumstances;
  3. Calls upon the international community to compel Israel to respect international and humanitarian law, in particular the Fourth Geneva Convention and the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners; and
  4. Indicates the ongoing deterioration of the conditions of around 7,000 detainees, including dozens suffering chronic diseases and not receiving adequate healthcare.