After several days of reports from Palestinian farmers, the Israeli Defense Force has admitted to aerial spraying herbicides throughout a large swath of Gazan farmland. “The aerial spraying of herbicides and germination inhibitors was conducted in the area along the border fence last week in order to enable optimal and continuous security operations,” says an IDF spokesperson. Palestinian officials report that over 420 acres of land in central Gaza, much of which was planted with cool season crops such as spinach, peas, and parsley, has been damaged by the herbicides. This loss of crops and land is a painful blow to the residents of Gaza, who already struggle to meet basic needs due to an Israeli blockade.

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The particular issue in contention is that of the “no-go buffer zone,” an area surrounding the barrier between Israel and Gaza in which IDF soldiers use lethal force to repel any Palestinians who come too close to the border. At least 16 Palestinians have been killed and at least 379 have been wounded near or in the buffer zone, many of whom were participating in non-violent protests. Although the IDF withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005, the Israeli government continues to control Gaza’s land and sea borders and has the ultimate control over who and what enters and leaves the territory.

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The IDF has given often contradictory information about how far the buffer zone extends, stating in recent months that while the zone extends up to 300 feet from the fence, farmers are allowed within 100 feet of the fence on foot. The IDF has not explained the process it uses to determine whether a Palestinian is a farmer, combatant or other civilian. “A primary principle of international humanitarian law is the distinction between combatants and civilians,” says Israeli human rights group B’Tselem. “When it is unclear if the persons are civilians or combatants, they must be treated as civilians.”

The IDF justifies its use of defoliating pesticides on Gazan land as a means to clear vegetation that might obstruct an Israeli soldier’s line of sight. If the IDF is to enforce its newly cleared buffer zone, it may be beneficial to clarify its policy of lethal force. The politics of occupation can be complicated, but what should be clear is that the destruction of farmland to provide Israeli soldiers with a clear shot at Palestinians, whether they may be, is counterproductive to a peaceful resolution of the long conflict.

Via +972 Magazine

Images via Desde Palestina (2)