Supreme Court in Precedent-Setting Decision: Spraying Toxic Chemicals on Crops of Arab Bedouin Farmers in the Unrecognized Villages is Insensitive, Disrespectful and Endangers their Lives and Health

Today, 15 April 2007, the Supreme Court of Israel delivered a precedent-setting decision which prohibits the Israel Land Administration (ILA) from aerially spraying crops cultivated by Arab Bedouin citizens of Israel living in the unrecognized villages in the Naqab. The Supreme Court also ordered the state to pay NIS 20,000 in legal fees.

The Supreme Court handed-down its decision on a petition challenging this practice, was which submitted by Adalah Attorney Marwan Dalal on 22 March 2004. The petition was filed on behalf of four Palestinian Arab Bedouin living in unrecognized villages, Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, Adalah, the Association of Forty, the Forum for Co-Existence in the Negev, the Negev Company for Land & Man, Ltd., Bustan for Peace, the Association for Support and Defense of Bedouin Rights in Israel, the Arab Association for Human Rights (HRA), and the Galilee Society. The Court issued an injunction immediately after the filing of the petition which prohibited these ILA operations.

In the decision, a unanimous panel of three justices of the Supreme Court - Edna Arbel, Salim Joubran, and Miriam Naor � ruled that these actions are prohibited because they endanger human life and the health of the inhabitants of the unrecognized villages. Supreme Court Justice Joubran stated that: �The Israel Land Administration is conducting the spraying activities without legal authority.� Justice Arbel found that although the ILA is authorized by law to use such measures, they are nevertheless improper because they harm human life. Justice Arbel also stated that using these measures humiliated and disrespected the Arab Bedouin citizens: �It is the duty of the state, in its activities, not to endanger them and to act towards them with fairness � The ways in which the spraying operations were conducted not only endangered the health of the Bedouin citizens but also harmed their dignity.�

Arbel added that: �The expression - �the ends do not justify the means' - is not an empty statement but it is a basic rule and a very important one. The purpose in this case is not justified, in my opinion. The use of this chosen tool sends a message of insensitivity and disrespect for the Bedouin citizens. For that, it is added the danger to their health and maybe also bodily harm. In this complex reality, they might be exposed to this substance and harmed by it.�

Justice Arbel also discussed the reality of life for Arab Bedouin living in the unrecognized villages: �It should be that the harsh reality faced by the Bedouin population in the State of Israel requires a systematic comprehensive solution � I am using this opportunity to call for a thorough examination of the subject [the unrecognized villages] and for the speedy promotion of a settlement ��

In this case, the state claimed that it is necessary to spray crops in the unrecognized villages in the Naqab with toxic chemicals in order to �enforce the right of the state over state land,� as it is more effective than other means of destroying the crops. The state also claimed that using other methods, such as digging up the crops with tractors require a large police presence in order to prevent residents of the villages from resisting the uprooting. In addition, the state claimed that the spraying operations are not dangerous, as the substance utilized is accepted for use on agricultural crops. Attorney Dalal argued that the ILA's practice lacks any authority under the law. The ILA cannot spray agricultural crops with toxic chemicals in order to realize any right claimed by the state, as the law only allows such spraying for one purpose: in order to protect the health and well-being of human beings and the environment. The ILA's spraying operations are not executed for any health-related or environmental reasons, and are thus illegal. Adalah emphasized that the substance used by the ILA is proven to be dangerous and drew the Court's attention to two expert opinions which were submitted by the petitioners: Dr. Elihu Richter, Head of the Unit of Occupational and Environmental Medicine and Center for Injury Prevention, Hebrew University, wrote that exposure to ROUNDUP (the chemical sprayed by the ILA) carries reproductive and carcinogenic risks; and Dr. Ahmad Yazbek, who holds a Ph.D. in Chemistry from the Technion, Haifa, and is a senior researcher with the Regional Research and Development Center - The Galilee Society, warned that ROUNDUP may induce eye and skin irritations, miscarriages, nausea and breathing difficulties. The petitioners also asserted that the expert opinion submitted by the ILA to the Court, which was written by the Ministry of Health's Chief Toxicologist, Professor Gary Winston, was copied verbatim from the website of the Monsanto Company which manufactures the chemical, and therefore lacks credibility. During the last hearing on the petition, the Supreme Court Justices agreed that the expert opinion submitted by the ILA had serious problems of credibility, and in the decision, it was undermined.

H.C. 2887/04, Saleem Abu Medeghem, et. al. v. Israel Lands Administration, et. al. (petition accepted, decision delivered 15.4.07)

For more information: See Adalah News Update �Despite ILA's Insistence to Continue Spraying Crops Cultivated by Arab Bedouin in Unrecognized Villages in the Naqab, Supreme Court Extends Injunction Prohibiting these Operations�, 30 November 2005

 Supreme Court Decision (Hebrew)