22 February 2005

ILA Official Admits to Spraying Unauthorized Chemicals on Arab Bedouin Crops

In a response to a petition filed to the Supreme Court of Israel in March 2004, the Israel Lands Administration (ILA) admitted on 7 February 2005 to aerially spraying agricultural crops cultivated by Arab Bedouin citizens of Israel in the unrecognized villages in the Naqab (Negev) with chemical agents that have not been authorized by the Ministry of Agriculture (MOA). Further, the ILA emphasized the effectiveness and cost-efficiency of its aerial spraying operations in decreasing Arab Bedouin “encroachment” on “huge swathes of land belonging to the state,” and thus the need to resume these practices to counter this phenomenon.

An injunction issued by the Supreme Court in March 2004 and extended in October 2004 currently prohibits the ILA, the Ministry of Industry and Trade, and the MOA - the respondents in the case - or any other entity appointed by them from spraying the crops in question. After the issuance of the injunction, the ILA resumed its previous plowing operations, digging up the earth and destroying the crops, accompanied by a large contingency of police and other security forces. The petition and motion for injunction were filed by Adalah Attorney Marwan Dalal on behalf of individuals and eight human rights organizations, including Physicians for Human Rights-Israel and in Adalah's own name.

Commenting on the ILA's response, Adalah stated that, “The very fact that the ILA sprayed crops belonging to Arab Bedouin farmers, in contradiction of the law, is another indication of how the ILA does not work as an administrative body for the good of the public and to serve the public, but as an organization hostile to the Arab Bedouin in the Naqab, and does not contribute to the good of the Arab Bedouin or regional development.”

Adalah argued in the petition that the ILA's operations must be stopped, as they constitute a danger to the life and health of human beings and animals, as well as to the environment and the crops, which are the Palestinian Bedouins' only source of livelihood. The ILA had been spraying crops from the air since 2002, destroying thousands of dunams of land over a period of almost two years. The ILA issued no warnings, either before or after the spraying.

While the ILA admitted in the past that it used a chemical called ROUNDUP, in its 7 February 2005 response to the petition the ILA disclosed for the first time that in 2004 two additional chemicals – Typhoon and Glyphogen – had been used. According to the director of the ILA's supervisory division, Israel Scope, who signed the affidavit, “The label on the Typhoon packaging does not specify any instructions regarding aerial spraying. This means that aerial spraying with Typhoon has not been approved.” The ILA also claimed that, “given the chemical makeup of Typhoon, there would be no difficulty in obtaining such approval,” and that “its use was strictly limited. In 2004, the only year it was used, it constituted just 28% of the chemicals used in aerial spraying.”

Even in the state's first written response to the petition, submitted to the Supreme Court in October 2004, the Attorney General related to solely to the use of ROUNDUP. The state claimed that ROUNDUP posed no health risks based on a lengthy expert opinion by the Chief Toxicologist of the Ministry of Health (MOH), Professor Gary Winston.

Concerning the MOH's Chief Toxicologist, Adalah argued before the Supreme Court and in subsequent written legal filings submitted on 3 November 2004 that he copied the main parts of his expert opinion word for word from a public relations statement posted on the website of Monsanto, a company that produces ROUNDUP, and thus, that it should be deemed inadmissible by the Court.

In its February 2005 response, the ILA also admitted that the basis of Prof. Winston's expert opinion was the scientific material on ROUNDUP and its chemical composition as posted on Monsanto's website. In addition, the ILA stated that Prof. Winston explained that it is acceptable to give great weight to the scientific material gathered by the producer of that material in the process of obtaining authorization for it. The ILA submitted another expert opinion by Prof. Winston also claiming that ROUNDUP is not dangerous.

In reply, Adalah stated that, “Prof. Winston's plagiarism cannot be overlooked or underemphasized, particularly as the health of the public, a matter of the utmost importance, is at stake in this case. Prof. Winston's explanation is unconvincing; he did not make these disclosures and claims in his first expert opinion. Thus, it is highly questionable whether the Ministry of Health's Chief Toxiocologist should remain in his post or not.”

Along with the petition, Adalah and Physicians for Human Rights-Israel submitted two expert opinions: Dr. Elihu Richter, Head of the Unit of Occupational and Environmental Medicine and Center for Injury Prevention, Hebrew University, stated that exposure to ROUNDUP 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 against using ROUNDUP as it may induce eye and skin irritations, miscarriages, nausea and breathing difficulties.

The petitioners maintain that the ILA has no authority to destroy the crops, regardless of the legal status of the land in question. The purpose of the law governing the issue of crop spraying is to protect the public's health and the environment; it grants sole authority to the Minister of Agriculture to further this purpose. If the Minister grants a permit to another entity regarding these matters, it may only be given for this purpose; the ILA's purpose - to enforce the state's claimed right to land - and its actions in spraying and destroying the crops do not further this purpose. As emphasized in the petition, these lands are the ancestral lands of the Palestinian Bedouin in the Naqab, who have suffered from both historical and contemporary injustices. The state's attempts to assert claims of ownership of the land are vehemently disputed.

H.C. 2887/04, Saleem Abu Medeghem, et. al. v. Israel Lands Administration, et. al. (case pending).

See also: Adalah News Update, “Supreme Court Issues Order Nisi and Injunction against Spraying of Crops Cultivated by Arab Bedouin in the Naqab,” 19 October 2004.

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