The Israel Lands Administration has been spraying fields cultivated by Bedouin farmers in the Negev with chemicals that have not been approved by the Agriculture Ministry and have been banned for use in aerial spraying.
Last week, a senior ILA official submitted an affidavit to that effect to the Supreme Court of Justice, which is currently discussing a petition filed by Bedouin farmers against the ILA's crop-spraying policy in the Negev. The ILA claims that its policy is designed to counter the phenomenon of illegal occupation of state-owned land by Bedouin.
The petition, filed in May 2004 by attorney Marwan Dalal of Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, claims that "the spraying of crops endangers the life and health of human beings and animals, as well as their environment." Along with the petition, Adalah submitted an expert opinion that stated that crop spraying increases the chances of birth defects and statistical likelihood of developing cancer.
At the time the petition was filed, the court issued an injunction banning all aerial spraying, and the ILA subsequently returned to its previous policy of plowing, which it originally abandoned because it was accompanied by violent protests by the Bedouin, thereby endangering ILA employees.
The aerial spraying, which began in 2002, is carried out by Chim-Nir, a private company based in Herzliya. According to the affidavit, which was signed by Israel Scope, director of the ILA's supervisory division, Chim-Nir used three different types of chemical - Roundup, Typhoon and Glyphogen - all of which are derivatives of glyphosate. Between 2002 and 2003, the company only used Roundup, but Scope's affidavit shows that, in 2004, it also used the two other chemicals. According to Scope, "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 explains that "the manufacturer of Typhoon did not seek approval for aerial spraying," but "given the chemical make-up of Typhoon, there would be no difficulty in obtaining such approval." The ILA also plays down the importance of the use of Typhoon and points out that "its use was strictly limited. In 2004, the only year it was used, it constituted just 28 percent of the chemicals used in aerial spraying."
The ILA also points out that, in its contract with Chim-Nir, there is a clause that specifies that only Roundup will be used for aerial spraying. In the meantime, the contract expired and, because of the court injunction, no new contract has been signed. The head of the ILA's supervisory division promised that "from now on, the ILA will make every effort to ensure that only approved substances are used for aerial spraying."
Attorney Danny Zimmerman, who represents Chim-Nir, said in response, "I have no idea what substances are in the containers, but I know for sure that the company did not receive any complaint regarding breach of contract."
The ILA claims that, before it started spraying crops from the air, Bedouin in the Negev "encroached on huge swathes of land belonging to the state. There is a direct link between the use of aerial spraying and the extent of land encroachment." According to the ILA, the extent of land encroachment has declined sharply since the policy of aerial spraying was introduced. The ILA warned the Supreme Court that since the latter issued an injunction against spraying, the trend has been reversed and "we find ourselves in the middle of a mass invasion of state-owned land in the Negev, the likes of which have never been seen before."
In response to the affidavit, Adalah said in a statement, "the very fact that the ILA sprayed crops belonging to 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 Negev Bedouin, and does not contribute to the good of the Bedouin or regional development."