Israel spraying toxins over Palestinian crops in Gaza

An Israeli agricultural aircraft sprayed herbicides onto farmland along the eastern border in Gaza [Adel Hana/AP]
Khan Younis, Gaza Strip– On January 7, a low-flying agricultural aircraft sprayed herbicides on to Palestinian farmlands along the eastern border, eradicating or damaging up to 162 hectares of crops and farmland along the Israeli border fence.

“Herbicides are sprayed in high concentrations. Thus, they remain embedded in the soil, and then find their way to the water basin. This constitutes a real hazard for the population,” said Anwar Abu Assi, manager of the chemical laboratory at the Ministry of Agriculture.

The sprayed areas belong to Israel’s unilaterally imposed and poorly delineated “buffer” or “no-go zone”.

The zone, which amounts to an estimated 17 percent of the entire territory of the Gaza Strip and a third of its agricultural lands, erodes into the Strip’s most vital and fertile soils.

Yousef Shahin, 40, was having enough trouble sustaining his farmland when, last week, an Israeli raid targeted the water tank that supplied his farm and neighbouring farms in the al-Faraheen area east of Khan Younis.

The tank and collection system had cost Shahin and his neighbours some $15,000. Shahin said governmental support was lacking.”Without support, we can never reconstruct the system again. We don’t have running water for irrigation; I think we lost this season.”

The Israeli army’s move had added another element to the suffering of Shahin and his fellow farmers.

With the Strip being merely five kilometres wide in some areas, a few hundred metres prove essential to the Strip’s food security. Over the past few months, Israeli soldiers have killed at least 16 Palestinians who entered the zone, most of them protesters who were shot at by snipers while participating in demonstrations near the fence.

Furthermore, scores of casualties have been reported among farmers who were merely tending to or approaching their lands. “We had to jeopardise our lives daily growing these crops; now all our efforts are in vain,” said Shahin while examining a new implant of spinach.

He lost crops that included spinach, peas, parsley and beans. Whether or not his new endeavours to cultivate will succeed remains unknown.

Farmers confirm that the damages of the latest spraying extend beyond the so-called “buffer zone”, as the winds carried the chemicals further inside the Strip. They also fear consequences of such materials may affect their lands in the long run.

Abu Assi explained that each herbicide or pesticide has a safety period that needs to be observed before attempting to grow new crops. At such high concentrations, he fears the lands are likely to constitute a hazard for a long time.

An Israeli army official cited “security reasons” as justification.

During the 2014 Israeli war on Gaza, the agricultural sector sustained losses and damages of up to $550m. Some 14,000 hectares were razed and destroyed; thousands of hectares of crops were also lost because farmers were unable to reach their lands amid the fighting.

A few days ago, Israeli warplanes bombed Gaza’s main agricultural experiment station, causing $300,000-worth of damages and destroying the station’s building, laboratories, vehicles and a large power generator.

The station developed new seeds and strains for use by local farmers. Bombed and completely destroyed during the 2014 war, Israel seems insistent on keeping the station out of service, effectively stifling every Palestinian attempt to attain self-sufficiency or independence, even agriculturally.

The station’s manager, Shaher al-Rifi, says that the facility is currently 70 percent out of service. With the Israeli restrictions on imports of tractors and agricultural machinery, it is likely to remain so for a long time to come.

Adel Atallah, a general director at the agriculture ministry, explains that the whole agricultural sector has for years been running on old machines. “Domestic farmers face problems trying to replenish anything that goes out of service. What isn’t banned is stalled at the crossings by Israel.”

The troubles facing the agricultural sector in Gaza span a wide myriad of difficulties. Irrigation is disturbed by the continuous power interruptions, which sometimes last more than 12 hours a day. Farmers depend on power generators to pump water, and the costs of fuel add another factor to their economic vulnerability.


This report was originally posted here


Gaza’s crumbling healthcare system

The roof cave-in at Shifa was just the latest manifestation of Gaza’s ongoing health crisis [Ahmed Abdelall/Al Jazeera]
Gaza City – Zinat al-Jundi was in her bed in the maternity ward at Gaza’s al-Shifa hospital when chunks of cement and concrete began to fall on to a nearby bed, occupied by a mother who had just given birth.

“My roommate had just moved her baby to make the bed when a block of concrete fell, right where the baby was,” Jundi told Al Jazeera. “It was a miracle that we were not hurt.”

The debris fell into their room after the building’s concrete roof caved in last month, causing panic throughout the facility as it was evacuated in a hurry.

The incident, however, was far from unforeseen: Used daily by thousands of people, the 60-year-old building – part of the complex that makes up Shifa hospital – had long been showing signs of disrepair, as cracks crept into the walls and ceilings.

The roof cave-in at Shifa was just the latest manifestation of Gaza’s ongoing health crisis, as the besieged territory struggles to provide adequate care to its 1.8-million population.

Several Gaza Strip hospitals are six decades old. Nasser hospital, the main facility serving the southern Khan Younis district, was built under Egyptian rule in the late 1950s and named after Gamal Abdel Nasser, the former president.

Three of the five main buildings at Shifa are from the same era, and two are now collapsing: In addition to the obstetrics building, the internal medicine building was evacuated four months ago after engineers warned that a collapse was imminent.

The building housing Shifa’s maternity ward contained 93 beds and handled about 70 deliveries a day. Also in the building were a gynaecology ward, an outpatient clinic and a neonatal intensive care unit that received cases from throughout the Gaza Strip.

Two private hospitals in Gaza are now helping to manage the cases that otherwise would have been directed to Shifa.

Medhat Abbas, director general of the Shifa complex, told Al Jazeera that even before the cave-in, patients in the ward sometimes had to stay in the hallways due to overcrowding. Attempts were made to secure funding from international agencies for a new building, he said, but to no avail.

“We alerted everyone and provided situational updates,” Abbas said. “No one listened.”

Around $10m is needed to replace the two crumbling buildings at the Shifa complex, he added – but who would finance these projects remains unclear. Tens of thousands of former Hamas employees in Gaza have gone without their full salaries for months, and the consensus government in Ramallah has shied away from managing Gaza’s crises.

Even if funds were secured, progress could be further stalled by Israeli restrictions on building materials entering the territory.

Munther Ghazal, the managing surgeon at Shifa’s department of gynaecology and obstetrics, could not conceal his frustration at the situation.

“You cannot have patients, operation rooms and the neonatal ICU scattered at different areas across the city,” he told Al Jazeera. “This has to be temporary.”

The frailties of Gaza’s health sector are deep and diverse. One year ago, maintenance and cleaning companies went on strike after failing to receive their salaries, and the ensuing financial crunch forced hospitals to stop serving patients’ meals. Charity organisations stepped in to help fill the void.

Shifa’s old and rusty laundry machine stopped working more than a year ago, and since then, sheets, robes and gowns have to be carted 30km away each day to Nasser hospital for washing. Meanwhile, vacancies left by retiring employees have not been filled: For the past three years, there has been no significant, permanent recruitment in Gaza’s public sector.

Consequently, despite hundreds of vacancies, scores of newly graduated doctors, nurses, technicians and secretaries remain unemployed.

Subhi Skaik, medical director at the Shifa compound, estimates that the hospital runs with 20 percent less staff than it needs – and smaller hospitals are probably suffering more, he added.

Gaza’s health ministry and the Palestinian Medical Council, which oversees training programmes, has offered new graduates the chance to fill these vacancies without pay in exchange for experience certificates and the possibility of employment down the road.

Dozens of people have taken advantage of the programme but, with no permanent solution on the horizon, dozens more have emigrated or are seeking a chance to leave Gaza.

Movement restrictions have led to a further deterioration in the quality of services in Gaza, Skaik told Al Jazeera.

“Medical education is a continuous process. We need scholarships and delegate exchanges to update our knowledge and improve our skills and experience,” he said. “Dozens of doctors lost grants of higher education because they were not able to join their programmes in time … Nonetheless, we hold regular conferences and have resorted to online lectures with foreign experts and tutors.”

Several specialties, such as pediatric cardiac surgery and radiation therapy, are missing from Gaza hospitals altogether, either due to a lack of specialists or a lack of equipment, forcing patients to be transferred to Israel or the occupied West Bank.

Shifa’s Prince Nayef Oncology Centre, built in 2005 with a price tag of more than $5m, has yet to become operational due to an Israeli prohibition on equipment needed for radiotherapy and cancer diagnostics.

Jundi, the patient from Shifa’s maternity ward, said it is time for the government to step up: “I call on President Abu Mazen and everyone to save us … We have nowhere to go now.”


This content was originally posted here

‘Gaza’s new generation of children only knows stress, wars and aggression’

If you keep depriving children from Gaza of everything, eventually some of them will join armed conflict and Israel will have no one to blame but themselves, Belal Dabour, a Palestinian doctor from Gaza, told RT.

The Israeli Air Force launched an airstrike on Hamas bases on Saturday, March 12, in which a 10-year-boy who lived next to one of the targets was killed, Gaza Health Ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra said, according to AFP. His six-year-old sister died later of her injuries, local media reported.

RT interviewed Dr. Belal Dabour, who assisted many injured during Operation Protective Edge in 2014, for his take on the situation.

RT: Do you see many children injured by Israeli attacks and how are they affected by the situation?

Belal Dabour: We have had a complete decade of blockade on Gaza. For 10 years people have suffered three major operations and continuous chronic stress… Everyone who was born in 2006 and afterwards, we have a new generation who has only witnessed stress, wars, and aggressions. They have basically never experienced normal life…

You would expect this whole generation that they have an appraisal system that’s geared up to face wars, to face continuous lack of electricity, the stress on their parents, and the lack for their safety, for their parents’ safety. This would reflect on basically everything: how they play, how they see the outside world, how they look at cartoons on TV, how they expect people to act to their childhood, their ideas, their impressions from everything. Certainly, everything is affected by these 10 years. And even me, I am an adult – in 2006, I was 16 years old – and still I feel a lot of my reflexes, how I see the world has changed a lot over the last decade.

RT: Children’s brains are more sensitive and therefore more vulnerable. How is their mental state affected by such incidents? Do they tend to join Hamas, for example, to get revenge on their attackers?

BD: Children are the out-product of their environment. Everything that you hear: Why you don’t have electricity to see your favorite cartoons? Because of the siege. And who is conducting the siege? Israel. So, that is block one. Who killed your friend? It is Israel. So, it is another point. And it keeps piling up. Eventually some of those are going to decide to take action themselves without being Hamas or someone else. Hamas is not the main topic here – anyone who would give them the idea, the opportunity to defend themselves, to prove to the world that they matter. When you keep depriving them of everything… When they grow up – I am not saying everyone will join armed conflict – but eventually some of them will and Israel will have no one to blame but themselves.

RT: Is there any way to reduce casualties at least among minors in this ongoing conflict?

BD: I witnessed the Operation Protective Edge in 2014 at first hand; I was working at the Al-Shifa Hospital.  And I have seen virtually hundreds, maybe thousands over the 51 days of war, many of them, maybe up to 30-40 percent were children. Here in Gaza we are living in an enclave, it’s an open-air prison, we have no shelters, no alarming systems, it’s a very crowded area. I think there is absolutely no way to reduce casualties among children. But what can we do is to provide care for them after the hostilities are suspended, for example, psychiatric support to help them live their childhood afterwards. And the best thing of course is to lift the siege, but I think it is beyond the scope of our discussion right now.


This interview was initially posted here