Bayer AG

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One of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world. Roundup, produced by its subsidiary Monsanto, is used by the Israeli military to destroy Palestinian crops in Gaza.

Bayer AG is a German multinational company that produces and markets pharmaceutical and agricultural products. It is one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world. In 2018, Bayer acquired The Monsanto Company. Monsanto produces a chemical called Glyphosate under the brand name Roundup, a commonly used consumer and industrial herbicide.

The Israeli military regularly uses Roundup to aerially spray Palestinian crops along the wall that blockades the Gaza Strip. Conducted since 2014, the spraying is done by aircraft a few times a year, during December-January and again around April. The Israeli Ministry of Defense claims the spraying is done on the Israeli side of the border and refuses to disclose the exact locations for “security reasons.” However, many Palestinian farmers have reported their vegetable fields and crops were destroyed. The Red Cross has confirmed that the herbicides have “completely destroyed” crops and contaminated water sources located within 3,000 feet from the border. The herbicides were also found to have damaged crops up to 1.3 miles deep inside the Gaza Strip. The entire width of the Gaza Strip ranges between 3.5 and 7.5 miles. During the 2017-2018 winter spraying season, the herbicides affected 544 acres of agricultural lands and 2,570 acres of pasture. A freedom of information application, filed by Israeli human rights organization Gisha, revealed Glyphosate (Roundup) as one of the brands used, alongside Oxyfluorfen (Goal), manufactured by Corteva (formerly Dow Chemical) and Diuron (Diurex), manufactured by Adama.

Beyond the economic loss of the harvest, the herbicides are also harmful to human health and to the environment. In a similar case, Israeli authorities used aerial spraying to destroy the crops of Palestinians citizens of Israel until 2007, when the Israeli Supreme Court banned the practice because of its danger to human life and health. In 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer classified Glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen. In 2018, a U.S. court ordered Monsanto to pay $289 million to a California resident because his cancer was found to be caused by Roundup, and Monsanto faces thousands of similar lawsuits. Due to the associated health risks, the Israeli military coordinates the aerial spraying with the Israeli communities that surround the Gaza Strip in order to minimize harm but does not give any comparable advance notice to communities in Gaza.

This is not the first time Monsanto chemicals have been weaponized for military use. During the Vietnam War, Monsanto was one of the leading providers of “Agent Orange” to the U.S. military, which sprayed it across Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, causing massive environmental damage and lingering public health problems. More recently, Monsanto was revealed to be a leading manufacturer of weaponized white phosphorus. A 2012 U.S. Army procurement document named the company as the sole U.S.-based manufacturer of white phosphorus for M110 chemical artillery projectiles. International humanitarian law restricts the military use of white phosphorus due to its incendiary properties. During its 2008-2009 assault on Gaza, the Israeli military used U.S.-made white phosphorus shells illegally, in areas heavily populated with civilians. However, Human Rights Watch found ammunition remnants that were manufactured two decades earlier by Thiokol Aerospace, a U.S. company now part of Northrop Grumman, not by Monsanto.

While herbicides are not legally considered “chemical weapons,” Israel’s use of them in Gaza may constitute a violation of international humanitarian law. Customary international humanitarian law severely restricts the use of herbicides as warfare. Herbicides must not be used against vegetation if it causes excessive incidental damage to civilians or if it could cause widespread, long-term, and severe damage to the natural environment.

The detrimental use of herbicides in Gaza needs to be understood in the context of the decade-long military blockade imposed by Israel on the Gaza Strip. In 2017, the UN estimated that more than 40 percent of the population in Gaza was food insecure, mainly as a result of the blockade. By destroying crops year after year, Israel may be in violation of Article 55 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which requires an occupying state to ensure the food supplies of the occupied population. In addition, customary international humanitarian law prohibits the use of starvation as a method of warfare and prohibits attacking “objects Indispensable to the survival of the civilian population.” Under the blockade, local produce has become one of the main sources of sustenance and livelihood for Palestinians in Gaza.

This profile was last updated on
8 May 2019