Lebanese farmers dig for answers on Israel's white phosphorus use

Lebanese farmers dig for answers on Israel's white phosphorus use


05 July, 2024

The last time Lebanese farmer Zakaria Farah stepped onto his fields outside the southern town of Qlayaa was in January - but it was not to plant. With shelling in the distance, he swiftly dug his hands into the soil to gather samples that could determine his family's farming future.

Farah sent half-a-dozen samples to a laboratory at the American University of Beirut to be tested for residues of white phosphorus from Israeli shelling, hoping he'd learn whether he could plant his fields once hostilities ended. According to the Lebanese National Council for Scientific Research, there have been 175 Israeli attacks on south Lebanon using white phosphorus since then, many of them sparking fires that have affected over 600 hectares (1,480 acres) of farmland.

In June, Human Rights Watch said it had verified the use of white phosphorus in at least 17 municipalities in southern Lebanon since October, including five "where airburst munitions were unlawfully used over populated residential areas." White phosphorus munitions are not banned as a chemical weapon and can be used in war to make smoke screens, mark targets, or burn buildings - but since they can cause serious burns and start fires, international law prohibits their use among civilians.

Farah and other farmers estimate they have already lost up to $7,000 each in potential income, as continuing cross-border fighting between Israeli forces and Hezbollah militants has made it too risky for them to plant or harvest the usual seasons of wheat, tobacco, lentils, and other greens.