Farmer Guy Kahlon, whose agricultural plots are located as close as 17 km. from Gaza, has little hope that he will ever receive state compensation for the millions of shekels he has lost during the current conflict.
Kahlon’s farmland located closest to the Gaza Strip is a 30-hectare plot in Moshav Klahim, in the Merhavim region. He has additional land at two other farms – in Ganei Yohanan near Rehovot and at Kedma in the Yoav region.
Kahlon received direct damage from a rocket that slammed into his Kedma watermelon patch on July 11, and the Tax Authority has already confirmed that he will receive several thousand shekels in compensation.
“The moment the missiles fell, all of workers left,” he told The Jerusalem Post on Monday.
Like other farmers in the South, Kahlon said he doubts he will ever be compensated for the approximately NIS 2.5 million in indirect damages he estimates suffering thus far. He and his colleagues never received such compensation following November 2012’s Operation Pillar of Defense against Hamas, due to their location more than 7 kilometers from Gaza, he explained.
“The farmers didn’t get the compensation from the last time, Pillar of Defense, as of now,” said Yaron Solomon, head of the Settlement Department and coordinator of the economic, finance, and agriculture committee of the Israel Farmers Union. “The only farmers who got compensation were the farmers in the range of 7 kilometers from the border.”
Due to the lack of fortified shelters in the fields, farmhands are not willing to come to pick fruits and vegetables, causing enormous financial losses to farmers and price hikes in the produce market, Solomon explained.
“What we need is a very, very fast program for compensation to the farmers,” he said. “Time is crucial at the moment.”
For farmers who file loss claims, there is a “green line” category and a “red line” category, Solomon explained.
In the green category, farmers sign a document allowing them to receive payment for between 10 and 15 percent of their losses without need for proof. In the red category, which allows farmers to receive greater compensation amounts, they must provide documentation monitoring their losses and presenting their typical income, by means of a lawyer and bank statements, he said.
“When the government has to pay you something as a citizen they will make you tear your hair out,” he said.
Solomon also doubts that the farmers will receive proper compensation.
“They haven’t paid for years back, so who says they are going to pay now,” he said. “And the problem is, the farmers need the cash flow.”
Farmers at Hishtil Nurseries in Asheklon likewise said their land has been subject to frequent rocket attacks, sirens and runs to protected spaces.
The Hishtil is hosting agricultural trainees from the Philippines, Rwanda and Sudan – with Jews, Christians and Muslims alike finding themselves running for shelter in the fields.
The Agriculture Ministry stressed that such financial issues are the responsibility of the Tax Authority. Ministry staff in the South has been directing Tax Authority teams to affected farms and helping to rehabilitate injured farm animals.
A Tax Authority spokeswoman said confidentiality laws prevented the authority from addressing the veracity of Kahlon’s specific claims.
The spokeswoman did stress, however, that the authority paid about NIS 40m. in compensation for indirect damage to farmers during 2012’s Operation Pillar of Defense.
“However, there is an essential difference between the situation of the farmers found within a range of up to 7 kilometers from the Gaza Strip, who were ordered not to enter their work areas,” the spokeswoman said.
These farmers were asked to submit claims according to the green or red categories, while farmers located between 7 and 40 kilometers away from Gaza were not given an evacuation directive and have filed differently categorized claims, the spokeswoman explained.
“In Operation Protective Edge, we have not yet determined the final format of indirect compensation for damages, and the issue is currently under intensive examination in the Tax Authority,” she said.
Due to the difficulties hindering the harvest, farmers from the Ein Yahav-based Yofi Shel Yerakot (Beauty of Vegetables) Cooperative said they may need to send overripe vegetables to the Palestinian market in the West Bank. Tomatoes in particular, which have been left on the vine and are excessively red, no longer meet the standards of the Israeli market, the farmers added.
Yisrael Cachlon, a member of the cooperative, said he and his colleagues are “racing against the clock picking tomatoes.” Still, the farmers will likely need to direct their produce to the market in Hebron, he explained.
Daniel Lev, executive director of Beauty of Vegetables, said farmers and their logistics coordinators are trying to prevent a shortage of vegetables and fruits in the Israeli market. Unlike other industries, agriculture cannot take a timeout during a conflict, he said.
“If farmers allowed themselves to be absent from work, a severe shortage of vegetables would be created,” Lev said.
“If vegetables do not meet the required standard, we will find another solution in industry or in the Palestinian market, in order for the farmers to receive at least part of their investments in vegetable growth,” he said.