Agriculture in the fields of Kibbutz Nir Am, northeast of Gaza, has suffered a heavy blow, not only due to inactivity under rocket fire but as a direct result of Israeli army operations.
“The big problem is there are a lot of tanks on our fields,” Ofer Liberman, manager of agriculture at Kibbutz Nir Am, told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday. “I hope that the government will give us the money that the Agriculture Ministry has recommended.”
Located due west of Sderot, Nir Am is an agricultural kibbutz with more than 100 families, including many immigrants. Two weeks ago, the kibbutz made headlines when the IDF intercepted two Gazan terrorist cells that attempted to infiltrate the area.
With 1,000 hectares (2,471 acres) of farmland, Nir Am’s crops include potatoes, onions, wheat, sunflowers and almonds. Army tanks have operated on about 100 hectares of this land, while Gazan missiles have fallen on about another 100 hectares, Liberman explained. Soil in the region only remains fertile up to a half meter in depth, and tanks have been digging up two to three meters, he said.
The remaining 800 hectares, including 230 hectares worth of almond trees, are suffering due to inactivity. Many almonds from the trees have lain fallow on the ground, Liberman added.
He estimated that it will take several years until he is able to return the damaged soil to a fertile state, but said he hoped that he would be able to grow some crops for the time being. Agriculture accounts for about 40 percent of Nir Am’s economy, he added.
“Now we also have problems because we want to start to work on the fields,” Liberman said. “There are a lot of people who are afraid to come, like contractors.”
“And the biggest problem is that people are afraid of the tunnels,” he added.
As far as government compensations for farmland are concerned, payments for direct damage – such as rocket strikes – occur on a case-by-case basis. The Tax Authority has received 91 filed claims for direct damages to agriculture around the country, an authority spokeswoman said.
Determining a clearcut method for compensating indirect damages – such as the inability or refusal of workers to operate under fire – is more complex.
As opposed to the November 2012 Operation Pillar of Defense, during which only farmers located within 7 km. from Gaza received compensations for indirect damage to their businesses, the agriculture and finance ministers determined earlier this week that farmers within 40 km. of the territory would receive these compensations as well.
Payment for indirect damages to agriculture have been classified according to three geographical categories: 0-7 km. from the Gazan border, 7-20 km. and 20-40 km., according to an outline of regulations approved this week by the Knesset Finance Committee.
The formula for calculating compensation for indirect damages is based on farmers’ recent July-August turnover rate – their average production for the past four years, or of 2013, whichever is higher. Deducted from this total are expenses saved due to the lull in activity, like picking, sorting and packing, the Agriculture Ministry said.
Within the compensation formula will be a coefficient of 80% for farmland located within 7 km. of Gaza, up to 50% for plots located 7-20 km. from the Strip and up to 20% for those 20-40 km. from the border.
Individual compensation amounts will not exceed NIS 3 million, or NIS 4m. if the operation continues, the Tax Authority determined.
The authority announced that it would enact advanced payments equivalent to 80% of what the farmers received during Pillar of Defense.
For farmers who did not previously receive such comp e n s a t i o n , advanced payments would be calculated according to a certain formula based on 80% of their estimated average turnover rate, the authority said.
Once the regulations are published officially, farmers can speak with a Tax Authority call center to receive such advanced payments, the authority spokesman said.
Dov Amitai, president of the Farmers Association in Israel, slammed the new regulations as insufficient.
“There is no difference between a tomato harvested at a distance of 5 km., from a tomato harvested at a distance of 15 km. – the coefficients must be equal in the range of 0-20 km.,” Amitai said.
Yaron Solomon, head of the settlement department and coordinator of the economic, finance, and agriculture committee of the Israel Farmers Union, told the Post although the government has “widened the range” for compensation, he said the payments will end up relatively low for those farms located beyond 7 km. “It’s time the government makes a really comprehensive scheme to help in every way – in infrastructure, education, anything.”
“They will feel that they are part of this country,” he added.
Echoing Solomon’s sentiments, Liberman stressed that the government needs to provide more incentives, like building homes, for people to come and live in southern kibbutzim like Nir Am.
“Today, many members are afraid to come, and they have better alternatives,” Liberman said.