(photo credit: PASCALE PEREZ-RUBIN)
A new crime wave is sweeping the Israeli countryside, with groups of criminals stealing everything from avocados to watermelons from local farmers, according to a Channel 12 news report.
The idea behind the "lucrative" crime scene is to first plunder the farmers' stock and then sell them illegally directly to merchants with the potential to make millions of shekels.
Just a few weeks ago, tons of avocados were stolen near a kibbutz in northern Israel. Many of these thieves were caught by Israeli Border Police officers. The criminals have now set their sights on watermelons.
According to the report, these agricultural pirates have a serious effect on the Israeli market and economy. Since the arrest of the avocado thieves, there has been an increase in the prices of these fruits and vegetables, and in turn the demand for such goods have gone down significantly.
The problem is not only the damage to these farmers' livelihood, but also the damage that the harvesting does for future growth within the fields, hurting both ends of the trade. Police have now set their eyes on other fruits and vegetables whose growth has risen in this past year, in order to deter other offenders.
In recent weeks, thousands of tons of watermelons have been stolen from the groves. The perpetrators arrive under the cover of night with pick-up trucks and load whatever they can - selling them below market value to merchants for about 30 NIS a piece.
The group has also acted methodically in their efforts, determining normal work hours for the farmers, legal obstacles, identifying weak points, etc. However, two Tiberias residents in their 60s were just arrested trying to load half a ton of watermelons, commandeered from a moshav near the Jordan Valley.
The thieves claimed that they picked the watermelons for their families and not to sell, according to police statements.
Border police estimate the next fruit in danger of this type of plundering will be grapes, considering that they have hit record highs in growth this year.
"We estimate that in the coming days there will be raids by thieves on vineyards in the Lachish region and Judea in order to steal grapes and earn a lot of money. We are preparing accordingly to thwart the thefts," according to Border Police officer said.
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