Crying fields

Gaza kite warfare has diverted attention from another ongoing, serious phenomenon: agricultural terrorism.

May 20, 2018 22:29
3 minute read.
Palestinians prepare an incendiary device attached to a kite before trying to fly it over the border

Palestinians prepare an incendiary device attached to a kite before trying to fly it over the border fence with Israel, on the eastern outskirts of Jabalia, on May 4, 2018. . (photo credit: MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)


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Israel today marks Isru Hag, the day after the Shavuot holiday. A two-day festival in the Diaspora, Shavuot is a celebration of various facets of Jewish life, from receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai to completing the counting of the seven weeks of the Omer that started on Passover, and not least it is the Festival of the First Fruits, Hag Habikkurim.

The combination is an intrinsic one. From ancient times, the Jewish people and their lives have been connected both to their religious identity and to the Land of Israel.

Agriculture in Israel today is the product of hugely innovative technology, the fruits of the Start-Up Nation. Yet it suffers from an underreported, low-tech threat.

Recently, the wave of violence by Palestinians along the border with Gaza has been characterized by a simple but devastating weapon. Palestinian terrorists, for this is an act of terrorism, have attached incendiary devices to kites and cut them loose to land in the fields of the neighboring Jewish communities in the Negev. Hundreds of hectares of crops and trees have been destroyed in just a few weeks, leading Israel to come up with new means of tackling the threat, including the use of IDF drones.

Fortunately, at time of writing, no human life has been lost to the fires, although apart from the damage to agricultural produce and property, the fires have taken a toll on local wildlife including birds and young gazelles. That no humans have been killed is largely a factor of luck and increased vigilance by local farmers and residents, because the incendiary kites ignite fires wherever they randomly land.

Gaza kite warfare has diverted attention from another ongoing, serious phenomenon: agricultural terrorism.

Although it is sometimes a thin line that divides nationalist-motivated theft and destruction of property from “ordinary” theft, it is becoming clearer that this line is being crossed. When expensive agricultural equipment and livestock are stolen, it is theft. When storerooms containing agricultural produce, hay and equipment are deliberately set on fire, it is an act of terrorism aimed at intimidated the farmers and ultimately trying to get them to leave the land they have farmed for decades, and in some cases more than a century.

The large-scale agricultural theft and destruction is taking place not only in the South but also in well-established communities in the North and elsewhere, including places such as Kibbutz Afikim, in the northern Jordan Valley. Not only is the fruit of their labor lost, at huge cost, in some cases farmers are now finding it hard to get insurance. Bales of hay that were meant to feed livestock have gone up in smoke. Produce that should have provided a living for those who worked so hard has heartbreakingly disappeared.

Destruction of olive trees belonging to Palestinians is, thankfully, rare, yet it has been turned into part of the Palestinian narrative and imagery, as if every religious Jew is a settler and every settler a zealot. So-called price-tag attacks by Jewish extremists have been condemned by the country’s leaders, from the president and prime minister to the chief rabbis, as acts of terrorism and in violation of civil, religious and moral law.

The much more common attacks on Jewish property, groves, orchards and fields have been largely ignored. That will likely continue, unless they are given more attention and are met with a concerted effort to arrest the perpetrators and hand out serious punishments for the crimes committed.

Now is the time for the state to come to its senses and form a special branch within the police to tackle agricultural terrorism, or at least for the Agriculture Ministry to fund patrols in the same way that security guards protect buses and shopping malls, hospitals and schools.

The authorities should not wait until, Heaven forbid, lives are lost to arson or thieves (and such tragedies have been known in the past).

Psalm 126:5 tell us: “They that sow in tears shall reap in joy.” It is incumbent on the government to make sure that this is not reversed and it is the reapers who cry.

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