Nir Oz tells potato harvest volunteers to stay home

Kibbutz unwilling to risk others' lives; organizer: Do we just give up?

IDF soldiers gaza 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
IDF soldiers gaza 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
The plan was to don flak jackets and work gloves and descend on the fields of Kibbutz Nir Oz Tuesday to help bring in the potato harvest. But dozens of volunteers from across the country offering their help to the beleaguered kibbutz - situated within a belt of agricultural communities that faces the Gaza border, and constantly under threat of Palestinian sniper fire - have been told in no uncertain terms by the kibbutz not to show up. "It's a matter of life and death, and it's not going to happen," said Uri Dan, the security officer at Nir Oz. "If people show up, we're not going to let them in." The planned show of solidarity comes at a time when the IDF is on high alert along the Gaza border. An attack involving multiple car bombs and exchanges of gunfire at the Kerem Shalom crossing wounded 13 soldiers over the weekend, and a gun battle with Hamas operatives last week left three soldiers dead. Nir Oz has seen its workers fired on by snipers twice since the beginning of April. Two months ago, a 20-year-old Ecuadorean volunteer was shot and killed by Palestinian sniper fire from Gaza while working in a field at neighboring Kibbutz Ein Hashlosha. However, dozens of volunteers - thumbing their noses at the threat of violence and heeding the call of the harvest - were planning to head to Nir Oz to assist the kibbutz members, who insist they shouldn't have to wait any longer for their yield. "Now is the time to harvest, so we're going to harvest the potatoes," said Yoel Marshak, an organizer from the Kibbutz Movement. "Why should we wait? They've been firing at us for 60 years. Does that mean we should give up? We could also just pack up and move to Uganda." Other volunteers told The Jerusalem Post that they were planning to spend the night on the kibbutz and wake up early for a hard day's work. Nir Oz has 200 dunams of fields and often harvests between two and three tons of potatoes per dunam, with the work being done by combines and by hand. This season's potatoes would be sold to buyers in England, providing the kibbutz with much-needed income. But Dan told the Post that if the volunteers came to participate, they would not be allowed inside the front gate. "If they want to push this thing forward by force, we'll prevent them by force," he said. "The army is against this as well. It's simply not safe, and the harvest will be carried out in an orderly and complete fashion at some other time." Another kibbutz resident told the Post that there were safer ways of getting the harvest in, and that given the situation in the South right now, neither the army nor the kibbutz was willing to take responsibility for the safety of dozens of volunteers. "They fired on the kibbutz just last night," she said. "The army is not allowing this to go through, and the kibbutz has told the organizers to cancel it. It's absurd to bring down 50 people and have them stand in the potato fields opposite snipers in broad daylight. We will harvest the potatoes with fewer people, and also work by night." However, by press time, Marshak and his band of kibbutznikim still seemed determined to go down to Nir Oz and harvest their spring crop of potatoes. "There's a furor over this at the kibbutz right now," Marshak said. "But it's always been dangerous. It's also dangerous to drive on the road. So does that mean we do nothing?"