Tractor convoy en route to the capital in solidarity with Arava farmers

Tractor convoy en route

Tractor protest 248.88 (photo credit: Gilad Livni)
Tractor protest 248.88
(photo credit: Gilad Livni)
A long convoy of tractors and pickup trucks is on its way from Beersheba to Jerusalem, disrupting traffic to draw public attention to the farmers protesting the state's refusal to allow the entrance of 4,000 workers from Thailand. The convoy left Beersheba on Tuesday and aims to reach the capital on Sunday to join farmers from around the country in a mass demonstration. The farmers come from the Arava region, where for the last two months they have been holding demonstrations calling on the government to authorize the entrance of additional Thai workers. The farmers say the state, in refusing to permit the entrance of foreign workers, was violating a deal it had agreed to. Earlier this year the farmers signed a deal with the government under which they agreed to a gradual reduction of foreign workers' permits over the next five years in exchange for state subsidy of labor-reducing technologies to decrease the farmers' dependence on foreign labor. The farmers say the government reneged on the agreement when it stopped the entrance of Thai workers completely, leaving the farmers with no hands to take in the harvest. Farmers in the Arava are currently in the midst of their vegetable harvest and claim that without additional workers, they will lose much of the season's produce. "It is critical to reach an agreement before the year is up. At the end of December, 600 workers will leave the Arava to return to their home countries because their permits expire, and no new ones are arriving," said Eran Braun from Moshav Tzofar. "People are protesting out of real pain," said Israel Farmers Federation director Avshalom Vilan. "The protest will go on until the state agrees to honor its agreement with us." In response to a police statement that the tractor convoy would not be allowed to enter Jerusalem, Vilan said the farmers were considering filing a petition to the High Court demanding their right to protest. "The tractor convoy is a legitimate form of demonstration on an issue that is right and just. We have told the police that we will minimize the effect on traffic and not cause traffic jams," he said. In a Knesset meeting of the Committee for Foreign Workers, held Wednesday, committee chairman Ya'acov Katz said that the state ought to honor its commitment to the farmers. Representatives of the Interior and Agriculture ministries told the committee that the two ministers, Eli Yishai and Shalom Simhon, would submit a decision to the cabinet stating that on January 1 there would be 26,000 Thai workers in Israel. The protesters are moving the convoy northward during the week, will leave the vehicles in Ma'aleh Hahamisha for Shabbat and complete the last leg to Jerusalem on Sunday. All schools in the Arava will be on strike Sunday to enable participation.