Agricultural terror raised its ugly head over the weekend, as a farmer in the Huleh Valley in northern Israel discovered that 300 containers of fruit that had been in a storage facility on the farm were burned. The fire was apparently set sometime overnight Friday, and the flames completely consumed the fruit. An initial police investigation indicates that the fire was set by criminal gangs who had demanded “protection” money from the farmer. This was the first agricultural terror incident in the area in several months, officials said.
In a statement, the New Shomrim, an organization that conducts patrols in the north to prevent such incidents, said that “arson on farms is part of the efforts of criminal organizations to force farmers to pay protection money, or to otherwise take over their lands. We call on authorities to show zero tolerance for this phenomenon and to act with determination against those who seek to challenge the sovereignty of Israel. It should be noted that the courts often take these cases lightly, but that attitude just encourages further incidents, and harms the rule of law,” the organization said.
Last week, Yisrael Hayom reported that some 300 farmers have been granted licenses to carry firearms, as part of a policy implemented by Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan to enable farmers to fight agricultural terror. Erdan has instructed weapons licensing officials to give priority to requests from farmers, and to process their applications immediately. Erdan implemented the policy at the beginning of the year, and an average of 30 licenses have been granted each month since then, the report said. The policy is one of several that Erdan has initiated in response to a wave of Arab thefts of produce, animals, equipment and anything else the thieves can get their hands on. In recent months, thieves have vastly improved their methods of stealing, using lookouts and high-tech methods to determine which farms will yield the best “take” with the least amount of risk. Large numbers of Border Guards have recently been deployed to patrol rural roads in the Negev and Galilee, providing extra security for farmers.
A recent Knesset session was dedicated solely to the problem of agricultural terror, weighing the possibility of compensating Israeli farmers for their losses, as victims of terror attacks are compensated. A Knesset report on the incidents shows that fires at farms and orchards, and theft of livestock and cattle, happen on a regular basis, and on a large scale. In recent months, a major fire in a packing house in the Galilee town of Yesod Ham’alah was burned down, causing damage of NIS 10 million. Another attack on Kibbutz Revivim in the south destroyed millions of shekels worth of produce. Farmers said that these attacks took place because they refused to pay “protection” money to Bedouin gangs, who threatened to harm them if they did not pay. According to the report, losses due to these activities amount to as much as NIS 900 million a year. Despite this, few of these crimes are prosecuted.