Israel Border Patrol Establishes Agricultural Terror Unit

Homes at Kibbutz Ginosar, north of Teveria. (Moshe Shai/FLASH90)

The Israel Border Patrol has established a separate department to deal with “agricultural terror,” attacks and thefts by Arabs on Israeli farms and herds. In a statement, the Border Patrol said that the new unit, named Mercaz Habina, will be equipped with “advanced technological and intelligence capabilities to fight this problem.”

Up until now, various Border Patrol units were dispatched on an as-needed basis to deal with the ongoing problem of theft by Arabs. The units had at their disposal the various technologies used by Border Patrol officers in their day-to-day work of dealing with riots, smuggling, and other crimes and security issues. According to the statement, the technologies and techniques used by the new unit are specifically designed to deal with agricultural terror. The new unit currently includes dozens of officers, and will be expanded.

Commenting on the new unit, Israel Police Chief Roni Alshich said that “our forces are dealing with a new set of challenges, among them a blurring of the lines of what constitutes crime and what constitutes terror. This new situation requires us to prepare and deal with the reality on the ground in a different manner.”

Agricultural terror got the attention of security forces in the wake of an incident in August 2016, in which a truck driver from Moshav Beit Elazari fired warning shots in the air when three individuals attempted to steal his vehicle. The driver said that he did not hit anyone, but a body was subsequently discovered in a field near where the shootings took place. Police have opened an investigation, and assume that the dead man was one of the thieves. The case received a great deal of media attention, with pundits and politicians debating the limits of self-defense and the appropriate response to attempted theft.

A recent Knesset session was dedicated to the problem of agricultural terror, discussing the possibility of offering compensation to victimized Israeli farmers in the same format victims of terror attacks are compensated. A Knesset report shows that arson on farms and in orchards, and theft of livestock and cattle, occur on a regular basis and is widespread. In recent months, a major fire in a packing house in the Galilee town of Yesod Ham’alah was burned down, causing damage of $3 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 them harm if they did not pay. According to the report, losses due to these activities amount to as much as $260 million a year. Despite this, few of these crimes are prosecuted.

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