Just days before they were to be harvested, vandals set fire to dozens of cherry trees in Kibbutz Kfar Etzion, in the Gush Etzion region. The damage amounted to hundreds of thousands of shekels, and destroyed “the work of many years,” said Yaron Rosenthal, director of the Gush Etzion Field School. “This was one of the worst and most damaging fires of recent years,” he said of the fire that was set overnight Tuesday.
According to Gush Etzion Regional Council head Shlomo Na’aman, the culprits are known to the authorities. “This is one of a series of attacks by organized Arab groups on Jewish farmers in this area. We have had repeated incident like this. This is not the work of bored kids, but an attempt to harm Israel and its sovereignty. We cannot have a situation where a Jewish farmer will not be able to work his land. These marauders keep trying to evict us from our land, and we declare that they will never succeed.”
Next weekend will mark the 17th annual Gush Etzion Cherry Festival, in which dozens of local farmers open their orchards to the public, who can pick cherries straight off the tree. The festival is accompanied by farmers’ markets, activities for children, wine-tastings, and other events. The Gush Etzion Regional Council said that the festival would continue as usual, despite the ongoing and repeated attempts of terrorists to burn down the orchards.
Separately, the government said that it would assist farmers in the Gaza border region to harvest their wheat in the coming days, due to the ongoing threat of firebomb and explosive-laden kites and balloons Gaza terrorists have been using to attack fields. The wheat harvest usually takes place closer to the end of June, but farmers are anxious to harvest their wheat as soon as possible, rather than take a chance that their fields will be targeted. The Agriculture Ministry has allocated NIS 2 million to help farmer hire more workers and rent equipment to speed up the harvest. About 40,000 dunams of wheat and barley are grown in the Gaza border area.