The Shmitah (Sabbatical) year is a little over a month away.
Coincidentally, the Israeli Finance in coordination with the Agricultural Ministry, has introduced reforms that would enable more European produce to be imported into Israel creating unwanted competition for Israeli farmers.
Dumping massive amounts of unsold crops
In response, Farmers across Israel have blocked roads by dumping massive amounts of unsold crops in major highway intersections on Thursday putting traffic throughout the Jewish state at a standstill for an hour-and-a-half.
Thousands of farmers and agricultural workers blocked eight major arteries on Thursday morning, in protest of the reforms proposed by Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman and Agriculture Minister Oded Forer, which they fear is a danger to their livelihoods.
The farmers blocked major intersections while dumping agricultural produce and eggs on the roads.
Trucks, tractors, and other heavy machinery
Traffic was held at a standstill between 7:30 AM-9:00 AM, as the farmers mobilized trucks, tractors, and other heavy machinery to slow and stop traffic.
The new laws seek to recognize European standards on produce and will try to enable greater competition in the fruit and vegetable industries by decreasing tariffs on foreign produce.
The reforms are being introduced during the dawn of Israel’s upcoming Sabbatical year which begins on Rosh Hashanah. The holiday falls on the evening of September 6. During the Sabbatical, farmers in Israel are commanded to allow their fields to ‘rest’ and cannot be worked for the duration of the year.
Additionally, regulations on European produce will be loosened, enabling a wider range of produce throughout the year.
According to Liberman, the reform will save Israeli consumers roughly NIS 2.7 billion a year, or NIS 840 per household.
The new reform
The new policy includes compensation for farmers that includes financial packages such as direct monetary support for each farmer per cultivated dunam. It also provides increased tax benefits to encourage capital investment as well as an investment of more than NIS 2 billion for raising productivity in the agriculture sector.
The farmers fear that they will be hurt financially by the reforms. Although many realize that food prices are too high, they also said that the reform’s goals are misplaced and should be directed towards the produce suppliers, who they claim inflate prices artificially.
“Farmers from all over Israel went out to protest and say clearly: The prices in supermarkets are high not because of the farmers, who only get several shekels per kg for their produce, but because of the supermarket chains, who inflate the prices and earn millions of shekels off of the backs of the farmers and consumers,” said Avshalom (Avi) Vilan, chair of the Israeli Farmers Union.
“The farmers do not control the prices or the cost of living” he added. “What we see here is the cowardice of the Finance and Agriculture ministers, who are afraid to challenge the retailers and supermarket chains, and therefore are bullying the farmers, who work in the fields no matter the weather conditions.”
Regarding the protest, Vilan said: “We are sprawled out on intersections all across the state to show that Israel’s agriculture industry will not be closed down. We will not comply with a reform that will hurt the country, the farmers, the consumers, and the collective physical and nutritional safety.”
Police announced around 9:00 a.m. that the Megiddo, Cabri, Ha’Roeh, Bilu, Gilat and Yahav intersections were blocked because of the protests and were reopened at about 9:45.