A wave of attacks targeting agriculture in Gush Etzion intensified on Tuesday night when three burning tires were tossed into the cherry orchard of Kibbutz Kfar Etzion in Gush Etzion, causing thousands of shekels of damage just before the harvest. Arabs from the neighboring village of Beit Ummar, some 200 yards away, are suspects, and an investigation is underway.
After viewing the damage, Joshua Hasten of the Gush Etzion Foundation, a non-profit organization that helps the Jewish communities of the region, understood the motives behind the arson.
“This is agricultural terrorism,” Hasten told Breaking Israel News. “This is happening nearly daily, but last night’s attack was especially severe.”
Hasten said this was the fourth attack in the region in the last six weeks.
“They steal, they burn, or do whatever they can get away with,” Hasten said. “The Arabs that do this don’t care if they benefit because it is all a scare tactic. It starts with the trees and inevitably moves on to attacks against the people.”
“The IDF can’t be everywhere at once and they have a limited benefit,” he explained. “The civilian organizations have to fill in with cameras, security patrol vehicles and communication equipment.”
Last month, Arabs stole several tons of cherries from the same kibbutz-owned orchard. Though a precise assessment of the damage from the recent attack has yet to be completed, it is estimated that it will be in the tens of thousands of shekels.
“It is difficult to get any insurance against theft since the threat is so great, so widespread and so difficult to guard against,” Hasten said.
The Gush Etzion Foundation is currently running a campaign to provide the farmers with fire wagons that can control the blaze until the fire department arrives and help the farmers to replant what they have lost.
“This is a rural area and the communities are spread out,” Hasten said. “Usually the fires are set in areas that large fire trucks have difficulty getting to. A small fire wagon can control, or sometimes even put out a fire before the large trucks can get there.”
Gush Etzion, located just south of Jerusalem, has a thriving agricultural industry. The climate is ideally suited for growing cherries, and the annual festival, in which people pick their own fruit, has become a popular annual attraction. This year’s cherry harvest was expected to be especially bountiful, due to snow and low temperatures, but this attack and several others like it have hit the local farmers hard.
Gush Etzion Regional Council Head Shlomo Ne’eman said, “we are witness to repeated and organized attacks by Arab rioters on Jewish agriculture. This is not about bored teenagers. It seriously harms the nation of Israel and Israeli sovereignty.”
“It is inconceivable that a Jewish farmer should not be able to work his land. These rioters continue their traditional attempts to banish Gush Etzion’s Jews from their land, and our unashamed response is that they will continue to see us here, standing up for our values and living on our land forever.”
“State authorities, led by the court which only a few weeks ago released an agricultural terrorist who harmed Israeli agriculture and was arrested after much effort by our forces, need to work immediately to apply the rule of law. Kfar Etzion, and Gush Etzion’s farmers, are not a free-for-all.”