Agricultural terrorism in Gush Etzion

The media focus of the riots and attempted terrorist infiltrations on the Gaza border over the past month and a half have justifiably been on the human toll as a result of Hamas’s aggression. While originally Israel was nearly universally condemned for the number of casualties, the revelation that the vast majority of those killed were Hamas operatives has certainly swayed public opinion both here and abroad to some degree.

Nevertheless, another aspect of the story on the Gaza border, which has been reported but to a lesser degree, is the phenomena of the weaponized kites used by Hamas and their supporters. Time and time again, the terrorists have been attaching incendiary devices to what are normally children’s toys and have been releasing them into the air. Due to the winds usually blowing from west to east, many of these devices have in fact landed in Israeli fields and forests, causing massive fires due to the extremely hot and dry conditions. Reports indicate that thousands of dunams of crops and plant life have been destroyed as a result of this form of terrorism – agricultural terrorism.

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While agricultural terrorism isn’t a new tactic, it has picked up steam, both in the south and, over the past several weeks, throughout Judea and Samaria, especially here in Gush Etzion.

Last Tuesday night, Arabs from Beit Umar hurled burning tires over the fence and into the cherry orchards of Kibbutz Kfar Etzion, less than 200 meters away.

The damage to the cherry trees was extensive, with some estimates indicating that losses are in the tens of thousands of shekels. The very next night, the terrorists returned once again, hurling more burning tires and causing further damage.

According a local senior security official, putting out the burning tires isn’t so simple, as often they are laced with explosives, in the hope of wounding or killing firefighters. As a result, the army must be brought in to assist, delaying the firefighting efforts.

In addition to the fires in Kfar Etzion, arsonists last week also set fires or attempted to set fires near the communities of Gvaot, Kibbutz Migdal Oz, and as reported by The Jerusalem Post, near the historical Mukhtar Saddle site.

The fire near Mukhtar Saddle was started on Friday afternoon just several hours before Shabbat. So instead of being with their families for the weekend, firefighters, security personnel and local volunteers were all forced to once again spring into action.

Another form of agricultural terrorism is theft of produce. Just two weeks before the Kfar Etzion cherry orchards were set on fire, Arabs from nearby villages, in the middle of the night, pillaged the crops near that same location, stealing tons of fruit. Estimates indicate that around NIS 200,000 in cherries were stolen. These criminals sent a clear message that this was a crime of hate, as a Nazi swastika was discovered the next morning painted on a large rock within the orchard. This is yet another similarity to the kites in the south, often decorated with swastikas.

As awful as agricultural terrorism is, the security heads here are aware that this type of terrorism isn’t and end in itself, but only a means to something more sinister. The fear is that next time one of these fires could spread into the communities themselves, putting homes and lives at risk.

While we are extremely grateful for the protection provided by the army, other security forces, and the rapid response teams within each community, we are very aware that it is impossible for these heroes to be everywhere at all times, covering vast amounts of territory. The army especially has its hands full with the daily rock and firebomb attacks on our roads, which by the way also rarely warrant much coverage in mainstream outlets.

As a result, here in the Gush, additional volunteer patrols have been introduced in strategic locations hoping to prevent the next agricultural attack.

At the same time, the Gush Etzion Foundation has been working to raise the funds necessary to upgrade the fire-prevention equipment for use by the volunteers within our 22 communities, many of which are surrounded by lush forests, making them more susceptible to arson attacks.

The utilization of a small fire trailer, which holds 25 liters of water, within the first several minutes of a detected fire until the fire crew arrives, can be the difference between a small fire and a massive blaze.

With summer approaching and temperatures rising even higher, let’s hope that our enemies are unsuccessful in their utilization of agricultural terrorism in order to disrupt our lives, damage livelihoods, and inflict fear, which after all is the goal of terrorism, in all of its many forms. Seventy years ago, Kfar Etzion and the surrounding communities of the Gush were essentially burnt to the ground. We don’t intend to let that happen today.

The author is the English-language media director for the Gush Etzion Foundation (gush-etzion.org.il).