Farmers at the kibbutzim Nir Oz and Ein Hashlosha in the western Negev are considering changing the type of crops they grow near the border with the Gaza Strip because the carrots, potatoes, peanuts and wheat already there require a lot of work - and that means sending soldiers and tanks to guard the workers from cross-border attacks, adding an element of risk and cost that kibbutz officials think may no longer be worthwhile.
"Working near the fence costs a lot more money," said Moshe David, who is in charge of the produce grown at Nir Oz. "Going out into the field is an entire operation every time. It's soldiers and tanks for security. It's more personnel. When I take workers out to the field, I bring out an additional tractor with them to protect the workers from gunfire, it's flak jackets and helmets for the workers, it's added danger. All this increases the cost of the work by at least 40 percent."
David said the situation has lowered efficiency and productivity levels along the border. "Sometimes we order contractor work and a tractor, and then after two hours of work, the army comes and asks us to evacuate because there is a warning of gunfire," he said. "In the meantime, I have to pay the contractor. These are indirect damages that no one takes responsibility for."
David calls on the government to compensate the farmers for the indirect damage they incur as a result of the dangers of farming near the Gaza border.
Palestinian snipers fired at one of the kibbutz's farmers over the weekend and yesterday morning, Palestinians fired mortar shells at a group of top Israel Defense Forces officers and civilians in a field in a kibbutz not too far away. These are the kind of incidents that make the head of operations at Nir Oz, Danny Margalit, rather nervous.
"When I come here, my senses sharpen and I'm tense," he said. "Today they call it anxiety."
At Ein Hashlosha, David's counterpart, Pablo Lefler, noted that the crops along the border are "intensive crops that require irrigation and pesticide spraying two or three times a week."
He said the kibbutz was considering changing the crops to those that require less work and fewer workers, such as wheat, which does not need as much water or tending as the carrots and potatoes that take up some of the approximately 2,000 dunams of land that belong to both kibbutzim and abut the border fence.
"We are having a hard time recruiting new skilled workers," said Lefler. "Some workers aren't prepared to go to the land. If a person can't get to the area, then you have to think about changing the crops. There's no choice."
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