The Israeli army said on Monday it will halt weapons training in an olive grove in the north that is adjacent to a Golani Brigade firing range.
The announcement comes after Haaretz reported on the weapons training in the grove, which has been cultivated for decades and is leased to a disabled Israeli army veteran, Ilan Rona, in the vicinity of Amuka, a small community near Safed in the country’s north. The weapons fire has damaged olive trees in the grove that are between 100 and 150 years old.
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About two weeks ago, the army conducted military exercises that intruded into the grove and that caused a fire nearby. At the time, after it became apparent that new training plans had resulted in damage to the olive grove, the army’s Northern Command ordered a halt to the training. “The army is currently working with [local] authorities and the Israel Land Authority with regard to all of the firing ranges” in the region, the army said. “We regret the damage that Mr. Rona and his family sustained. We will use all necessary means to prevent fires, and damage to nature, including in the firing ranges.”
On Monday, the army announced that after considering the matter, it found there was no justification for the weapons fire to stray from the firing zone into the olive grove and that the exercises could be limited to the firing zone itself without affecting the training.
Rona, who was wounded in combat during the War of Attrition, which was fought in the years immediately following the 1967 Six-Day War, moved to Amuka in the 1980s. Initially, the government leased 5 dunams (one and a quarter acres) of olive groves to him. In the 1990s, the area was expanded to 24 dunams, which his family leases from the Israel Land Authority through a contract that is renewable on a yearly basis.
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In recent years, Rona and his son have collected debris from weapons training that had strayed into the grove, but over the past several months, they began finding debris from live ammunition. When they contacted the army, initially they were told that the training was being carried out within the firing range. When Haaretz investigated, however, it was found to be taking place on the land leased to Rona, which was confirmed by Israel Land Authority records.