Israel Urges Farmers Near Gaza Border to Harvest Wheat Early Due to Threat of Burning Kites

Government offers to pay 60 shekels per dunam of wheat, but farmers say this is well below normal profit margins

Almog Ben Zikri
Almog Ben Zikri
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A field on the Israeli side of the border after being set alight by a burning kite carried across the border from protesters in Gaza, May 15, 2018.
A field on the Israeli side of the border after being set alight by a burning kite carried across the border from protesters in Gaza, May 15, 2018. Credit: \ AMIR COHEN/ REUTERS
Almog Ben Zikri
Almog Ben Zikri

Israel’s Agriculture Ministry is urging farmers in the vicinity of the Gaza Strip to harvest their wheat crops early because of the fear that burning kites being sent over by Palestinians will destroy them.

According to the ministry, every farmer with fields situated up to 7 kilometers (4 miles) from the border who harvests his wheat early, before the optimum time, will be paid 60 shekels ($17) per dunam by the state. At issue are some 40,000 dunams (about 10,000 acres) of wheat fields.

Israel has already recognized the damage already done as the result of hostile actions, and those whose fields have been burned will be compensated by the state’s property tax department.

According to the ministry announcement, 2 million shekels has been allocated to make these payments. According to Avner Yona, the field crops operations manager at Kibbutz Nahal Oz, the income from 1 dunam of wheat is 900 shekels, with the profit ranging from 450 to 500 shekels.

“The 60 shekels they are offering us is a drop in the bucket,” he said. Yona added that Kibbutz Nahal Oz has about 5,000 dunams of wheat, 2,000 of which were harvested two months ago for use in cowsheds and another 1,000 that were damaged by the fires.

Palestinian protesters have been flying kites with flammable material attached to them into Israel in recent weeks, with the aim of starting fires on the Israeli side. Earlier this month, 10 firefighters fought a fire that destroyed some 240 dunams of land near Kibbutz Be’eri, which local councils said was caused by a firebomb tied to a kite.

Yona added that the fires have harmed all of the kibbutz’s crops, not just the wheat, because the flames damaged the irrigation systems in the wheat fields. This has impacted on the ability to irrigate other crops that are more profitable than wheat.

“I’m so busy dealing with all the mess regarding the irrigation,” said Yona. “Every second I call the property tax department and tell them I have lost this and that’s been burned, and they say, ‘Yes, yes, we’ll come to see.’ Ask anyone, I’ve been replacing, purchasing and preparing invoices. If they want to compensate [for the repairs], let them. If they don’t, so they won’t.”

Yona added that behind the Agriculture Ministry’s proposal was a cold financial calculation that it would be better to push the farmers to harvest and compensate them now rather than have to pay more later on. He added that he had wanted to harvest all the wheat a week ago, but wasn’t able to do so because of the frequent fires.

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