(April 30, 2018 / Israel Hayom) The riots along the Israel-Gaza strip border over the past month have seen the Palestinians use various methods to harass and attempt to harm Israeli troops deployed near the security fence. In the past three weeks, they have also found a new way to threaten Israeli communities near the border: firebomb kites.
The thousands of Palestinians who gather near the security fence each Friday routinely burn tires and hurl firebombs at the troops. The so-called “kite campaign,” in which rioters arm kites with incendiary devices and send them to crash over the border, enables them to reach farther into Israel.
Dozens of fires have been sparked in the trees and agricultural land near the Gaza-Israel border, and according to local farmers, hundreds of acres have been lost.
Gazans usually send the kites over the border in the afternoon, when the winds tend to be more favorable and stoke these fires.
The Israel Defense Forces, Israel Fire and Rescue Services, Jewish National Fund foresters and local farmers battle the fires together, but there is only so much they can do to minimize the damage to vegetation and farmland.
“We’ve suddenly found ourselves in a situation where our fields are being torched, and there’s little we can do to stop it,” Avner Yonah, a farmer from Kibbutz Nahal Oz, less than a mile from the border, told Israel Hayom. “We make our living off these fields, and when one of them is burned down, it means serious financial damage.”
The border riots have prompted the IDF to declare several areas near the security fence a restricted military zone, which has disrupted farm work in the area.
“We work many fields that run right along the fence and we can’t access them on the military’s orders,” said Yonah. “Sometimes, we have to take a chance and go in, and then you find yourself face to face with the protesters there, and it’s scary. Is some places there are Hamas posts [right across the border], and they sit there with weapons. We’re scared to death.”
Driving to Kibbutz Be’eri, 3 miles from the border, one can see the burned trees and fields.
Avigdor Kalifah, the agricultural director for the Negev communities, points to over 70 acres of destroyed crops and says the damage goes far beyond the bottom line.
“As a farmer, you see something you planted, nurtured and looked after, something you created, go up in smoke. It’s heartbreaking,” he said.
Last week, one of the fires sparked by a firebomb kite that hit Kibbutz Kissufim, 1 mile from the border, devoured a barn housing some 1,000 tons of grain, causing about 2 million shekels ($600,000) in damages.
One of the residents in Kissufim said that while losing produce is a hard financial blow, “the real fear is the potential harm that could befall the children and the other residents” as a result of the fires.