“In the summer, we will see much tinier fruits or it will be a significantly smaller harvest,” said Uri Dorman.
By Sveta Listratov
January 25, 2024
(JNS) — As Israelis celebrated the agricultural holiday of Tu B’Shevat on Thursday, Uri Dorman is concerned about the Hamas war’s impact on farms near the Gaza and Lebanese borders.
“All those farms are very close to the fence. We have basically built a great part of our northern agriculture on the fence [on the Lebanese border],” said Dorman, the secretary-general of the Israel Farmers Federation. “Most of it is plantation agriculture, what we call deciduous orchards—that’s where we grow apples, pears, nectarines, there are also vineyards.”
Israeli agriculture is facing staggering losses in production and manpower. Before Hamas’s Oct. 7 invasion of the northwestern Negev, Israel had 29,900 foreigners, mostly Thais, working in farms, orchards, greenhouses and packing plants. Nearly all have returned to Thailand.
Israeli workers who might have filled the gaps have been called up for military reserve duty while Palestinian laborers are banned as security risks.
“These days it’s a problem for an Israeli farmer to access their farm. The army orders them to stay away from the area, and notably one farmer was already killed by the Hezbollah rocket just a month ago, there are shootings all the time and at farms you can’t be protected,” Dorman said.
He was referring to Eyal Uzan, a 54-year-old farmer and father of three. As he drove through his apple orchard near the Lebanese border in December, Hezbollah terrorists fired an anti-tank rocket at his vehicle.
“With farming, there is seasonal work that is essential and you can’t pass on it—like these days it’s the pruning—and the northern farmers are in great trouble as they can’t attend to it properly,” Dorman explained.
“Of course, there will be an effect on the next season—in the summer, we will see much tinier fruits or it will be a significantly smaller harvest,” he added.
In the north, farmers are only allowed to attend to their orchards and fields once or twice a week, depending on the security situation. Visits are kept brief, regardless of whether the farmers need to care for their trees, do routine maintenance work on irrigation equipment, or perform damage control after a rocket attack or stormy weather.
All this has farmers watching their life’s work being destroyed by rocket fire and forced neglect, Dorman stressed. And while the government is providing the farmers with financial support, the reality is more complicated.
“They don’t want to lose their livelihood. Holding a farm is not like managing a garage for instance. Once you stop working the land, all the investment goes down the drain. This is not a matter of compensation, the plants don’t care about the money, once they don’t get the proper treatment, they are gone,” he explained.
Tu B’Shevat, which began at sundown on Wednesday, is the Jewish “new year for the trees.” The holiday is traditionally celebrated by eating fruits grown in or associated with the Land of Israel.