Supporting Israel’s displaced farmers

Leket Israel helps growers torn from their land by war

Israeli Farming  image
Leket Israel Field Coordinator Shay Shaygan distributing a credit card to a farmer from Southern Israel. (Photo credit: Leket Israel)

Uri Dorman has been 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, Secretary-General of the Israel Farmers Federation. "Most of it is what we call deciduous orchards-that's where we grow apples, pears, nectarines; there are also vineyards."  

The Israeli farming sector was one of the most severely impacted by October 7 and its aftermath. Families were abruptly displaced, facing uncertainty about their return, while grappling with property and crop damage alongside the psychological repercussions of the attacks. 

Before October 7, Israel's farms typically relied upon Thai and Palestinian laborers to work the farms, orchards, greenhouses, and packing plants. Now, the farms are facing staggering losses in production and manpower, since most of the Thai farmers fled Israel after the massacre. In addition, Israelis who might have filled the gaps have been called up for military reserve duty.  

"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…killed by a Hezbollah rocket; there are shootings all the time and at farms [where] 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 last 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…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." 

Southern farms, and those along the Gaza border that supply 75% of the country's vegetables, suffered significant damage and losses from attacks, and restricted access to fields. Northern border farmers faced similar challenges, due to ongoing rocket attacks from Lebanon.  

With support from JUF, Leket Israel, the national food bank, aims to assist displaced farmers. The leading food rescue organization in Israel, it has provided farmers with credit cards for the purchase of basic provisions over a two-month period. In response to a lack of farmhands, Leket also recruited and helped transport tens of thousands of volunteers to southern farms, to help harvest the remaining crops. Recognizing the long recovery ahead, Leket launched farmer support programs. 

During a time of uncertainty and abandonment, immediate and unwavering support for farmers showed care and concern for the community. The Israeli farming community has been the largest donors of food to Leket Israel since its inception over 20 years ago. 

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," he said. "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."  

Leket's farm partners said they were not only grateful for the immediate financial assistance, but for the recognition of their suffering that the support demonstrated.  

Shlomo, a farmer from a moshav near the Gaza border, expressed deep gratitude for the assistance provided by JUF through Leket Israel, saying that the support was a lifeline for his family. "I don't have the words to describe how much these vouchers have saved us," he said. "My 70-year-old father cried, and said nobody has ever given him a gift of appreciation like this in his entire life. You're doing something amazing, A thousand times, thank you."  

Portions of this article originally ran on JNS.org.

Sveta Listratov reports for JNS.org and Shira Woolf is a public relations and brand manager for the JUF Israel Office.

  


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