Residents of the Gush Etzion hilltop community of Sde Boaz had hundreds of grape vines and scores of fruit trees uprooted and destroyed Friday. The latest vandalism, though the most costly yet, is just the latest in a string of attacks on the community’s property.

Fruit tree both twisted off of its stump and broken in half

The exposed root of an uprooted fruit tree

One of the younger grape vines, which was planted with help from the Gush Etzion Winery

The agricultural, eco-friendly community, located about a mile north of the town of Neve Daniel, was victim to a similar attack on the Jewish holiday of Tu B'Shvat earlier this year, when one of its orchards was destroyed.

Systematic Destruction of Community’s Agriculture

Residents of the agricultural community said that in addition to the destruction of the Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards and fruit trees Friday, expensive irrigation systems were damaged and stolen as well. The vandals used donkeys to plow under the hundreds of vines and uproot the fruit trees.

“This carob tree was planted so our grandchildren could eat of its fruits,” said resident Gideon Kelman, holding the broken remains one of the slow-growing trees. “They have destroyed that.”

A resident holds one of the dead fruit trees

A broken carob tree

The milk cartons were used by the Gush Etzion Winery to protect the young vines from deer

Most of the vines were taken, though a few dozen lay strewn about

An old photo of one of the vineyards before it was uprooted

(Photo: Amit Elgad)
What remains of a long row of vines

Sticks used to support young vines, thrown in a nearby ancient basin

Amit Barak, a native of the Galilee city of Nazereth and now in charge of security in Sde Boaz, said that the entire incident happened during a three-hour window period Friday morning. “Someone went down this morning to prune his vines and everything was fine, and then, just a few hours after he finished, we noticed everything had been destroyed.”

The vineyards and fruits trees were located on terraces lower down on the unfenced community’s hillside that cannot be seen from the community itself, where the IDF and residents conduct regular patrols.

A plow attached to a donkey was used to uproot the vines and younger trees

Another broken tree

Irrigation was dragged down to the valley, though some hoses caught on rocks and were left behind on the way

Residents followed the trail and found some of the irrigation stashed nearby in the hope, ostensibly, that the vandals would be able to come back for it later

Left-Wing Incitement Heralds Destruction and Attacks

Arabs and leftists have been frequenting the vicinity on almost a weekly basis since the initial attack on the community’s orchard. That attack took place in a valley below the community as residents stood by peacefully on the Sabbath of Tu B’Shvat, refusing to respond to the provocations by the crowd of foreign activists, who later attacked IDF soldiers attempting to carry out an arrest.

Olive sapling planted in the middle of young vineyard on Tu B'Shvat

Last week, foreign activists, at least one claiming to be a journalist, engaged residents in an hours-long discussion regarding Jewish rights to live in Judea, Samaria and Israel as a whole. The foreigners, from the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), Palestine Solidarity Movement (PSM), Taayush and other groups, claimed to be on a fact-finding tour and were accompanied by local Arab handlers.

“Every time we take the high road when dealing with leftist provocations, we pay for it soon after,” said one resident who declined to have his name published. “The Arabs they bring with them are emboldened by what they view as our powerlessness and the clear message projected by the police – that it is open season on Jews and their property. When they turn on the radio and hear our Defense Minister [Amir Peretz] talking about how the Jews in Hevron’s Peace House don’t have the right to be in a building they paid $700,000 for – and they take it as a cue to attack us and grab state land - land that belongs to Jews and is being systematically grabbed by the PLO.”

Incidentally, at roughly the same time Friday as the most recent destruction took place, a left-wing/Arab protest against the Partition Wall took place at the nearby Arab village of Um Salamuna, west of the town of Efrat. At the protest, one of the main handlers hosting international activists in the village of Beit Omar was arrested.

What is Worse Than Police Inaction?

Residents decided not to call the police. They said it was a statement of protest due to police inaction, and even persecution, following such complaints in the recent past.

Sde Boaz has suffered from a string of attempted robberies, with Arab thieves caught stealing old cars belonging to a local mechanic as well as playground equipment, to be sold as scrap metal. Twice residents and IDF soldiers stationed in the area caught thieves, but after being handed over to police they were reportedly released from custody. Residents say there is a concrete police decision not to enforce the law against those committing crimes against communities considered “unauthorized” by the government and "illegal" by local and foreign media.

Built, Funded, But Not Authorized

The term “unauthorized outpost” is enshrined in the unimplemented Road Map peace plan and was defined as a community established following Ariel Sharon’s election as prime minister. It has no relation to the status of the land upon which a given community is built - lands belonging to the State of Israel in the case of Sde Boaz.

Sde Boaz received infrastructure and assistance worth hundreds of thousands of shekels from the state, which sought to establish a presence at the site – the highest point in the region. The Defense Ministry stationed a sophisticated camera in the community and IDF soldiers were later stationed to protect it.

MK Eldad Shows Support

MK Aryeh Eldad (National Union) visited Sde Boaz last month to register his support for residents and to condemn the systematic harassment of residents by police.

Since the destruction of their orchard on Tu B’Shvat, all male residents of Sde Boaz have been summoned to appear at the Hevron police station for questioning, photographing and fingerprinting. Police have also carried out searches of private homes that residents say were completely illegal.

Police are Complicit

“We have a copy of the warrant they used to conduct these illegal searches and not only is it overly general – listing ‘caravans in the community’ as the target of the search – but nowhere does a judge’s signature appear, something which is required,” Barak says.

Police told residents they were looking for agricultural tools that may have been used to remove olive saplings planted by left-wing groups and Arabs. As it is an agricultural community, nearly every resident has such tools.

Residents say that they are prepared to fight a two-pronged battle against both those who destroy the fruits of their labor and those who would order police to negate citizens’ human rights due to politics and their place of residence.

Police have refused to comment on the case as of press time.

Click here for an report by Omedia on the growing phenomenon of Arab uprootings of Jewish agriculture.

(Photos: Ezra HaLevi, except where otherwise noted. See sidebar for full photo slideshow.)