Agricultural Terror: Every night, at all times

Farmers complaining about daily burglaries and robberies find little help from police

Tags: Security crime
Shimon Cohen ,


Farmers who complain about daily burglaries and robberies are met with police incompetence and sometimes even become suspects themselves. The result of this is that they rarely bother to report these cases and the graph which reflects these agricultural crimes depicts a putative decrease in these events.

More and more requests for help are arriving at the hotline set up by the "Regavim" movement, which is offering assistance to farmers who have been dragged into the legal and criminal arenas by robbers and thieves.

The case in Bet Elazari, where a farmer shot an Arab who was trying to steal his truck and threatened to kill him has caused an increase in the number of these requests, says Yishai Chemo, Regavim's northern district coordinator.

"We set up 'Farmers at the Front' due to the situation where farmers are having to deal with incessant agricultural crime. The name reflects the situation on the ground and we offer legal advice to farmers. Our field coordinators travel around and meet with the farmers. They hear their problems and decide whether to open proceedings. If this is the case we transfer the case to lawyers who deal with the authorities, the farmers and sometimes with the criminals themselves."

Chemo explains the necessity for the new organization, describing a situation where farmers do not understand the legal arena. When the police tell them that "there's nothing to do" they accept this and do not start a battle because they are not aware of their rights and of the opportunities available to them legally.

Chemo says that this phenomenon of farmers giving up after hearing the police response is very widespread. "We saw that our guidance is very helpful. A farmer could hire a lawyer but he does not have the knowledge and ability to do this. In many cases he despairs.When a farmer sees daily trespassing in his fields, setting fires or stealing tractors and equipment, he does not have the emotional freedom to conduct a judicial process. We tell him we will take responsibility for the legal angle based on our knowledge and experience."

Chemo says that the whole enterprise is running for the past two years but the Bet Elazari event was a catalyst for them to publicize their enterprise. Since then "We have received tens of requests, all of which are being processed through legal parameters to ascertain if they are worthy of our free treatment.

There are cases when the members of the organization simply make a connection between a farmer and a lawyer, this when it is clear that the farmer had the economic and emotional ability to deal with his situation.

"There are however situations where a farmer is in a difficult situation and cannot afford legal help. The profit margins are low and in many cases farmers can just about support their families. If 15 calves are stolen this can cause tremendous loss of profits. To add more money so that a lawyer can issue a restraining order to the criminal may be beyond his capabilities and in many cases he will choose not to do this." says Chemo.

Sometimes due to the size of the expense and the damage and the feeling that the move will not meet with success the farmer will ignore the legal option, as if he has 30,000 shekels he would rather spend them on fixing the fence and not on a legal action. We believe that the judicial arena is very important and this is why we take it upon ourselves.

Chemo reports that the agricultural crime the farmers are facing "takes place every night and at all times. The police report 5,000 cases of agricultural crime over the last three years, and those are just the reported cases. I know of many unreported cases due to people's despairing with the police inaction. Technically there is a decrease in cases of agricultural crime and this what the police reports as a success but in reality it stems from farmers despairing of receiving assistance from the police."

"There is a very high rate of incidents. Some farmers have daily or weekly problems. It can cause emotional and intellectual fatigue. The farmers feel alone and the police don't help and sometimes the farmer even becomes a suspect."

"For example, a farmer in the north whose 13 kilometer fence was cut was asked by the police investigator to deposit his cutter to ensure that he did not cut it himself. In another case a farmer was attacked by infiltrators who submitted a complaint to police and the police confiscated his gun and effectively turned him into the criminal. This makes farmers feel alone and unprotected."

Chemo also relates to the phenomenon of protection, where heads of Bedouin tribes demand that one of their members should be employed and if not the farm will suffer. This happens extensively and in all regions and we see this as an existential threat to agriculture in Israel."

With regard to the judicial arena Chemo notes that many of the criminals are not dealt with effectively and many find themselves released the day after they were remanded or after investigation or a ludicrously light punishment. He adds that his movement, Regavim, initiated a legal process which would define agricultural crime as a crime and not just a misdemeanor, which would enable the punishment to be tripled. Yet the judges ignored the relevant paragraphs which would enable more severe punishments for the criminals.

Chemo is convinced that his organization is viewed positively by the judiciary, Even though at first they were viewed as troublemakers, the importance of their work is now appreciate widely.