Target of This Year’s Arsonists is Kibbutzim — and They’re Ready

Fighting fire with fire, so to speak, intifada activists have resorted once more to their summer weapon of choice — arson.

Turning from the previously preferred target of forests, Palestinian arsonists this year have established a new front in the agricultural fields bordering the West Bank. The burning of crops has become an almost daily event.

With this move, the arsonists have succeeded in alienating a group of Israelis who until now had been more sympathetic to their cause: members of kibbutzim and moshavim.

The kibbutzim have now organized their own patrols to search for the agricultural terrorists. Such a patrol last week uncovered a terrorist cell intent on attacking civilians, as well as crops.

Members of Kibbutz Eyal on the Sharon Plain, staked out in their fields last Thursday, spotted a group of suspicious figures attempting to trespass in the dark of night. As the intruders approached, the kibbutzniks physically overcame them without the use of arms.

The kibbutzniks were surprised to discover that the five Arabs, residents of the nearby West Bank village of Azun, were armed with knives and axes. They appeared to be equipped for more than a brief foray into the fields — their knapsacks were packed with compasses, maps, food and wigs.

During interrogation, the Arabs, aged 14 to 22, divulged that they had organized a terrorist cell a half-year ago that intended to murder a Jew as proof they were qualified to belong to a terrorist organization.

STEPPED-UP PATROLS

A number of arson incidents were reported over the weekend, among them the burning of bales of straw belonging to Moshav Ram On, located between the West Bank town of Jenin and the Israeli town of Afula. In addition, six acres of eucalyptus trees were set alight at Moshav Beit Yehoshua, near Netanya.

In an effort to offset the current wave of arson, police recently established what they call the Green Line Command, designed particularly to offer greater protection to Jewish settlements along the Green Line, the border that separates pre-1967 Israel from the West Bank.

The new patrol is to work in cooperation with the Israel Defense Force and other security forces in the West Bank.

But residents of settlements along the Green Line have gradually come to realize that they can depend best on their own efforts for protection, and as a result, they have stepped up their own patrols.

Civilian patrols have burgeoned at a faster pace and greater scope than expected by their most enthusiastic proponents. Kibbutz members have been deployed in the fields at night, setting up ambushes for potential arsonists.

In most instances, the Israeli civilian patrols have been welcomed. But in one incident, the authorities blocked a local strategy.

The regional council of Beit She’an had set up dirt barricades at the entrances to the neighboring Arab villages of Pekua and Jailabun, in revenge for arson attacks. But the council was forced to removed them, on orders of the local police commander.

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