Alongside the rows of tomatoes, alfalfa and other crops growing in Israel’s south, small, white igloo-esque buildings are beginning to pop up in rocket-battered fields near the border with Gaza.
The buildings, essentially super-reinforced modular units, are being placed in fields to protect farm laborers trying to work fields too far from standing shelters and left exposed to near-constant rocket fire out of Gaza.
The 119 shelters, which cost NIS 30,000 ($8,500) each, have taken on new importance since the beginning of Operation Protective Edge, as farm workers, most of them Thai nationals, have struggled to work while being regularly bombarded by rocket and mortar fire.
In July, Thai laborer Narakorn Kittiyangkul was killed by a mortar, one of three civilian fatalities from intense rocket fire during over a month of Israel’s Gaza campaign.
After the killing, Bangkok asked Israel to move some 4,000 workers from dangerous areas near Gaza.
The Finance Ministry underwrote the NIS 3.5 million project in the wake of the killing.
While the Iron Dome anti-missile array protects urbanized areas, it is typically not deployed against rockets heading for open countryside, leaving many workers dangerously unprotected.
A number of Thai workers, who come to Israel for higher wages, have asked to return home or be relocated within Israel. Border communities such as Beit Shimshon, Merhavim and Sdot Negev have seen 30 percent of their 1,700 workers leave the area, Eli Cohen, the coordinator of the region’s Joint Agricultural Committee, told Israeli news site NRG.
According to the Agriculture ministry, the new shelters will be placed in communities that stretch 7-20 kilometers from the Gazan border. While communities closer than 7 kilometers to the border are already heavily outfitted with bomb shelters, they will not be receiving the new shelters because of the negligible amount of time they have to run for cover.
MK Zvulun Kalfa, the chairman of the agricultural lobby in the Knesset, said they were negotiations ongoing for funding to place another 100 shelters.
Avner Bukhris, the owner of a nursery in the southern community of Beit Hagadi near Netivot, said a shelter erected nearby would help calm frayed nerves among his workers.
“Once the operation started, workers were scared, as some went back to work in Thailand or other places in the country. We tried convincing them otherwise everyday, but they now seem pretty content. I hope it stays that way,” he told NRG.