A Palestinian man from the Gaza Strip who sneaked into Israel and set fire to a greenhouse earlier this month was charged Monday with arson, illegal infiltration and providing false information.
According to the indictment, the suspect illegally crossed the border into Israel on seven separate occasions since 2012 with the ultimate goal of being incarcerated in Israel. On each of those occasions, he was arrested by Israeli security forces who returned him to Gaza.
On the evening of November 9, the man crossed into Israel from northern Gaza, and set fire to the greenhouse of Moshav Netiv Ha’asara. The fire burned the greenhouse as well as a nearby warehouse entirely, causing hundreds of thousands of shekels in damage.
The Israel Defense Forces initially believed that the greenhouse, in the Hof Ashkelon Regional Council area, was set on fire by a flare fired by soldiers looking for the man who was spotted crossing the fence. However, following the interrogation, the suspect told the Shin Bet that it was he, himself, who had set it on fire.
The charge sheet said the man told interrogators that he was sent to carry out the arson attack by a Salafist group in Gaza, in order to assist Hamas in its war against Israel. However, the Shin Bet determined that his claim was not true.
Israel regularly arrests Gazans who cross the fence into Israel; most of them are looking to escape the impoverished Strip. In some cases, the Gazans carry simple weapons in the apparent hope of drawing charges and being incarcerated in Israel, rather than being sent back to Gaza, where they may face punishment by the Hamas terror group, which rules the enclave.
The greenhouse fire came during protests against Israel along the border — in which some 12,000 Gazans participated — as tensions in the region ramped back up after a brief lull.
Reports at the time said Palestinian protesters also threw several explosive devices at IDF soldiers, and two men tried to breach the border before retreating.
The army responded with tear gas and riot-dispersal means. At least one Palestinian was killed and 37 Palestinians wounded, according to the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry.
Israel has accused Hamas and other terror groups of using the protests as a cover to carry out attacks on soldiers, or to breach Israeli communities near the border.
The incident drew wide consternation over the fact that the Gazan was able to apparently make it unimpeded to the greenhouse, near a populated area.