Israel turns back plague of locusts
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Israel turns back plague of locusts

Spraying keeps destructive insects from taking wing; rabbi dissuades Orthodox Jews from feasting on the crunchy critter delicacies

A cloud of locusts in southern Israel Wednesday (photo credit: Dror Garti/Flash90)
A cloud of locusts in southern Israel Wednesday (photo credit: Dror Garti/Flash90)

Israel’s spraying of agricultural fields in the south of the country Wednesday morning succeeded in turning the tide in a millions-strong locust invasion from across the Egyptian border. The Agriculture Ministry said that thanks to the crop-dusting, the locusts weren’t flying or able to lift off from the ground.

Two planes, assisted by ground crews and trucks, on Wednesday sprayed with pesticides the migrating insects that had settled in the area the day before. The teams sprayed a swath of 1,850 acres, beginning the procedure at 6 a.m and continuing into the early afternoon.

“It’s like an insect cemetery down here,” Omri Eytana, a farmer from Moshav Kmehin the Nitzana area, told Army Radio a little after 10 a.m. “There are [only] hundreds of locusts in the air, and they’re still spraying.” He said his tomato crops were unharmed, because they are protected under nylon covers. Potato crops in the area were badly damaged, though, he said.

Shmuel Turgeman, who heads a government-run fund that organizes insurance for farmers, said the situation was “under control.” Inspectors were out in the field gauging the extent of the damage to potatoes and other crops.

Though the locusts were moving northward, they were not expected to reach central Israel’s major population centers because of a cold front that was predicted to drive the insects to the south.

Southern Israel’s skies were blackened Tuesday by the wings of millions of the locusts as the largest infestation to hit the country in decades swarmed across the Egyptian border and settled to chow down on the crops of local farmers.

A crop-dusting plane sprays a field in Israel's Negev Desert, Wednesday (photo credit: Dror Garti/Flash90)
A crop-dusting plane sprays a field in Israel’s Negev Desert, Wednesday (photo credit: Dror Garti/Flash90)

Local residents were instructed to stay indoors and close their windows and blinds.

“I’ve lived here for 30 years and we have yet to see anything like this,” said Yankale Moskovich, a farmer from Ramat Negev.

Throughout Tuesday afternoon and evening, the Agriculture Ministry and local farming associations sprayed the fields with pesticides, from the air and from the ground, in hopes of salvaging the crops, but to no avail. The giant swarm landed on fields across the Negev and caused what farmers estimate to be hundreds of thousands of shekels in damages.

The locusts also caused damages to fields cultivated by Palestinian farmers in the Gaza Strip, and the Hamas government instructed residents on Wednesday to close their windows.

The Islamist group ruling the coastal Palestinian territory was quoted by the Chinese Xinhua news agency saying the swarms of locusts were neither big nor harmful.

Saleh Bakheet, director general of plant protection department in the Ministry of Agriculture, said in a press statement that the plague “represents no kind of danger or harm to people and plants,” and that “the situation is under full control and protection of the Ministry of Agriculture.”

A Palestinian farmer displays locusts at a farm in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip on March 5 (photo credit: Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)
A Palestinian farmer displays locusts at a farm in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip on March 5 (photo credit: Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

On Wednesday, a prominent rabbi weighed in on the debate among Orthodox Jews as to the kashrut of locust-based crunchy snacks, saying that despite popular opinion to the contrary, they were forbidden by Jewish law.

Rabbi Yizhak Yosef, the son of former chief Sephardic rabbi and Shas mentor Ovadia Yosef, said he had instructed students at his yeshiva, Hazon Ovadia, not to eat the insects. “We are not familiar with their names and their signs; we have no clear tradition about them,” he said.

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