A fire at a farm in a West Bank settlement on the night of Yom Kippur, which destroyed an estimated NIS 12 million ($3.4 million) worth of produce and equipment, is being investigated as an incident of deliberate arson.
The incident, which took place late on Tuesday night at the Dor Farm on Moshav Mehola in the northern Jordan Valley, took 11 firefighting teams to extinguish, according to the Samaria Fire Station.
A packaging plant on the farm was at the center of the fire and it took until the early hours of the morning to extinguish the blaze.
“According to the preliminary findings, there is a reasonable suspicion that this was arson. A special investigative team has been established to examine the incident,” the fire department said in a statement to the press.
The police said that suspicions the fire was deliberately set “have strengthened” since an investigation was opened.
Several tons of produce were being stored in the plant at the time of the blaze, including dates, almonds, and willow branches for use over the upcoming Sukkot holiday. All were destroyed in the fire.
The packaging plant, which included refrigerator rooms, packaging machinery and a solar energy system, was destroyed along with farming equipment and refrigerators, a spokeswoman for the Mehola community said.
Nevo Dor, the Dor Farm manager, told Kan Bet radio that security camera footage showed arsonists setting the fire.
He said the produce which was destroyed in the blaze was worth some NIS 2 million ($560,000), and the packaging plant and all its equipment was worth another NIS 10 million ($2.8 million).
Although the plant is insured, the produce itself was not, Dor said.
Head of the Jordan Valley Regional Council David Elhayani described the fire as “another painful incident of agricultural terror,” and called on security services to combat the phenomenon.
Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked visited the farm on Thursday morning and accused “Palestinian terrorists” of starting the fire.
“They started the fire, they threw Molotov cocktails. There are cameras, there are footprints. We need to catch these terrorists and give them at least 10 years in jail,” said Shaked.
She said that farmers in the settlements “are facing agricultural crime, protection rackets, theft, and destruction of produce,” and argued that the Knesset should legislate minimum sentences for such crimes.
Separately, a protest was staged Thursday morning outside the home of Defense Minister Benny Gantz by settlement mayors and other municipal leaders to protest against the recent spate of violent Palestinian attacks in the West Bank.
“The current security policies are endangering us,” said chairman of the Benjamin Regional Council Yisrael Gantz.
“You chose to tolerate stone-throwing against our women and children, you chose to be patient with Molotov cocktails at our expense. You showed weakness and ignited the region.”
A series of Palestinian attacks killed 19 people between mid-March and the beginning of May. This led the government to order the IDF to carry out an ongoing broad anti-terror campaign that has led to the death of 100 Palestinians, including combatants and violent demonstrators, and the arrest of 2,000 Palestinians on suspicion of involvement in terrorist activity.
According to Israel’s Foreign Ministry, there were 209 terror attacks in August, 172 of which took place in the West Bank.