ICEJ Staff picking fruit to help southern farmers
By: Ryan Tsuen

It is almost 50 days since scores of Hamas terrorists breached the Gaza border fence and ignited a war with Israel. This conflict has impacted every sector of Israeli society, including farmers in the South who have struggled to harvest their crops due to the incessant rocket fire.

unharvested rotting fruit

Prior to that fatal Shabbat of October 7, many farming communities in the western Negev employed field workers from Gaza and foreign countries to help harvest their crops, which were ripening for market. But once the war began, many of these fields and orchards were suddenly left unattended, with the fruit and crops rotting. In addition, dozens of foreign laborers were tragically killed or kidnapped, while others fled back to their home countries.

ICEJ AID assistant Jannie Tolhoek heard that Kibbutz Yad Mordechai, situated just four kilometers from Gaza, needed help salvaging fruit from orchards ready for harvest since October. ICEJ immediately saw this as a great opportunity to show solidarity with the Israeli farmers and ventured to the southern Gaza border this week to lend a hand.

Our volunteer team first picked pomelit, a sweet citrus fruit. Since this is a late harvest, the fruit will be used for juicing. Having to use ladders to reach the high-hanging fruit in tall trees, those on the ground had to watch out for falling fruit.

“It’s actually raining pomelit today,” joked Nicole Yoder, ICEJ Vice President for AID and Aliyah, who headed our staff contingent that day.

One of the best things about our involvement in this harvesting project was meeting and working alongside Israelis who also are volunteering their time to help in the fields.

Yigal, a university professor from Kiryat Ono, took a moment to chat with our Facebook Live audience, saying that he had become a “farmer” for the day and felt it was important to be there to show support.

“I am here because our hands are needed, and morally we need to show support to the people of Yad Mordechai, and all the farming villages and towns living near Gaza,” shared Yigal.

Without enough workers to tend to the farms and harvest the fruits in the groves, much of the produce would have gone to waste.

Tossed fruit

Our team then moved on to an orchard of clementines. Each tree was overflowing with the ripe little mandarins. We were instructed to pluck the fruit and simply toss them into the middle of the aisle, Surprisingly, this was done to be later crushed to serve as fertilizer for next year’s harvest. Otherwise, to just leave them on the branches invites flies and disease, and signals the tree to produce less the following season.

The Israelis we interacted with were delighted to hear that Christians worldwide were showing their support. They truly appreciated hearing that the ICEJ staff in Jerusalem from many different nations are standing firm by Israel’s side during these challenging times.

Throughout the day, we knew the risks of being close to the Gaza border and could hear the sounds of shelling from tanks nearby. However, we were assured that it was not enemy fire and that we were safe.

Communication devices

Upon completing our day of labor in the fields, our team met with a group of security first-responders from the Sedot Negev Regional Council. They shared their personal stories of that fateful day and the unfolding reality in their communities. Over the past two years, the ICEJ supplied special communication devices to most of the regional councils in the Gaza periphery. These radio transmitters proved to be lifesaving for around 3,000 residents of several communities who were quickly alerted about the terrorist infiltration on October 7th . Read more about this story here.

Nicole presenting one of  the communication devices

Thanks to the wonderful support from our Christian friends, we are providing these communication devices to this regional council as well. The security first-responders expressed their gratitude for these radio devices, as they now have the necessary tools to communicate with each other and prepare against any future threats.

Shmuel Bowman, executive director of Operation Lifeshield, shared his thoughts after presenting the communication devices. Referencing the Hebrew prophet Nehemiah, he emphasized the importance of having both tools for war and tools for harvest, symbolizing true security and peace.

“You have to have the weapon but also the thing that harvests. You have to have both,” said Shmuel. “This is what this is about. It is about making sure we can have real security… with the one hand why you can hold this radio device and with the other hand a farm tool, to be able to receive the future of real, true peace.”

“I am no expert in security matters,” added Nicole Yoder, “but I do understand friendship. And we wanted our friends to have the ability to communicate and respond in crisis situations. Also know that you have many Christian friends who are constantly praying for your protection.”

In times like these, it is crucial for us to show our unwavering support for Israel. The ICEJ is continuing to respond to the urgent needs of Israeli communities along the Gaza border. Please join us in meeting these needs by donating to our Israel in Crisis fund.

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