JERUSALEM, Israel – For nearly 10 weeks, tens of thousands of Palestinians have tried to breach the border fence and infiltrate southern Israel to attack Jewish communities in what they've called "The Great March of Return." But now they don't have to cross the border or fire rockets or dig tunnels to damage southern Israel. They have a new weapon: Fire.
It can't get much more low-tech than flying fire kites – or balloons – that have caused extensive damage to crops and nature reserves.
CBN News visited the southern Israeli community of Kibbutz Nir Am this week, less than a mile from Israel's border with Gaza to see the damage caused by the fires firsthand.
Burned wheat field at Kibbutz Nir Am, Photo, CBN News, Jonathan Goff
"As you can see, it's burned from a kite the Palestinians sent us as a present three weeks ago," Ofer Liberman told CBN News.
Liberman is the agricultural manager at Kibbutz Nir Am. He says in the last six weeks, his kibbutz alone has lost 250 acres of wheat, 500 acres of cow pasture and 25 acres of trees that were older than the State of Israel.
Ofer Liberman, agricultural manager at Kibbutz Nir Am, Photo, CBN News, Jonathan Goff
"We try to put [out] the fire as quickly as we can. For this we stand here with tractors and equipment that when we see the fire you know we just run with the tractors and try to stop it as quickly as we can," he explained.
Palestinians in Gaza have launched hundreds of flying fire kites and balloons as part of the march, which began ahead of Israel's 70th Independence Day birthday.
Smoldering fields at Kibbutz Nir Am, Photo, CBN News, Jonathan Goff
Many have also tried repeatedly to destroy the security fence at the border with Israel. Palestinians posted a video with triumphant music on Facebook, showing how some have managed to infiltrate, others have been killed or captured trying to do so.
Israel is working on solutions to combat the latest weapon.
On a tour of the border area, Israel's Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said he expected the IDF to target any "terrorist kite launchers that endanger people's lives on a daily basis."
Israeli Minister of Construction and Housing, Major General (res.) Yoav Gallant says the Palestinians are desperate.
"The kites and the marches -- civilian so-called marches -- toward the fence, are signs of frustration because all the operational, military ways were almost blocked by Israel. The sea is closed, the land is closed," Gallant said. "It's very difficult to hit Israel with rockets and missiles because of Iron Dome [anti-missile defense batteries]. We are in a project that will block eventually the tunnels [under the border]."
Gallant, the former head of the Israel Defense Forces Southern Command, which includes the Gaza Strip, told journalists he takes his enemies seriously, but he's confident Israel will win.
"It's up to them. Eventually it will be blocked. I hope it will be done in the less possible price for the Palestinian side because it's not in their favor and not even in our favor," he said.
Despite the trouble, Liberman says he still has friends in Gaza.
Kibbutz Nir Am, Photo, CBN News, Jonathan Goff
"I have friends from Gaza. I speak with them about once a week. I know them about 40 years ago," he said.
"My friends say that a lot of people in Gaza want Israel to [go] inside [and to throw out Hamas]. Sixty-five percent of the population in Gaza they do not have work. They're unemployed. And the time that Israel [took] responsibility [for] Gaza, I think maybe 20 percent [were] unemployed," he explained. "They have a big problem."
Liberman says his kibbutz is growing and he's hopeful for the future.
"Here it's heaven 23 hours a day," he said. "One hour it's hell, but normally this place, it's heaven. I hope it will be like this 24 hours a day. And I hope that we will live in peace…."
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