On Sunday, one week after members of the Regavim NGO field team uncovered massive cannabis plantations comprised of tens of thousands of plants cleverly camouflaged in the riverbed of the Be’er Sheva Stream, the Israel Police and the Green Police Squad destroyed dozens of fields and hothouses with the help of bulldozers and additional heavy machinery.
Unlike other cannabis-growing operations uncovered from time to time in the Tze’elim area with the help of airplane or drone surveillance, the Be’er Sheva Canyon “plantations” cannot be seen from the air because the riverbed remains green year round, thanks to the sewage that flows into the canyon from the Judean city of Hebron.
This makes it difficult to detect the growers’ activity because the thousands of cannabis plants are camouflaged by the trees and bushes that grow along the canyon. The trees also provided cover for a makeshift lab for drying and processing the cannabis on site where the contraband crop was processed, packed in gigantic sacks – each worth some NIS 200,000 – and prepared for shipping.
The cluster of drug-production compounds, each consisting of tens of thousands of plants and valued in the millions, were hooked up to irrigation systems that drew directly from the stream. The growers, criminals from the surrounding Bedouin communities, even set up a swimming pool beneath the trees to make their long work shifts in the hot sun a little cooler. Just days after the massive production zone was first discovered, the drug-growers opened fire on auxiliary police officers who stopped to investigate suspicious activity in the area. “The auxiliary police ran for their lives, leaving behind a hunting rifle and a pistol,” according to a Regavim spokesperson.
“Although this isn’t the first time we’ve exposed drug hothouses in Tze’elim, even we were surprised by the sophistication of this enterprise, the state-of-the-art irrigation system, and the incredible volume of production, the likes of which we have not seen in the past,” said Yakhin Zik, Director of Operations at Regavim.
“The Negev has become a second Columbia, the same sort of bottomless pit of lawlessness and studied blindness by enforcement bodies. It’s an ex-territoria, a ‘no man’s land’ in the heart of Israel. The drug industry of Tze’elim has been flourishing unhindered year-round, and is inextricably connected to the wave of crime and particularly to the scourge of arms theft and trafficking, and to the criminal gangs that threaten residents and visitors who accidentally get too close for comfort.”
Regavim praised the Israel Police Force and the Green Police Squad for the successful enforcement. “The Police are aware of the criminal activity that goes on here all year round, and today’s enforcement activity proved that there is no need to wait for a media expose’ in order to get to work,” the Regavim spokesperson said.
“Ben Gurion’s vision of a flowering Negev will be better served through wholesome, legal agricultural projects.”