‘A second Colombia’: Israeli police stunned by size of Bedouin pot plantation in Negev

A massive drug-production compound cleverly concealed in a valley, was bulldozed on Sunday in an enforcement sweep by the Israel Police.

By World Israel News Staff

One week after Israeli NGO Regavim uncovered massive cannabis plantations, comprised of tens of thousands of plants cleverly camouflaged in the riverbed of Beer 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 that are uncovered from time to time in the Tze’elim area with the help of airplane or drone surveillance, the Beer Sheva Canyon “plantations” are indiscernible from the air, because the riverbed remains green year-round thanks to the sewage that flows into the canyon from the 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. In fact, 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  ($56,700) – 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 more pleasant.

Only days after the massive production zone was first discovered, the drug-growers opened fire on volunteer policemen who stopped to investigate suspicious activity in the area; the volunteer police crew ran for their lives, leaving behind a hunting rifle and a pistol.

“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 Colombia, the same sort of bottomless pit of lawlessness and studied blindness by enforcement bodies. It’s 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,” he said.