Monday, March 11, 2013

Passover is here - and here come the locusts!

A large swarm of locusts arrived this past week in the south of Israel. Contrary to popular belief, such an insect invasion is not a rare phenomenon. Every few years--the last time being 2004--locusts come swarming out of Africa, causing damage in Sudan, Egypt, and eventually Israel.

"Locust" is a general term used for several types of grasshoppers that join together into large bands and migrate in search of food. They are considered particularly harmful to agriculture, and are notorious as one of the ten plagues of Egypt that destroyed the country's crops, according to the Bible. Locusts are also mentioned in the Book of Joel, where they are described in an apocalyptic manner.

No wonder, then, that reporting and documentation regarding locusts tends to employ war terminology. In the Israel State Archive, documents about this "war on locusts" can be found from different periods of Israeli and pre-state history.

In 1915, the locusts hit the land of Israel during the first World War. The descriptions of this swarm are of an attack of biblical proportions that added to the already existing misery of war. (It is interesting to note that two of Israel's future Prime Ministers - Moshe Sharett and Levi Eshkol - participated in this battle against the locusts.)

Decades later, during the British Mandate, the High Commissioner received a telegram from the British Minister Resident in Cairo with a request to prepare for the "invasion" of oncoming swarms of locusts, and a warning that failure to deal effectively with the locusts would cause famine in the Middle East. (File M 16/18)

The war on locusts has often transcended other regional animosities, as enemies join together to defeat the common scourge. Thus, here's a letter from the Jordanian delegation to the Mixed Armistice Commission, in which it is agreed to share information about a swarm of locusts that may harm both Israel and Jordan. (File Archive GL 8158/2)

As mentioned above, the locust threat was always treated in the most serious fashion, as were the preparations against it. Here's a General Information Bulletin (in Hebrew), distributed by the Ministry of Agriculture with specific instructions for how to deal with the locusts--who to notify, what not to do when encountering a swarm of locusts on land (do not try and chase them away, as that will cause them to scatter, making it harder to deal with them) and more.

Not only the Ministry of Agriculture was involved in dealing with locusts--here is a (Hebrew) memo by Jacob Nash, director of the planning division of Israel's National Police, detailing a plan for a portion of the force to deal with swarms of locusts. A report on the war on locusts in 1953 (Hebrew) written by Dr. Jacob Peleg, director of the Plant Protection division of the Ministry of Agriculture, describes how the IAF Dakota transport plane dropped poisoned bran aimed to eliminate scattered locusts, in a process that was prepared two years in advance for such a situation. (All documents from the archive file G 3323 / 29)

Letters of thanks for fighting the locusts can also be found in the archives. In one letter, the Minister of Agriculture Kadish Luz (later Speaker of the Knesset) wrote to Gideon Cohen, director of the Plant Protection Department in 1959, that "great danger threatened our agriculture, and was avoided thanks to your activities" (Hebrew). Kibbutz Nir Yitzhak in the Negev sent a letter of thanks to the Ministry of Agriculture and the Plant Protection division's staff, with whom "we stood together, fighting against the invasion of locusts." (Hebrew) (Documents from archive file G 4466/16)

Let's hope this skirmish in the war on locusts ends with little incident or damage.

No comments:

Post a Comment