Visitors at an annual flower festival in southern Israel over the weekend looted oranges, tangerines and lemons from private orchards in the region, trampled produce growing in the fields and left behind piles of garbage.
According to local authorities, more than 60,000 people visited the area at the weekend for the start of the "Darom Adom" (Red South) festival, which marks the annual blossoming of red anemones in the northern Negev.
As well as stealing agricultural produce, farmers across the south said visitors had mass picnics in the wheat fields near Kibbutz Be'eri, where some drove over the crops with their vehicles.
After noticing the scores of visitors swarming the area, the farmers attempted to fend them off, but to no avail. Police officers who were later called to the scene were able to partially remove some of the people, some of whom continued to load huge quantities of fruit into their trunks.
Meanwhile, visitors to the Shokeda Forest left a huge amount of garbage after them. "Because I observe the Shabbat I couldn't supervise what was going on in my orchards. My orchards are surrounded by blankets of anemones," said a farmer from Moshav Shuva in the Sdot Negev Regional Council.
"I don’t mind people visiting the area to enjoy the blooms in the south, but what happened here over the weekend is inconceivable," he said.
"I don't recall my orchards turning into a free market. The visitors emptied my groves, while having their picnics and leaving behind huge amounts of trash. I couldn't believe my eyes when I came to work this morning. After tearing through the greenhouse nets, the visitors went inside and stole vegetables," the farmer said.
Another farmer said: "After being informed about the large amount of strangers walking around in my orchard, I asked them to leave the premises. I was amazed by their nerve, told them this is private property and that our livelihood depends on this agricultural produce. But most of them just ignored me and kept on picking the fruit.
"Some of them even had the audacity to tell me this is how they spend their day off. People just don't understand this is our livelihood," a third farmer said.
Following the incident, the police said they would bolster their presence near agricultural areas to combat thieves and visitors causing damage to the produce.
The CEO of the moshavim in the Negev, Yossi Yishai, who owns some the looted orchards, said: "The blossom is at its peak, and we enjoy visitors coming to tour the area. Nevertheless, the visitors must know it is forbidden to pick our fruit.
"Visitors entering our fields and orchards, even if it is to pick one orange, cause severe damage. Moreover, the irrigation systems in the field are also harmed, which results in huge amounts of water going to waste," he said.