Wednesday, June 17, 2009

BBC Discovers Yesha Wines - L'Chayim!

Tim Franks of the BBC has a report on the vineyards and the wines of Yesha.

Of course, Yesh Din pops up, and there's even this photo-map of my home area there:

and here, pics #3 & #4, are the real vineyards.

Some highlights:

Settler vineyards take root in West Bank

The climate is perfect, the soil just right, the grapes just so. But the occupied West Bank is not obvious wine country...This is land which Israel conquered 42 years ago. But the Jews who have settled the West Bank will tell you their roots in this land lie much deeper.

Yaakov Berg, a fresh-faced wine enthusiast in his 30s, lives in
a small shack in the hilltop settlement of Psagot, which abuts the Palestinian city of Ramallah...A short drive away lies his own winery. Opened only a few weeks ago, it is the swankiest in the West Bank.

"The wine is the main thing," he said, amid a tower of oak barrels. "But also we think it's very important to explain to people: listen, we are here, back. And part of that is that we work the land again."

...the Settlers' Council has grand plans for the Psagot winery. The Council is talking about building as many as 20 holiday homes around the winery. Wine-making, the Council's General secretary, Pinchas Wallerstein, says, "is some kind of new development... a new way to settle people in the area, even more permanently than mobile houses".

...One of the outposts, Rehelim, is home to another boutique
winery...Erez Ben Saadon labels and stories his Tura wine in a small, strip-lit concrete shed. His vineyards lie in majestic undulating sweeps at a settlement nearby.

Passionate about his job, he kisses the budding grapes in an emotional flourish. And his passion extends to his view of US
President Barack Obama's demand that settlement activity stop.

"We're a democratic state," he says. "The only democratic state in the Middle East. And I think the most un-democratic thing happening today is the American administration trying to force us into doing things that go against our own election results."

...on a swish roof terrace, at an evening tasting for Erez Ben Saadon's wine [in Tel Aviv], the praise gushes. "The Merlot is
excellent," says Shai Segev, wine critic for the Yediot Ahranot newspaper. Mr Segev says its provenance is unimportant as "wine and politics don't mix".

But Israel's leading wine critic, Daniel Rogov, says there are domestic and overseas consumers who "simply won't" buy the wine because it comes from the occupied West Bank. In contrast, he says, there are others who lean more towards the "right-wing, Orthodox Jewish side, who will hunt out these wines
precisely because they come from there".

Mr Rogov describes himself as a "peacenik". He refuses to travel to the West Bank, but will review its wine, if it is brought to him inside Israel. Year on year, he says, the wine from the occupied territories is not just increasing in quality, but quantity.

...The scale of the project is evident as you drive around the West Bank past hill-sides marked with newly cleared swathes of land. By the settlement of Har Beracha, 10 hectares are due to be planted with vineyards within the next two months.

As Shivi Dror, another West Bank winemaker, put it: "When we
take over 100 dunams (10 hectares) of land with a single vineyard, it's the same amount of land that 200 houses would cover."

...Ibrahim Shabana owns a grocery store in the village of Sinjel. He says settlers are growing grapes on land which has been in his family for more than 100 years. All that is left for him are a few, straggly vines of his own, on a small, uneven field. "I feel hopeless," he says. He says that he cannot fight the settlers, for fear of violence or arrest by the police, "while the settlers get off free".

For their part, settlers argue that claims of intimidation or theft are often made by Palestinians and seldom proven.

The Israeli human rights group Yesh Din has begun to track the spread of the vineyards. It says the settlers' insistence that they are only planting vines on state-owned land is simply not true.

On a road overlooking the West Bank vineyards close to the
settlement of Shilo, the group's energetic Land Projects
Coordinator, Dror Etkes, unfurls a map on the baking hot bonnet of his car.

It is, he says, just one illustration of how vineyards take over land beyond what even Israel says are the authorised boundaries of the settlements, across privately owned Palestinian land.

In a statement, the Civil Administration, the Israeli authority which oversees the West Bank, confirmed that the information on the map is correct.

Mr Etkes says that dealing with this issue should be a matter for the Israeli authorities, not the American administration.

And in late May, I visited with Yaakov at his winery with the employees of the Begin Center:

P.S. And here is my 'vineyard', of grapes for eating: 1 & 2. I hope the crop is great this year.

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