As the United States and Israel are increasingly headed on a collision course over the expansion of Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories, so the spotlight is being turned onto other illegal settler activities, namely that of Israeli wine makers annexing Palestinian agricultural lands to expand their vineyards.
Israeli wine making goes back to the arrival of the first Jewish immigrants in the late 1880s. Baron de Rothschild, then the owner of the world renowned French Chateau Lafite, sponsored the introduction of wine making south of Haifa and Tel Aviv. From this well-financed beginning, the Israeli wine industry has grown into a highly lucrative business, the brand name "Carmel"--"God's Vineyard" in Hebrew--finding favour among many in the greater Jewish Diaspora. This steady growth has been paralleled by an increase in quality, the 1980's Israeli military occupation of Syria's Golan Heights providing settlers with land at higher altitudes and cooler temperatures, thus raising Israeli wine standards to Gold Medal status. This was followed by the introduction of boutique wines, the Domaine du Castel brand in particular gaining international plaudits.
As Jewish settlers increasingly appropriate Palestinian land, so they are using biblical references to argue that the land Israel conquered only decades ago is rightly fully theirs. Wineries such as the Yaakov Berg winery adjacent to the Palestinian town of Ramallah in the West bank, are considered illegal under international law but this is dismissed by vineyard owners like Yaakov Berg who claim that the land is Jewish by ancient right.
Claiming that the presence of a 2,000-yearold Jewish wine press in a nearby cave vindicates their case, Israeli winemakers argue that their religious lineage allows them to return to the land owned by their forefathers.
"It is our heritage to till the land of our tribal forbearers," they insist. "It is our inalienable biblical right."
That such blatant expropriation is vehemently condemned by world governments, and more recently by the incoming Obama administration, seems irrelevant to the vine growers, their arrays of watchtowers and security roads indicative of their intention to fight for what they consider is their right.
As Israeli vineyards expand beyond the recession-bound American market, so they are running up against organised boycotts. The Canadian 'Not In Our Name: Jewish Voices Opposing Zionism' organisation...