Forbidden Fruit: The Israeli Wine Industry and the Occupation

Friday, April 1, 2011

A new report by Who Profits maps the involvement of the Israeli wine industry in the occupation of the West Bank and the Syrian Golan Heights and traces some of the ways in which it masks this involvement. For this purpose, this report surveys the Israeli wine industry, maps the vineyards and wineries in the occupied territory and traces the connections between the main Israeli wine producers and this settlement industry.

The full report is available here: http://www.whoprofits.org/articlefiles/WhoProfits-IsraeliWines.pdf

Our report demonstrates that all of the major Israeli wineries use grapes from occupied territory in their wines.

Despite being part of the Zionist colonization project as early as the mid-nineteenth century, the Israeli wine industry as we know it today is a fairly new development and was only established in the 1980's. Currently, the Israeli wine industry comprises six large wineries (Carmel, Barkan, Golan Heights, Teperberg 1870, Binyamina and Tishbi) and dozens of medium and small wineries, totaling over 150 wineries, and about 12,000 acres of vineyards.

This report provides detailed information about these wine producers and their connection to the settlement wine industry (see table below). Additionally, it includes a survey of almost all of the settlement wineries in the Golan Heights and in the West Bank.

While the wine industry is known for being very meticulous in providing information about the origin of grapes that are used in the production of wine, there are several methods which are used in the Israeli wine industry to conceal information concerning the use of grapes from settler vineyards in occupied territory. Investigating the connections of the Israeli wine industry to settler vineyards, we found that while grapes from the Golan Heights are used quite openly, the wineries that use grapes from West Bank vineyards most often use a myriad of methods to conceal their origins.

Our report describes some of these methods, from those used by government export agencies to those used by individual exporters. For instance, the Israeli export institution redraws the map of the wine regions of Israeli wine in a way that deliberately blurs the distinctions between areas inside the State of Israel and areas of occupied territory. Israeli manufacturers of wine conceal information concerning the exact location of the vineyards from which they receive the grapes, by using vague descriptions, by not providing full disclosure of the location of vineyards or by detailing vineyards in the West Bank only in their publications in Hebrew.

This report also provides a comprehensive portrayal of the incentives of the Israeli wine industry to cultivate grapes and to develop wineries in occupied territory. Our report has found that in addition to the benefits that all commercial activities in settlements enjoy, including readily accessible land, tax benefits and other financial incentives provided by the Israeli government, the wine industry in the West Bank enjoys particular benefits and support from several government offices.

For instance, Israelis who cultivate vineyards on occupied territory are allocated subsidized water quotas; they receive funds from the Ministry of Agriculture for planting and building agricultural facilities, from the Ministry of Defense for paving roads and for fencing in the plots and from the Ministry of Tourism for turning the vineyards and wineries into tourist attractions.

Developing vineyards and wineries provide additional advantages for settlers in the West Bank. Due to a combination of legal and physical conditions, the planting of vineyards is a relatively easy and highly accessible means for taking over Palestinian land. Additionally, settlers both in the West Bank and in the Golan Heights have found that the wine industry can be used in order to develop tourism to the settlements, for local and international visitors alike. Tourist attractions do not only serve as an additional source of income for the settlements, but, more importantly, they operate to normalize and promote the entire settlement enterprise.