Activism

A private tour of the Hebron Heights winery

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The authors of this post wished to remain anonymous beyond first names. They undertook their adventure with a new solidarity group, the Hebron Freedom Fund. –Editor.

We, Leo and Molly, are a married couple from Europe. We were asked by YAS (Youth Against Settlements ) in Hebron to go to Hebron Heights Winery and take photos. What qualifies us is a special gift the local Palestinian activists and experienced international campaigners don’t have: we’re good at playing callow tourists – bright-eyed and bushy-tailed! (After all, that’s exactly what one of us looks like.)

Our preparation for the job consisted of four steps:

1) Finding out as much about the winery on the internet as possible.

2) Making up an inconspicuous story that allows us to go there and to take a lot of photos: “We are tourists who were invited to a Shabbat dinner by a religious/devout Jewish family and don’t want to show up with empty hands.”

3) Changing our clothing and equipment: Off with the keffiyeh, replace the map from B’Tselem and the Arabic dictionary with some propaganda from the settlers and a Hebrew dictionary. (With Leo’s white shirt and Molly’s skirt we even looked closely enough like settlers for a few Palestinian kids to throw stones at us.)

4) Adapting our language: Only “Arabs” never “Palestinians” and so on. But not too perfect! We still are wide-eyed tourists, aren’t we?

Then the adventure begins.

Consistent with our story we take a few photos in front of the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron and make our way to the winery from there. It’s located in an industrial area directly behind the settlement of Kiryat Arba, which is adjacent to Hebron. And it’s in no way as fancy as their promotion homepages made us think. We pass a vacant army watchtower, pieces of waste land, a kind of car repair shop, completely wrecked cars and man-high hills of waste and rubble. Uphill from the Winery we see mobile homes and building activities. We wonder whether this officially is an expansion of Kiryat Arba or an outpost.

Settler construction on a hillside east of Hebron, adjacent to Kiryat Arba

 

Our object of interest turns out to be some warehouses – normal, standard industrial architecture. We don’t see anybody and start to take photos from the outside: the machine that crushes the grapes and into which the lorries directly unload from the road, also a few wine tanks. There is no closed gate, so we go around to the backyard. (After all, the main quality we learned from the Israelis is “chutzpah” – impudence.) Here we meet Daniel, tell him our story and stress how amazed we are at the winery. They don’t sell wine here, and he can’t make any decisions, so he takes us to his boss.

Moshe is the production manager (or something close). He listens to our story, realizes how amazed we are and proudly gives us a private tour. He shows us the big tanks where they ferment the wine (18,000 litres each), the barrels where the wine is ageing, the wine bottles and boxes, and last but not least the on-going labelling and packing process.

Moshe at the winery, in middle

Boxes are labeled “Made in Israel.” A bottle of Riesling says “Jerusalem Winery – 42820 Geulim – Israel,” falsely listing it as being located within the 1948 borders of Israel. This labelling fraud can cause Hebron Heights Winery and Israel trouble with the European Union. According to EU rules, Israeli goods have privileged access to the European market. But, goods from the settlements don’t. Israel is always denying that goods made in the settlements are falsely labelled as “Made in Israel”. But now we have proof!

The Riesling, with false labelling to indicate that it is not from an illegal settlement

Moshe tells us that the winery produces 400,000 – 500,000 litres of kosher wine per year. The Hebron Heights Winery, Moshe goes on to tell us, is mainly processing wines from the Hebron area. – The vineyards are mainly in the southern West Bank and all have to be “owned“ by law-abiding Jews… that’s occupation at its best (er – worst)!

Moshe himself neither speaks Hebrew nor English as his mother tongue, but Afrikaans, since he comes from South Africa, where he worked in the security business. So, life in the West Bank isn’t completely new to him. That feels unsurprising to us.

 

Moshe with wine

At the end of the tour, Moshe phones the owner of the Winery to ask if he’s allowed to give us two bottles of wine as a present. He is allowed to, picks two freshly labelled bottles from the production line, poses with them for a photo and hands them to us. The rest of the bottles head out to be sold. Outside of Palestine companies like Kosher Wine Cellar in London, Kosherwine.com in Washington, DC, JWines in Pittsburgh, at Happy Hearts Wine in Brooklyn carry them for sale.

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Thank you for such an amazing story–great investigative journalism! What an incredible way to uncover more of Israel’s illegal activities. Thank you.

I think it is one thing to be against something politically, and we don’t have to agree on everything.

But one thing that we may agree that it was kind of low to accept the two bottles from Moshe as a gift. You should have paid for them.

Great work. Is there any disincentive or penalty for companies that are caught using false origin labeling?

Thanks for this, Leo and Molly. Exposure of Israeli thievery and lying is paramount in the struggle for Palestinian rights. More, please! So how did the Palestinian wine taste?

” The vineyards are mainly in the southern West Bank and all have to be “owned“ by law-abiding Jews… ”

“law- abiding”??? rotflmao!

Great investigative article. Reminds me of Jaffa oranges, also stolen with pride.