- Title: WEST BANK: Hebronites continue their ancient tradition of grape production
- Date: 14th September 2007
- Summary: EXTERIOR OF MINISTRY OF AGRICULTURE OFFICE IN HEBRON CLOSE OF SIGN READING: 'PALESTINIAN NATIONAL AUTHORITY, MINISTRY OF AGRICULTURE, DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE, HEBRON'
- Embargoed: 29th September 2007 13:00
- Topics: Industry,Lifestyle
- Reuters ID: LVABZB5NO308E4YQQS8KFS44QL6R
- Story Text: Although the Palestinian Territories are little known for their agricultural produce, the vineyards dotting the landscape surrounding the town of Hebron in the West Bank are some of the oldest in the world.
The area itself is thought to have been continuously inhabited since the ancient stone age and the history of the city of Hebron can be traced by archaeologists as far back as 3500 BC.
According to the Bible, when Moses sent his spies to the city of Hebron, they returned from the valley of Eschol (at the south end of which Hebron is located) with a cluster of grapes so heavy, it had to be carried between two men.
Fruit farmer Amer Natsheh specialises in organic grape products -- raisins, jams, molasses, and 'malban', a traditional Palestinian sweet.
Natsheh says his family has lived off their vineyards for generations, and he has been cultivating grapes all his life.
"Grapes are an important source of glucose, a sugar that is easily digested by the body," says Natsheh.
A sweet mixture of boiled grapes, semolina and sugar, Malban is left to dry for two days in the sun before it is sold to local shops around the city.
"It is a natural product. Everyone knows its nutritional value.
They feed it to their children instead of candy products filled with preservatives and other chemicals," says Natsheh.
A key source of livelihood for many Hebronites, local store shelves are frequently stocked with varieties of grape products and grape vendors line the stalls of local souks.
Hebron's grape crop is the second largest in the West Bank after olives, and this season 5000 tonnes were produced.
"Grapes contribute to 12.5 percent of our national agricultural income. In Hebron there are around 5000 families who are directly, or indirectly, dependent on the grape season for their annual income. So Hebron's economy is largely dependent on grape products," Salah al-Baba, Orchards Department Manager at the Ministry of Agriculture for Hebron told Reuters.
Amer Natsheh, like most Palestinian farmers, faces many difficulties as a result of the continued conflict between the Palestinians and the Israelis.
Israeli checkpoints restrict the movement of Palestinians in and out of and within the Occuppied Palestinian Territories, restricting the ability of farmers to sell their products beyond local markets, while illegal Jewish settlements continue to expand, infringing on Palestinian land.
"Checkpoints are a big problem. As you know, grapes are sensitive products. So if you stand at a checkpoint for 6 to 7 hours under the sun, the grapes deteriorate in quality or even spoil. This affects the market, causing losses for farmers," al-Baba explained.
The city of Hebron has been divided into six areas by the Israeli authorities, with numerous military checkpoints manning the city. There are 27 Israeli settlements in the Hebron district.
But despite the difficulties, Hebronites continue to find ways to make use of their vineyards, as Um Baker Salhab demonstrates while preparing the well-loved traditional Palestinian dish, stuffed vine leaves.
"We use it for embellishment, and we use its leaves and fruit in food. Everyone cultivates vines -- at home, around their homes, some have entire vineyards. Thank God almighty that it is in all the land of Palestine, all its towns and villages. It is also very much in demand, by young and old alike. It is also nutritious and beneficial. Its leaves are delicious. I've never heard anyone say they didn't like it," Um Baker says.
Hebron is one of the largest districts in the Palestinian Territories, counting 600,000 inhabitants. Forty percent of the Palestinian economy is dependent on Hebron with its shoe, leather, stone industry and grape season.
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