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Monestary in colonised territories to be 'anschlussed' by Israel

Cremisan Cellars News

Sunday, 8th June 2008

Bad year for wine-making monks as Israeli wall keeps workers from vineyard

By Kurt Bayer

FOR 120 years, generations of Christian monks have peacefully cultivated the land surrounding the Cremisan monastery in the hills above Bethlehem – hewing terraces out of the rocky slopes to create Palestine's only vineyard. The monks have combined traditional Italian methods of wine-making with organic viticulture fitting the harsh conditions of the Holy Land, to create distinctive red and white wines and provide vital income for the families of those who labour in the vineyards.

But this idyllic monastery will soon be swallowed up by Israel when the next phase of the controversial Israeli West Bank barrier is completed over the next three months.

Cremisan wine already carries the label of being a "product of Israel" because Palestine is not a recognised wine-producing country – and now, because of the new border, it will officially become a part of Israel. The monks' land on the outskirts of Bethlehem borders a road that connects Jerusalem with Jewish settlements. They have looked on helplessly as the Israelis continue to pursue construction of the 26-foot concrete wall as part of the 280- mile security barrier started in 2002 to keep out Palestinian suicide bombers.

Bulldozers have already ripped out hundreds of pine trees surrounding the vineyards and, according to a spokesman for the Applied Research Institute of Jerusalem, which monitors Israeli settlement activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, foundations have already been dug and the infrastructure is in place so that the wall can be completed within "two to three months".

Amer Kardosh, general manager of the vineyard, stressed: "We do not want to be in Israel. We are Palestinians, but we have no choice. The wall will separate us from Palestine and our people."

The Italian Catholic monastery produces around 200,000 litres a year of some 30 different labels of wine.

Now a group that coordinates the Stop the Wall campaign has said that placing the monastery in Israeli territory would deprive about 40 families from Bethlehem and the village of Al Walaja of one of the main sources of income. It would also force the monks to abandon several projects working with poor and underprivileged Christian children from Bethlehem.

A spokesman for the monks said: "We cannot oppose the wall. It is not our duty to complain or demonstrate and we wish to maintain an equidistant position. Our wine production has decreased considerably in the past few years and now will drop even further, because we will have difficulty in finding workers.

"Palestinians were working here, but with the wall, the road which leads to our monastery will be blocked and the Israeli authorities are already issuing very few working permits."

The plight of the monks and their historic vineyard, caught in the crossfire of the Arab- Israeli conflict, is symbolic of the dilemma facing all Palestinian Christians.

In 1948, Christians accounted for 20% of the West Bank population. But now, there are just 30,000 left in the West Bank, Gaza, and east Jerusalem, making up only 1.5% of the total population.

An estimated 230,000 Arab Christians have emigrated since the establishment of the state of Israel 60 years ago and the numbers are growing.

One Christian Palestinian guide said: "No one in the West knows we exist and what we go through. When I meet Americans and I tell them I am a Christian, they cannot believe it. They ask when we became Christians. They have no idea.

"We feel abandoned and shunned by the Western Christian churches who pray for Israel. The Muslims, the Jews, they both hate us. That is the reality."


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