The Hidden Treasures of the West Bank

by Nilsa Alvarez| Philos Project Most people think of the West Bank (what Jews call Judea and Samaria) in terms of politics and turmoil. But I experienced a very different side of the West Bank during my recent visit to Israel, one that left me impressed with Israelis’ respect for their ancient traditions – and their production of a surprise harvest. When the Jordanian occupation of the West Bank ended in 1967, Israeli entrepreneurs set their sights on its stony hillsides as an ideal place for olive groves and vineyards. But not because the hills were horticulturally ideal; quite the opposite. The Jews recalled their ancient past on those hills and the promise of their scriptures that those hills would one day produce olives and grapes: “Again you will plant vineyards on the hills of Samaria; the farmers will plant them and enjoy their fruit.” (Jer. 31:5) These rock-encrusted hills would have discouraged even the most optimistic farmer. But the Jews trusted God and forged ahead with their plans, believing that their biblical texts would not fail them. And today, many of the grapes that go into Israel’s finest wines grow in this very region. West Bank entrepreneur A.Y. Katsof walked me through his process of readying these rocky hillsides for vineyards that would eventually grow grapes to be used in the best wines produced by the region. “We decided to drill holes into the mountain to create natural planting pots in the stone,” he said, gesturing to the vineyards spread across the landscape in front of him. He next added soil to those “pots” and then completed the planting process. And his hard work paid off. I was amazed at just how much labor went into turning these harsh, rocky hills into Israel’s finest vineyards. A winery near Katsof’s property boasted an array of wines made from grapes grown right there on land that had been toiled for generations. I was even able to sample some of the award-winning product. Israel wind

Grapes and wine produced in Israel.

Although I am not typically much of a wine person, even I had to admit that these wines were superb. I was surprised to find out that Israel is not yet widely recognized as a wine region – probably because until about 20 years ago, Israel had virtually no wine industry. The only wines produced in the region prior to that were used for religious ceremonies. Israel has known viticulture – the production of grapes – since virtually its beginning. The fruit of the vine is spoken of many times in Scripture, and played a significant role in numerous biblical and historical events. It is even a large part of the sacred Christian sacrament of communion, which was instituted by Jesus during the Last Supper. Today, Israeli vineyards from Galilee to the Judean Hills produce a huge variety of wines that are enjoyed throughout the world. I was pleasantly surprised to find the same Israeli wine I sampled in the West Bank available for purchase at a kosher market in the United States. And business is growing. In 2011 – the most recent data available – Israeli wine exports produced more than $26.7 million, greatly contributing to their country’s economy. And the industry sells approximately 36 million bottles of the beverage every year. Because the West Bank is considered an occupied territory, many of the winegrowers in the region are taking a risk by farming there. Although they often employee local Palestinians, their farms could be taken from them at any moment if the Israeli government chooses to give up more land for peace. These people are simply living by faith. I asked Katsof what made the West Bank grapes so delicious. What is it about that rocky terrain that gives the fruit such an exquisite flavor? Katsof smiled and gestured to the vineyards behind him. “We discovered that the harder the plant has to work to grow in this rough terrain, the sweeter its grapes become,” he said, smiling. I left Israel with a new appreciation for the lessons God teaches his children through his creation. The same thing Katsof said about his grapes can be said of us: the harder we work, the sweeter will be the harvest. And if you have enough faith, maybe you won’t move your mountains – but you can drill into them and make a profit! SOURCE: PHILOS PROJECT Nilsa Alvarez was raised in a Christian home in Florida with her Puerto Rican family. She participated in evangelism, youth leadership, ministry training, worship leading, missions and song-writing with Creative Ministry Solutions…read more]]>