SYRIA - ISRAEL

Israel and Syria open up, but only for apples

The border that separates Syria from the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights has been firmly closed since 1967, with the two countries still officially at war. In the past few years, however, one type of goods has made it through during the months of March and April: apples. Read more...

Advertising

The border that separates Syria from the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights has been firmly closed since 1967, with the two countries still officially at war. In the past few years, however, one type of goods has made it through during the months of March and April: apples.

For the past week, the crossing point at al Qunaytirah, a largely abandoned town some 50km south of Damascus, has been uncharacteristically busy. Every day, Red Cross lorries driven by Kenyans make their way across the Golan Heights and into Syria. During the eight-week project, some 10,000 tonnes of apples will make the journey.

The initiative, which began in 2005, helps local producers sell off the annexed region's yearly 50,000 to 60,000 tonnes of Golden and Starking apples - which they are unable to sell in Israel. 

Syria and Israel have been at war since 1948. Citizens from both countries are prohibited from entering the other's territory. Israel stormed the Syrian Golan Heights during the Six Days War in 1967 and annexed the territory in 1981, despite condemnation by the United Nations Security Council (Resolution 497), which refuses to acknowledge the area as Israeli territory.

“Settlers here started to produce apples in competition with us”

Salman Safadi is an apple grower from the Golan Heights.

Apple farming props up the economy here in the Golan Heights. We produce the best variety of apples, and naturally. But after the start of the occupation in 1967, we came under damaging economic constraints.

During the first few decades, we managed to sell our full harvest. But at the start of the nineties, settlers here started to produce apples in competition with us. Settlers were handed the biggest plots of land and wholesalers gave them preference. They sold their entire harvests at the start of the season and at a higher price; ours had to wait until the end of the season and were sold for less. On top of that, the Israeli market was saturated by the settlers' apples, meaning that we couldn't even sell all of ours. Each year a large number of our apples had to be destroyed.

The situation got worse and worse up until 2005, when the Syrian authorities decided to help us. We are, after all, Syrian [Golan residents refuse Israeli nationality, but do have to carry an Israeli resident's card]. Thanks to their solidarity, we can now sell all of our harvest and at a decent price. We're earning even more than we did before the settlers arrived."

Golan apples, from wrapping to border-crossing

Video posted on YouTube by "daliluk2008", March 2, 2008.