Apple exports to Syria from Druze orchards in the Golan Heights will resume Monday after a year’s hiatus because of the Syrian civil war. Exports are due to begin at the Quneitra border crossing and last about three months, now that the Red Cross has drawn up a procedure.
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The quantity is expected to reach 18,000 tons, the largest since exports began. The exports – or as the Druze growers describe them, the sales – began in 2005 with about 5,000 tons. Since then the amount has increased every year. There were no exports in 2008 because the crop was small.
The exports help other growers in Israel by keeping supply down and prices up. Among the Syrians, the sales are seen as proof of their patronage of the 20,000 Golan Druze.
At the beginning of the harvest season, the Golan growers, fearing that sales would be stung by the Syrian conflict, searched for alternative markets such as Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
“It’s true there were fears about transferring the produce to Syria because of the sensitive situation there," one grower said. "But the Syrian regime wants to prove that despite everything, there is still a central government in Damascus. Not even the opposition can stop the exports, especially in light of their constant statements that they will support our communities in the Golan Heights.”
Only 300 meters separate the unloading point on the Israeli side and the loading point onto trucks on the Syrian side. But the process is long.
On the Israeli side, a truck arrives from the refrigerated sheds in the Druze villages. A Red Cross truck waits near the UN base. The Red Cross has brought in three such trucks from Jordan, and the drivers have been flown in from Kenya.
A forklift brings the pallets to the Red Cross truck, which drives to the Syrian side, preceded by a Red Cross vehicle. On the Syrian side, the pallets are transferred to a Syrian truck.
The Druze orchards on the Golan, which cover about 15,000 dunams (3,707 acres), make up one-third of Israel's apple orchards by number. They produce about 50,000 tons of apples annually. Nearly every Golan Druze household has some connection to this business; for some it's their main or secondary source of income.
Just two weeks ago, Ilan Eshel, the head of the Israel Fruit Growers Association, said that under the current conditions there was no way to transfer the fruit and receive payment in an organized manner.