Export of Golan Apples to Syria: 'Doing Business With an Enemy State'

In recent weeks some 8,000 tons of apples will be transported from the orchards of Druze villages into Syria.

It was bone-chillingly cold Tuesday at Quneitra crossing in the Golan Heights, but for workers transporting apples from Israeli to Syria it was just another day at the office.

Five years after a deal was struck for the export of apples from Druze communities in the Golan to Syria, the project has all but become routine to those involved. But as the head of the Agriculture Ministry's Galilee and Golan division, Amir Antler, likes to remind people, "We're actually doing business with an enemy state."

In recent weeks some 8,000 tons of apples (one-fifth of the total Golan harvest) will be transported from the orchards of the Druze villages of Majdal Shams, Masadeh and Bukata into Syria.

"This is a humanitarian activity that aids the agricultural economy of the Druze," Yael Segev-Eitan, spokeswoman of the International Committee of the Red Cross, which mediates between the two countries on the project, said. "This year both sides had a vested interest in seeing the project come to fruition. We hope this will create the right atmosphere for putting other humanitarian issues on the table," she said.

The project was launched not only to aid Druze farmers but also to boost Israel's apple growers by removing excess supply from the market maintaining retail prices.

In the eyes of the Druze farmers, thanks are due to one side alone for buying their produce - the government in Damascus.

"This is humanitarian aid from Syria to the people of the Golan Heights. They are helping us distribute our apples so that the prices aren't too low. Hundreds of thousands of apples are grown in Syria - they could survive without our fruit," one Druze grower said.

"If we hadn't been able to sell these apples to Syria the price would have fallen. They are definitely helping us," Sa'id Farhat of the Druze growers' committee said. He said that about 70 percent of Golan Druze support themselves from farming, some as a primary occupation and others to supplement their income.