This originally appeared at MondoWeiss.com and is reprinted with the author’s permission.
This is what normalization looks like.
The website of the Golan Heights Winery is an impressive piece of marketing: slick, well-designed, easy to navigate with bucolic images of wine cultivation and consumption that recall the aesthetics of an aspirational Instagram account.
The winery comes across as a modern, "woke" company attuned to liberal values and attitudes. The term "virtue signaling" has been adopted with some enthusiasm by the right. It might easily be applied to the "Sustainability and Social Responsibility" section of the Golan Heights Winery’s website. The company makes much of its green credentials and its support for the "local community."
The site also has a page detailing the distributors of the winery’s products and now, there is a significant new addition. The Dubai-based company African & Eastern ("one of the largest importers of alcohol in the Gulf" according to Haaretz) appears at the end of a list of agents ranging from Brazil to China. In the wake of the Abraham Accords and the news that wines from the Golan Heights are now to be made available in the UAE, a potentially lucrative new market has opened up. Future Israeli tourists in Dubai – provided they are over 21 and have procured a liquor license – will be able to get their fix of "Israeli" wine and boast of its quality to new-found friends. These are the benefits of Netanyahu’s particular brand of peace.
What Netanyahu’s ally Trump always instinctively knew was that he could achieve his own version of the traditional peace treaty at little cost. This version has all the attendant kudos and the symbolic White House handshakes of a genuine treaty, but it is essentially a trade arrangement, a deal imposed from above by the business classes.
In the Golan they understand this. The Golan Heights Winery’s deal with African & Eastern is an indication that local businesses realized quickly that there was more than political symbolism to the Trump administration’s recognition of Israeli sovereignty in 2019. It turns out that Trump and Netanyahu have left a genuine legacy in the Golan, and not just in the form of the recently established vanity settlement of Trump Heights (currently taking the form of a neglected signpost in a field). Settlers always knew that even in the event of a Biden victory, recognition of the Golan was never going to be reversed. It is the new normal, further legitimatizing international trade for settlement businesses.
The Golan Heights Winery is based in Katzrin, the "capital" of the Golan, and is, according to Wikipedia, "built on the site of an agricultural village…from the Mishnaic period." This detail represents a highly selective reading of history. Katzrin and the winery are the beneficiaries of normalization in the era of Trump. They are also, it needs recalling, beneficiaries of specific military orders (numbers 58, 20 and 21) issued in the aftermath of the conquest in 1967. These orders prevented the return of Syrian villagers who fled or were driven out, and then enabled the expropriation and redistribution of land and property. According to the De-Colonizer research group, Katzrin occupies the land of Shqeif, Fakurah and Qisrin. It is worth repeating the facts about the Golan. In 1967, according to the local human rights organization Al-Marsad, there were over 140,000 Syrian citizens. Out of more than 340 farms and villages all but 5 were destroyed after the conquest and their residents were prevented from returning. There are now over 34 Israeli settlements and over 26,000 settlers in the Golan Heights.
The winery’s website is a product of the normalization of the ongoing occupation of Syrian land. Language has always been a key battleground in colonial struggles, but technology has transformed the landscape. It is the wine industry websites, TripAdvisor and the social media accounts of local entrepreneurs that present the image of the Golan Heights to the world. The casual Google search is not going to reveal anything of the detailed reality of the occupation or the colonial backstory of the Golan Heights Winery.
Amidst the current wave of activism, we hear little about the occupation of the West Bank and the condition of Gaza. The silence on those issues is worrying enough but the continued occupation of the Golan Heights no longer even registers. There has long been a consensus that the settlers of the Golan are to be seen in a different light to those of the West Bank and attention has turned elsewhere. Organizations like Zochrot have mapped in impressive detail the lost villages of the Nakba, but the depopulated Golan villages have not been recorded in a comparable way. It is left to the likes of independent local groups like Al-Marsad to raise awareness and to monitor the ongoing effects of occupation and settlement, including the economic exploitation of land.
The recently updated Golan Heights Winery website is symbolic of the company’s success, and therefore that of the occupation. It is also symptomatic of a willful forgetting on the part of the left. It was withthe acquiescence of the majority in Israel that normalization began, well before the era of Trump and Netanyahu. Trump’s specific legacy is one of perceived legitimacy for the occupation and expanded markets for settlement businesses. The eco-friendly, hipster face of Israeli colonialism in the Golan is a slick, tech-savvy presentation available on a range of social media platforms representing businesses across the area. It erases the memory of conquest and occupation and reflects a kind of hedonistic complacency that allows us to wave black flags in Balfour before going home to enjoy a glass of Yarden Cabinet Sauvignon – the bounty of a forgotten occupation. Now available in Dubai.
Anthony Fulton is a blogger and activist based in Israel/Palestine. He taught in colleges in the UK for over twenty years and is now a member of a kibbutz in the Upper Galilee.