Enter the words “Hebron Grape Festival” into the Google images search engine. What will one see? Farmers, the elderly, and young adults holding bundles of grape and smiling for the camera. The map and flag of Palestine made of different kinds of grapes. A depiction of the late Palestinian president Yasser Arafat using grapes. The Dome of the Rock model made of grapes. Balloons and round, glass structures from the glass and ceramic factories of Hebron in the shape of grape bundles. And the image that seems to make it on social media every year of a one-and-a-half meter long grape bundle made of real grapes hanging from a podium displayed at the Festival in 2015. These are just a few of the photographs that are outstanding for their creativity as one skims through Google images. The simplicity and similarities of each year’s Annual Grape Festival in Palestine are represented through these pictures. This year marks the festival’s fifteenth year.
However, behind this festival and the photographs is a history of land and culture. It is not uncommon to notice that outside of each home in Palestine, there exist olive trees -sometimes even acres of olive groves- and grape vineyards, which account for the first and second most abundant crops in Palestine, respectively. In more areas than others, depending on the climate and soil, one of the two is most profuse. In Hebron, or Al-Khalil, that is grapes.
Before being welcomed by Hebron’s famous glass and ceramic factories, the random Israeli roadblocks, the disturbing quietness of the Old City, and the split of the Ibrahimi Mosque, travelers are welcomed by acres and acres of grape vineyards…by the land that the people of Palestine have long endured a connection with. Hebron, which is located about thirty kilometers away from the city of Jerusalem, is abundant with these vineyards that acts as the chief source of income for more than seven thousand and five hundred families in the district. Aside from written street signs signaling that travelers have reached Hebron, these acres of grape vineyards are the first indication from the land suggesting that travelers have arrived in Hebron.
To this day, crop harvests, such as the harvest of olives and grapes, in Palestine remain a contributing factor to food security and the Palestinian economy. Over twenty-five thousand tons of grapes are produced annually. Part of this produce is sold as ripe grape bundles, and the rest is used to produce grape-based products, such a dibes and malban. These sales account for a total of $35 million per year, according to the Palestine Economy Portal report in 2015.
On September 21st, the Annual Grape Festival commenced in Nablus, another historic Palestinian city over seventy-five kilometers away from Hebron. This year’s festival is held in Nablus, Ramallah and near the Old City of Hebron for the first time, as opposed to previous years where the location of the festival was in Halhoul, the largest producer of grapes in Hebron. The purpose of the festival is to support and promote Palestinian farmers and agriculture. The support of Palestinian farmers is crucial, as harvesting costs have escalated over the years, and the growing and harvesting of grapes are threatened by the Israeli occupation’s confiscation of land as well as some restrictions on exporting of Palestinian goods to neighboring countries. The festival is also a means to celebrate Palestinian culture. Previous festivals have had booths selling Palestinian cultural attire, known as tatreez, as well as stages for folklore dance performances.
An interesting fact about the grapes of Hebron is that different villages and towns in Hebron produce different kinds of grape. Jandali, Bairouti, Zeini, and Halawani are among the varieties of grape that are harvested from Hebron. Another intriguing point is that about forty percent of the harvested grapes are consumed in Hebron alone, and the rest is distributed to the rest of the West Bank and Gaza and surrounding countries. The grape vines also produce over edible grape leaves.
Palestinian food festivals, such as the Annual Grape Festival, are not only to promote and support the product and workers of the specific season, but they serve as an act of resilience towards what Palestinians face on a day to day basis. While strolling through the stillness of the Old City, be sure to admire the balconies of the homes that are covered in grapes and grape leaves!