May 23, 2019
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The price of preserving Palestine's past in Israel

 Nemi Ashkar poses in his winery in Kafr Yasif, Israel on May 14, 2019. EFE/ Laura Fernández Palomo

Nemi Ashkar poses in his winery in Kafr Yasif, Israel on May 14, 2019. EFE/ Laura Fernández Palomo

By Laura Fernández Palomo

Kafr Yasir (Israel), May 14 (efe-epa).- It pains Nemi Ashkar, a Palestinian, to have to pay Israelis for grapes grown on land once cultivated by his family but, for him, it is one way to keep the legacy of his now-destroyed hometown of Iqrit alive.

Israeli forces destroyed Iqrit, a Palestinian Christian town, in 1951 just two years after the creation of the modern State of Israel. They left behind a church and a cemetery, which now features on the labels of Ashkar's wine, which he produces from his winery in Kafr Yasif, an Arab town where a number of Iqrit's refugees settled.

Ashkar, a member of the second generation of the displaced community, has also added an image of his grandparent's house to the design for his wine, which he named after the village.

"At Christmas Eve 1951, the army demolished the village of Iqrit, except the church and the cemetery. The people became refugees in their own lands," he told Efe in an interview. "We are temporarily here because everybody from our community, my kids, my brothers, believes that one day we will return to our village."

"Unfortunately, now, we are only returning when we are dying," he added.

Ashkar, who produces up to nine varieties of wine, is one of just three Arab wine-makers in the region compared to the roughly 300 Jewish-Israeli-run wineries he competes with.

Although he finds himself working from home in Kafr Yasif, Ashkar has found a way to incorporate grapes from Iqrit into his production after he discovered that Jewish settlers who now own the land around the village were themselves growing grapes.

"I saw that there were grapes and vineyards, so I asked who was planting these and they told me it was one of the settlements. The government gave this land to one of the people from a nearby settlement," he said.

"So, I came to him and I asked if he wants to cooperate with us. He agreed because, at the end of the day, he's planting for commercial purposes. So, we are buying the grapes from Iqrit and we are making the wine in this place, our winery," he added.

According to Ashkar, Iqrit's story began six months after David Ben-Gurion, Israel's first prime minister, proclaimed the Israeli declaration of Independence on May 14, 1948, when Jewish forces expelled villagers with the promise that they would return in two weeks.

They never did return.

Israel's Supreme Court ruled in favor of Iqrit residents' right to return in 1951 but the Israel Defense Forces destroyed it nonetheless.

Now, the dead are allowed to be buried in the cemetery but Israeli authorities confiscate all attempts of Palestinian cultivation on the land.

The village, therefore, fell to the massive Palestinian exodus that took place after the creation of the State of Israel, which to Palestinians is known as "Nakba" ("disaster").

Around 700,000 Palestinians were displaced at the time.

Every year displaced Iqrit residents organize summer camps in the village so that future generations can learn about the legacy of the place their predecessors once called home.

The community still uses St. Mary's church in the village for ceremonies at Christmas time and Easter.

Ashkar, who produces up to 18,000 bottles of wine a year, insists that his stay in Kafr Yasif is temporary.

"We live in the hope that we will return and we are not stopping to struggle and fight everywhere in the Knesset (parliament), by lobbying the government and also by legal procedures," Ashkar said.

"So, Iqrit is living in us," he added.EFE-EPA

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