Grape Festival Flourishes in West Bank

On Thursday, Palestinians in the West Bank town of Al Khalil held their annual grape festival. The event, which took place at Hebron, aims to boost economic activity in the city, which has seen a steady decline of Palestinian residents and shop owners in recent years due to the influx of Jewish settlers in the old walled city. Sahar Sharawi, festival organizer said, "Al Khalil is famous for grapes. According to the agriculture department in Hebron, grape growing statistics for 2011 is around 43,000 square meters. The expected grape production for this year is 35,000 tonnes, which means each 1,000 square meter produces around 1 tonne." Although the Palestinian territories are well-known for the quality of their agricultural produce, its grape yards surrounding the town are some of the oldest in the world. Al Khalil's grape crop is the second largest in the West Bank after olives, and this season 35,000 tonnes were produced. Mohammed Juwihan is a Palestinian farmer who specializes in organic grape products-- raisins, jams, syrups and 'malban' which is a traditional sweet. Like most Palestinian farmers, he faces many difficulties as a result of the continued Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israeli checkpoints restrict the movement of Palestinians in and out of, and within the Occupied Palestinian Territories, limiting the ability of farmers to sell their products beyond local markets, while illegal Jewish settlements continue to expand. Ahmad Al Kwasmeh, Member of Chamber of Commerce in Hebron said, "Taking care of the Palestinian farmer is like taking care of 30-40 percent of Palestinian citizens in general. Agriculture is a major sector which we should support and find solutions for exports (the production). We are known for crops, especially grapes, so we should help the farmers by preventing products from Israeli settlements from entering (the market) and we ask everyone to always stand by the Palestinian farmer." Al Khalil is one of the largest districts in the territories, boasting a population of 600,000. Around 800 Jewish settlers live among 30,000 Palestinians in the parts of the ancient city that are under Israeli control. Forty percent of the Palestinian economy depends on Al Khalil, with its shoe, leather industry and grape production. Speakers: Sahar Sharawi, festival organizer Ahmad Al Kwasmeh, Member of Chamber of Commerce in Hebron Voices: Mustapha Ajbaili Noora Faraj By: Ikram Al Yacoub Al Arabiya with Agencies

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