For the sixth year, Israel has authorized the export of apples grown on the Golan Heights to markets in Syria. This year's “crop,” at 12,000 tons, marks the largest amount of apples that have crossed the border at Kuneitra.
The apples are grown by Druze farmers in the Golan, many of whom have taken Israeli citizenship – but the apple story is more about taste than politics. Syrian consumers have long considered Golan apples to be delicacies, and as a result, a deal was worked out between farmers and fruit wholesalers to export the apples from Israel to Syria. This is currently the only commercial venture between the two neighbors. Israeli officials have heartily approved the deals, while Syria, bucking to consumer demand, has turned a blind eye.
Newly installed Agriculture Minister Orit Noked (Independence faction) said she hoped that business relations between Israel and Syria would improve in the future. “Apples are doing what governments have been unable to do until now,” she said.
The apples are transferred across the Kuneitra crossing from Israel into Syria via Red Cross trucks. Red Cross officials accompany the cargo into Syria, where they ensure it is distributed to the appropriate customers. The apples are packed in crates that do not identify where they were grown, in order to enable them to be easily transferred to markets in Damascus. The shipments, which began Tuesday, will continue for about 10 weeks.
While the apple export has taken place peacefully since 2005, two Druze men were convicted in Israel of spying for Syria after taking part in the apple transfer in 2006. According to the charges, the two told Syrian military officials whom they met during that year's apple transfer about IDF positions in the Golan, troop movements and unusual IDF activity. They also identified the units participating in various exercises, and passed on information regarding border security. The two were sentenced to four and three years in prison, respectively.