For maker of West Bank ‘Pompeo’ wine, emphasizing product’s legitimacy is key

AFP — Winemaker Yaakov Berg captured attention by naming his red blend after US Secretary Mike Pompeo, but he said the tag on the label’s top right corner — #madeinlegality — is as important as the name.

Berg’s immaculately appointed Psagot Winery sits on a hilltop in the West Bank, with a stunning panoramic view overlooking the Palestinian village of Mukhmas.

For much of the international community, the winery is located in Palestinian territory illegally held by the Jewish settlers.

Pompeo went to the winery on Thursday, becoming the first top American diplomat to visit a West Bank settlement on a tour that has outraged the Palestinians.

Berg spoke to AFP the day before Pompeo’s visit, as his staff organized flowers, set tables in the restaurant and decorated the cobblestoned property with US and Israeli flags.

Berg exports his products to Europe and has waged an unsuccessful legal campaign against guidelines on labeling products identifying their origin as territories occupied by Israel.

When Pompeo announced last year that US President Donald Trump’s staunchly pro-Israeli administration no longer considered Jewish settlements in the West Bank illegal, Berg saw it as a historic announcement that would entrench the US envoy “in the history of the Jewish people.”

Pompeo’s support will ensure he is remembered by Jews “100 years from now,” Berg said.

“I felt like we need to honor him, to thank him, to really show some appreciation,” Berg said about the decision to name a wine after him.

Wine labels named after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo await to be put on a bottle at Israeli winemaker Yaakov Berg’s Psagot Winery, in the industrial park of Sha’ar Binyamin near the Psagot settlement in the West Bank, on November 18, 2020 (Photo by Emmanuel DUNAND / AFP)

For Berg, the #madeinlegality label affixed to his Pompeo blend is not a branding gimmick but a statement about “morality.”

“We are not thieves. We didn’t [steal] this land,” he told AFP, categorically rejecting the notion that his winery is on land where Israelis do not belong.

‘Plundered soil’

According to the Peace Now organization, the Psagot Winery is on “stolen land,” taken incrementally from the Palestinians who owned it.

“A significant portion of the grapes from which the wine is made come from plundered soil,” Peace Now said.

It called Pompeo’s visit “a last pathetic attempt to undermine the prospects for peace by normalizing the settlements.”

President-elect Joe Biden has said his administration will restore US opposition to settlements.

An Israeli Air Force Blackhawk helicopter carrying US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo hovers over Sha’ar Binyamin industrial park near the Psagot settlement in the West Bank, north of Jerusalem, on November 19, 2020. (Ahmad GHARABLI/AFP)

Berg, like Pompeo, was not prepared to acknowledge Trump’s election defeat.

“We have been hoping that he will be elected to a second [term],” he said. “Let’s wait and see.”

But, asked about the prospects of renewed US hostility to settlements under Biden, Berg argued that from his perspective, Trump’s approach had clearly worked.

“We have peace, we have quiet,” he said. “We have our Palestinian neighbors and we believe we can live together.”

Berg insisted that any peace process that relies on Jews leaving Judea and Samaria, the term many Israelis use for the West Bank, is doomed to fail.

“We are here forever,” he said. “We have been praying to come back to Israel and specifically to here for 2,000 years… We didn’t conquer. We just came to our homeland.”

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