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Syria: Golan apples boost local economy and bring hope to farmers

12-04-2011 Feature

Syrian farmers in the occupied Golan are currently shipping 12,000 tonnes of apples to Syria proper, en route to local, regional and international markets. The apple operation allows families in the Golan to maintain links with their friends and relatives elsewhere in Syria, as well as increasing the farmers’ revenue. The ICRC transports the apples into Syria proper via the Kuneitra crossing, acting in its role of neutral intermediary.

Spring has arrived in the Golan and the winter rains have given the countryside a touch of vibrant green. From a distance, the spectacular landscape looks calm.

Bassam Abu Awad is a farmer from the village of Bokaatha, one of five Syrian communities in the occupied Golan. His orchards cover almost 6 hectares, and the ICRC will be transporting 150 tonnes of his apples. “My family has grown apples on this land since I was a child. My father taught me everything I know about apple farming. Getting the fruit into the rest of Syria helps us maintain close ties with our relatives on the other side and gives us back a sense of identity," he explains.

Many people in the Syrian villages of the occupied Golan are farmers, and the majority of them grow apples. Before the ICRC started transferring their produce five years ago, apple prices on the local market were low and farmers were left with large surpluses. "It’s difficult for us to compete on the Israeli market, " adds Bassam. "We’ve greatly benefited from selling the fruit in Syria proper over the last five years. I’m deeply grateful to the ICRC for this.”

As soon as the ICRC trucks arrive on the other side of the 500-metre demilitarized zone, the apples are transferred to other trucks for their onward journey to temperature-controlled warehouses. "The apples are stored in coolers to keep them fresh," says Nadir Abdallah, the general manager of the warehouse system. "We send random samples to the lab for analysis, and tests have shown Golanese apples to be some of the best in the world."

For the Syrian authorities, the apple operation is more than just an ordinary marketing operation. "We do this to support Syrian farmers in the occupied part of the Golan," says Abdallah. "It’s a patriotic and humanitarian duty."

Golanese farmers set the price for the apples and the Syrian government sells them through more than 600 wholesale and retail outlets all over the country. "Commercial considerations are secondary. What matters is that our people in the Golan recoup their costs and make a reasonable profit. We pay them the price that they themselves set."

In the Jordanian capital Amman, one major fruit and vegetable seller receives Golan apples through Syrian dealers. Golanese apples are available in greengrocers’ all over Jordan. "I’m very happy to know that the sale of the apples in Jordan benefits farmers in the Golan," says the trader. "We’re a long way from the Golan, but I still feel that we’re indirectly helping farmers and their families over there."

Back in the Golan, Bassam feels the spring on his face and hands. He is in Al-Shaa'b fruit cooling warehouse in Bokaatha where his apples are already being loaded on to ICRC trucks.

"My dream is that soon there will be no separation zone between the Golan and the rest of Syria, and I will be able to drive a truckload of apples directly to a fruit market in Damascus."