Christians in Gaza make illegal wine in defiance of Hamas

26th August, 2014 by Simon Howland

Neither the conflict with Israel or a Hamas ban are enough to stop Christians making wine in Gaza and local winemakers have come up with some original methods as a result.

Between Hamas control and conflict with Israel Palestine is not the easiest place to make wine.

Between Hamas control and conflict with Israel Palestine is not the easiest place to make wine.

Ashley Gallagher of vice.com spoke to Isa, a winemaker in the Gaza strip, about the challenges they face in order to enjoy a glass in the troubled territory.

Following Hamas taking power in Gaza in 2007 a law banning the possession of alcohol was implemented which forced the production and consumption of wine underground.

According to Isa, he and his friends have to speak in code when arranging to meet and drink wine, usually only on special occasions such as Christmas, birthdays and other important celebrations.

“I just share with trusted persons,” said Isa.

“I don’t want to get into trouble with the government,” he said, and he doesn’t share with Muslim friends for fear of who might inform Hamas.

A friend of Isa’s, Tony, claimed most Christians made wine in their homes but insisted it’s not wise to advertise especially during periods such as the latest conflict with Israel.

But despite all the difficulties involved Tony was adamant he would keep making and drinking alcohol as: “wine is simply a part of life.”

According to Gallagher Gaza is home to a tightly knit community of around 2,000 Christians of varied denominations who practice openly, attend church and their women walk in public without their heads covered.

Like many of his fellow Christians in Gaza Isa’s faith is important to him and celebrating with wine is part of that.

An Iron Age wine jug discovered in Palestine indicates a long history of winemaking in the region.

An Iron Age wine jug discovered in Palestine indicates a long history of winemaking in the region.

Winemaking in Palestine goes back to the Iron age but Isa was taught how to make wine by his father in Yemen, where wine is also illegal, before they migrated to Gaza after Hamas came to power.

To make a new batch Isa goes to the local markets and buys 265 pounds (120kg) of grapes which produces 40l of wine.

He first washes the grapes thoroughly then mashes them with his hands or uses a blender.

Then, he said: “I put them in a gallon (4.5l) [container] and cover it with a blanket and put it on the balcony for more warmth, so it can mix inside.”

The fermentation process lasts for about 40 days and about halfway through he filters the wine and then leaves it to settle.

“It’s not the best way,” admitted Tony.

“But it’s the way we know how,” he said.

He refers to the Italians who he sees as having the benefit of time to age their wines, a luxury they don’t have in Gaza as they have to drink it as soon as they can for fear of being caught.

And as for the wine, Isa says it’s good for his health and, rather than drink to get drunk he enjoys drinking during wartime and while in the company of friends.

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