On Thursday evening the BBC broadcast Louis Theroux and the Ultra Zionists, a documentary about Israeli settlers in the West Bank. Theroux is always worth a watch, although there are few surprises this time: the settlers come across for the most part as passive-aggressive (or just plain belligerent) and self-righteous, citing their divine “chosenness” by God as the reason for their presence in East Jerusalem and the Occupied Territories. Theroux spends some time with Daniel Luria of Ateret Cohanim – an organisation which has featured on this blog previously - and they make a trip into Silwan, an area I blogged on here.
Of particular interest was a segment filmed at the Mount Blessing winery at Har Bracha (the location wasn’t named in the programme). Here, American evangelicals arrive by coach to work for free for a month at a time, bringing in the wine harvest. They explain their reasons for coming; according to one volunteer, Martin from Denver:
This is a labour of love for the nation of Israel and for the people here, to see that they prosper in the West Bank and help them fulfil the prophetic calling that’s on this land.
A second volunteer explains further:
It’s about acting out the love that we have. The bible talks about not just loving in word but also in deed and in actions. And so when you pick a vine and a cluster of grapes and you get to hold them in your hands, it’s like, it’s like you’re part of prophecy, you’re part of scripture. You’re part of the promises that God has made.
A third – a young man – expresses a wish to join the IDF:
They’re the chosen people, you know… it’s kind of something I’m coming into, just with the revelation you get being here. It’s good stuff.
The vineyard’s owner, Nir Lavi, explains that the Christians can bring the grapes to the factory, but are not allowed inside, since the process of wine-making has to be kept kosher. Lavi agrees that for the Christians, their wish to “serve” him is spiritual (“through this they are redeeming themselves”), but that they have less understanding the politics (“they don’t come on the political side”). Some photos taken around the same time as the programme was made can be seen here.
The programme does not mention which group organised the Christians’ involvement, although a New York Times article from July has the background:
Various strains of American pro-settlement activity come together in Har Bracha… Nearby, a winery was built with volunteer help from HaYovel ministries, which brings large groups of volunteers to prune and harvest. Mr. Ha’Ivri’s charity promotes the program.
The winery’s owner, Nir Lavi, says his land is state-sanctioned. But officials in the neighboring Palestinian village of Iraq Burin say part of the vineyard was planted on ground taken from their residents in a parcel-by-parcel land grab.
Such disputes are typical for the area, as are the opposing accounts of what happened that February day when HaYovel’s leader, Tommy Waller, and his volunteers say they came under attack and the shepherd was shot.
“They came up screaming, slinging their rock-slings like David going after a giant,” Mr. Waller said. A Har Bracha security guard came to the rescue by shooting in the air, not aiming for the attackers, he added.
…In the last year, he said, he brought 130 volunteers here. This coming year, he said, he expects as many as 400.
The HaYovel website is here.* “Mr. Ha’Ivri” is David Ha’Ivri, who is regularly puffed by WorldNetDaily, and the NY Times notes his Kahanist background. The charity discussed in the article is Shuva Israel; according to its website, Ha’Ivri is now on the board of advisers, alongside a number of Christian Zionist figures.
Last week I noted how an evangelical television station was supporting the creation of a forest on the site of a Bedouin village which the Israeli authorities have deemed to be illegal, and in 2008 I blogged a BBC documentary about a Christian Zionist coach tour to Israel.
*UPDATE: Based on a cursory browse, I originally incorrectly identified this site as belonging to Waller. Apologies for the error.
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