“Churches in the Holy Land and in Europe are facing a Christmas without their preferred Cremisan altar wine because Israeli soldiers are refusing to allow trucks transporting the wine from Bethlehem to enter Israel. Middle East Online reports the wine is made by the Salesians of Don Bosco, at the Cremisan winery in Beit Jala, a suburb of Bethlehem. The Salesians have been producing the wine for the past 125 years as a direct means of support for their pastoral and educational work among the poor of Bethlehem and to provide a livelihood for many local Palestinian families.
Now, for the first time in more than 100 years, the churches and religious establishments in Jerusalem, Nazareth and other parts of Israel are being deprived of Cremisan wine, Middle East Online says.
Christian hotels and pilgrim houses in Israel are now being forced to buy Israeli wine. Because wines for export are shipped through the Israeli port of Haifa, no export to the UK and Europe has been possible for several months. Christians in the Holy Land and abroad buy the wine not just for its quality but because its purchase assists the economy of Bethlehem, which has been devastated by the drop in pilgrim numbers as result of the political troubles in recent years.
Cremisan began to export to the UK in 2006 through a not-for-profit company, 5th Gospel Retreats, and to Germany through Cremisan Germany. The majority of sales are of altar wine which is a pure, unadulterated wine certified for celebration of the Mass by the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem. It is sold principally by mail order and delivered in the UK to an increasing number of churches and religious establishments.
This is the latest obstacle in a series of increasing difficulties faced by the winery this year. Supplies of glass bottles have been held up as well as several truckloads of freshly harvested grapes, thus rendering them useless for wine production. All lorries and vans to and from Cremisan have been forced to travel south to the checkpoint at Hebron, such that a journey to Jerusalem of 10 minutes has become a journey of at least 6 hours, including waiting at the checkpoint followed by security checks, with no certainty as to whether permission to pass would be granted.
During 2008 the path of the Israeli Separation Wall was extended to include the Cremisan vineyards. Once completed, the wall will sever Cremisan from the Bethlehem villages where all the workers live, allowing entry to the winery only through a new checkpoint. The Salesians are currently negotiating for their staff to be allowed permits to work so that they do not lose their livelihoods and the winery will not lose its skilled workforce.
There is now no Cremisan altar wine available for UK churches, including both Catholic and Anglican parishes. In October Fr Franco Ronzani, Rector and Director of Cremisan, sent a letter of explanation and thanks to the UK clergy for their continued support, expecting the shipments to be made in November. When the news finally came through two weeks ago that the wine was not being allowed through the checkpoint, 5th Gospel Retreats immediately informed the clergy why their wine would not arrive as promised in time for Christmas. The response from the clergy was one of sadness and concern at the treatment of the Salesians and their wine. They are asking 5th Gospel retreats to make representations to the Israeli Embassy and the British Government, as well as to the authorities of the Catholic and Anglican Churches in both the UK and Jerusalem”.
* austraLasia #2302