How Plague, Climate Change, and Economic Collapse Destroyed the Negev’s Booming Winemaking Industry

July 29 2020

Nowadays, most Israeli wine is produced in the northern areas of the country, but in the first centuries of the Common Era the Negev desert was famous for its viticulture. By the 7th century, however, this ceased to be the case. Archaeologists and paleobotanists examining seeds found in ancient Negev trash dumps believe they have discovered why, writes Amanda Borschel-Dan:

Byzantine-era texts laud the vinum Gazetum or “Gaza wine.” The sweet white wine, [produced in the Negev], was exported from the port of Gaza throughout the Mediterranean and beyond, usually in amphorae known as Gaza jars. The Gaza jars were found in large quantities in the Negev trash pits.

Contributing factors to the [decline of Negev wine production] included the Late Antique Little Ice Age, a bizarre widespread climate anomaly that began with a series of massive volcanic eruptions in the 530s and 540s CE, and the Justinian plague of 541-549.

Daniel Fuks, [the lead author of the recent study], believes that one of the main forces causing the decline [was] the decreasing demand for imported wine in a world beset by plague—conservative estimates figure some 20 percent of population centers were killed off—and resultant economic depression even while . . . still being heavily taxed by emperor Justinian.

The Negev settlements had . . . an export-based industry and became more and more reliant on markets. When demand dried up . . . these farther-flung locations would have been the first to be affected. Even if trade continued in Gaza, the Negev settlements are farther away from the port and would require a higher price for their products to make the journey worth the traders’ while.

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Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Ancient Israel, Archaeology, Byzantine Empire, Climate Change, Economics, Negev, Plague

Will Tensions Rise between the U.S. and Israel?

Unlike his past many predecessors, President Joe Biden does not have a plan for solving the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Moreover, his administration has indicated its skepticism about renewing the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. John Bolton nevertheless believes that there could be a collision between the new Benjamin Netanyahu-led Israeli government and the Biden White House:

In possibly his last term, Netanyahu’s top national-security priority will be ending, not simply managing, Iran’s threat. This is infinitely distant from Biden’s Iran policy, which venerates Barrack Obama’s inaugural address: “we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.”

Tehran’s fist is today otherwise occupied, pummeling its own people. Still, it will continue menacing Israel and America unless and until the internal resistance finds ways to fracture the senior levels of Iran’s regular military and the Revolutionary Guards. Netanyahu undoubtedly sees Iran’s growing domestic turmoil as an opportunity for regime change, which Israel and others can facilitate. Simultaneously, Jerusalem can be preparing its military and intelligence services to attack Tehran’s nuclear program, something the White House simply refuses to contemplate seriously. Biden’s obsession with reviving the disastrous 2015 nuclear deal utterly blinds the White House to the potential for a more significant victory.

To make matters worse, Biden has just created a Washington-based position at the State Department, a “special representative for Palestinian affairs,” that has already drawn criticism in Israel both for the new position itself and for the person named to fill it. Advocated as one more step toward “upgrading” U.S. relations with the Palestinian Authority, the new position looks nearly certain to become the locus not of advancing American interests regarding the failed Authority, but of advancing the Authority’s interests within the Biden administration.

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Read more at 19FortyFive

More about: Benjamin Netanyahu, Iran, Joe Biden, U.S.-Israel relationship