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'We have different perceptions of reality'

Brothers raised in the West Bank share a view, but not a point of view

Peace activist debates Israel’s role in the area with his brother, owner of winery that named bottle after Pompeo in salute to Trump administration’s approach to settlements

The Berg brothers, Yaakov, 44 (R) and Yonatan Berg, 39, debate at the Psagot Winery, owned by Yaakov, in the industrial park of Sha'ar Binyamin near the Psagot settlement where they grew up, in the West Bank on December 12, 2020 (Emmanuel DUNAND / AFP)
The Berg brothers, Yaakov, 44 (R) and Yonatan Berg, 39, debate at the Psagot Winery, owned by Yaakov, in the industrial park of Sha'ar Binyamin near the Psagot settlement where they grew up, in the West Bank on December 12, 2020 (Emmanuel DUNAND / AFP)

PSAGOT WINERY, West Bank (AFP) — They shared a childhood in a West Bank Jewish settlement, but as adults Yaakov and Yonatan Berg have developed radically different views.

The brothers were raised in the settlement of Psagot, which like all Jewish communities in the West Bank is widely regarded as illegal under international law though Israel disputes this characterization and the US no longer accepts it.

Yaakov, 44, has become a prominent public defender of the rights of Israelis to live in the territory — the biblical Judea and Samaria — that Israel has retained since capturing it from Jordan in the Six-Day War of 1967.

Yonatan, 39, is an activist and writer who publicly denounces Israel’s position on the matter of the West Bank and campaigns for peace with the Palestinians.

The Berg brothers, Yaakov, 44 (R) and Yonatan Berg, 39, at the Psagot Winery, owned by Yaakov, in the industrial park of Sha’ar Binyamin near the Psagot settlement where they grew up, in the West Bank on December 12, 2020 (Emmanuel DUNAND / AFP)

The brothers spoke to AFP as they met to celebrate the publication of the French edition of Yonatan’s memoir, “Leaving Psagot.”

The dedication in Yonatan’s book summarizes the core tension in their relationship.

“To my brother, with whom I share the same view, but not the same point of view,” it reads.

Pompeo wine

Yaakov’s prominence as a settler advocate hit a new peak last month when he hosted US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at his Psagot Winery.

Watchdogs say the winery near Ramallah, which has a stunning panoramic view overlooking the Palestinian village of Mukhmas, was built on land stolen incrementally from Palestinians.

US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman (L) and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (2nd L) during a visit to the Psagot Winery in the West Bank, on November 19, 2020. (State Department/Twitter)

Pompeo’s controversial trip made headlines because it marked the first visit to a Jewish settlement in the West Bank by a top US diplomat.

Yaakov, a staunch supporter of US President Donald Trump, reiterated his insistence that Jews have not “stolen” Palestinian land.

“We are not illegal occupiers,” Yaakov said.

“Pompeo told the truth when he came here. The Jewish people have an ancestral link to this land. Saying it is illegally occupied makes no sense.”

After Pompeo declared last year that Washington no longer necessarily regarded settlements as illegal, Yaakov named a wine in his honor, presenting the blended red to him during last month’s visit.

‘Different perceptions of reality’

Shortly after the Pompeo event, Yonatan visited his brother.

The writer, who has long curly hair tied in a ponytail, moved to the West Bank when he was four. He left in his early 20s, after completing his mandatory military service.

“Leaving Psagot” is both a personal narrative about his drift away from his family’s religiosity and pro-settler ideology as well as a critique of the situation.

Yonatan does not challenge Yaakov’s assertion that Jews have ties to the land dating back millennia.

Wine labels marked with ‘#madeinlegality’ and named after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo await to be put on a bottle at Israeli winemaker Yaakov Berg’s Psagot Winery, in the Sha’ar Binyamin industrial near the Psagot settlement in the West Bank, north of Jerusalem, on November 18, 2020. (Emmanuel DUNAND / AFP)

“I agree with you when you talk about the deep connection between the Jewish people and this land,” he said.

But he insisted that ancient land claims aside, all West Bank residents must be treated equally, “which is not the case,” he said.

In his book, Yonatan recalls how Palestinian youths used to throw stones at his school bus on its way into Jerusalem.

He recounts how one day he and his classmates decided to throw stones back, and fantasizes about a stone flying over Ramallah then hovering over the land where his family lived, “like a comet in search of somewhere to land.”

Yaakov counters that he does not remember events as his brother describes them, but concedes that “Leaving Psagot” has given him cause for introspection.

Yaakov maintains that he has “excellent relations” with some of his Palestinian neighbors and employs many through his winery, which pays higher wages than most Palestinian-owned businesses in the West Bank.

He accuses peace activists of seeking to divide Palestinians and Israelis, not unite them.

Yonatan countered: “We have different perceptions of reality.”

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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