Thursday, May 15, 2008

Lower Galilee

Tuesday we took a tour of lower Galilee with our shool's social group. We drove from Netanya by way of Hadera, Zichron Yaakov and Yokneam. This area was largely bought in the 1890s by Joshua (Yehoshua) Hankin from a rich absent landlord named Sursuk in Beirut. The land was mainly swamp and considered to be worthless, but nevertheless to reclaim this crucial area for the Jewish people Hankin paid 400,000 pound sterling, a princely sum in those days. The Jews struggled against malaria and many setbacks. Up to 50% of the settlers died, but eventually it became one of the most fertile areas in Israel. This history makes nonsense of the claims by enemies of Israel that the Jews have no rights to this country! To the south of the road is a settlement named Kfar Yehoshua in Hankin's honor.
On a hill to the north of the road is a statue of a man on a horse, this was Alexander Zaid, who was the organizer of the first Watchmen or Hashomer groups in the area. From 1921 he protected the Jewish settlements until the Arab riots of 1929, when he was killed in an ambush (later his killers were murdered by Jews). After climbing through the hills of eastern lower Galilee we passed several Jewish villages, such as Hanaton which is supported by the Conservative movement in the US and Moreshet which is Orthodox, and arrived to the Arab village of Kaukab, which means star in Arabic (kochav in Hebrew). We would never have found this place without an experienced guide, and we drove through the narrow streets of this Arab village in a large bus. But, the guide explained that this village is a Druse one, and every family has at least one member in the IDF, so it is safe. This is because the Druse are a military sect and regard it as necessary for their men to be in an armed force. They are loyal to Israel because the Muslims are their enemies, considering them to be heretical. There is a scenic overlook there called Mitzpe Kochav that gives a magnificent view of the lower Galilee all the way to Haifa, although the haze (pollution) prevented us from seeing the Mediterranean Sea.
Each village in the area has its own character and history. But, everywhere there are large mansions, some in the process of being built, which house all the generations of an extended family, and testify to the affluence of the area. Nearby Arab villages are Muslim and oppose Israel. One of them contains one tribe that emigrated there from Medina ca. 200 years ago. Of the 1.2 million Arabs living in Israel, about 900,000 of them live in lower Galilee, with only ca. 90,000 Jews in the area. The Arabs live mainly in the city of Nazareth and the towns of Sakhnin (45,000 inhabitants), Arrabe (25,000), Kfar Manda (10,000) and Shfaram. We visited two Moshavim in the area, Manof, where there is a beautiful small modern industrial park, with computer companies, and Shchenia with a small manufacturing area, where we met an entrepreneur who is making special soaps and cosmetics.
From there we drove to another moshav Avtalion which has the only Jewish-owned modern olive press in the area. It turns out that the main industry in lower Galilee is olive oil production, and this is totally controlled by the Arabs, who plant olive trees all over the area. In their culture it is considered that wherever a man plants an olive tree the land belongs to him 5 years later, so they claim large tracts of land that are owned by the State of Israel, but which cannot be retrieved without violence. Also, during the initfada that gripped the Palestinian areas in 2000, the nearby town of Arrabe erupted in violence and a crowd of ca. 5,000 young men from there converged on the crossroads leading to the Jewish settlements and would have destroyed them and killed their inhabitants. Luckily a small contingent of Israeli police, although outnumbered, managed to hold them off with live ammunition. Four Arab youths were killed, and when we drove thru Arrabe we saw two of them memorialized as martyrs. However, for the moment all is quiet there, since the moderate leaders of the town signed a truce with the extremists.
We stopped for lunch in an authentic Lebanese restaurant, called the "Twins of Lebanon." The story behind this place is that an Israeli officer in the IDF in south Lebanon in 1982, was told by a local that the best food was cooked by a pair of old ladies, twins, who lived alone. He visited them and they cooked him a meal and when he asked why they never married they confided in him it was because they were Jewish. So he helped them to move to Israel and set up this restaurant, and although they are now dead, the restaurant still retains their name and their recipes.
It should be poined out that what are now Arab towns were mentioned by Josephus and the Talmud as Jewish villages, for example Shfaram. Its amazing how the names have been retained. Also, some of the Muslims living in the area retain what for them is strange customs, such as lighting candles, that indicates that their ancestors were converted from Judaism centuries ago.
Finally we drove through the Jewish town of Carmiel (27,000 inhabitants) and then up to the height of Kamon, which is the highest point in the area at 2,000 feet and gives a magnificent view of the whole of lower Galilee.


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