Saturday, July 02, 2016

The Arab Sector

According to the schedule, these next three days are called "Field Trip to the Arab Sector in Israel."

We left Jerusalem at 7:30 am to tour the "Triangle Region." This is a section of Israel that's predominantly Arab Muslim villages (no Arab Christians live in this area). While it's called the Triangle, it's more shaped like a banana.

 Our guide was Professor Elie Rekhess of Tel-Aviv University; he had also led two classes for us when we were in Brandeis.  We began in Kufr Qassem, visiting the site of a massacre of 49 Arab civilians during the '56 Sinai War.

The Arab sector of Israel was under martial law from 1948 until 1966.  When the war broke out on October 29, 1956, the Israeli army feared that Jordan might attack and the border is very close by.  The area was put under curfew, running from 5 pm to 6 am, with an order to shoot anyone out after curfew.  The commander in Kufr Qassem asked for instructions about what to do about Palestinian farmers in the fields when the curfew order was given and thus had no idea that a curfew had been imposed.  "His peace be upon them," was the response.  As the farmers returned, the troops opened fire and 49 were killed.

The news of massacre was surpressed for two months but was leaked by a member of the Israeli communist party.  Several troops were arrested and put on trial and 11 were convicted of murder.  The sentences of all involved were later reduced and then commuted, but the legal principle established by the trial was that a soldier was required to disobey an illegal order.  That same judge went to participate as one of the judges in the Eichmann trial.

 Afterwards, we met with Sheikh Safwat Freij, the Deputy Head of the Islamic Movement (Southern Branch) in Israel. I emphasize southern branch, as the northern branch was declared an illegal organization last fall.

Sheikh Freij spoke Hebrew and Dr. Rekhess translated.  It was hard to understand Freij at times because he was so soft spoken.  He made it clear that he while his movement may share roots with the Muslim Brotherhood, they were not seeking to create a caliphate or overthrow the state of Israel.  They want to remain Palestinian citizens of Israel with cultural/religious autonomy in their sector.

Then we went to Katzir, one of the only Jewish towns in the Triangle and the center of a landmark Israeli supreme court case over the right of a Palestinian Israeli family to buy there (they eventually won). 

The issue was that the State of Israel provided the land to an agency, which in turn provided it to the Jewish National Fund, which in turn built a Jewish neighborhood in the midst of an Arab area.  When the Arab family applied to live there (housing prices are a quarter of what one would pay in Tel-Aviv), they were turned down on the ground that the community was restricted to only Jews.  The Katzir precedent was a major legal milestone in Israel.

Avigdor Lieberman proposed that in a peace agreement with the Palestinians, the border should be shifted so that many of the Palestinians living in the "Triangle" would be part of a Palestinian state (this would be in exchange for the settlements staying in Israel).  As Dr. Rekhess said, "no one asked the bride."  The Israeli Palestinians who live here strongly oppose giving up their Israeli citizenship.

From there it was a short trip to Umm al-Fahm, one of the largest Palestinian cities in Israel (300,000), where we had a fantastic lunch at al-Babor.

 When the second intifada began in 2000, and 13 Israeli Palestinians were killed in protests, the road to Umm al-Fahm was closed by protestors and people stopped coming to al-Babor, one of the best restaurants in the country.

After a wonderful vegetarian mezze, we had the meat course, which included this Syrian-style kebab (the waiter is cutting open the crust on top to reveal the filling, 

and this leg of lamb that had been roasted for six hours.  They were both incredibly tasty, but they saved the best for last:


This dessert was done differently than the ones I've had in Jerusalem.  I asked if it was in the Nablus style, and the waiter said yes.  Nablus is supposed to have the best kanafeh in Palestine.  There's a soft feta cheese on the bottom that has been sweetened with honey-citrus syrup, then some fried kada'if (a kind of shredded filo dough that's been fried), and topped with crushed pistachios and some honey-citrus syrup.  It's very good.

They ended with small cups of Turkish coffee with cardamom.  I don't drink Turkish coffee but I could smell the cardamom.

The finjans where they made the Turkish coffee

After that, we drove to Barta'a, a town divided between Israel and Jordan when they drew the border line through the middle of the town in 1949.

When the separation barrier was built in the 2000s, the state decided that all the village should be on the Israeli side, though those villagers who live on the Palestinian side still have PA status.

Our conversation took place in the home of Mr. Raid Kabha, former mayor of Barta'a and the Director of the Jewish-Arab Center for Peace in Givat Haviva.  He described the history of the village this way:

In '48, Israel drew the border through the valley, not realizing it divided the village in half.  For the first several years, there was no border at all and everyone lived the same, but after 1956, they decided not to allow villagers on the Israeli side to visit those on the Jordanian side, and vice versa.  However, no force was used to prevent this.  Why didn't the villagers do anything?  1) they were afraid of the Jews; 2)  they were afraid of the Jordanians; and 3) they became a center for smuggling between Israel and Jordan and their economic situation improved significantly.

After 1967, the village became one village again.  Even though the separation barrier encloses them in Israel, the villagers on the Palestinian side are in "Zone B."  The town hosts a huge market, some 2000 shops, and as the saying goes, you can get everything from a needle to sew to a stolen tank engine.

There are problems though, since about 35% of Israeli Palestinians have married villagers from the other side.  They send their kids to the Israeli village schools, but they don't pay taxes to support it.

Even though it was Ramadan, Mr. Kabha put out refreshments for us, including some excellent grapes and dates:

After that, Professor Sammy Smooha, a leading sociologist at the University of Haifa, discussed finding a balance between Israel being a Jewish and democratic state.   This was mostly a dialogue between Smooha and Rekhess, who have worked together for nearly 40 years.  Rekhess began by quoting Ahmed Tibi:  "Israel is a Jewish democratic state.  It is Jewish for the Arabs and democratic for the Jews."

Smooha explained his concept of "ethnic democracy," and why it was possible for Israel to be Jewish and democratic.  There is a contradiction between those two elements, but it is possible to have both.  That said, he felt there should be a better balance.  As he put it, the right is satisfied with Jewish dominance of the non-Jewish minority.  The center and left want balance.  The right wing wants to redesign Israel, which had been created by the left.

The right wing, Smooha stated, feels that the Israeli Supreme Court takes the concept of democracy too seriously.  That was the argument behind the controversial "Nationality Law," which would have declared Israel to be a Jewish state.  The idea was to place Jewishness ahead of democracy.  The problem was that it still included language the court could use to maintain democratic principles.

The core of the contradiction, he continued, was in Zionism.  For Zionism, Israel must be Jewish not only in its symbols, but in that Israel belongs to the entire Jewish people.  Zionism means that state has a role in preserving the nation's Jewishness.  Thus, the only way to eliminate the contradiction would be to eliminate Zionism.

Rather than do that, Smooha argues that one should reduce the contradiction.  Strengthen Israel's democracy and accept Israeli Arabs as Palestinians.  That means providing them cultural autonomy.  Right now, the state funds education in the Arab sector, but also controls their textbooks.  They should be able to control the content of their curriculum.  Right now they have no religious autonomy; all Muslim religious institutions are under state control.  They state should also recognize the leadership of the Palestinian community and negotiate with them about their lives in Israel.  Palestinians should also have proportional representation on all committees concerning natural resources, water, land, planning and zoning. 

We eventually made it to Haifa by 6 or so. I did some laundry and then slept for an hour before our dinner tonight.

 My hotel room

My view

Below is the view of Haifa harbor from behind our hotel.

I took an hour-long nap before dinner, and then slept for another eight hours last night.  When I woke up, the clothing I washed was still damp, so I turned off the A/C and opened the window.  Unfortunately, the cleaning staff closed the window and turned the A/C back on, so some of the clothing will probably still be a little damp when I pack it up tomorrow for our trip to Tel-Aviv.

My plan for Saturday was to skip all the optional educational events, slip in a bit, and then head to Akko.  With no buses running on Saturday, my plan was to take a sherut, a shared taxi.  In order to get to the sherut, I would first have to walk down from the top of Mt. Carmel to the Hadar neighborhood, much closer to the port.

The day was warm, bright, and sunny, with a strong breeze blowing from the south.  Once I started to descend, however, that breeze disappeared as it was blocked by the mountain and the air turned heavy and humid.

 I had to descend a lot of stairs, but it wasn't too strenuous despite the heat.  I found a sherut immediately, and as I took the last seat, we left immediately.  I wasn't precisely sure where in Akko the sherut would drop me off and when I saw a sign for the Old City and two Arab girls got off, I asked if the Old City was nearby and the driver said yes and dropped me off.  15 minutes later, I crossed the Ottoman fortifications to enter the Old City:

I found the information booth and the ticket office and took the tour of the Crusader fortress under the city.  During the Crusades, Akko was then known as St. John d'Acre, and the Knights of St. John Hospitallers maintained a large facility in the town.  After the city was captured by the Mamlukes, the buildings were not destroyed, but filled in with sand and the new Mamluke city built on top.  Archaeologists are uncovering the Crusader city.

Many of the halls are well maintained.  This is the "Refractory" (a very fancy name for dining room).  There are a few streets and markets as well (now staffed by tourist stores willing to sell you souvenirs).  In addition, there is a tunnel running between buildings that you can walk through.

At a few points the ceiling was so low I had to stoop (Crusaders were shorter), and that began to trigger my claustrophobia, so I passed on the Knights Templar tunnel.

By then it was 2 pm, and I was getting pretty hungry.  I headed to the port and had lunch at Abu Christo:

The fans, the breeze, the shade, and the view almost made the humidity bareable.

It was a very nice view, though.  That's Haifa in the far distance (the tower is the Technion).

I started off with some excellent hummus with pine nuts, olive oil, and paprika.

For my main course, I decided to have the sole, but I was told it really isn't sole but a filet of a white sea fish.  I wasn't disappointed.  It was very good.

No bones in the fish, so it was sort of like fish and chips (except the fish was only lightly fried in virtually no batter).

Afterwards I walked along the port, seeing the sea walls that held off Napoleon's siege in 1799:


And the port:

From there, I walked through the Turkish bazaar.  I saw one woman trying some kanafeh in a sweet shop.  The version they were selling more closely resembled what I've had in Jerusalem.  I tried to get a picture, but you really can't see what the saleswoman is giving her:

Of course I also saw people shopping for vegetables:

And even some tourists window shopping for fish:

My last stop were the walls of the Old City.  There I could see some sweeping panoramas of the Ottoman-era town.

Including the harbor,

The cityscape,

and the al-Jazzar Mosque.

By 4 pm, however, I was sweating profusely and decided to see if I could get a sherut back to Haifa, rather than the 5 pm bus.  I hadn't waited more than 5 minutes, when I was able to flag one down.  Even though it was crowded, the A/C was going full blast so I could relax.

What a sherut looks like when you are sitting in the last row

The driver dropped me off back in the Hadar neighborhood.  Now all I had to do was walk back to the hotel the way I came.  Well, not entirely the way I came. All those stairs I walked down now looked like this:

I kept thinking of when I had hiked the Grand Canyon with my father.  The main differences, though, was that here, I couldn't really see at any given time how far I still needed to go to reach the top.  In the Grand Canyon, it's so depressing as you never seem to be getting nearer your destination.  While the Grand Canyon is warm, it isn't the oppressive humidity of Haifa, so even though I brought water with me, I ran out a few blocks from the top (don't worry, I drank four glasses after I got back to the hotel, and a lot more since then).  Just after I ran out of water I bumped into a fellow professor, who was climbing back up from the port.  We commiserated about the heat, humidity, and difficulty in finding the proper stairs, and kept each other company until we made it back to the hotel.  

A shower, nap, and dinner later, I'm feeling much better.  Now it's time for me to start packing for tomorrow.

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