Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Year in Review

The new year of 2009 will find us on the road again. Like in the last few new years we will be with one of our children and their families. The first dawn of 2008 found us with Rhoda and her family on a floating hotel on the Mekong River in Thailand. With the end of another dream vacation we returned to New York for another pleasant but cold week in NY and onward to Arrabeh in time to savor all the citrus fruits and the early spring flowers in our garden and to put in our regular several hours of daily gardening. Hatim continued his daily routine of rising before dawn to work on his memoirs. Except that now he had an excuse: he had signed up with a publisher, Pluto Press of London, and we had added half a dozen chickens to the natural fauna of our garden and the jealous and handsome roaster crowed his head off, the perfect sound to wake up to at the break of dawn every morning.

To break the beautiful calm of spring with its joyous chores for Didi of picking fruits and collecting wild greens from our garden for our meals, planting flower beds and weeding and augmenting her herb garden (Hatim’s chores involve the macho tasks of tending the fruit trees, mending the fence, trimming hedges and rearranging his rock garden) we took off for a weekend visit to Petra with our village friends, Toufiq and Zainab. The archeological marvels carved by the Nabatean Arabs into the rock is matched only by the amazing geological phenomenon of the colorful sandstone formation to yield a gem of a tourist attraction worth flying over from any spot on earth to see. For us it was worth this second visit and would do it at the slightest prompting from any of you, were you to come for a visit. (A convoluted way of extending an invitation, but a sincere one nevertheless!)

On another occasion we broke off from our spring schedule for a four-day visit to Ramallah, our first in over five years, to attend an academic conference held at Inaash-el-Usra and headed by our brother Dr. Sharif Kanaana. He and Pat were so busy with the conference that we put off our visit to their home till the last day. Alas, their home was not accessible that day; Dick Cheney was visiting and the neighborhood was closed off even to its own residents. (Do we really look like terrorists?) Later in the year, in early November, we returned to Ramallah for a book launch (Hatim’s book of memoirs) organized by our friend, Kathy Bergen, at the Friends Meeting House and with the participation of three friends as reviewers, Dr. Mustafa Barghuthi, Dr. Khalil Nakhleh and Dr. Tony Laurance of WHO.

By mid-July we were off again, this time to Hawaii with the feeble excuse of having received an invitation for a traditional Luau on the occasion of the high-school graduation of Corey, the youngest daughter of Kathy Lau, Didi’s close cousin and the flower girl at our wedding who, at the last minute, balked at carrying out her duty. By now she had turned into a most gracious Hawaiian hostess. Both of our children had joined us for the occasion with their families and we had a whale of a time on the beaches both on Oahu and later on Kauai where another pair of cousins, David and Laura Chang, extended their Hawaiian hospitality and Aloha to us.

A second celebratory occasion materialized rapidly with the arrival of Hatim’s book of memoirs, A Doctor in Galilee, with a lecture at the Church of the Crossroads and a reading at Revolution Books with the surprise attendance of so many kamaaina friends and family members. The biggest gain from the occasion was the bonus of making the acquaintance of the energetic local chapter of Friends of Sabeel, Their good efforts boomeranged all the way back to Nazareth where a workshop on ‘A Doctor in Galilee’ was held at the Seventh International Sabeel Conference in Mid November.

By mid-August we headed home to Arrabeh, our village in Galilee, again with a short stopover in NY. Rhoda and our two granddaughters, Malaika and Laiali, followed quickly on our heels for a furious two weeks of visiting, playing and quarrelling with countless cousins, and for pigging out on loads of summer fruits from the garden, the most appreciated among which were the passion fruits for Malaika and the apples for Laiali. Each had to fend for herself and pick her own supply in addition to the standard chores of dishing out wheat and water for the chickens and searching for their eggs. The two cats, Wardi and Kenda, took the backseat this year.

On the Kanaaneh clan front there were innumerable graduations and weddings to attend, compulsory among which were the weddings of two grandnieces. Shireen’s party was especially memorable: The groom is from Jerusalem and the Party was held at the Jericho Intercontinental, a midway locale. We rented a bus to attend and had to beg, explain and negotiate our way back to Israel through multiple checkpoints at the wee hours of the morning.

And there was a week spent snorkeling off of Sharm-el-Sheikh in the company of our nephew, another Dr. Hatim Kanaaneh, and his German wife. It was pure relaxing and savoring of red sea fish.

No less a jovial occasion was hosting our Chinese friends, Michael and Limei and their two children for a week. We felt rejuvenated in the company of the young family as we attempted to cover the widest possible range of sites in the Holy Land and still introduce them to our village culture. As the sports that they actually are, the couple and their two children succumbed to full participation in the traditional celebration of the Eid at the end of the fasting month of Ramadan with our extended family.

Not long after their departure, and having accomplished the autumn feat of preparing and storing our annual supply of carob molasses, pomegranate concentrate, olive oil and cured olives, we were ready to venture back to the USA for a Thanksgiving get-together with our two children and their families. Rhoda and Seth hosted this year. As we sat to dinners the toasts were well-deserved: Earlier in the year Ty had made partner in his accounting firm, PWC, while Rhoda had just received a copy of her newly published second book entitled ‘Surrounded, Palestinian Soldiers in the Israeli Military’.

While in NY Hatim got a long delayed minor medical procedure out of the way and now we all are ready to take off to Morocco for the holidays.

Have a joyous holiday season and a happy, peaceful and prosperous 2009.

Putting Shoeing in Perspective

Muntazer al-Zaidi is the second man in the history of Baghdad who is immortalized and at the same time ruined for life by his shoe.

Before Muntazer there was abu-el-Kasim al-Tanbouri. Very few Arabs have not heard of this merchant who lived in Baghdad during its golden days as the capital of the Abbasid caliph Haroun el-Rasheed who was reputed to address passing clouds “Regardless of how far you travel I will reap the benefit from your moisture!” or something to that effect, another way of saying the sun never sat on his empire. Abu-el-Kasim was a successful trader who dabbled among other things in perfumes and its fancy glass containers. However he had one weakness, his pair of boots. He simply didn’t have the heart to part with them and kept repairing them, adding another piece of hard leather every time he detected a weakness till the boots became humongous, so much so that they became the standard of reference for size and weight, people often saying “This is bigger or heavier than abu-el-Kasim el-Tanbouri’s boots.” No one would miss them when they saw them.

Then the day came when abu-el-Kasim decided to part with his boots and that is when his problems began. When he simply left it on the street the first one to pass by recognized it and threw it through the window and it crashed into abu-el-Kasim’s stash of perfume and fancy glassware. He tried every possible way but every time he would wind up in court with a heavy fine and a jail sentence. When he tried to float it in the sewage system it caused a major blockage. When he put it up on his roof a dog dragged it to the edge and it fell on a passing pregnant women causing her to abort. Even when he tried to dig and bury it in the ground he was taken to court and fined for suspicious activity. Finally he had to submit a court request for a formal divorce from his boots. But he never regained his wealth or position in society.

It is of course unlikely that Muntazer al-Zaidi will ever find a decent job again as a reporter, though he has gained instantaneous world fame as a result of his throwing his shoe at George W. Bush. I must admit that, like millions the world over, I find his act well deserved and highly appropriate. But also, in Middle Eastern culture it has flare and finesse as a way of expressing one’s mind. The world over, it is hardly a complement to have a shoe thrown at you. But especially in the orient, and more particularly in the Middle East, a shoe is a lowly and filthy thing, the reason why one has to take his shoes off when entering a mosque or a Hindu or Buddhist temple. Throwing a shoe at your enemy is a way of expressing extreme disagreement together with a sense of loathing of the person attacked who has sunk to such low level as to act or think the way he or she does. Such act is an expression of your contempt and disgust towards him or her rather than an intent to harm physically.Has Muntazer al-Zaidi intended to harm George W Bush he would have opted for abu-el-Kasim al-Tanbouri's bulky heavy boots. It probably still sits in one of Baghdad's vandalized museums; no one would have stolen it when the American troops were too busy guarding the Iraqi oilfields to bother with protecting Iraq's heritage and museums.

It has been suggested that, given the extent of Iraqi revulsion against America’s ravaging of their country and the expected permanent presence of Americans in the country, Iraqis should arm themselves with an extra pair of shoes at all times. There is a certain precedence for that: Palestinian readers will likely recognize a town of theirs where men are rumored to go around with a a spare fez in hand. But that is another story.

Especially in the city in the Middle East, her shoe is a lady’s best weapon. A lady in a public place, say in a park or on a crowded bus, who feels that someone has infringed upon her honor in act or speech may suddenly take her shoe and strike the guilty male with it on the head, simultaneously letting out a barrage of derogatory terms. A man caught in such an attack has recourse only to flight. No one dares but defend a lady who is in such distress that she reverts to the ultimate feminine weapon. After all, no self-respecting woman uses her shoe in this manner unless in extreme distress. The circuitous logic is not unlike that applied by the Israeli armed forces in the Palestinian Occupied Territories identifying a terrorist as anyone killed by Israelis, the same logic adopted by American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, and with the advent of globalization, by the whole enlightened world. Except that in this well-established custom a young lady wielding a shoe stands to loose considerably in as much as she will be always marked as one who is likely to use her shoe. And who would ever want to put himself at the receiving end of such an attack every time there was a marital argument.

I do remember once being at the receiving end of such a negative expression of opinion though it was far from being in a dishonorable context. It actually was regarding a good decision I made as you will surely surmise at the end of this piece. I had finished high school and started working temporarily as a teacher in a neighboring village, an enviable position for a young villager to be in. It brought a steady cash income and was considered to be a cushy job by our standards then, teaching being about the only job available for an ‘educated’ Arab. Of course, there was the needed approval by the Shin Bet, The Israeli secret police, before the final confirmation of a permanent job. But I was anything but a rubble rouser and if need be my relative, the mukhtar, could vouch for my docile if not collaborative nature. But a letter arrived from Yankton College in South Dakota informing me that I had been accepted to study for my premed degree with a small scholarship.

That is when I had to inform my father and when, for the first time in his life, he threw his shoe at me. His rationale for his contemptuous dismissal of my plan was very well based. He had to sell land to pay for my plane ticket, a deed worse than suicide to a subsistence Palestinian farmer. I argued that though he was still the rightful owner of all our lands, what I was asking him to do is to sell my future share of that land. That is when he threw his shoe at me. I was at the verge of doing what a proud young adult is expected to do in such circumstances: throw a big fit or clear the scene and seek an independent life somewhere else. But a thought suddenly came to me: For one thing I had ducked the projectile and it did me no harm. For another, no one witnessed the insult except my three sisters who all had spoken to me about how difficult it would be for my father to contemplate the sale of the last piece of land he owned in the fertile Battouf Valley, having already had to sell the rest piecemeal to put three of us boys through high school. Also the thought of me leaving him in such feeble health was tantamount to bidding him my last goodbye and may have made it so much harder for him to agree to my plan. I suddenly chose a different strategy, to accept the insult. I picked up the shoe and placed it back at a respectful distance from him. He threw it again at me and I did the same again and again till finally a smile broke across his face and he said: “You win, you imbecile. Go ahead, do whatever you want. May Allah guide your steps!”

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Adventures of Andy in Disappeared Palestine

This sounds like a lovely title for a children’s book or even a fairytale. Indeed the tale told here is fantastic and hard for the sane mature to believe, fit only for the imagination of a child. It is about the surreal happenings in few days in the life of Andy, a real person who showed up at the Acre train station one evening with an assortment of video-recording equipment.

Andy hails from America. He belongs to the rare breed of self-assigned truth and justice seekers who dedicate themselves to the task of saving the human race at this late hour of its incessant march, lemming-like, to its demise. He has no plausible connection to Palestine or the Palestinians except that he, like Jimmy Carter, finds them awfully wronged and their suffering worthy of recognition. He wants to set the record straight. Together with another fighter for Palestine, Dr. Ahlam (Arabic for ‘dreams’) Muhtaseb, he sets out to document the wrongs done the Palestinians in 1948 through visits to their destroyed former homes and the recording of interviews with members of separated families in Galilee and the refugee camps in Lebanon.

November 05, 2008
I. Andy Visits the Living Ruins

Andy had a list of Palestinian localities in Galilee that he had to visit. He needed to take a good photo of Sha’ab. For that purpose I drove him to the outskirts of Ya’ad, the posh settlement established in the 1970s atop the hill overlooking Sha’ab that was once the thriving and proud village of Mia’ar. Ya’ad’s first residents were specialist engineers attracted from their original homes in South Africa to work in the nearby military industrial park, reputed to manufacture the electronic trigger mechanisms for Israel’s super-bombs including nuclear ones.

As we walked to our sought-after lookout, I stumbled across a derelict memorial structure overgrown by weeds and hardy local bushes surviving in the shade of the superimposed European pine forest. A marble slab had some writing on it and I stopped to read it. It was in Italian and Hebrew and sang the praises of some Italian Jewish hero, I presumed. I read the specifics: He is commemorated as an educator, a community organizer, and a fighter who lead the liberation of Torino “from a cruel and merciless occupier.” I looked around and felt as if someone hit me hard in the pit of the stomach. The monument is surrounded on all sides by the rubble of old Mia’ar, razed off the face of the earth not long after our hero finished liberating Torino from its usurpers. Rectangular rows of stone still outline the bases of destroyed homes. The profanity of the statement itched in stone in the midst of the ruins nauseated me; I bent over retching. When I recovered I called Andy over and he took pictures.

Next we visited the ruins of Ghabsiyeh, the destroyed village of Daud Bader, our guide for the day. He is a well-informed and hardened refugee whose family had been settled in the village of Sheikh Dannoun together with a humdrum collection of refugees from other coastal villages who didn’t cross the borders of the then forming state of Israel, borders still undetermined to this very day. Even families from Dannoun itself who returned to their own homes days or weeks after they were driven out of them lost all claims to their property and were forced to rent their former residences from the Custodian of Abandoned Property. I am familiar with this phenomenon from Sha’ab, the similarly aggregated village of ‘internal refugees’ where I have relatives among its original residents who stayed put. Also Dannoun was the home of my aunt’s family, but they all ran away to the other side.

Daud is a well educated man that dedicates his time to informing others about destroyed Palestinian towns and villages. Early on he had a run-in with the Shin Bet (Israel’s Stassi) and lost any chance of holding a job in the system such as teaching in Dannoun’s schools. Now he holds the position of Field Director of the Association for the Defense of Refugee Rights, an officially registered NGO that deals with issues of internally displaced Palestinians like himself, making up nearly a third of the Palestinian minority in Israel. He has an amazingly rich and detailed range of information with exact facts and figures about the geography, social life, land holdings, historical events and specific dates for every destroyed Palestinian locale. His audience ranges from curious locals and daring teachers with their inquisitive students to visiting pilgrims opting for alternative tours, to the adventurous Diaspora Palestinian interested in locating his not so distant roots, to the graduate student on a research assignment, to journalists with a sense of the obscure, to filmmakers documenting past events like Andy, the guest I was driving around the Galilee on this occasion.

In Ghabsiyeh Daud proceeded to beguile us with memories from his own past when his family ran away to neighboring areas then returned with other residents of the village to live undisturbed for some six months before they were forced to move out to Dannoun. On location he expounded details of the historical village mosque that once served the entire region, now sealed and encased by a high metal sheet barrier. For decades it stood neglected, used mostly to house cattle from the neighboring communal agricultural settlement. Then Daud and other agitators cleaned the place up, painted its walls and started to hold Friday prayers in it. The ever-alert Israel Lands Authority, having assumed ownership, very early on, of all refugee lands from the good Custodian, sprang to action and boarded up the place.

Daud pointed out to us some of the village distinctive remains: the surviving palm tree next to the balcony of the effendi’s home, now razed to the ground like all the other Ghabsiyeh homes. The four concrete steps to the entrance to the home of another prominent Ghabsiyan still maintain their upright position abutting a passageway, the village’s agricultural road leading west to its extensive land holdings in the coastal plane. Andy, our documentarian guest, next hoisted his field equipment to the cemetery to capture the neglect and abandonment on film.

On the way out we halted again to hear a rich stream of Daud’s memories about another village landmark, es-sidri, the imposing ancient native tree that stands in a clearing by the village’s paved road entrance. It features the combined status of a banquet hall and a shrine. In the days before 1948 it was the sight for zaffet el-a’rees, the showy and jubilant procession for every wedding in Ghabsiyeh. The groom would be brought on horseback to sit on a chair in the shade of es-sidri. An impromptu horse race would be held for the occasion in the open fields to the west. Guests, friends and next of kin would surround and regale him with song and dabkeh dancing till the sun tilted to dip in the shining sea. The happy groom could almost hold it in his henna-adorned right hand, the sea is so close! Then the men, guests and locals alike, would form a line, their torsos pressed together shoulder-to-shoulder, and proceed to move in unison in a swaying sideways movement to the staccato rhythm of folksingers toward the groom’s home, repeating their sing-songy refrain of “Ya halali ya mali,” a near mystic pronouncement the best translation for which would be “You are rightfully mine and all I own.” The to-and-fro movement of the well-dressed village men reminded the observer of the wavy motion of a breeze-swept green field of el-Ghabsiyeh wheat. The groom would follow mounted on his horse and accompanied by the singing and ululating women celebrants. A throng of young men with few village elders would have preceded the groom’s party to bring the bride from her home, also on horseback and edged on by song and street dancing, to the couples new abode to await the groom’s happy arrival and the conjugal union –ed-dakhli- preceded by the traditional dinner-for-two known as “ luqmit es-sa’adi - the bite of happiness,” and the receiving of modest monitory gifts acknowledged with the standard calling out of the name of each well wisher at the top of the professional village crier’s voice: “May God compensate so and so for his donation to the groom of x number of liras, for the love of his father and of the prophet and of all who bless him.”

The sidri was the sight for all happy Ghabsiyeh communal occasions. In many village cemeteries in Galilee the same kind of tree provides permanent shade without the need to be tended in any way. And its fruit, though small and flat tasting (Daud insisted we taste it), provides a healthy source of energy for children playing in its shade. Over time this tree acquired a mystique bordering on holiness and became the object of veneration. Indeed, there was a sheet of green satin shimmering in the midday sun as we arrived, a decorative present made by some Ghabsiyeh refugee in distress asking for God’s favors or thanking him for them.

Kabri sat on a rich treasure, its springs the major release valve for the building pressure accumulated in the vast water table under the seaward slant of the Western Galilee mountains. It bottled water long before Israel was established and put its name to the brand. Ahmad Basha ‘Aljazzar’, Acre’s notorious ‘butcher’ of men not cattle, and the Romans before him, brought the cleansing elixir to the coastal metropolis of Acre in specially constructed aqueducts. A length of remains of the multi-arched archeological gem has survived the destructive hand of history and its looting generals as well as the repeated tremors of earthquakes over the centuries. It stretches parallel to the road between al-Mazra’a, another focal collection of Palestinian refugees, and the neighboring Kibbutz of Lohame Hageteot, the sight of the museum honoring Jewish heroes who rebelled against and were executed by their savage oppressors in European Ghettos. The aqueduct provides a bold visual reminder connecting and juxtaposing the two realities, the Jewish historical and the Arab current ones, another evocative yet depressing reminder of whose reality takes precedence around this place. My visceral response was not as acute.

Andy, the documenter par-excellence, and Daud, our well practiced guide-cum-witness, stopped at one of Kabri’s springs, now fully metal-encased and mechanized. Not far from it, in the midst of a lush park that advertized itself with signs all around proclaiming its mind and body-relaxing magic (it did neither to me!), was an old water-operated wheat mill, the flow of its driving force of a stream now another historical relic, tapped dry at source. A Parks Authority sign explained the mechanics of the contraption; not a word about the miller or his wheat-consuming customers. Andy and his project partner, Dr. Ahlam Muhtaseb, hope to connect between the mill here and the miller in his refugee camp a few miles away in South Lebanon.

A convoy of local tourists on their beach buggies, mostly Ashkenazi couples, drove by, the passenger seat spouses clicking their cameras. They and their ilk can’t afford to contemplate, even in the abstract, the logical conclusion to Ahlam and Andy’s tender undertaking: permitting the miller to tend to his mill at el-Kabri.

Two churches, two cemeteries, a boarded mosque, a nuns former residence, the two story elegant home of the Greek Catholic priest, and a shrine dedicated to the prophet Elijah (el-Khader, the Green, to Arabs) is all that remains of el-Bassah’s old days of glory. Before the Nakbah el-Bassah was a thriving little town of near three thousand people; it boasted a high school, a hotel, a café, and even a bar; it was that modern. Its location atop a hillock looking out at the Mediterranean sea less than five miles away is truly magnificent.

Another thriving community has now replaced el-Bassa, that of Shlomi, a name derived from ‘shalom’, Hebrew for peace. But the peace of the sacred remnants of old el-Bassa in the midst of shoulder-high dry weeds and wild thistles and bushes is disturbed by the noise emanating from factories around them. It is Shlomi’s industrial zone. And by a more wicked noise.

Andy hoisted his gear and disappeared in the brush. I worried about him, what with his jetlag, exhausting schedule and limited food intake. Eventually he emerged, camera and tripod on shoulder, ready to move to the next location. But I had spotted two items worthy of his documenting attention: Daud and I had climbed over the missing stairs of a church and pried its door open to access its haunting vast interior with its high vaulted, cracked ceiling. It is totally empty except for a wooden altar with few dust covered icons, including a couple of St George slaying the Dragon. A dusty leather-bound half-gnawed copy of the New Testament lay on the corner of the altar. Daud informed us that the Wakims, a fightsy Bassan internal refugee family, still baptize their children here.

Emerging from the church I directed Andy’s attention to another recordable scene, the source of that wicked noise: At the far end of the collection of dilapidated holy sites a Caterpillar was loading rubble onto trucks. The adjacent area of destroyed el-Bassa was being cleared for the construction of a new bus station. Andy recorded the scene, a beast munching at the boney remnants of a once beautiful body, another eerie reminder of the underpinnings of Israel’s modern development: American cash and equipment deployed to replace Palestine in every possible way: people, homes, culture, and memory.

Would the mosque and churches succumb too? Cemeteries are regularly desecrated and pillaged in the name of Israel’s progress and cultural superiority. In Jerusalem the Supreme Court, the final arbiter of the law of the land, has just ruled that an ancient cemetery just outside the old city walls, dating back to the days of the Khalif Omar, can be cleansed of the bones of Moslems to make room for the greater good embodied in the Gehry designed Museum of Tolerance. And what a great example of tolerance it is!

On the way out, using a short cut to the sea coast, we stopped at one of el-Bassa’s derelict cemeteries. Most of the graves are in the form of family mausoleums. Daud found a broken headstone with beautiful Arabic calligraphy. Between the two of us we could make out most of the remaining two thirds of a memorial poem whose letters when added give the date of burial. Daud made sure the slab was turned to lay face down among other unmarked stones to protect it from archeology buffs.

At the edge of the cemetery, just where I parked my car on the street, Daud pointed out another curiosity: a well preserved several feet-wide piece of Byzantine mosaic overgrown and hidden by weeds, edges lost in the surrounding rubble. He figured it must be Byzantine because of the neglect. Had it been Jewish the road cutting through it would have been redirected.

Our visit to Ez-Zeeb was curtailed by nightfall. We hurried to the hill at the northern edge of the national park that the Palestinian fishing village has become, its ruins shared to the south by Club Med and to the north by an anarchist declaring his squatter’s rights in bold signs of ‘No entry’ and ‘The independent State of Achzeevland.’ Andy had just enough light to record the picturesque scene before we rushed to the gate of the park to search for a sign that my wife remembered seeing. Using my car lights to decipher and photograph it, Andy reported its contents: There was a lengthy and detailed account of the place’s history over the centuries. Except that when it came to the over-thirteen centuries of Arab life and culture in the place, it was covered in one brief sentence: “Then it declined into a fishing village.”

Andy’s second night at our home was a little better for him; his jetlag had abated some and he was exhausted. Perhaps also he was satisfied with having witnessed in person the evidence of the trampling of Palestinian rights that he had heard so often from ‘opinionated informants.’ For my part I slept little despite seeking comfort in Melatonin. The evoked memories had coalesced into a nightmarish wakeful dream. I stayed up and wrote.

Dream on Ahlam!

November 15, 2008
II. Andy Meets the Present Absentees

The Musas
On our way back from the Palestinian Neverland of Western Galilee guided by one of its true sons, an actual ‘present absentee’ in the flesh, I called a phone number provided to us by Ms. Dreams. On the other end was a surprised young man who immediately figured out the source of my mix-up: The phone number was his but the name I asked for was that of his old uncle, so it had to be from some confused relative and such exist in refugee camps in Lebanon. I introduced myself and asked if we could meet within the hour.
“Drive up the main road of Deir el-Asad and ask anyone you meet. You and your guest are welcome. Consider it your home.” I reminded Didi of the old couple we met sightseeing on the outskirts of a village in Andalucía who kept repeating to us: “Mi casa su casa!”

When we arrived the young man was waiting. We shook hands and he welcomed us into his uncle’s guestroom. Coffee and fruits were offered and a dozen curious immediate relatives gawked as Andy set up his equipment and I explained the purpose of the interview to the octogenarian Mr. Musa: stocky, fair skinned, well shaven with a sporty white moustache, coarse earth-roughened strong hands and a screaming quarter-size basal cell carcinoma in the middle of his forehead. I made the latter the focal point of my conversation with him. That gave me, a physician, the upper hand in the forming relationship between us. Tangentially, I alluded to the purpose of our visit, the taping of an interview with him regarding his refugee niece in Lebanon. He assumed a heroic, devil-may-care air and expressed his readiness to speak to us of his personal experience of the 1948 tragic events in his village and of his feelings regarding the Nakbah and his changed life ever since.

His diminutive old wife, face deeply wrinkled and framed by a white scarf, sat at his side with her arms respectfully folded across her age- and reproduction-flattened chest (a dozen living children!). Intermittently she muttered her disapproval:
“Let bygones be! Of what use is it to talk of long forgotten events?”
“Osss! Hush-up! I will talk. What is there to hide? The good doctor here is no informant.”
“Of what use is it!” she stood her ground.
The couple’s assembled children and two generations of grandchildren laughed at their progenitors arguing and playing their expected roles, he the assertive, courageous and self-sacrificing head of the household and she the cautious and protective mother hen.

The stage and lighting was readied and I translated Andy’s questions. Despite his rebellious air off camera, Mr. Musa’s answers were brief and evasive and his memories clouded and generalized. His niece in Shatila camp was not exactly a blood relative, only the wife of one. And life in Deir-el-Asad is peaceful and comfortable, thanks in great part to Israel’s National Security Fund old-age payments. What little factual information about the events of 1948 he related, ones that are common knowledge to all adults in the room, had to be pried out of the intimidated old man by force. From the start of the session his wife could be seen to the side shaking her head and making tsuk-tsuk noises in disapproval.

As the camera was turned off, the adult children and grandchildren offered their apologetic explanations blaming it all on old age and psychological aversion to traumatic memories. The young man, my original contact, angrily shouted at the older couple with less than filial veneration. He offered to speak on record himself and Andy accepted the offer. He was open and fiery in decrying ‘our poverty, our loss of our land and dignity, our imprisonment within our communities and our separation from our next of kin across the border’ and more. At this the grand old lady shook her head in disbelief: “Who knows who will hear all of this and what they will do!”

The Krayims
The roles were reversed when we visited the Krayim family in Majd-el-Kroum, the visit arranged on the spot thanks to the fast detective work of my nephew there: The husband, a successful baker who supplies his bread to many a Jewish customer and hence, I suspect, may fear their boycott, was reluctant to speak up, while his wife took the plunge. She, a well preserved woman of short stature, ample girth, and a smiley full and youthful face with large dark eyes, opened up immediately to Andy’s questions in his halting college-learned Arabic. Yes, she allowed, she was a refugee of Al-Yajour, the none-existent suburb of British Mandate Haifa. She was the only refugee from her community to settle, through matrimony, in Majd-el-Kroum. In 1948 her father took the family and fled the onslaught of the fast-advancing murderous Haganah forces to the neighboring village of Usifya up the Carmel mountain, rumored then to be safe, perhaps because of its dominantly Druze inhabitants and the latter’s suspected connection to the enemy, later to be exposed and exalted into blood brotherhood. Eventually, with the wiping of their entire town off the fast shrinking map of Palestine, the family slipped into full refugee status, one part moved down to Haifa as internal refugees and the other chased across the border into Lebanon.

A scene from Haifa’s struggle to defend its Palestinian identity still singes her visual cortex to this day: the sight of dozens of bodies piled up at the edge of the Islamic cemetery, too many to be buried individually in the perilous circumstances, still scares the little girl in her many wakeful nights even today. And yes, she knows through the grapevine of her brother in Shatila camp (of Sabra and Shatila Massacre fame) and would give her dearest to talk to him after sixty years of painful separation, alleviated only once by a single phone call eight years ago when she and her sister visited a niece in Sweden. As she proceeded to search her aging memory for the family’s phone number that Andy had requested, the heavily mustachioed husband interrupted with his second ‘sho bidna bhatha kullo - what is that all for!’ of the evening. Eventually he gave his own mobile number instead of that of the home’s landline.

As we drove home I felt personally betrayed. I had to apologize to Andy for the disappointing responses we managed to elicit in Deir-el-Asad and the mistrust shown us by some of our hosts in both localities. Two factors colluded to undermine the confidence of these people: They had experienced life under a vile military rule with the intrusive, omnipresent and all-knowing Shin-Bet dominating their lives for the near two decades of its existence and for years afterwards, perhaps till the present day. They may have heard my name before but they don’t know me enough for my involvement to allay their fear and suspicion of an American carrying video equipment and asking strange questions about their most intimate feelings. The only members of the generation we were searching for who would dare speak out their minds with uncensored temerity are old communists, I told Andy. All others, barring the few who are close contacts of mine, will practice their learned timidity on us as untrustworthy outsiders.

The Zreiks
Before going to sleep I called and made an appointment for early the next day at the Senior Citizens Club in Eilaboun. The person to whom I was referred turned out to be Asa’ad Zreik, my older brother Sharif’s high school classmate. I joked with him about his senior position with the senior citizens of his village and he informed me that his younger brother Fayez, my own classmate, was a longstanding member of the club. I felt old, perhaps another reason I slept little that night.

In the morning, after a breakfast of cereal and a mix of organic fruits freshly picked from our garden, we headed to our appointment. Warm embraces and fond memories loosened the formal atmosphere of Asa’ad’s modern office. The two old resource persons that awaited our arrival were also a pair of brothers. Thing in Eilaboun, it turns out, show a peculiar tendency for twinning. The senior half, abu-Zreik, ninety four years old, showed his age by the use of a cane and a hearing aid, but otherwise was in full command of his faculties. He spoke first, as is only proper for an elder brother, and was clear-minded in relating his memories in his slightly halting speech pattern. He spoke good English thanks to his education under the British Mandate system and his service in the police force on the eve of al-Nakba. Still he preferred that I translate so as not to err in providing the right answers to Andy’s welcome questions.

Abu-Zreik and his junior brother, eighty six, were among the young men of Eilaboun selected by the conquering Haganah commander for execution. The two were spared the fate of the other fourteen, including a father and son pair, due to abu-Zreik’s driving skill. The commander asked for a driver to get in an army jeep and lead a column of army vehicles on the road north in case it was land-mined. “They didn’t invent human shields in Gaza and the West Bank. The British taught it to them back then before 1948,” he declared.

Abu-Zreik then took us in his account from memory on a zigzag trip north to Maghar, then west to Deir-el-Asad, east to Farradhyeh then north again to Kufr-I’inan, accompanied all along by his younger brother, who now sat there and nodded in respectful agreement, and by the people of Eilaboun who were forced out of their homes at gunpoint after the execution of fourteen victims in the four corners of the village. The firing squads were dispersed this way apparently to make the murders appear as combat fatalities, though the UN inspectors who arrived shortly thereafter on the scene realized what had happened from the nature of the wounds; all the victims were shot pointblank in the back of the head. The same was true of the additional fifteen Moslem men from the neighboring Bedouin tribes, including a father and his two sons, executed separately at the outskirts of Eilaboun.

From the start Israel had a way of segregating along confessional lines: Christians, Druze and Moslems, abu-Zreik explains; it maintains the tradition to this day. As a born (sans the ‘again’ so I don’t have to share even one adjective with George W Bush) Moslem, my own marriage to my Christian wife would have not been allowed had it not taken place in far-away Waikiki, I concur.

Abu-Zreik, with his kid brother in tow, made it alive all the way to Lebanon and back thanks also to another survival skill, his mastery of Hebrew. When he enlisted in the police force in Jerusalem the standard British Mandatory regulations decreed that those who passed their exam in Hebrew were paid a whole lira more per month. So he learned the enemy’s language. On his via dolorosa to Lebanon and Back, Haganah officers kept unwittingly leaking their plans to him and he kept a step ahead of their game. One reprimand from a commanding officer to an unruly Hagana fighter, who was terrorizing the gathered refugees at the Farradhyeh junction with his random shooting of his automatic weapon, still makes abu-Zreik cringe now as he relates it to us. In Hebrew the commander told his underling: “Stop your random shooting. You want to kill? Take four or five men to the fields and shoot them. But don’t do this”

The interview of the senior brother was over and it was his junior brother’s turn. Abu-Ziad’s silence so far was not out of any lack of memories to share or any reluctance to share them. He simply and respectfully awaited his turn. He needed no prompting for he had heard the questions asked of his brother and decided to relate to all of them sequentially avoiding any repetition. Instead of relating the chronology of events as his senior brother had done, he delved into a commentary and political analysis of them. He was sharp, concise, profound, orderly, and meticulous and spoke clearly at a rapid fire clip.

He quickly debunked all the rumors still circulating about the Eilaboun Massacre having been committed in vengeful retributions for the mutilation of two enemy corpses that a stranger had committed. The village’s wise priest, el-khuri Murqus, asked him to leave the village for the sake of its peace and for that of humanity and God. The man left to bury the two heads he had brought with him from a battle in another location never to be seen again. What happened in Eilaboun, he later explained to me by the monument commemorating the two groups of executed civilians, was part of a well-established pattern, a step aimed at the survivors who witnessed it so as to scare them into flight. If we are to blame this one on revenge, how do we explain the scores of others from Deir Yasin to Ramleh, to es-Sufsaf, to… and the list is too long.

Later, at an unrelated public forum, another Zreik, this time Raef, the young Harvard educated expert on legal theory, explained: It all is part of a well thought-out plan of ethnic cleansing. Ethnic cleansing was there all along in the Zionist discourse, written all over the place between the lines. It takes no special gift of intelligence to decipher it. Ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians was and still is an essential foundational element of the Zionist scheme. It has been the default option all along. If it was not, then why would Ben-Gurion instruct the commander that overran Nazareth that there should be no ethnic cleansing in the holy city, the center of attention of European observers? The case of Nazareth was clearly the exception to a rule.

And how do they justify their violent expulsion of the Palestinian native population? You may well be excused, though your act would not be legal, if your house is on fire and you break the door of a neighbor to get water to put the fire out. If your ship out on the open seas is sinking, you may well be excused for climbing on someone else’s ship, though you cannot claim its ownership on grounds of need. The Holocaust is a powerful and repugnant excuse for the Jewish people’s outmigration from Europe. But it doesn’t give them the right to expel others and live in their homes and on their land.

As to the theories crediting the return of Eilaboun’s residents from their exile to intervention by the Vatican, abu-Ziad dismissed that as well. He credits that exceptional move to the village residents’ determination and unity even in exile. They never gave up and they had good community leaders. He himself was directly involved in all of this. He recalls distributing leaflets, under fire, calling on people not to give up and to accept the 1947 UN division plan. He was a communist and that was the party line.

By midday the two sets of brothers took us to the village square, for an enactment of the events of 1948, a faint shadow of the real thing. We then proceeded to visit the nearby cemetery and memorial monument before we said our emotional goodbyes. By the time I left I felt connected.

The Shehadehs
A week later I picked Andy up at the traffic circle on the east side of Majd-el-Kroum. He was relieved to see me. He had to film the Galilee side of the conference call that Ahlam had arranged between Na’ameh Shehadeh, the same Mrs. Krayim we had interviewed before, and her brother Ahmad Shehadeh in Shatila camp in Lebanon. He came by taxi from Nazareth where he had been busy documenting the Seventh Sabeel Conference on video. While waiting for me he decided to shoot some footage of life at the edge of the village. He soon realized he was getting dirty looks from people passing by. He understood why and got worried because it had happened to him on another occasion while filming on the edge of the fertile Jerezeel valley and his hosts there had to interfere and explain. To Palestinian villagers in Israel someone standing behind equipment on a tripod is a surveyor and that means the first step in the process of confiscating their land. Andy’s Ashkenazi looks further confirmed their suspicions.

Soon we arrived at im-Bassam’s and found her at home all alone. I theorized that the other family members simply didn’t appreciate the true significance of the occasion and each must have gone to his usual work. Then it dawned on me that it was Saturday, the day of rest for us in this country. A better explanation is that indeed they realized the true nature of this orchestrated encounter and decided to split.

Elhajji im-Bassam welcomed us with Arabic coffee and fruits and awaited the call with an eager expression on her smiley fresh morning face. When the call came she handled it calmly and confidently, speaking in a loud and clear voice; no hysterics and no crying. Contrary to my preconceived ideas this was a very happy occasion sprinkled with bouts of laughter. Her full face and large black eyes radiated with pleasant emotions. She inquired from her brother, abu-Ali, about his health and about the health and marital status of her nephews and nieces and of other relatives there while in exchange sharing the news of her single sister in Haifa, of her children and of her retired husband who was now on ‘pensia’ –Hebrew for pension. The names Mahmoud, Hassan and Ali were mentioned often while the localities of Canada, America, Sweden, Lebanon and ‘Falasteen,’ –to balance off ‘pensia’ I presume- featured repeatedly on this side of the conversation. She wished her brother long life and hoped to see him some day “inshallah, God willing and with the benefit of his unbound generosity.” Then her voice went up another pleasant notch as she spoke to her nephew, Ali, the oldest in his family and the one who was born under fire on the family’s way to Lebanon. Now, I presume she was seeking reassurance about her brother and a sudden note of sadness crept in: “All alone, ya Haram! And bed-ridden! Who cares for him? What can we do! That is our destiny; we have been scattered as by a wild wind.” Then came another relative and another. And then the conversation ended as it was started with smiles, pleasantries and well-wishes and we were offered another round of coffee and fruit.

Andy was satisfied with his achievement. Alas, he still felt sad.

The Democratic and 80%-Jewish State

This is a long overdue entry. It was delayed for consultation with lawyer friends who suggested the original could be construed to be libelous. The following is the toned down version:

August 28, 2008
Upper(ty) Nazareth
“I am all for a democratic Upper Nazareth, but first of all a Jewish one" declares Gapso, a Tunisian immigrant vying for the town’s mayorship in the coming elections. With that he dismisses the appeal of a delegation of Arab residents to take their concerns into consideration. He is not the only contender for the post who is dismissive of Arab demands. All candidates quoted in Lily Galili’s report in Haaretz ( express similar opinions, usually in more openly racist language. It should be pointed out that those Arab intruders are likely to be descendents of the area’s native population whose land the Israeli government under Ben Gurion’s leadership expropriated for the benefit of Jewish immigrants some fifty years ago.

An incident I still recall vividly from over twenty five years ago illustrates the maladjustment of the residents of Upper Nazareth to their Arab surroundings. A complaint from the mayor of the Arab village of Reineh was received at the District Health office that I headed temporarily. The city of Upper Nazareth had released its untreated sewage down the valley at the edge of his village, the plaintiff claimed. I immediately called in the Nazareth Sub-district Physician who was in charge of both concerned localities. She happened to be a Russian immigrant residing in Upper Nazareth and her husband happened to be the physician heading the sanitary department in Upper Nazareth’s city administration. When she read the complaint from the neighboring village she assured me that she knew about this and that it is unlikely that the situation will be corrected soon. As an explanation she offered the fact that the village of Reineh has been transgressing against Upper Nazareth since day one of its establishment. The calls for prayer from the village mosque so early in the morning disturbed the sleep of the city residents and the village’s mayor had refused to do anything about it. She didn’t spell it out but I sensed the clear message that she approved the tit-for-tat. Were it not for my own impotence in the system, she would have lost her job.

Over time and with the expansion of Upper Nazareth, the residential area of the native town of Nazareth became more restricted. The creeping encroachment of the favored new twin with its expansive luxurious neighborhoods, parks, industrial zones, and shopping malls, progressively deprived old Nazareth of any land reserves for its natural growth. Some of Nazareth’s younger well-educated residents are lured by the promise of freedom and better opportunity in foreign lands, especially in North America. Paradoxically, as the capital of the Palestinian minority in Israel, it attracts some of the young professionals from the surrounding Arab villages. To my generation the ultimate success story of a young Galilee villager was to attain professional status and sufficient income to qualify for a Nazarene beauty, preferably the daughter of one of the city’s established families. On balance, Nazareth’s population continued to grow to the point that the city no longer could accommodate it within its restricted borders.

Thus, deprived of its natural expansion zone, very early on, Nazareth’s population started spilling over into the new neighboring town that was originally conceived of as a counterbalance to it. The better-off nascent middle class of Nazareth, doctors, lawyers, engineers and the like, started making lucrative offers to home owners in the tidier upper Nazareth with its better infrastructure and services. Many Jewish owners of government-subsidized homes and apartments in Upper Nazareth were less than pleased with its limited urbanity and westernization compared with such central locales as Netanya and Tel-Aviv. Its close proximity to several Arab villages and to old Nazareth, from which it is separated only by a two-lane highway, added to its unattractiveness to Ashkenazi immigrants. They must have sensed that they were ‘exiled’ to this failed experiment in Europeanization of the Palestinian space. After all, the very same agencies, governmental or international para-statal Jewish ones, involved in enticing them to immigrate to Israel, make a regular habit of brain washing such clients into absolute enmity to Arabs and to all things Arabic. In this case this practice proved to be a two-edged sword. Many such immigrants were alienated from Arabs not only to the degree that they had no qualms about taking over their land but also wanted to get away from them altogether.

That is when another Arab strange characteristic came into play: On the whole, Palestinians in Israel have limited economic horizons. They have little incentive for investment and very few business opportunities beyond small family enterprises. What they earn is saved for family-centered occasions: a son’s wedding (and more recently splurging on a daughter’s wedding has become fashionable as well), building a house and buying a good car, all handled on cash-down basis. Many manage to accumulate hefty saving bank accounts toward such major life events.

Now let us step back into the shoes of the disgruntled Ashkenazi immigrant in Upper Nazareth. Sooner or later you manage to meet the heavily subsidized payments on the public housing unit or the fancy home you occupied upon arrival in this God-forsaken locale surrounded on all sides by antagonistic, unclean, ignorant natives. Now you are free of the restrictions placed on you by the contractor who developed the subdivision, by the housing and the absorption ministries, and by the Jewish Agency barring you from selling your house to non-Jews. And now at the door appears a young couple with checkbook in hand willing to pay for it on the spot. You may dislike and suspect them but they speak fluent Russian, your mother tongue, and their Hebrew is even better than yours. And they seem to be rather polite and offer to meet your lawyer to close the deal. And your cousin or aunt or the brother-in-law of your sister’s mother-in-law has located an apartment in a good neighborhood in Tel-Aviv, a walking distance from the beach and hardly any Arabs in sight at all. And you can deposit your cash money in the bank and pay for the new apartment on installments. And if you get proof for your wife’s disability you may qualify for an interest-free housing bank loan. And they think you can get a cashier’s job at the neighborhood’s superette. The hell with the objections of next-door neighbors, with the speeches of the mayor, and with the warnings of the Committee to Keep Upper Nazareth Pure! Let us go see the lawyer.

There is a thin wedge, a panhandle of upper Nazareth that juts out in a westerly direction along the ridge separating the north edge of the misshapen grabben that makes up old Nazareth from neighboring Reineh village. On both sides of this wedge you find the fancy homes of well-to-do Nazarenes, a mix of some of the well-established old landed aristocracy of Nazareth, still with their aristocratic pretentions but without the land, and of a few noveau-riche arrivals from Galilee villages including some of my physician colleagues. The neighborhood is so prestigious that it was the site a decade ago of the first of the two traffic lights in Nazareth, right in front of the falafel joint that attracted diners from all over Israel before its master falafel-maker was killed in a family feud. Arrabeh, my own home village, has since replaced Nazareth as the falafel Mecca of Galilee.

One of the first public housing projects in Upper Nazareth was located in this confiscated land strip and was specifically planned for housing families of army personnel, hence its name, Shkhonat Tzahal – Army Neighborhood. Of course, the Jewish-only clause must have applied. But soon enough, something like the above scenario took place and the first Arab family moved in, possibly feeling some security in the area’s proximity to Arab homes on both sides of the ridge. In retrospect, no one should have been surprised by the ensuing events: The downward spiral in the prices of apartments and homes and the flight of Jewish owners out of Shkhonat Tzahal. It is a familiar phenomenon to American residents of formerly white-only suburbs. By now the residents of the Army Neighborhood of upper Nazareth are nearly all Arabs, though it has kept its name. Despite the local vigilantes and the continued friction, including the threats and actual attacks against Upper Nazareth’s most outspoken Arab resident, former Knesset Member Azmi Bshara, the infiltration of other parts of upper Nazareth by Arab young couples continues by force of necessity. It has reached such proportions that Upper Nazareth has been officially listed as a mixed city, there is an Arab member in the city council, and Arabs dare to make demands on candidates for mayor. You would think it is enough to make the intruders, and who is an intruder depends on which side of that two-lane highway you stand, pick up and leave.

September 09, 2008
Whoring in Karmiel
The municipal election mania is heating up in Galilee ‘mixed cities’. It is a rare occasion nowadays that I see the news broadcast on Israel’s state TV Channel 1; my disconnect from ‘my country’ is that complete. I just can’t focus on what is being reported after the first news item about anything to do with Palestine and the Palestinians. I just sit there glaring at those well-dressed respectable-looking news announcers and their learned political analysts and expert guests. I wonder if they really think about what they say and how they do really feel inside when they casually and regularly dehumanize the other. But an item of this genera caught my attention enough for me to follow it through as I sat waiting for our regular visitors, our friends Toufiq and Zainab. It was about the municipal elections in neighboring Karmiel where several parties catering to Russian and other new immigrants campaign on the strength of their stand against Arabs moving into the Jewish city envisioned by its Zionist planners as the future big beating-heart of central Galilee.

Imagined maps of the Judaized future Galilee feature Karmiel metamorphosing into a massive urban expanse that extends from Maa’lot close to the Lebanese border all the way to and including Upper Nazareth. How do these planners reconcile their standard exclusionary policies with their demographic worries? The Galilee continues to be Israel’s demographic Achilles’ heel, its Arabs maintaining their lead with a fraction of a percentile point ahead of its Jews. A decade or so ago when the tide turned momentarily in favor of the Jews the National Demographic Center, government ministers and the press all celebrated the occasion with much aplomb. What do they plan to do with me and my extended family, I wonder? And shouldn’t I worry?

So far the actual Karmiel octopus of a settlement has engulfed only much of the private fertile fields and olive groves and of the traditional collective grazing lands of the surrounding Arab villages of Rama, Sajour, Nahif, Bii’neh, Dier-el-Asad, Majd-el-Kroum, and the ancient Bedouin localities of Kammaneh West, Kammaneh East, El-Hussainyieh, el-Nai’m and Ramyeh.

The last locality, Ramyeh, was simply imagined out of existence by the planners and mapped as another neighborhood of the new Jewish city. Its original residents however didn’t accept their total absence from the inspirational drama of Judaizing the Galilee and dug their heels in, further infuriating the progressive city fathers with their antics of alerting leftist and activists across Israel and the world. Those raging maniacs, the Bedouin residents of Ramyeh, dared ask the city to take them in as residents and to incorporate their existing modest homes as part of the new development. But, of course, plans are plans and they didn’t show Bedouin shacks as part of the modern subdivision that was being constructed. Besides, the city is a Jewish one and Bedouins can never hide their Arabness even if their boys often volunteer their services to the Israel Defense Forces, not even when they are deployed to drive other Bedouins in the Occupied Palestinian Territories of Gaza and the West Bank out of their homes.

More than two decades have passed since the last time I participated in a demonstration in support of Ramyeh. I am ashamed to say that over the years I grew tired of the daily tug of war between the dozen families in Ramyeh with their leftist and human rights activist sympathizers and the city’s adamant administration set on expelling them from their homes. All I know is that as I drive by I still can see the few simple stone homes overshadowed and rimmed on three sides by multistory modern apartment buildings. I promise I will find out more soon!

All of that is not in the news report, of course. And another major Arab-Jewish flash point is no longer in the headlines: For years Zionist party leaders in Karmiel and their visiting backers from national headquarters waved their anti-Arab banners high while simultaneously claiming the moral high ground: They would loudly declare their objection to the infiltration of Arabs into Karmiel. Arab pioneering youth, daring to challenge the status quo and to cross the ethnic divide, come there mainly in search of vice and debauchery, they claim. Their influx, even as nonresident business customers, further encouraged the booming sex industry that had continued to flourish in the 1990s with each wave of Russian immigrants.

I know what you are thinking: ‘this is slanderous’, no? Let me explain and provide some contextuality for my outrageous statement. Eons ago I attended college at the University of Hawaii and wound up marrying a local fellow student and have been returning there frequently ever since. My brother Sharif also attended the UH but he had already hooked up a South Dakotan. Around the turn of the millennium Didi and I hosted Pat and Sharif in Hawaii after their absence from the island scene of over two decades. They were on their way back from a conference in Australia. At the end of our compulsory stroll along Kalakaua Avenue, the touristy strip parallel to the world-famous Waikiki Beach, as we approached the less refined bar and gaming end of the street I asked my brother if he noticed any change in the ever vibrant Waikiki nightlife. He responded with a one-liner: “The Korean hookers on the street have been replaced by Russian ones.”

Now, if they have conquered Honolulu, could they not takeover Karmiel? Poverty, the dissolution of the political and societal framework of the former Soviet Union, and the advent of globalization have lead to the rapid spread of the business networks of the Russian underworld, including the sex industry and the trade in women slaves. Israel was and still is much affected by this development, the crime bosses taking advantage of its insatiable appetite for Russian immigrants. Much as it uncritically supported the state’s immigration policy, the Israeli media has frequently featured major business and crime scandals of specific Russian immigrants.

In Karmiel the city bosses assume that the sex industry thrives on the pull factor of the ample supply of male customers, the sexually-deprived young men from the surrounding Arab villages. Ergo, Arabs are to blame for the flourishing sex industry in the town and the way to stem it is to prevent their taking residence in it. Still, by now Arab families make up 10-15% of Karmiel’s residents. They have put up their own party for the municipal elections. On TV they even interviewed its lead candidate, Rabea’ Jahshan, a young lawyer who was a good friend of my daughter in high school.

The argument against Arabs, I hear, was recently revived again by no other than Avigdor Lieberman, the biggest Russian political entrepreneur In Israel. He doesn’t restrict his campaign to targeting Arabs in mixed cities. He wants all Palestinians out of Israel. He openly calls for my expulsion from my home. And the Israeli news media brings that as another neutral news item.

Now how can I deal with that without cussing? The Palestinian Arabic vernacular is rich in cusswords and vulgar descriptive phrases that relate to the cussee’s female relatives’ private anatomy and sexual habits. I am told that the Russian language shares that special richness. So, if the two of us ever meet in person, we will have a lively conversation, I am sure.

For now suffice it to say: ”Damn!”

Monday, November 24, 2008

Faulty Design

Faulty Design

I am in New York with our daughter’s family for a combined vacation and treatment of a minor urologic problem. The procedure I am having is one for which Israeli physicians haven’t claimed priority and higher expertise yet. Whether it is weapons systems or high-tech medical gadgetry, we in Israel are used to keeping at the cutting edge of development, often by importing the parts from the USA at favorable terms, fitting the pieces together, then exporting the end product back to America and elsewhere. Trade agreements and dual citizenship machinations are such that the process turns out hefty profits and permits us to claim a front and center position in scientific and industrial development, way beyond our actual smarts. On this occasion, when I inquired about the new technology of microwave therapy for an enlarged prostate I was told that the one place in Israel that has some expertise in using this procedure uses equipment especially designed by and for Israelis. Recognizing my own questionable qualifications under those terms and wishing to avoid being experimented on by trainee prostate cooks, I sought to do the procedure here in NY.

The problem I have in common with many of my male cohorts is not as complex or mysterious as urologists make it sound. Basically it is a result of faulty design at source. It seems the designer was focused wholly on the new product and lapsed negligent when it came to the end result of utilizing this specific system over the useful life of the machine as a whole. Fresh off the production line and for many years to come, a man’s drainage system functions fairly well, better than that of the female counterpart for that matter. But as part of this intelligent design package, sex figures high on the list of improved functionality of the product. That is where testosterone comes into play, figuratively and literally speaking. And one of its unintended effects is that it pumps up the size of, among other things, the prostate gland, so much so that it ends up sealing the drainage system shut. Therefore the blockage has to be cleared away by scraping it with a sharp edged probe from inside, by buzzing it with a blue-light laser beam (don’t ask me why blue! Pink is definitely out of the question for this specific item) or by opening up your belly and peeling off the whole mess from around the discharge pipe. Then someone smart came up with the obvious solution of inserting a microwave-emitting rod up your penis and cooking your prostate to your plumber’s preference. Judging by the way I feel, mine goes for well done. And no, his name is not Joe! The advantage of this last procedure is that it doesn’t put an end to the co-functionality component, the sex thing.

The way it all came about for me was rather sudden: One day while sipping my after-dinner coffee at the home of friends in Nazareth, one of their children, a rambunctious four year old, suddenly stopped by my chair, poked me in the ribs and asked: “Uncle, how come your face is so pockmarked?” Before I could regain my equanimity and think of an answer he was gone chasing other children around the house. The question bothered me enough to excuse myself and go to the toilet where I could look in the mirror. And lo and behold, on close inspection the kid was right: blemishes of Senile Keratosis were all over the place, especially on my forehead. And the eyes informed of the same truth: For the first time I observed my Arcus Senilis, that darkened outer rim of the sclera that comes with old age, hence the ‘sinilis’ descriptive. It didn't look all that bad and I still recognized the image in the mirror as mine. But the terms, ones I had often flung casually as a doctor at other people, suddenly sounded awfully vulgar.

That night I didn’t sleep well, not only because of the shock of discovering that at age seventy I was getting actually old and starting to show it but also because of having to get up to urinate so many times. It might have developed gradually over time but I must have ignored it and tricked myself into accepting it as a variation on the normal. Till that night when it waxed pathological.

I recall the same kind of sudden awakening to my chronological age when I hit forty: That very same day I discovered a painful disfigurement on my foot, a bunion, and had to deal with hemorrhoids. And for the first time ever I felt short of breath running. I was born and brought up in rural Palestine where you run for your life from the day you stand up on two.

Faulty design is not the exclusive domain of the male of the species, mind you. The whole birthing thing, another side effect of sex, leaves much to be desired. The basic setup seems first and foremost to work to the benefit of the medical profession, witness if you will the terrible fate of so many women in the developing world who wind up with fistulas that leak out urine or worse, all the result of unattended deliveries. Why didn’t the creator, or Darwin or whoever is at the bottom of all of this, make little babies slip out early on and hide in a furry pocket on their mother’s abdomen?

If evolution has its way, at least Palestinian women are likely to develop a kangaroo-like reproductive system to avoid lengthy labor and delivery or even death at checkpoints. Evolution takes time but it seems the Israeli occupation will last long enough. And with the magic combination of American money and Israeli ingenuity we may start seeing experimentation with alternative evolutionary strategies such as Evolution on Demand and Fast-Track Evolution. Palestinians make the perfect species for such experiments: they look and act very much like humans, albeit a lower form of the genre; they have proven highly adaptable, witness how we have turned them all overnight into terrorists and suicide bombers and how we can set them at each other's throats at well; they have a fast reproductive cycle; and they are already conveniently in escape-proof cages.

On my way to an early morning appointment with my urologist I had to waste an hour. I went into a fast-food place and ordered a large coffee. Back in Galilee the same type of joint is the place where the well-off take their families for a treat. This one here, at the edge of NYU campus, is rather grungy and a little depressing despite the glaring music. As I sat watching the brisk human traffic I realized that there were a dozen more loafers like me who were seeking refuge from the cold. I counted five disheveled street people with their signal carts and/or backpacks and heavy coats. Three limped on canes. One looked around to borrow a pen unsuccessfully. My wife, Didi, finally donated to him one that was on the verge of drying up. He shook it to determine the level of ink and gave an understanding and forgiving smile. He sat down to his coffee, opened a torn bible and proceeded to underline every other verse with a repeated angry motion of his hand, nearly tearing the thin pages. He ambled to meet another street person, both with arms and necks heavily tattooed. Both fit the prototype of the army veteran who went off the deep end: middle-aged, bulky, white, broken and disturbed. They talked loudly, exchanged high-fives and slaps on the back, then parted before I had a chance to join them. I fought the urge to go over and let them know that I was their comrade, another misfit in this world, a Palestinian.

Another street person, black this time, walked out from the bathroom agitated and waving his walking stick in the air demanding to be given a mop to clean the floor. He insisted he had to do that because he himself was a janitor and had spilled soap on the floor. No one responded and he demanded to see the manager who waved his hand in a motion of dismissal. Eventually the cleaning lady, an Ethiopian-looking older woman, acceded and gave him a bucket and a mop. Later he emerged all smiles and explained loudly to his disgusted female colleague that he had jerked off at the wall and had to clean the mess.

The image in my mind of the American fast-food patron is that of an obese middle-aged person. Yet at this early hour the over one hundred customers that streamed in and out as I observed the scene from where I sat were mainly thin young people, mostly college students on their way to class: whites, blacks, Hispanics and Asian of all shades of color and slant of eye. The fat ones sleep late, it must be. One young Arab boy (perhaps he was Mexican, or he could have been Italian or Indian or Native American, or …) walked over with an endearing sway to the booth across from me with his breakfast roll, earrings, and ready smile every time our eyes met. A second beautiful smiling youth, a woman with West African broad features, ripe apricot skin, big expressive black eyes, and thick succulent lips completed the picture that epitomized to me the hidden potential of the whole human conundrum of New York: varied, cosmopolitan, youthful, full of promise, and potentially Palestine-friendly.

On the way back, having had my indwelling catheter removed after four days of feeling tethered from inside my gut to a heavy iron ball, I felt light footed, free and elated. The sun was shining warm and the Greenwich Village streets were full of smiling beautiful people. I kept thinking: ‘Wow! Have they all had their catheters removed?!”

Later in the day we went to the Chinese dumpling joint two blocks from my daughter’s house. Two years ago when we first found about it, it was a tiny hole in the wall with half a dozen cooks behind a counter that admitted one customer at a time. A line would form all the way out on the street for the dozen varieties of dumplings, sesame pancakes and soups, all prepared fresh as you waited. Despite its space limitations, Vanessa’s Dumpling House has been written up many a time in the New York Times as the place to quell one’s Chinese food longings at affordable prices. Now it is a big hole in the wall with the same half dozen cooks with knives and ladles still running every which way in the crowded space behind the same counter, a scene not unlike a public row in a third-world setting with machetes and sticks. But the customers now have a narrow wooden seat against the wall and a row of small tables to sit and wolf their chow down. Didi and I lucked out as another couple left their seats just as the cashier, who now pokes her finger at Chinese characters on a computer screen instead of writing on brown paper sheets, called our order number, one in the middle hundreds.

Half-way though savoring my soup some of the delicious liquid went down the wrong pipe engendering a cough-spasm that made some thirty heads turn and stare in alarm. Fortunately I quickly snapped out of my respiratory crisis. Now you tell me if it is the best design to have two passages, one for swallowing and the other for breathing, cross on their way down! Wouldn’t it be safer to have one’s nose under his mouth and have the two pipes completely separate? Esthetically, for people like me it should work well. For the two years that I was engaged to my half-Chinese wife, the only grudge her family held against me was on account of that prominent organ “sitting right in the middle of his face.”

Monday, November 10, 2008

Obama the Bedouin

October 30, 2008:
Nowadays things change fast, so much so that some worry we may be at the verge of bringing about our own demise as a modern civilization. That doesn’t keep me awake nights. I suspect that I may well be comfortable living in a cave. Recently I was delighted to discover a direct link, culturally and emotionally if not even genetically speaking, to some ancient folks. When I read in Wikipedia that the carob seedpod was the hieroglyphic for sweetness, I could easily identify with that at the gut level and a tender sentiment toward the Pharaohs tugged at my heart. I have a carob tree in my orchard and I know how sweet it is.

Admiringly, I was reminded of the oft-repeated Palestinian saying used in chiding fellow Arabs and the rest of the world for not daring to stand up to Israel’s aggression against them: “They asked Pharaoh who made you such a despot? He gloated: I practiced despotism and no one stopped me!” In the local slang, what makes the phrase roll off the tongue easily is its catchy repetition of one word. The two verbs ‘to make a despot’ and ‘to practice despotism’ are both direct derivatives of the name ‘Pharaoh’.
So, you see, I have a connection to the ancient Egyptian monarchs. I even have a friend named Ramsis in Hawaii .

But this is tedious stream of consciousness stuff. What I wanted to talk about is change, not continuity. This morning I woke up to the peculiar realization that we have come a long way in terms of the accessibility of world news. As soon as I made my morning cup of coffee and turned my computer on, I could instantaneously access news about the whole world. That may sound like an empty cliché. Except that for a ‘has-been’ like me where we have been matters no less than where we are now. I remember the days when a dozen or more grown relatives would be gathered at the edge of the Kanaaneh neighborhood of the village, in front of al-Zawieh –the clan’s guesthouse and gathering point, one of them with a newspaper in hand, all waiting for us school kids to come home and read the news for them. Then in 1948 refugees from the city brought a radio to the village. (I better watch out: Someone is going to claim that I said that the driving out of the Palestinians from their cities had a salubrious effect on their country kin; It could even be claimed that I implied that villagers greeted departing refugees, and especially their pursuing Zionist forces, with flowers because of the civilizing impact the process of cleansing had on them. If you think that is too much of a stretch of the imagination, let me remind you that you have swallowed equally valid fibs, spun out in your media into historical fact, for decades. Remember the ‘land without people’? That is where I lived!) Later, in 1970, when I returned from my medical studies in the USA, I found that my entrepreneurial older brother had bought a TV set and was still charging fellow villagers for watching the news or the Arab version of a chick flick, mostly inane narratives manipulated to allow Fairuz, and several other temporary competitors, to sing. She is still at it today and I worship her heavenly voice especially when she sings for Jerusalem and Palestine.

Then came personal computers and the internet and I started wallowing in its endless recesses. This morning the internet offered more news of change, not all for the better though all in the best tradition of democracy: At the height of the presidential elections mania in the USA, while my eight-year-old granddaughter is stomping with her father in rural Pennsylvania for Barak Obama, I am openly maligned for being who I am and for having been targeted for elimination by Zionism and resisting it. Good old McCain interjects with an accusation of treason directed at his opponent for having once associated with Rashid Khalidi, a recognized academician and authority on the Middle East whose undoing in McCain’s eyes is his justifying of Palestinian resistance to Israel’s occupation. Imagine that! A Palestinian who dares not accept Israeli occupation! A terrorist by definition! No wonder Palin spins the accusation a wee bit further and has Obama ‘palling with terrorists’ though Rashid is only implied indirectly. It pays to bash Arabs and with a name like Hussain, Obama is obviously one of them. McCain tries to deflect the blow with sweet civility: “No, ma'am. He's a decent, family man!” a classic ‘uthrun aqbah min thanb – an excuse uglier than the sin itself.”

I know and respect Prof. Khalidi. He wrote a blurb for my book which is the kind of damning evidence the crazies marshal against him. His intellectual and academic clout is way above needing to be defended by the likes of me. You don’t land a position like the Edward Said endowed chair at Colombia accidentally. My daughter got her doctorate there and I am familiar with their opinionated rigor. Looking at things from that narrow perspective, I am tempted to accuse Rashid of colluding with the enemy.

But enough of the silly pander! Prof. Khalidi is secure enough in his convictions not to argue back with his detractors. He is dismissive of the humdrum revile and I accept and honor his decision. What I am dealing with here is my own dilemma: how am I to keep my focus and balance in the topsy-turvy world in which I find myself? Not only that I keep observing solid basic facts turned on their head but also that it is happening at a dizzying speed. It was only yesterday when liberation movements, the PLO included, were glorified as inspirational standard bearers of the struggle for human dignity and freedom. Then a certain CIA trainee splits off from the pack and hits his masters hard in the stomach and in the pocketbook. And his family’s friend and business partner gets angry and lashes out at all those with the same shade of color, style of dress, and form of worship. He, the world’s only remaining heavyweight, refuses to define his terms, or perhaps he doesn’t comprehend the terms formulated by his neoconservative Zionist and fundamentalist Christian operators. Then Sharon , the Israeli nationally and internationally acclaimed war criminal, Mr. Bush’s own ‘man of peace’, sees an opportunity and sneaks into the command tent with the declared goal of maligning the Palestinians. Overnight we all become terrorists. Even I, a chicken-hearted Americophile, get caught in the net as a potential terrorist and am interrogated for hours at airports.

Like shit, rapid change happens, sometimes in undesired directions. It was only yesterday when a famed actor played his bit part shouting at an opponent “Mr. President, tear that wall” and biblical Jericho -like the wall shook and came tumbling down. The whole world fell in line and a new ice age of unipolar magnetism ensued. Then a Hebrew-speaking Georgian leader and his Israeli trained top general decided to play hardball with their former oppressors. Russia hit back hard and overnight the world was jolted into its former bipolar self. Hooray for Saakashvili!

And it is not only time that has contracted down, time-lapse-photography-like. Space has also collapsed down on itself as well: I travel to the far corners of the earth, from Brazil to China, and am greeted and regaled as another welcome member of the species, albeit with money, to return home and face biblical-era tribal exclusionism. The looks on the faces of immigration officials at the airport as they peer into my passport and recognize my Arab name tell me that I am still considered a threat to the peace of the only country in which I ever had citizenship, simply for being racially different. ‘My’ country’s policy-makers, most of them born abroad, consider me a ticking time-bomb, an undesirable contaminant of their Zionist-inspired racially pure dream society, a Jewish state, pure and simple. Their inspired leaders have bickered for decades over what limit to set for my demographic proportions, anywhere from the zealot’s zero tolerance preference to Rabin’s liberal 20%, tops, which we are rapidly approaching. Professors theorize, civic leaders hold public debates, and the media goes into a tizzy over my un-abating natural increase rate.
“We should have stayed in China ,” I tell my half-Chinese wife.

The debate dominates the ether waves and all public discourse except when other existential threats, such as Iran secretly seeking nuclear parity with us, take hold of our attention. How can we stop ‘our Arabs’ from naturally expanding their numbers without taking the drastic measures expounded by extremist proponents of forced mass castration? Educate their girls; differentially promote family planning to their women; annul their family unification rights; encourage their youth to seek a better life abroad? We have done all of that and they are still outpacing us demographically. Better yet, work on your side of the equation; increase your own people to beat them in the numbers game; bring in the Jewish masses from Russia and Ethiopia, even if admixed with Christian impurities.

07 November 2008
Change happens in the USA as well. The Obama mania is global. He caught all of us off guard and in a mood to celebrate; we all needed an excuse for a party, ‘siba limisiba’ as we say here in Hebrew. My daughter in New York had a party at her home with some sixty celebrants, mostly expats without the right to vote in the first place. But Malaika, my eight year-old granddaughter and her father had volunteered in the Obama election campaign and they deserved to celebrate the success of their efforts.

And celebrations are everywhere. This morning I received a call from Ibrahim, my Bedouin colleague, seeking an expert opinion on a minor public health issue he faced. He opened with a reproachful tone of voice:
“Why haven’t you come to congratulate me?”
“What is up? Another promotion or a new child?”
“Noooo! Haven’t you heard? The Americans have elected a Bedouin to the White House!”
He then proceeded to explain that the Hujirat tribe in the village of Beir el-Maksour has thrown a big party, feasting on rice and mutton, celebrating all night with songs and Dabkeh dance, and distributing sweets to well-wishers for the past two days. Obama’s great grandmother on his father’s side, they claim, was a daughter of the tribe. My informer reports that one of Obama’s acclaimed tribal granduncles was interviewed on the Israeli Arab language TV news. When asked why he didn’t divulge his kinship secret earlier, he replied in Hebrew: “I didn’t want to influence the outcome of the elections in a foreign country,” implying somehow that it would have worked to the disadvantage of McCain, Israel’s favorite.

I am not sure how much trust to put in this far-fetched story, and who in the tribe invented it. Manipulation and hidden scheming is a well-known Bedouin trait, if not a trait of Palestinians in general and perhaps of all Arabs. (Stretch that out another notch and it becomes a basic human trait, which is not far from the truth!) Some member of the Hujirat tribe stands to benefit from the rumor.

Early in the first decade of Israel’s existence, the movement of this semi-nomadic group with their extensive goat and cow herds in their traditional grazing lands in lower Galilee Mountains was curtailed and they were concentrated in the newly created village of Beir el-Maksour. Quickly their men were recruited into the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF, years before Palestinians coined the alternative term IOF = Israeli Occupying Forces) serving mainly in the Border Police as trackers, a cushy job by Bedouin standards. One of their tribal leaders was catapulted by Ben Gurion’s labor party, (Mapai) into big time politics as an ‘elected’ parliament member. It worked to the benefit of all concerned: He and his likes collected fat salaries and were regaled with accolades and gifts by fellow members of the Palestinian minority seeking protection from the excesses of the Israeli military government and tax collectors; the Mapai party could count on their illiteracy and uninformed automatic support in close parliament votes even when dealing with extending the mandate of the military rule over the Arab minority or with expropriating their land; and Israel could brag in international circles about its liberal democracy and egalitarian treatment of its ‘Moslem, Druze and Christian’ (never Arab or Palestinian) minorities, witness their representation in the Knesset (parliament).

What I tried to understand from my colleague was who stands to benefit from this rumor? It has to be the twisted connivance of a sick mind for some imagined personal gain. Does one of their current chiefs aspire to become Obama’s advisor on Bedouin affairs, or perhaps even on tribal affairs including those of Native Americans? If I am not mistaken such a position exists at the prime minister’s office in Israel. And Israel sets the standard for the USA and trains its emissaries to the Middle East, especially armed ones. The place is full of Bedouins and the USA is not about to abandon Arabia’s resource-rich deserts. So why not create such a post for the US president?

I am reminded of the claim made by the sheikh in one of the Palestinian villages in the Triangle region of Israel back in the nineteen fifties when I was still in high school. It was rumored then that the great Italian actress, Sophia Loren, had been raised as an orphan in an Italian monastery. The sheikh claimed that he also grew up as an orphan though he was raised by relatives. His younger sister, Safyieh, was taken in as an orphan by a charitable order of nuns from Italy and he had never heard from her since. This was long before DNA testing was developed. But the clever man could prove his claim beyond doubt: “Let me meet her once and I can prove it to you. My sister Safyieh had a distinctive birthmark on the inner aspect of her right thigh.”
To us in high-school, sexually deprived teenagers bubbling with excess testosterone, the sheikh’s motives were obvious.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

A Friend's Reading of My Thoughts

The following comments were presented together with oral presentations by two other reviewers on the occasion of the launch of my book in Ramallah. It is posted here for the benefit of those who missed the launch.

Comments on Hatim Kanaaneh’s book A Doctor in Galilee: The Life and Struggle of a Palestinian in Israel. London: Pluto Press, 2008

Khalil Nakhleh

Ramallah, 5 Nov. 2008

Allow me first to contextualize my comments, briefly. Hatim and Didi are our personal friends, with whom we socialize, whenever we have the chance, and share our passion for gardening and preservation of nature. I came to know Hatim in the context of mustering funds for the work of the Galilee Society in which, as the book shows, he was fully immersed, professionally, passionately and politically. I was in Geneva then; he was between Arrabyeh and Rameh. Later, Lois and I got to know Hatim and Didi as friends.

This is a rich ethnographic and experiential narrative of local village culture, Hatim’s own village, culture and society. It is documented with immense passion, sensitivity, worry and a high level of personal doubt and torment. This is a narrative of what anthropologists dub as “little culture”, distinguished that is from “big culture”, or systems of beliefs, values, political economic structures, etc. Hatim does well in focusing on the “little culture”, and alludes to the rest.

At the political level, Hatim’s memoirs are an indictment of the racist system in Israel, by allusion. However, as the narrator progressed towards the conclusion of the narrative, and under the cumulative weight of racist and overtly discriminatory practices by the Jewish Zionist system towards the Palestinian Arab minority, his “allusions” became more pointed, clearer and less ambiguous, which led him to conclude (on p. 255): “I find myself needing to shake myself violently to snap out of the hypnotic trance I have been lulled into by all the sweet talk of coexistence—our coexistence as the lesser partner in the ‘Jewish first’, meaning ‘Jewish only’ democratic state”.

Since I accepted to comment on Hatim’s book, based only on the initial reading of small parts of it, and since I finished reading the whole book, I debated with myself on how to proceed. At first, I could not resist the temptation to expand, and attempt to put flesh on, the political allusions that abound in the book, at the risk of diverting the listeners from the richness and complexity of the “little culture” of which Hatim’s book is an invaluable record. However, following my wife’s insistence, I consented to divert my focus, without abandoning it.
Hatim’s memoirs urged me to frame the overall context by posing two interrelated questions to which Hatim alluded in the book: (1) what does it mean to be a Palestinian Arab in Israel? And (2) What does it mean to be a part of an indigenous minority that is a remaining fragment of the Palestinian people, living in a country—Israel—that is directly responsible for this historical evil?

By focusing on the “little culture”, Hatim addressed various, intermingled elements that could constitute the answer to these questions, for example:

 By putting together the various comments he makes about land, you start feeling and smelling the land, not as an abstract concept, but as a living thing, interacting with its people and they with it. You start feeling it as the anchor of subsistence and steadfastness, and as the keeper of its peoples’ history. It is symbolized by the olive trees, or, more accurately, by the “ancient olive tree” that graced the entrance to Hatim’s and Didi’s yard, which became the headpiece for their friends and relatives to come and visit, and which had to be protected from the evil eye of “jealous admirers” (p. 258).

 Reading one episode after another, you get a “real time” feeling what a traditional Arab extended village family, planted in its land for generations and solidified through history, is, how it works, and how it is lived and living. In one of the entries Hatim records: “Today I visited my old cousin, Abu-Faisal, who is the nominal head of the Kanaaneh clan though he has little actual influence these days. Every morning he still prepares a new pot of black Arabic coffee and sits in the clan’s traditional guesthouse or diwan, al-Zawieh, handed down since my grandfather established it. He shares his coffee with his daily circle of visitors, his elderly friends, and with the occasional passer-by …”(p 31-2).

 Village ethos, with all its stereotypes and blemishes, jumps at you from Hatim’s memoirs: “The residents of Sakhnin, Arrabeh’s larger neighbor, are known for taking much pride in their village. … In the Galilee, frictions between Sakhnin and Arrabeh are legend. Sakhninis look down on us for lacking both valor and the traditional Arab generosity when receiving guests. In return, we find them haughty and contentious. Their men strut around, noses in the air and head dresses … tilted to the side, walking in the middle of the road with an obvious chip-on-shoulder demeanor” (p. 88-9).

 At the personal level, Hatim’s narrative is very open. He takes you deep inside of him in his recurrent doubts, fears and worry … his constant vacillations between being back in his village and being in Hawii drawn by the spell of its beauty and the warmth of Didi’s family, and running away from the discrimination that the Jewish racist system practices against non-Jews.

Some concluding remarks

Upon finishing reading Hatim’s memoirs, I felt more compelled to draw these memoirs to their logical conclusion, by answering the two questions posed at the onset of these comments, namely, what does it mean to be a Palestinian Arab in Israel? And, what does it mean to be a part of an indigenous minority that is a remaining fragment of the Palestinian people, living in a country—Israel—that is directly responsible for the historical evil that transformed us into a minority?

In his introduction to Fouzi El-Asmar’s book “To be an Arab in Israel” (1975), Uri Davis wrote: “To be an Arab in Israel is to confront a political reality which excludes a priori … equal participation of non-Jews, first and foremost, the native population of the land: the Palestinian Arabs. To the extent that the state is Jewish it must deny equality of economic, political and national rights from its native non-Jewish population. It is not incidental that to be an Arab in Israel is to be thrown into the shadow either as a refugee or as an internally colonized, materially and culturally disinherited ‘Arab minority’” (p.5). This applies, of course, across the national board, to all of us, whether one is a “doctor” or not.

The only future for us, as an indigenous national minority, where we can exercise our inherited basic human rights, and where we can achieve true justice and equality, is to regain our status as a part of our national majority, in historical Palestine, after the dismemberment and dissolution of the Zionist racist system. Our future, as a national minority in our land, and as part of the Arab nation, is organically connected to the future of the Arab nation, and to the entire Palestinian people—the communities in the West Bank and Gaza, the refugees, and all those dispersed throughout the world; and it has to be realized in a democratic society in historical Palestine, where we would be ready to co-exist with non-Zionist Jews. Deconstruction of the racist Zionist-Ashkenazi system is a precondition for such a just solution. The existing Israeli system is, by definition, racist, exclusivist, and inherently and structurally incapable of providing justice and genuine equality to our people.

Thursday, November 6, 2008


September 1, 2008:
Summer is a trying season when it comes to deciding on the choice of fruits from my garden for breakfast. And whether to indulge my cholesterolophobia by skipping the couple of fresh eggs from my free range chickens. This year, for the past month I have been savoring the various fresh fruits added to breakfast cereal doused with a cup of delicious mqiqa. The problem already looming large on the horizon is how we will survive without mqiqa in another month when my carob ripens and loses the special heavenly, slightly astringent flavor of its unripeness.

For seventy years I had survived ignorant of the fact that carob is actually edible before it is fully ripe and its fleshy seedpods are totally dry. Till my octogenarian friend, Juma’a, Arabic for Friday, informed me about it. Last summer I went to visit him at home, to take him a bushel of carob as a gesture of gratitude for allowing me to take pictures of him and his wife in their traditional costumes, and to collect one of his handmade flutes, a gift he had promised me. He chided me for not bringing the carob a little earlier before it had fully ripened and dried up. As a young man Juma’a had tended goats in the Galilee Mountains before he joined the British armed forces. He still has his British ID card of which he is sentimentally proud. Showing it to me brought back memories of his days of youthful vigor and romance that spilled over into tales of wedding celebrations at which he played the flute to the accompaniment of the extemporaneous love songs of the prettiest girl in the village, now his old and weathered wife, Im-Mahmoud. Reverberations of the pleasant days of village celebrations accompanied the man throughout his life. Many years later, when he became a welder in an Israeli pipe factory, he had the chance to drill holes in lengths of stainless steel pipe and manufacture a plentiful supply of village style flutes. Now he gave me one of his favorites. Alas, I can’t whistle in its open end to produce the tunes.

Juma’a was my patient before I retired and turned my clinic over to my trusted namesake, my physician nephew. When he retired from the active life as a day laborer, occasionally a welder, and as a hobby farmer, abandoning both his welding skills and his land to his five boys, he quickly sank into the addictive lifestyle of a village retiree, spending most of his waking hours stretched out on his side on a mattress with his head propped up on his bent arm supported on a soft pillow or sitting cross-legged staring at the TV screen. The only interruptions were occasioned by an intruding grandchild, by the daylong well-spaced sips of black Arabic coffee, and by the five yogic exercises of prayer. Recently the wife of a retired fellow villager found him lifeless at mid-day still maintaining the classic reclining position in front of his blaring TV screen still clutching the remote control in his free hand. It brought back to Juma’a the classic dirge glorifying the hard life of toiling farmers sung by Palestinian rural women at funerals: “Mat wi-elminsa bidu wi-elbaqar yija’ar a’leh – He died clutching his plough and his oxen bleating over him.”

Shortly after retirement Juma’a started complaining of chest pain on exertion. My diagnosis of angina pectoris resulting from the narrowing of his coronary arteries was confirmed by a consulting cardiologist. I explained to him the basic anatomy underlying his complaint and the benefit of walking. I also put him on appropriate medications but these gave him headaches. So he went off his medications and started walking. He walked to the mosque five times for the prayers he did at home before; he walked to his land and interfered in his children’s less traditional cultivation methods; and he walked the dirt roads out of the village in all four directions. Soon enough he lost his chest pain.

Juma’a is not highly educated. He is functionally illiterate though he can write his name and read the Koran. He even makes out the headlines in the newspaper. But he is an intelligent man and has an analytical mind, albeit a quirky one. One of his most entertaining medical insights was about diabetes mellitus, a disease rapidly on the rise in the village in recent years. He made the right observation that diabetes strikes the better off families that could afford some semblance of Western lifestyle and Western diet. His first intuitive explanation was based on his limited understanding of modern technology and of electricity. He based this on his observation that most families afflicted with diabetes had indoor toilets with a water seal and a flushing mechanism. “It is all because of your fancy new toilets. A man with diabetes urinates in the toilet bowl and leaves it un-flushed. Another healthy man uses the toilet and as the flow of urine emanating from his body hits the content of that diabetes-charged bowl diabetes strikes him on the spot. And he takes it home to his family. Water is conductive, you know!” I took my time and explained to Juma’a the difference between electricity and diabetes. He argued back but eventually yielded reluctantly to my point of view. Then he came up with another explanation that I was less able to debunk and not so interested in debunking: “You notice that only the rich have diabetes,” and he proceeded to name the families in the village who have the disease. “These are the same families that bossed us around, we the poor of the village. They made our lives bitter and enjoyed all the sweet things in life. God is just. But He has no stones to throw at those who disobey him, as the saying goes. So what does He do? He makes those families’ lives bitter with excess sugar. God’s wisdom works in obscure ways, praised be his name!”

Then he went off on a tangent: “You wait and see. God doesn’t abandon his humble servants. If you are patient and do no harm to others, God will take revenge for you. What did we do to deserve the loss of our land to the Zionists? Look how they have driven us out of our homes in 48 and continue to starve us in Gaza and kill our children in the West Bank. God’s punishment is sure to come. We may not see it clearly. We may not even realize its purpose at first, but He knows what he is doing. Look at their dissolute youth! And at ours for that matter! When the punishment comes we too will suffer for our sins.”

On the occasion of my visit with my carob gift, Juma’a waxed nostalgic about “the good old days before the Zionists raped the wilderness with their settlements, barbed-wire fences, and cypress forests.” About his preference for the unripe carob he went on to explain: “The way we used to savor the early sweetness of the carob was to pick a few pods just as their green color faded into brown. The mountains were full of wild carob and we would be desperate for something sweet. Those were not days of toffee and chocolate and we would be hungry by the end of the long summer day. Early in the morning we would pick few unripe but sweet carobs and pound them with a clean stone on the rocks. We would put them in a container and milk a goat directly over the pulp, hide it in the shade of a bush, come back in the late afternoon tired and hungry, strain the milk with the corner of our shouras (gauzelike white head covers) and drink it with a piece of bread. You guys fret over your milk and cornflakes for breakfast. But you can’t imagine the taste of mqiqa with a piece of dry bread to the palate of a hungry shepherd.”

So now I do it my way, combining the old and the new, mqiqa and cornflakes. Often I add a couple of ripe figs though I like them fresh from the tree before I commence my daily gardening chores. Here too Juma’a’s traditional skills proved useful. One of the afflictions of the fig at the height of the summer heat is the tendency of the fruit to turn sour and rot just as it is ripening. The process starts at the tip of the delicate fruit where there is a tiny opening that admits the insect causing the damage. I had consulted with the expert at a nursery and he knew what pesticide would stop the infestation but gave me the wise advice to go natural. “You are not into figs commercially. You will always find enough healthy figs for your own consumption. So why use chemicals?” I certainly hope that the firm keeps him even if he dissuades customers from buying merchandise.

Then Juma’a came for a stroll in my orchard and saw the rotting figs. He rolled a tiny ball at the end of his gauzelike headdress, the size and shape of a Hershey kiss, and demonstrated to me what to do with it. So now every few days I spend an hour or two going around dipping a tiny cloth ball in olive oil and planting Hershey kisses on the mouths of the plump figs about to ripen in my garden. It works.

As a reward for his delightful tips I shared with Juma’a some of my learned acumen about carob: its drought resistance; the subsistence of holy men and ascetics on its fruit and hence its honorary name ‘St. John’s bread’; the use of its goat horn-like pod in ancient Egypt as the hieroglyph for ‘sweet’; and the ancient tradition of using its seed, the carat, as the weight standard for diamonds and gemstones and hence as the measure of the purity of gold. He wasn’t all that impressed. I have to come up with a more meaningful reward.

October 24, 2008:
Earlier this month, as the azure summer Galilee skies began clouding over, Juma’a gave me another piece of advice: “You better pick your carob before the rains. Unlike its sister, the olive, the carob doesn’t embellish its fruit with the rains. Those plentiful sweet pods will rot on the branches if you don’t gather them.” On the spot I finished sipping the cup of coffee his unmarried handicapped daughter had made us, convinced my friend Toufiq to abandon the morning paper I found him reading and to join me for the ardent task of knocking down a dozen bushels of ripe carob pods off my tree. For two hours we balanced on its hefty branches, hung with one arm, trapeze artist-like, from higher ones, and swung with a stick in the other arm at the plentiful chandelier-like clumps of fruit. Then we descended to gather the several inch-deep dark brown layer of carob pods from the net we had spread under the tree.

You have to be gentle with the carob. By the time it has readied its fruit for the picking abundant bunches of minute flowers are already decorating its hard wood. Palestinian mothers ask a tease question to their little children that describes this phenomenon: “Shew hamli ow-mirida’a ow-tala’a a’jabal tidawa lalhabal? – Pregnant, breastfeeding and has climbed the mountain seeking fertility treatment, what is it?”

Way back in 1979, Didi and I, having already made our fateful choice of Galilee over Hawaii, started to build a permanent residence for our family on the near one acre piece of land on the then outskirts of Arrabeh that I inherited from my father. With a rough site development scheme in mind we started puttering around the still evolving structure of the house. Didi adopted a good-sized area on the sun-exposed south side of the house for her herb garden. Miriam Petrokowski, Aunty Miriam to our children, an expert horticulturalist provided advice, seeds and good company for Didi. Neighbors would look in admiration at the older blond German Jewish woman swinging a pickax with her one functioning arm and beaming her sunny smile at them. She and Didi spent as much time visiting with neighbors and relatives as they did gardening.

I had the lion’s share of the remaining space around the emerging house and planted a couple of seedlings of each fruit tree I found at the local nursery. As the years went by and exotic trees I planted, coffee, Mango and avocado included, succumbed to cold winters, I replaced them with more suitable and less demanding varieties. Eventually figs, grapes, pomegranates, and citrus fruits attained a majority in my orchard. At the edges I planted a variety of native Galilee seedlings: olive, oak, hawthorn, wild maple, pistachio, myrtle, rock rose, bay leaf, Judah’s tree, terebinth, and carob.

In our enthusiasm for our chosen rural lifestyle we even raised a nanny goat and built her a special abode that carries her name to this day. Then the animal proceeded to damage my trees and to bend her neck around and suckle at her own udders forcing us to overrule the objections of our children and part ways with her. Among the seedlings to which the nanny goat helped herself was the carob by her house. After the goat left us the carob sprang up again with two healthy new sprouts. I was delighted with this development and over the years took to cross-grafting branches from each trunk onto the other, thus making a natural ladder to climb up the tree. In due time, I added a well-camouflaged tree house to entice our grandchildren to visit us. And that is how Toufiq and I can now climb up the tree at a gallop.

Now comes the hard part: new technology. In past years I had neighbors collect my carob crop and received a share of the delicious and healing molasses extracted from it. Carob molasses goes well with many recipes for sweet dishes and it is the standard replacement health food stores offer for customers afflicted with chocolate allergy. It is an excellent treatment for mouth sores and is effective against diarrhea in children. I used to receive one or two liters of the stuff a year at most. Then I discovered a neighbor who extracts carob molasses for a living and I joined him in the meticulous process from beginning to end. I netted some fifteen liters. The others had been underreporting the quantity of produce.

That is not so unusual. I have grown used to a kind of overvaluation of my taste and financial means. After all, what would a doctor and his American wife need ‘rubb’ for? It is a traditional food item, not the stuff for educated palates. Besides doctors are well off and need not bother with cheap homemade items. With a similar logic, on the rare occasion that fellow villagers are willing to accept payment from me for a home produced item they often overcharge me; their gamble on me is always double or nothing.

This year I decided to do it on my own with Toufiq’s help. The plentiful crop needs to be crushed first. I remember my mother and two older sisters spending hour’s pounding the tough dry pods, looking and feeling like so many goat horns, in the stone pestle with the heavy wooden mallet, the implements otherwise reserved for tenderizing meat for kubbeh niyeh, the Middle East take on Tartar steak. But now the rubb specialist in the neighborhood has a mechanical crusher and charges little for the process. Later the pulp has to be washed and soaked overnight in water. Then comes the hardest part, squeezing out the sweet liquid to be boiled down into thick molasses. My mother and two older sisters would spend the whole day at this backbreaking chore. They would surround the family ‘lajan’, the wide, high-rimmed, round copper basin usually reserved for the daily chores of washing clothes and of kneading dough. Each would sit on a stone, bend down at the waist with her extended legs hugging the lajan from her side, and would commence mashing the wet pulp and pressing out the sweet liquid from it. We, the young ones, would hang around pestering them with our impatient thirst for the heavenly juice.

I would sit close by for hours enchanted as I watched my sisters constantly switching arms, alternating the hand holding fistfuls of soaked pulp against the metal with the other pushing down piston-like in a vigorous twisting motion to force the juice out. Mother would eventually excuse herself saving her energy for taking care of her baby and busy herself cooking the main meal of the day, leaving the more demanding task to my sisters’ better preserved muscle power. Every so often she would interrupt her own chores to come out and encourage my sisters to keep at it a little longer. She would repeatedly prod them on, addressing herself to God on their behalf with her favorite prayer: “Allah yirda aliku qad ma darro bzazi aliku – May God favor you in proportion to how much my breasts let down their milk for you!” What daughter could resist such beseeching especially when accompanied by a cup of homemade lemonade or fresh pomegranate juice? They would keep at it for a full ‘Arabic day’ – from daybreak to sunset. For days afterwards they would complain of sore muscles.

I have no intention of imitating my late sister Fatmeh or my sister Jamileh, now old, frail, and a citified Nazarene who smiles fondly remembering the good old days of strenuous daily chores, from gathering firewood to carrying water from the village spring on her head, not to mention the special ‘festivals’ of rubb making or olive picking. Twice when I travelled to India I brought back many a picture to share with sister Jamileh of Indian rural women still performing the same old tasks of fetching firewood and water on their heads, their colorful silk saris adding a romantic touch to their enslavement. She loved those pictures.

The rubb-making challenge has weighed on my mind the whole year since I made the momentous decision to attempt it myself. Last May in Hawaii I had an inspiration. We were invited to the graduation luau -Hawaiian feast- of Didi’s youngest cousin’s youngest daughter. The Girl’s grandfather, our ‘uncle David,’ was a marvelous handyman in his younger days. As a part Hawaiian, he excelled in making haupia, the delicious coconut pudding specialty that is a must dessert at all authentic luaus. He had made his own mechanical press for extracting coconut milk using a metal frame, a washing machine drum, and a car jack. I was fascinated by the contraption and took several pictures of it from various angles. The inventor was intrigued and I explained the cause of my interest. He offered to make me one. But with his stroke, from which he was still recuperating, I knew he couldn’t. Besides it was too heavy to carry back all the way to the Galilee. With the new limitations airlines have placed on luggage it would cost a mint.

Back in Arrabeh I showed the pictures to Toufiq’s son, Morsi. He teaches mechanics at a technical school and is clever with his hands. He volunteered to secure a copy for me. His father-in-law is a welder and has all that is needed in his shop at home. I offered to reward both with a share of the produce. The deal was sealed.

Last week Morsi informed me that his mother-in-law had let it be known that the strange machine her husband was working on should be finished by the afternoon. I readied my Subaru outback by putting down its backseats flat, picked Toufiq up and headed to Yaffa, their village on the outskirts of Nazareth. As we arrived at his front yard Abu-Ahmad was still busy putting the final touches to the mechanical press. We sat around sipping the compulsory freshly-made Turkish coffee and nibbling at a selection of seasonal fruits. Soon he was finished and proudly presented his new creation to us.

Abu-Ahmad is a retired welder, a little younger than our age. Toufiq and I had dealt with him before in negotiating all the social minutiae of the engagement and then the marriage of his daughter, Nidaa’, to Morsi. She is now approaching the due date of her first pregnancy, ready to fulfill the first major duty of a new village daughter-in-law, to deliver a grandson. On multiple occasions that we exchanged visits with the man we came to know Abu-Ahmad as the retiree with the diminutive stature and quiet reticent demeanor, slow of motion, deliberate of action, and always smiling. This time, as we caught him at work in his metal shop, he was a different man: vigorous, quick, almost feisty, a slight scowl on his face, energetically rushing around in his backward baseball cap and rust-stained blue denim overalls. He was in his true mettle, so to speak, a totally different man.

He apologized for the slight delay and proceeded to show us the details of his handiwork, reassuring us that the whole rubb production business was a breeze to him. After all, as a welder, in his younger days he had worked for years on the construction of the Elite chocolate factory in Upper Nazareth and therefore was familiar with the flow mechanics of viscous fluids, rubb not being much different from molten chocolate. Too bad the bastards fired him in favor of Jewish welders for the permanent maintenance jobs. Security considerations were given as the excuse. Not unlike Tnuva, the dairy industry giant that supplied some of its butter, milk and cheese to the Israeli armed forces and hence couldn’t employ Arabs.

Abu-Ahmad was adamant about refusing payment for his work. We eventually relented and offered to cover only the price of the materials he used. He still refused and now we owe him much in rubb when it gets made. We lifted the heavy machine to the back of the car and drove away with our trove. As we left Yaffa Toufiq half jokingly raised the security issue again: “This thing looks suspicious, too much like a catapult. What if there is a security check tonight, what if they have one of those impromptu checkpoints on the way home? If whoever looks in the car is Russian we are in trouble. An Ethiopian immigrant or a Bedouin would likely accept our explanation; they would be familiar with carob and homemade molasses. But a Russian immigrant from the city is sure to think we are on our way to a hilltop to shell the Haifa port, the oil refinery, or the armament factory outside Sakhnin. Let us change course and drive home by way of Eilaboun.” Equally in jest I explained that driving in that direction is even riskier. The munitions depot there is infinitely more sensitive and if a Russian immigrant soldier is to accuse us of a planned attack with our catapult it would be Israel’s atomic arsenal we would be accused of targeting. In a more somber tone I shared with Toufiq the assertion made in a detailed report by the Arab Human Rights Association of Nazareth after the 2006 invasion of Lebanon that our Galilee Arab villages have been deliberately selected for locating Israeli military installations, witness the above examples of Sakhnin and Eilaboun.

Fortunately, we traveled home unimpeded and my press has undergone inspection by dozens of curious friends and relatives, adults and children alike. I have emailed pictures of it to Hawaii with acknowledgement of the original patent rights.

November 03, 2008
Two days ago it was a balmy autumn day, sunny and warm with a cool westerly breeze. The first rain of the season had cleansed my trees of their summer dust while they still retained their green foliage and ripe fruit, and the wall of cascading red jasmine separating the center courtyard from the Saturday bustle of Arrabeh was still in bloom. Everything looked clean, ready and welcoming for the grand occasion. I started the morning with a freshly brewed pot of drip hazelnut-flavored Kona coffee, so appreciated by my expected guests and partners in the physically demanding and time consuming venture. Quickly the place came alive with the beehive-like spontaneous single purpose hum of activity. At its height, counting children, there were near two dozen rubb-thirsty volunteers scurrying around the yard.

Saturday is our official day of rest in this country, bracketed in Arab towns by Friday for Moslems and Sunday for Christians. Except that the latter two days are mainly for the unemployed and for those holding office jobs in institutions that have cut their workweek down to five days. The racially segregated geography of Israel, combined with its legally enforced status as ‘the state of the Jews’ has some peculiar side effects in our communities: Saturday is the day of rest in Arrabeh, a town of twenty thousand with no Jews residing in it, except for one woman married to a cousin of mine. Two other imported wives were rescued long ago by religious organizations committed to guarding the purity of the Jewish race, each leaving behind a brood of confused children. I know because I had to deal with the social and health consequences of the breaking up of the two love-based unions. To add to the confused community calendar, some schools take Saturday off while others don’t. There is hardly a family that has the same day of rest for all of its members. Still Saturday is the prime day of the week for weddings and festive occasions, and we chose it for our rubb-making mini-festival.

By nine in the morning the basic contingent of volunteer experts had assembled: Jamal, a school teacher and a former student of Didi’s, brought his mega gas burner and two large plastic containers; Toufiq, my buddy, came with a hydraulic jack borrowed from a mechanic nephew (We had already tried our press squeezing pomegranate with my screw-type carjack and found it tedious); Abu-Ahmad, the out of town press-making welder, and his wife came with a humongous aluminum pot in hand; and Imad, my nephew and gardening helper, arrived with his teenage son, the latter with shirt sleeves rolled up over well-formed bulging biceps. Soon the center courtyard was abuzz with the bustle of the experts each busy with his self-assigned task. The day before Imad had taken the carob for grinding and then we left it to soak overnight in two plastic barrels purchased for the occasion. After I looked for a barrel all over town and failed to find one, Imad found two at the scrap-metal dealer who scrounges for them among the refuse of a major soap factory in Haifa.

That left Juma’a. Two days earlier I had presented him with a sackful of ground carob. He doesn’t fit well with the younger crowd and I didn’t want to deprive him of the pleasure of reliving a day from his past. As we were working at our yard, I am told, he was busy at his. He had invited his four married daughters and they all went at it all day hand processing the carob.

Rubb news travel fast and some uninvited company showed up as well: Ali, an expert neuropsychologist showed up to lecture us on the neuropsychological (what else!) benefits of rubb and a second Ali, the internationally accredited movie producer Ali Nassar, came intent on directing; the action packed scenario had unfolded smoothly till he came and started bossing all of us around. I know Ali Nassar well and share some doubtful credit for his well-deserved prominence beyond the narrow confines of our community. Some three decades ago, while shooting his first film, The Milky Way, he commandeered my old Peugeot for the purpose. He could standup through its sunroof and film the Land Day Procession crowds while in motion. One night, high on the promise of success, he totaled the junky car. I had to buy another dirt-cheap car and register it in my name. Otherwise I would have lost the travel allowance for which I qualified as a government employee.

Ali proceeded to update me about his last film, one reverting to the glories of Saladin. He had been approach by the organizers of the Cairo Film Festival but they backed off because some Israeli fund is credited with sharing in financing the production. “Most Arabs lack the finesse to appreciate our struggle; for them it is all black and white,” he complained. I understood Ali well because I had to deal with the same curse in my NGO days. We struggle tooth and nail to recoup some of our tax moneys and to get a share of ‘our country’s’ centrally administered resources to be stigmatized for it by our Arab brethren as collaborators. I thought those days were behind us and we had proved our cultural and national separateness, both self imposed and state decreed. But Ali says I am wrong.

By sundown we had pressed the carob clean of its sweet extract and dumped the dry pulp on the compost heap. For the next four hours, we, the hardy few that persisted, were charged with the task of concentrating the watery extract, itself a delicious drink but too voluminous and susceptible to fermentation to be kept as is for long periods. For four hours we boiled, decanted and strained the slowly thickening liquor till it was just the right consistency: thick, heavy, and sticky. Then we left it overnight to cool. In bed, Didi, dead tired, decried the loss of a favorite caftan that she donated to be used for the final straining.

A byproduct of this last tedious process is the collected putty-like strained fine solid particles. Jamal, an intelligent, sensitive and adventurous man with past forays into Greece, Czechoslovakia, and Canada, leaving two wives behind him before he settled down with a distant relative for a wife and produced four handsome children, two of whom joined him here after school, reverted to the parsimonious ways of true rural Galilians. He encouraged me to save the muck and to taste it. It was quite tasty, not unlike soft chocolate. Then I had an idea: why not mix it with roasted sesame seeds and roll it into small balls? It tasted and looked just like Bsieesi, the sweet treat made by mixing roasted sesame seeds, rubb, and roasted wheat flour. Here the starch came from the carob itself, perhaps with some indigestible cellulose. We all know roughage is good for you. My new version of Bseesi went over well.

Next morning, another perfect autumn day, the crowd, somewhat diminished in size and vigor, gathered again in our center courtyard. We had filled two dozen large soft drink bottles, one and a half liters each, with the thick molasses. Before we proceeded to divide the loot we sat to a tasty brunch: freshly baked flatbread dipped in rubb savored admixed with fresh olive oil and/or tahini.

Rubb and olive oil must have been the bane of the local cuisine for we still use the expression of ‘rubb ow-zeit, zeit ow-rubb– Carob molasses and olive oil and vise versa’ to express disinterest in any boring and tiresome repetitive act. Someone happened to use the phrase in referring to the banter of the impending local elections, thirteen different lists for the thirteen member council, while we were still eating. We all realized how absurdly jaded our elders must have been to trivialize such a delicious treat. Then we proceeded to debate when and where to meet next for making the even more delicious sweet dish, Khabeesa. Toufiq came through again with a local saying: “‘a promised bite is better than one already eaten.’ Let us put it off for a while. Let us not be such pigs! It is only in the West that people demand immediate gratification. And look where it is getting them. Look what is happening to their economies. We can wait. We will make do with what we have. We are stoic like the Chinese. If there is no milk they drink melamine.”

Toufiq’s cynical self mockery didn’t stop Didi and I from falling back on well-tried honorable Palestinian traditions; Of the eight rubb bottles that we were awarded, we kept one and the rest went to uninvolved ‘friends and relations’. We know we stand to win at the end: we are rewarded with a share of any dish the rubb goes into and of many other traditional dishes. Over time, it balances out to our advantage.

This morning it was ‘rub ow-zeit’ again. Not only that Didi and I ate that for breakfast, but also that the figure of speech came back to haunt us as the unending screech of Israeli jets streaming through the Galilee skies interrupted our intimate morning chat. It has become boringly repetitive. They have been at it all nightlong. Our skies are the regular pathway every time the Israeli air force decides to buzz Hizballah in Southern Lebanon, to blow up a suspicious factory in Syria, or just to bully the neighbors and threaten Iran. Or it could be simply maneuvers. Personally, I am getting bored with hearing the noise all nightlong and then waiting for the official interpretation on the news. Can my relatives on the other side of the border afford to get bored with it, I wonder.

With the tantalizing promise of Khabeesa we have come full circle. It all started with haupia in Hawaii and Uncle David’s invention for pressing-out coconut milk. I am not sure he will ever taste khabeesa, the very same pudding served at Hawaiian luaus except for the carob flavor replacing that of coconut, yet another feature shared by natives in Hawaii and Palestine.

I am repeating myself! Enough ‘rub ow-zeit, zeit ow-rubb, …’!