Terror in Jerusalem: The merry-go-round

It was in the middle of Sukkot, that loveliest of holidays in Israel, set aside for family time, when even the most devout and serious yeshiva men can be seen with their entire families visiting the zoo or traipsing through nature trails in Galilee. We had woken up that Friday morning to the shocking news that, the night before, young parents had been slain in their car on their way home from a festive reunion, shot in cold blood by Palestinian terrorists as their four terrified little boys sat watching from the back seat. 

It is hard to explain to anyone who doesn’t live in Israel and travel these roads every day what such news brings: grief, fury, fear and a fierce desire for a response that will deter the next such heinous and inhuman act.

Along with everyone else in Israel, I grieved. But then I heard their names: Eitam and Naama Henkin.

Henkin, I thought, flooded by a sudden, terrible shock that was like a blow to my stomach.

Oh, no!

I remembered that lunch not so long ago with Rabbanit Chana Henkin, founder and dean of Nishmat, a revolutionary advanced Torah study program. We sat in one of those comfortable little coffee houses that line German Colony, two Orthodox women who had come to Israel from America, discussing how Nishmat was changing the face of Orthodoxy by offering the first study program approved by the Orthodox rabbinical establishment to qualify women to become halachic advisers in the area of intimate women’s issues — issues that many religious women would be embarrassed to discuss with a male rabbi.

I remember leaving that meeting feeling I had been granted a rare privilege. This petite, passionate woman in her head-covering and modest clothes was, in her own quiet, courageous way, making history improving the lives of countless Jewish women. 

Eitam and Naama were Chana Henkin’s son and daughter-in-law.

That her grandchildren had been spared was nothing less than a miracle. For a moment, my heart wanted to believe that even Palestinian killers and terrorists had some shred of decency and compassion. That they were, after all, descendants Abraham. 

A few days later, when the suspects were caught in a spectacular demonstration of amazing skill by the Israel Defense Forces, the truth was brutal. The suspects had been on their way to kill the children when one of them accidentally shot the other, forcing them to abandon their plans and rush to a hospital, where the injured suspect was picked up days later by an elite Israeli unit.

It made me feel much better that they had been so quickly apprehended. But before I could feel any real relief, terrorist attacks in Jerusalem, Raanana and elsewhere followed at a rapid clip, thrusting me back into the terrible memories of an earlier homicidal rampage to strike Israel, when I experienced terrorism firsthand as I sat with my family on seder night in the Park Hotel in Netanya. 

Oddly, when I remembered those days of suicide bombers blowing up hotels, bar mitzvah ceremonies and buses, the current spate of stabbings and savage hit-and-runs seemed less threatening. After all, a bomb you couldn’t see coming, and you couldn’t defend yourself. With a knife attack, you had a chance to run, or, if you had a gun, to shoot. As devastating as these attacks were, they were small potatoes compared to the bad old days of Oslo, where there was no security fence to keep killers and their bombs out of the country. 

The bus attack in Armon Hanatziv was another matter altogether. Two passengers stood and started stabbing and shooting. It wasn’t a bomb, but it was close. But worst of all was the news that the suspects were Israeli Arabs, residents of East Jerusalem, citizens of Israel.

I have lived in Jerusalem for 45 years. This is something new. There is a delicate fabric of life in our city, interwoven threads of Arab and Jew that exist side by side. We shop in the same malls and supermarkets, sit together on the grass in our parks, watch our children playing in the same playgrounds. Palestinian Arabs have delivered my groceries, built and renovated my homes, and been my doctors and nurses in Hadassah Hospital.

One terrorist, who plowed his car into a crowd in the center of ultra-Orthodox Malchei Israel Street in Geula, then got out of the vehicle holding a meat cleaver and started cutting the injured, had worked for the Israeli phone company Bezeq for 20 years.

I wondered if our building cleaner, an Israeli Arab, would show up for work, and if the workers putting the finishing touches on my neighbor’s apartment would show up. And I wondered how I would feel about it.

When I encountered them in the following days, the answer became clear: Stronger than any propaganda, any isolated terror attack was the routine flow of normal life. I was not really surprised that I nodded hello to our maintenance man as he mopped the lobby floor, and that he nodded and smiled. Nor was I really surprised that the noises from the sixth-floor renovation were going on as usual, the Arabs congregating in front of the building. But what had changed was how we looked at each other, warily, searching each other’s faces for confirmation that all was well, and we would be exempt from the madness. Or not.

What did surprise me was my own reaction. With little or no fear, I took a public bus into the center of Jerusalem, walked calmly down Ben Yehuda Street and turned into the nearest army surplus store.

“We are all out of tear gas,” the owner said before I opened my mouth.

“That’s OK,” I answered. “I want a knife.”

He showed me a few. I tested the blade gingerly against my palm. “Something bigger,” I told him. “Something sharper.”

I walked out with it in my purse, feeling better. As ready as I was to smile at innocent workmen, I was also ready to defend myself and my loved ones from those whose religious fervor sent them out to kill people like me and my family. I thought of every thrust: One for the Jews killed in the Holocaust. One for the Jews killed in every terror attack. And one very personal one for me and the Park Hotel.

That Shabbat, sans knife, we took our usual walk along the path built over the old Turkish railroad. Ordinarily crowded with kids on bikes and skateboards, and with families pushing baby strollers, it was practically deserted, except for a group of French tourists. One of them wore a black T-shirt emblazoned with the words “Proud of Israel.”

I was disappointed. Surely, Jerusalemites were not that easily spooked? We felt better when we reached the First Station, a lively collection of stores, cafes and play areas for children. It was slightly less crowded than usual, but still bustling with young families. Would the same be true of Liberty Bell Park, which every Saturday throbbed with Arab families and their laughing children from East Jerusalem, whose picnics of barbecuing lamb scented the air for blocks?

Unlike the First Station, it was absolutely deserted, as was the Lion’s Fountain across the street, which normally on such a warm day, would be packed with Arab families watching their kids jump in and out of the water.

We walked back to the First Station and took a bench across from the newly imported merry-go-round. Its painted horses and lively music filled the air, mingling with the laughter of children. When we got up to go, a young woman pushing a double baby carriage approached us. 

“Did you see how empty Liberty Bell Park is? Good! Why should they take over the park every Saturday? Let them be afraid to come here. This is our country. Let them stay home. They teach their children to be murderers and then they cry when they get shot trying to murder our children! They have no business here!”

An old Arab walking nearby carrying a large bundle turned around, staring daggers at her.

“Let him stare!” she said loudly. “This is my country. Mine. I’m not going anywhere!”

As I walked away, I looked over my shoulder. The merry-go-round was still turning. It went around and around and around.

Naomi Ragen is the author of nine international best-sellers. Her latest book, “The Devil in Jerusalem” (St. Martin’s Press, 2015), is based on the true story of a kabbalah cult in Jerusalem that took over the lives of innocent American olim with horrific consequences. She has lived in Jerusalem since 1971.

Hundreds of Israeli Jews and Arabs form ‘human chain’ in call for peace

Approximately 300 Jews and Arabs held hands in a chain in the central Galilee to call for reconciliation amidst the violence in Israel over the past few weeks.

The symbolic gathering on Friday afternoon was organized by Givat Haviva, an educational organization that promotes Arab-Jewish coexistence.

The group of Arabs and Jews assembled and held hands on both sides of the highway Road 65, near the Megiddo Junction in Wadi Ara, an area in the Galilee with a large Arab population.

Organizers called the event “a symbol of coexistence and shared life, specifically at this tense period,” according to the Times of Israel.

After the event, entitled “Choosing to Engage,” Givat Haviva held a small ceremony with discussions.

Givat Haviva issued a declaration before the event titled “Call for a Secure and Shared Life in Israel” that condemned “any attack on body, soul or property, as well as any expression of physical or verbal abuse.”

“We appeal to the leaders of both peoples to refrain from incitement and the ferment of emotions,” the statement read. “Our task at this time is to inspire calm and ensure public safety.”

The declaration was signed by seven mayors of Jewish and Arab municipalities in the Wadi Ara area.

New Zealand community mourns native son Israeli soldier killed in Gaza

A small community in New Zealand is mourning the loss of a Kiwi-born Israeli soldier killed in action in Gaza.

Staff Sgt. Guy Boyland, 21, was killed Friday trying to raze tunnels in Gaza. He was laid to rest at his home Sunday on Kibbutz Ginosar in the Galilee.

Boyland was born in Taupo, a small lakeside community in New Zealand’s north island.

His non-Jewish father Glenn married his Jewish-Israeli mother Adva, and the family moved to Israel when Guy was 5.

Boyland’s 90-year-old grandfather, Jim Boyland, said the extended family was grieving the loss of the ginger-haired, guitar-playing kid.

“He was very gregarious,” he said. “He never knew what life was all about, he never lived like an ordinary child. But he was very patriotic and wanted to be in the bomb squad.”

He said Guy, who was just four months away from finishing his service as a combat engineer, had only returned to New Zealand once – about three years ago just before he was drafted into the IDF. “Glenn will stay there. They won’t leave their son behind; they’re committed to staying there in Israel.”

A Facebook page was established in memory of Boyland. “We deeply appreciate the love and concern that help to shed a fraction of light upon these dark times,” his sister, Kim, who served in the Israeli Air Force, wrote on her Facebook page. “Thank you so much.”


Israeli boy, soldiers injured during Land Day protests

An Israeli boy and several Israeli soldiers were injured during Israeli-Arab and Palestinian protests marking Land Day.

The protests Saturday mark the deaths of six Galilee Arabs during 1976 riots over government land confiscations in northern Israel, dubbed Land Day.

Thousands gathered in the Israeli-Arab village of Sakhnin in northern Israel, where the deaths occurred 37 years ago, for the main Land Day demonstration. Protesters chanted “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.”

Two Israeli soldiers were injured from rocks thrown by Palestinians gathered near Kalkilya.

An Israeli boy, 4, was wounded by stones thrown at the car in which he was riding near Efrat. Four Israeli soldiers were injured when their jeep overturned while searching for the rock throwers.

Gaza Palestinians protesting near Rafah claimed that they were injured by tear gas and live gunfire by Israeli soldiers on their side of the border.

Israelis helping Syrian refugees in Jordan

Israelis from humanitarian groups are in Jordan are assisting Syrian refugees fleeing that country’s uprising.

Ayoob Kara, Israel’s deputy minister for the development of the Negev and Galilee, said Thursday that Israelis are assisting children and infants who have been injured in the Syrian military’s ongoing violent crackdown throughout Syria, The Jerusalem Post reported.

Kara said his bureau chief was working with representatives from Israeli humanitarian groups.

“They are in Jordan trying to help people who have been hurt in Syria,” he told The Jerusalem Post, confirming that the representatives he was referring to are Israeli citizens.

Kara told AFP that the Israeli government was wary of being seen to aid the opposition groups fighting to overthrow the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

“If we are part of the conflict, it’s a danger for all the region, all the world,” he said.

He said Israeli volunteer groups had been working in Turkey and Jordan for the past two months, providing humanitarian aid.

Kara is a Druze member of the Likud Party.

January shatters mark for Israel’s wettest month

Rainfall in the month of January broke Israeli records.

There were 29 days with some rain during the month, which broke the mark of 25 wet days in January 1947, as recorded by the national Meteorological Service. January 1969 and February 1992 had 24 days with some rainfall.

In most of northern Israel there were 26 wet days, but Nahariyah and the Galilee had 29 wet days, leading to the record.

In addition, the water level in the Sea of Galilee rose by 55 centimeters in January. Despite the significant rise, however, the Galilee’s water level is at 213.11 centimeters, which is still 11 centimeters below the sea’s lower red line, or the upper danger line.

Israel has suffered from low rainfall and drought for the past five years.

Dozens of fires break out in northern Israel

More than 40 fires broke out across northern Israel over the weekend, many of which are suspected arson attacks.

While some of the forest fires are being considered the result of negligence, many are being investigated as arson attacks due to their multiple sources of ignition, according to Haaretz.

Dozens of people in the western Galilee were evacuated from their homes and hundreds of acres of forests were destroyed, according to reports. Hot dry winds and warm temperatures caused the fires to spread quickly.

Fire trucks and firefighter aircrafts were called in to control the blazes.

An out-of-control fire in the Carmel Forest last December led to 44 deaths. In addition, 250 homes were destroyed or severely damaged, 17,000 people were forced to evacuate, more than 12,000 acres were burned and an estimated 5 million trees were lost.

Arab couple can live in Jewish town, court rules

An Israeli-Arab couple can live in a Jewish town in the Galilee after being rejected by its admissions committee, Israel’s Supreme Court ruled.

The young couple had been denied admission to Rakefet four years ago after the committee said they were socially incompatible with the community.

The decision issued Tuesday comes after the Israel Land Authority earlier this month made a plot of land available in Rakefet for the couple, who are living in the Israeli-Arab town of Sakhnin, in the lower Galilee near Acre.

The Knesset passed a law earlier this year that made admissions committees in small communities legal and allowed them to reject applicants they deemed incompatible with the character of the community. Human rights groups have questioned the new law in the High Court.

A rainbow over the Galilee

A dense foggy morning. The end-of-winter storm the forecasters promised us had stolen over the Mediterranean coast and was gradually taking over the Israeli skies.  Already March – almost Purim – and we thought that winter was already behind us. We’d already come to terms with the depressing thought that the scanty amount of precipitation we’d been treated to during the winter of Taf Shin Ayin Aleph was all there would be, and that it will have to sustain us through another parched summer.  More gardens and lawns will be left to dry out. And the price of water will surely keep rising. The Sea of Galilee will continue to recede from its shores. Coming home from school, our children will recite that we need to save water because Israel is drying up.

And then, suddenly, a genuine storm reached our skies. As if from a foreign land where winters are actually wintery. Booming thunder, inky clouds, driving rain and gale winds.  Darkness spread across the country, painting it in shades of gray and black. The green Galilee lost its color.  And then, from out of the rain clouds, smiling and confident, a rainbow appeared, stretching across the Bet Netufa valley.  A perfect arc in brilliant colors.

Six thirty AM, I was on my way to work at the Yezreel Valley College, and out of the corner of my eye, I saw the rainbow.  I immediately pulled over outside the gate to our village and got out of the car, even though the intensifying rain threatened to chase away the last remaining rays of sunshine that were still peeking out from behind the clouds.  I took out my cell phone and took a picture of the rainbow.  I had a feeling that the rainbow was a sign of something although I wasn’t sure what. But over the last two days, I figured it out.  The rainbow bridges between pessimism and optimism. Between worry and hope.  The rainbow seems to be promising to us and all of humanity, scurrying across the Promised Land, all too often forgetting that there is a reason and power behind it all: I am here. There is hope. Don’t despair. The covenant is still intact.

There are many reasons for concern here, at the end of winter Taf Shin Ayin Aleph. Yet there is also hope and promise.  And this combination – between worry and hope, seems to be expressed in the weather, the environment, and in nature.

On the one hand, it is hard to decide what to worry about most, about the troubles near or far.  At home, Israel is getting more crowded, plagued by drought, threatened by economic and social inequities, consensuses that were once unquestioned are now in doubt, verbal and physical violence are spreading in society, and living within it, there is a frustrated impatient minority, who understands more and more the power of the weak.

And in the surrounding neighborhood, the old order is collapsing like a house of cards practically overnight, and in place of the familiar problems, we may face a whole new and even larger set of problems. Iran continues to arm itself and call for the destruction of Israel. Entrenched dictators may be replaced with new, even worse ones, and peaceful borders could ignite.

And the larger world is less and less patient with this little country, with its chutzpa, that is seen, paradoxically, in spite of its small size and history of persecution of its people, as the violent bully of the neighborhood. Recently I heard about bizarre guilt feelings: Germany feels guilty towards the Palestinian people, because the Jewish people, which were practically exterminated by the German Nazis 70 years ago, found shelter and a national home in Israel at the expense of the Palestinians…  And for this reason the Germans need to support the Palestinians in their struggle against Israel.

Yet on the other hand, there are reasons for hope. The neighboring regimes are changing, and those that replace them could be for the better.  Perhaps this actually represents the authentic desire of the neighboring peoples to take their futures into their hands and head in the direction of democracy and freedom?

And among ourselves, in spite of it all, we have innovation, creativity, and many reasons for pride and optimism.  Two weeks ago in Eilat there was an annual conference on alternative energy. Thousands of companies and interested parties from around the world came to this Red Sea city. Gilad Maoz, a friend and a leading attorney in this field, told me that the conference is turning into one of the most important events in the industry, and that Israel is one of the leading centers for achievement and innovation in alternative energy. They say that after the exodus from Egypt, Moses had to lead the Israelites through the desert for forty years – in search of the only country in the Middle East without oil…. So we don’t have oil, and barely have water, but sunshine and creative minds we have in spades.

In the Book of Genesis, in the portion of Noah, it is written: “I have set My bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a token of a covenant between Me and the earth.”  And so, in spite of the troubles, threats and worries, spring is around the corner, more colorful and exuberant than ever. The mountains and valleys of the Galilee are brilliant green, yellow, pink and red, carpeted in cyclamens, anemones and wheat.  And while these lines are being written, blessed rains are falling across the country, quenching the parched earth and extending a parting gift from winter, before it disappears until next year. And every so often a rainbow appears from between the clouds and reminds us: there is hope. The covenant stands.

Israel building its first eco-friendly town


Mount Gilboa will be the site of Israel’s first green town.

It’s one thing to adopt environmentally conscious behavior, such as recycling, taking public transportation and saving water or electricity. But that’s not enough for the future residents of the developing northern Israeli community of Nurit. They plan to live green.

That’s because the Mount Gilboa town is set to be the first planned, eco-friendly community in Israel, with infrastructure and services designed not just to encourage, but to actually enforce environmentally responsible behavior.

If you’re planning on living in Nurit, said Danny Atar, chairman of the Gilboa Regional Council, you’re by definition willing to go out of your way to save water, avoid excess waste and in general reduce your carbon footprint. “Otherwise, Nurit is not for you,” he said.

The idea for Nurit stemmed from discussions conducted by Gilboa Regional Council officials nearly a decade ago, as they were seeking to build tourism in the area, as well as comply with new government requirements to introduce environmentally responsible educational programs and activities.

“We were also considering putting up a new town to attract more residents here from the center of the country, and the whole project just sort of made sense,” Atar said. “Thus was Nurit born.”

After intense study and consultation with environmental experts around the world, the town is almost ready for prime time; work has begun on infrastructure, and the first 100 homes will be ready next year. By 2012, there will be 400 families living in Nurit, Atar said.

Located on Mount Gilboa itself, Nurit will take advantage of the mountain’s wind and sun to generate power, and will install dozens of wind turbines and photovoltaic (PV) solar panels, enough to provide electricity for all the public buildings in Nurit — and then some.

“We recently got approved for a program by the Israel Electric Co., where residents and public buildings will be able to mount solar PV units on their roofs and sell the electricity to the IEC,” Atar said.

“Together with turbines to generate electricity from wind, we expect that the electricity we generate will be enough to light most of the schools, offices, streetlights and park lights in Nurit, as well as save homeowners money on their energy bills since they can get credits for the power their roof PV systems generate that they don’t use, selling it back to the IEC,” Atar said.

The regional council has a program that provides loans for residents to buy and install the PV panel setup, or residents can design the systems into their construction plans, he adds.

Residents will be asked to grow tall, leafy trees around their homes, creating a natural “cooling canopy” that will help cut down on the need for artificial cooling and heating systems. They will also be asked to build their homes using effective insulation systems, to further reduce the need for air conditioners or heaters.

“We hope to be able to limit the use of artificial heating and cooling solutions to the hottest or coldest days of the year,” he said.

Saving water will also be required of Nurit residents

“In theory, Israel gets more than enough rainfall, but much of the rain is lost to evaporation or runs off to the sea,” Atar said. “We are requiring all residents to build rain-collection systems and minireservoirs to store rainwater. The water will then be funneled into the town reservoir, allowing us to cut down significantly on our use of water from Mekorot, which is drawn from either the Kinneret or Israel’s underground aquifers.”

With the Sea of Galilee at an all time low and Israel scrambling to build desalination plants to make up for projected water shortages, Nurit’s efforts could serve as a model for other, noneco-friendly communities, as well.

Saving rainwater is important, but saving “gray water” is even more important, say many environmentalists, and Nurit is requiring all homeowners to install a gray water collection system, which will store waste water from dishwashing, bathing and other nonsewage (“black water”) sources.

The storage of gray water entails building a separate drainage system that funnels the water into a tank, which is then used for a variety of purposes, such as watering gardens, decorative fountains, etc.

“No one in Nurit will be permitted to use fresh water to water his or her lawn,” Atar said. “Residents will use gray water to water their lawns and run watering systems for plants or orchards.”

Unfortunately, Nurit won’t be able to encourage its residents to trade in their cars for commuting by train, because there is no Israel Railways line in the area, at least for now. But the town will have a complete complement of local and inter-city bus service for those who need to travel. Actually, it is expected that most of Nurit’s residents will work in the area, either at home businesses; in tourist-oriented services, such as bed and breakfasts or restaurants, or at one of the industrial zones in the area.

“Many of the homes have been zoned for use as businesses, as well, so a resident can operate a small business in their backyard,” Atar said. “There is an industrial zone three minutes out of town, mostly with light manufacturing or agriculture industry allied services. And tourism in this region is expected to skyrocket when regular horse racing begins at the Afula Hippodrome, only a few minutes from here,” he added.

Nurit is open to anyone willing to live by the town’s eco-friendly ethos — and many Israelis are willing, apparently, because there is already a long waiting list for lots.

“We’ve already got about 700 families who have made a deposit to get into the lottery for a chance to buy a plot, with more signing up all the time,” Atar said. “The lots, which will have extensive infrastructure to support the gray water drainage and reservoirs system, cost $120,000 to $150,000 — not particularly high for people coming from the center of the country, where many of the Nurit hopefuls come from, and certainly not expensive, when you consider the cost of the infrastructure.”

Most applicants are from big cities — Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa and its suburbs. A few people from the kibbutzim in the area have signed up as well, but the majority are new to the lower Galilee. Which already makes Nurit a success, as far as Atar is concerned.

“This is a beautiful part of the country to live in, and thanks to Nurit, hundreds of families are going to get the opportunity to find out just how beautiful it really is,” Atar said.

Northern Israel needs investment to bolster it — security and development are linked

The graffiti on the Galilean bomb shelter that greeted Prime Minister Ehud Olmert wasted no words: “Wake up Sharon, Olmert’s in a coma.”

Watching Olmert tour upgraded and refurbished bomb shelters in the north after the release of the Winograd Report last spring prompted jokes in Israel about rearranging chairs on the deck of the Titanic. Much worse, the hapless images of Olmert checking the bomb shelter shower knobs suggested unfortunate associations for more than 1 million Israelis who fled the war temporarily, many of whom have been scouting for new locations ever since.

As a former intelligence chief told me upon reading Milken Institute’s data on Galilean economic conditions: “You are right. There is negative out migration from the north to the center of the country and from the center to the Diaspora.”

And that out migration is Israel’s enemies’ ultimate objective in launching wars they can’t win in conventional terms. They seek to create the perception that the country has no future.

Thanks in part to the Israeli government’s inaction, that plan is succeeding. The economic situation of northern Israel was deteriorating even prior to the outbreak of the Second Lebanon War. Five years before rockets fell, the north experienced net negative out migration of 23.2 percent. In other words, 33,000 Israelis had already abandoned the north even prior to rockets falling.

These problems were only exacerbated after the war. Poverty levels continue to hit 29 percent of families in the north vs. 20 percent nationwide. Regional family income in the north is only 74 percent of the national average, and unemployment rates run 20 percent higher in the north than in the rest of country.

But now we are told, the showers in the bomb shelters now are supposed to be working, even if the people aren’t.

All measures of the growing social and economic gaps in Israel are refracted and amplified in northern Israel. According to national security authorities, the strategy of Iran and Hezbollah is to weaken Israel’s northern region what Israelis call “the periphery” economically and make a small country claustrophobic.

This strategy successfully weakens morale and created military and diplomatic advantages during and subsequent to the war. Facing conditions of asymmetric warfare, where the home front and front lines of conflict blur, the linkage between national security and economic security become central. Investment is of urgent importance to fully integrate regions of Israel that are peripheral, due to lack of physical, transportation and social infrastructure.

Many long-term and long-promised projects by the central government in the sphere of infrastructure and commercial/industrial development have been postponed. Emergency aid that poured into the north was insufficient and targeted to relief, rather than economic development. Conditions in northern Israel remain vulnerable and its status is worsening.

According to the evaluation by the government examiner’s report (May 21, 2008), most of the Israeli government’s actions in response to the north remain unfulfilled. The report concludes:

  • The government budgeted NIS 4 billion for northern Israel economic development but only allocated NIS 1.6 billion since the war.
  • The government based the budgetary increase upon contributions from abroad that failed to materialize or were deployed to the southern front with the attacks on Sderot and the northern Negev.
  • The government did not operationally execute the rehabilitation plans proposed by government ministries.
  • Government ministries were not obligated to execute northern Israel rehabilitation plans and failed to allocate budgets for that objective.

The next Israeli prime minister, like all the others, will speak loudly and often about national security. But the goal of national security is inextricably linked to economic development.

The next government must lead a private-public partnership that will invest billions in infrastructure and economic projects to fully integrate the north to the country’s dynamic growth center. Israel and the Diaspora have the resources to make “periphery” an anachronistic word in the Hebrew lexicon. But we don’t have much time.

Glenn Yago directs the Milken Institute’s capital studies program and the Koret-Milken Institute Fellows program in Israel. Further information can be found in their report on northern Israel at www.milkeninstitute.org.

Culinary and cultural riches await visitors to the Galilee

I have to admit, although I run the risk of being politically incorrect, whenever I’d drive through Galilean roads and pass Arab towns or villages, a slight fear sometimes gripped me. Since the level of distrust among Jews and Arabs has increased since the intifada, I suspect most Israelis would probably think twice before entering an unfamiliar Arab town to catch a bite or change a tire.

But that doesn’t have to be the case. A walking tour within non-Jewish towns and villages — with or without guides — can be an eye-opening, informative, tasty and heart-warming experience. On a recent tour in the Galilee focusing on different religions in the Western Galilee, I meandered through Muslim, Christian and Druze towns, as well as Baha’i landmarks, only to discover cultural richness, friendliness — and some surprises.

Olive Country

We began the tour at the visitors’ center of the only Jewish olive press in the lower Galilee, Avtalion, named after the tannaitic sage who migrated there after the destruction of the Second Temple. A quaint cafe serving olive oil-rich, Arab-style foods overlooks the never-ending groves of olive trees belonging to the Arab town of Arabe, which is part of the “axis of olives” that includes Sakhnin, Deir Hanna, Marah and Rama.

Avtalion offers year-round tours, tastings and lectures on the production and health benefits of olive oil. The olive season begins in October, and visitors are invited to witness the process.

Owner Peretz Elbaz assured me that visiting Arab towns and villages for food and shopping can be a safe and pleasant experience.

I felt only a mild, probably self-imposed tension as our bus passed through the commercial thoroughfare of Arabe, but even more than that, I felt a certain voyeurism. Arab towns always seemed impenetrable, not necessarily because of cultural tensions, but because they look like mazes from afar.

Our tour guide, Morris Zemach, author of “Traveling With Morris in the Galilee,” slammed the myth that Arabe residents are stingy and not friendly. But we didn’t stop to find out.

We continued to Dier Hana, a mixed Muslim-Christian town named after Yochanan’s (John’s) Monastery, which thrived during the Byzantine period. The town features some of the country’s oldest olive trees, and every home here used to have a working olive press, before industrialization made them obsolete.

“Many Jews don’t like to come here,” Zemach explained as we stood under an Ottoman stone gate where Muslim elders of the adjacent mosque often meet after prayers. “They’re afraid, but that comes from lack of knowledge. You can feel welcome to come on your own.”

Zemach, who is friendly with the locals, took us through a Muslim home whose backyard contains the remains of a Byzantine fortress built by Daher el Omar, Ottoman ruler of the Galilee in the 1700s. The residents, an elderly couple, didn’t seem to mind that we passed through, although when we left and wished them a good day, they didn’t exactly smile and wave back.

But gregariousness was not lacking with the Houris, a Christian family who have made their centuries-old olive press a tourist attraction.


The father of the house, Mutlak, and his wife entertained us with a darbuka and violin; the music wasn’t exactly the most melodious, but it was endearing. The Houri family sells homemade olive oil and carob honey in the same room as their refurbished ancient oil press.

“The building is 1,500 years old, the press is 250 years old, and the donkey that pulls the press is 1,007 years old,” explained Mutlak with a joke he probably tells to all visitors.

Further northwest, in Kfar Yasif, Muslim, Christian and Druze communities open their mosques and churches to Jewish tourists. Jews lived here before the 19th century, and an ancient Jewish cemetery is hidden among dying weeds at the side of the main road, across the street from a Superpharm.

An ornate, medieval-style Greek Orthodox church is open to the non-Christian public, and nearby is an Evangelical church. The falafel and humus joints along the main road are said to be among the best in Israel.

Our tour guide, Amnon Gofer, encourages visitors to wander through the village, knock on doors, and have coffee or tea with the locals to find out more about the mutual respect between Christians and Muslims.

Lower Galilee

Avtalion Olive Press and Cafe: (04) 678-9521; www.avtalion-oil.net

The Houri Family: (050) 751-9597, (04) 678-4035

Kfar Yasif

Greek Orthodox Church: (054) 310-9023

Evangelical church: (04) 996-5461

The Great Mosque, Sheik Abbad: (050) 908-4020

Morris Zemach, the tour guide: (04) 693-6924, (052) 654-9191

Western Galilee Information Hotline: (700) 705-050

Druze Hospitality

The Chasidic man with payot walking around the Druze village of Sajur seems like an anomaly, but a Chasidic presence has existed in Sajur for the past five years — ever since Ibrahim Riad decided to make his family’s Druze restaurant kosher. The Riad’s eatery, The Sultan’s Feast, began in a handsome, Oriental living room. Ibrahim’s decision to go kosher was strictly a business decision, and a smart one at that — the place was filled with a religious tourist group.

Mrs. Riad and her children are the chefs, making fresh, authentic Druze dishes like majadra, a dish of chickpeas, lentils and bourgal; and “groom rice,” with meat and cinnamon, served to a Druze groom on his wedding night to give him “strength.”

Ibrahim, who served as an Israel Defense Forces army officer for 25 years, has three sons serving in the army, and his sweet, well-spoken daughters were on hand to provide us with some insight into the restaurant, the village, and the basics of the Druze faith.

Further west, in the Druze village of Julis, more insight into the Druze faith can be provided by Nabia Tarif, the grandson and personal assistant of Sheikh Amin Tarif, the “Lubavitcher rebbe” of the Druze community. Sheikh Tari was given the rare Druze privilege of a private burial place, which is now a Druze holy place.

“During his tenure as head of the community, there wasn’t any split within the Druze community,” Nabia Tareef explained, bearing a noble stature, Druze headdress, friendly smile and sparkling blue eyes.