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September journey part 21: Biblical hummus

Staying on the move in Israel and the Palestinian territories through a month of trial. And today: heading north, “for terror from the north will boil out on the people of this land.” (Jeremiah,1:14)

There’s a town in northern Israel \ with dreams, comfort, memory to spare \ and in my mind I still need a place to dwell \ all my changes were there.

Well, not all my changes, however much I would love for my paraphrasing of Neil Young to be seamless, but at least one change that effects me did occur in the town of Rosh Pina: everything that I describe here began there.

We are nearing the end, both the end of the month and the end of a road. This will be the next to last post (unless I decide to bore you all with an introspective epilogue). The Jewish year is to end tomorrow night as well, which makes this a fine point to look a bit at our beginnings. It is in Rosh Pina that the previous status quo, the one that lasted for three centuries under Turkish rule, was first disrupted, setting the ground for the stubborn status quo existing today.

Ruthie and I decide to go for an overnight there and board a northbound train. Outside Tel-Aviv we pass through gum-tree groves, the gift of early Zionists who employed the thirst of the eucalyptus in drying swamps.

Young eucalyptus trees near Hadera posing as willows in a Dutch landscape painting.

Then the foothills of the lovely Carmel range,

Atop this slope of the Carmel, the picturesque town of Zichron Yaakov is perched.

then we roll by the seafront itself.

Across this stretch of Mediterranean blue, the world and all its wonders lay.

We get off at the “Check Post,” still known by these English words. Before 1948, British soldiers surveyed this intersection, controlling the roads leading from Beirut to Jerusalem. It was during those times that industry began to develop around the young port of Haifa. Today the area north of the original Check Post intersection is an industrial inferno.

"Industry is the mother of all ugliness." - George Bernard Shaw.

Ugly it is, but this area offers great shawarma, and provides our trip with another interesting beginning. In the Jewish town of Nesher, which developed from the dormitories of a massive cement plant, lies a Muslim cemetery created by the authorities in 1934, when Haifa’s cemetery became overcrowded. One year later Izz ad-Din al Qassam, father of the armed Islamic struggle against Zionism and namesake of the Hamas’s armed brigades, died. He was buried here, and his grave site is often desecrated by right wing Israelis.

Overheated and a bit choked by the area’s bad air quality, Ruthie stays to wait on a bench, while I climb the serious wall surrounding the cemetery.

See my comment on fences from previous post.

I think I located the grave. It’s imposing. Fortress-like. From its rooftop I manage to catch everything this September is about within a single frame. The cooling towers on the left belong to the Haifa’s refineries. Once public, they were sold for pennies to the Ofer Brothers, as part of the wave of privatizations that stirred in part the tent protests. Right beneath them is a remnant of Israeli public housing, a thing of the past, which millions are now trying to turn into a thing of the future.

Domes, boxy apartment blocks and smokestacks make for a typical Haifa skyline.

The domes should symbolize the Palestinian issue but I can’t find any inscription to assure me that this is indeed Al-Qassam’s tomb. An internet search teaches me that I was mistaken. The grave belongs to Sheikh Abdallah Al-Sahli, A Sufi sage, buried here nearly 400 years earlier. Like most Israelis, I see Arab violence even at a shrine of Arab pacifism.

If anything, Al-Sahli’s tomb fits this month much better that its younger neighbor. The issue these days is not that of violent Palestinian resistance. September is about Palestinian leadership, and I am on top of an old leader’s resting place. The picture is indeed complete. We may move on.

That’s easier said than done, it seems. Traffic is insane outside Nesher, and no bus is going in our direction.

There are more cars than problems in this country.

We catch a lift with Sharon, who grew up in this part of the country, moved to Tel-Aviv and then moved back to the less than romantic industrial town of Qiryat Motzkin. “I enjoyed visiting here so much much when I lived in the city,” she says, “I missed it and so I decided to come back. At first it was fine, but then you start saying to yourself, so, is that it? This is what life is going to stay like?”

I can’t help but think of her story as a miniature of the the entire Zionist odyssey. Our forefathers longed for Zion so they came to live in and around it. At first the experience was uplifting, but then cracks appeared and now we can’t help but ask ourselves: is this what life is going to stay like?

The next lift we get is from Samya, a Palestinian-Israeli who works at a chicken slaughterhouse in Nazareth. Only 25, Samya has a dramatic life story to share. At 20 she married a man who turned out to be a violent alcoholic. Muslim society, to which she belongs, frowns at divorce, but Samya received enough support from her parents to quit the marriage and return to her village of Raina.

Again, I spy an allegory, this time to the present Palestinian condition. Trapped within an abusive household, the Palestinians want out. Will the international community support? Tradition – in this case the old Israel-US bond – provides obstacles, but every outstretched hand counts, and who knows what awaits at the end of the long road.

Meanwhile, our own long road keeps getting longer. We bid Samya farewell near the town of Carmiel, and then get stuck at its central bus depot for over an hour. Hitching in the country is so much more efficient than relying on public transportation. The whole of this land, including occupied territories, is roughly the size of New Jersey, but bad planning can make a Canada out of Corsica.

While waiting, we get to enjoy comparing a variety of uniforms. Members of the armed forces used to hitchhike their way around, but this has become forbidden following multiple hijackings. Now they take public transportation for free. If a war erupts, many of them will be found here, waiting for the 361 at Carmiel.

Waiting for the next tank to Tiberius.

At least the land offers a snack. Across from bus stops, carob trees grow and their fruit is just in season.

1st century Rabbi Simeon Bar Yochai is said to have lived on these for 12 years. I feel sorry for him, they're a little dry.

The bus finally arrives and we get a lovely twilight ride through the very heart of the Galilee. Here the last rays of sun are caressing a majestic cliff over Wadi Amud.

Second image of a rugged cliff in this post. You're right. I like them.

Then, right after dark, we arrive where it all began: Rosh Pina.

In the year 1875 a group of Jews left the city of Safed, which is perched atop a mountain, facing west, and ventured to start an agricultural community on the east-facing slope of the same mountain. This was an unprecedented act, and indeed it proved a folly. Despite help from local Arab peasants, the adventurers soon let go of their shovels due to disease and poverty and returned to town. Seven years later, the abandoned stone houses they left behind were taken over by Zionists arriving from Romania.

My paternal grandmother arrived from the same country a half a century later, into a land already rife with inter-ethnic tensions. We appear on the scene eighty years further down the road, and find a shopping mall.

When getting there turns from half the fun to all the fun.

It’s not just any shopping mall. You can get your “Biblical Hummus” here!

Green letters read: "Biblical Hummus." Too bad I stuffed myself on carobs.

Say what you will of the Israelis’ relationship with Palestinian cuisine, food historians believe that while chickpeas have been known around the region for millennia, the paste familiar today was introduced in the Levant region during the Middle Ages. A real biblical hummus would be a cooked stew of some sort, while the hummus served at “Biblical Hummus” is an Arab dish par excellence. when we walk upstream to find our true beginnings, we often find the river to be shorter than we imagined.

Ruthie and I advance uphill, towards the quainter old town, in hopes that there’s something left of it. There is. Old stone houses clutter around an elegant public garden. The old synagogue, 136 years of age, is here too,

Still in use, Rosh Pina's old Ashkenazi synagogue.

but the youth hostel turns out to have closed years ago and we have nowhere to stay for our budget.

We decide to chance it and approach one of the bed and breakfast establishments that draw thousands of suburbanites to this region over weekends and holidays. This one seems to be a particularly offbeat establishments, judging by the many bird cages leading to its door.

Knock knock.

A man with a huge gray beard and long gray hair opens for us. His name is Amichai Yisraeli, he and his wife, Tehila, arrived here four decades ago from Tel-Aviv, bought an old farmhouse dating back to 1882 and made it into a peculiar dream. The courtyard leads to several reading rooms decorated with old lanterns and other ghost-town relics, behind are a magic garden and a swimming pool which remains open through the night. The whole place is full of animals, from bunnies, parrots and turtles to ponies and goats and at least one llama. We count 25 species during our stay.

In our comfortable room, I find a copy of a newspaper piece describing the place. It is the work of no other but esteemed Israeli singer songwriter Ehud Banai, who helped renovate “Villa Tehila” as a young man. “I return there every so often and perform time travel,” Banai wrote, “meeting up with myself as I stood on a ladder, with bucket and gloves, listening to the radio, carefully filling up the cracks between the stones with white mortar, my entire, hazy future still ahead of me.”

As a new day begins, we find Amichai on the patio, reading the paper. He is distraught with changes in his town. Avihud Raski, the current mayor, saw the development of the Biblical hummus mall. Now, according to Amichai, he is planning to whip up an amusement park at the foot of the hill, “with a synthetic skiing facility!” he adds. “I just hope that when Raski gets his Disneyland down there, I’ll already be lying in my grave.”

We wish him a long life, but it seems that the tug of war with Raski may have already cost both Amichai and Tehila a few years. The two claim to have invested 300,000 sheqels in trying to save the old youth hostel structure adjacent to their guest house, which served as a school in the 19th century. “It’s was the first Hebrew school in this country” Amichai says, “It’s a public building, and they want to turn it into a hotel.”

Amichai Yisraeli, holding leaflets he printed as part of the struggle, and Tehila.

The same word, “Hebrew,” appears on a van that crosses our path as we head into the new day.

It is very likely that the grandfather of this van's owner had his business shut down by ordinances of the city of Hamburg.

The words “Hebrew Labor” assure that the company owning the van employs no Arabs. What has become of our beginnings? Such hope and such love went into the founding of that Hebrew school. Such disdain and blind racism travel through Rosh Pina aboard the “Hebrew labor” van. Such beauty the young Ehud Banai experienced here, washing himself in a stream after a hard day’s work, such ugliness will greet him now should he come again to visit.

We decide to get out of here and catch a bus over to Safed, which is an even more complicated place to take the soul for an outing. A primarily Palestinian community before 1948, it is now entirely Arab-free. The old Muslim quarter was first turned into an artist colony, but in the mid ’80s a wave of ultra-Orthodox newcomers shifted the city’s cultural balance, the coexistance that existed previously between the religious and secular in the city expired and the artists left.

I should wish Eli from Bnei Brak a happy new year.

Safed, home to the great 16th century mystic Rabbi Isaac Lurie (a contemporary of mystic Abdallah Al-Sahli, on the dome of whose tomb I stood yesterday) remains an important city in Kabbalah culture, and some unique magic can be felt on its narrow streets, but that hardly makes up for its dark secret and for the loss of the diversity that even I got to experience here as a child. It is a city full of signs that betray a misunderstanding of diversity as a value.


The family of Chaim Kadosh, maker of fine cheeses, has been in Safed for seven generations, after immigrating from Morocco in the 18th century. We stop by for a taste of the art he learned from his ancestors. Safed cheese is a staple of Israel’s pre-Zionist Jewish communities. It’s too mild for my taste, but Kadosh also makes several great goat cheeses.

Original Safed cheese is on the left.

Chaim does not wear a kippa and seems unhappy when he points that the city is turning Orthodox. This, however, is the less dramatic transition the city has known over the past century. “There were many more Arabs then Jews here.” He says, “Many many more.”

“Do you know where they are now?” I ask, “where their children are?”

“They are in Lebanon, in Syria… when they left people came to my father and said: Look! they left huge houses behind them, let’s all move in. He said: what are you talking about. They’re coming back.”

They haven’t come back, and the main mosque has been turned into an art gallery.

"Beauty is a short-lived tyrrany" - Geroge Bernard Shaw.

I’ve been to such a place before – the synagogue at Lesko, in southeastern Poland, is now an art gallery too. There, a special sign commemorates the Jewish community that was murdered by the Nazis. Here in Safed there’s a sign too, but it justifies the desecration of the mosque by claiming that sermons carried here led to violent activities against Safed’s Jews. Chaim described relationships between the communities as having been generally wonderful.

Whom to believe? How can we touch on our beginnings when they are lost in thicker fog than the one obscuring gigantic mount Meron from sight? Through it, we manage to see the remains of houses that used to stick out from the hillside. 1948 was definitely an important beginning, both for us and for the Palestinians, but it is still too much of a taboo. We do not know where we came from, who could blame us for not knowing where we’re headed?


Perhaps a solution would be to give up on old beginnings and make a fresh start of it. Back in Tel-Aviv, we’re celebrating the new year at the assisted living home where Ruthie’s grandmother recently came to live. Each resident’s family gets to make wishes for the new year. Everyone wishes for peace, but more explicit hope for change is also voiced. At one point the entire table erupts with the tent protests’ emblematic chant: “The people! demand! social justice!”

We'll drink a cup of kindness yet.

No way not to love that, and though it’s easy not to love gefilte fish, I happen to adore it far more than I do apples and honey. This image of a the world’s most unattractive but wonderful dish is my new year’s gift to all of you.

In loving memory of Safta Shulamit, who made really great ones.

Shana Tova to everyone, regardless of when you celebrate the new year, and may all your beginnings lead to wonderful continuations.

Click here for more of the September journey

Thanks for reading and taking part in the adventure. If any of you would like to pitch in for my travel and food, please do so using the “donate” button at the top of this page. Please be sure and specify that you are contributing to Yuval’s September Journey. I’m deeply grateful to those who already donated. Thank you so much! This trip would have been impossible if not for you.

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    1. Tamar

      Magnificent. My favorite journey part so far (and I’ve enjoyed them all!). Maybe it’s my association with Safed (I’m sixth generation born of Safed roots, and before there, Romania… perhaps we are related;-) And the way you weave back and forth across time and space to show how similar people(s) are, specifically how we distort memory… forgetting parts we don’t like and denying parts we can’t handle. Do we endlessly repeat the actions and mistakes of the past, our own and others’? When do we learn? My new year’s wish is that this year we learn. Or at least refrain from doing the same thing and expecting different outcomes (a common definition of insanity). My other wish is that you plan a sequel to this September journey. . .

      Reply to Comment
    2. Deïr Yassin

      “…in the Jewish town of Nesher…..lies a Muslim cemetery….”
      Balad al-Shaykh, named after Sheikh al-Sahli, was a Palestinian village where a massacre was perpetrated on New Year’s Eve 1947 by the Palmach and all the former inhabitants became Present Absentee after the Carmeli Brigade attacked the village in April ’48 and expelled the about 4.800 inhabitants (cf. Ilan Pappe and Benny Morris)

      From ‘Diaries of a Palestinian Wound’ by Darwish:
      “We do not need to be reminded
      Mount Carmel is in us
      and on our eyelashes the grass of Galilee”

      Reply to Comment
    3. Henry Weinstein

      “Unless I decide to bore you all with an introspective epilogue”: what a diva!
      I have a better idea: take Joseph Dana with you to visit the holy capital of Samaria, High Tech-Biblical Ariel!
      A perfect journey for Yom Kippur!!
      “Many tourists visit Ariel because it is one of the safer places to see what life is like in the West Bank”, according to http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org.
      I see, high resolution view of the West Bank with IDF panoramic telescopes.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Historian

      Deir seems to like to focus on just one part of history. That’s a shame. She is right about the fighting at Balad-al-Shaykh on New Year’s Eve but she neglects to mention all the attacks against Jews that came out of the village prior to this event as well as the Oil Refinery massacre where 42 Jews were murdered and another 49 injured the day before. It was widely known that some of the Arab workers at the refinery were from Balad-al-Shaykh.

      Of course, she also neglects to mention that Jewish Nesher was founded in 1925. It was founded to support the cement factory there which employed both Arabs and Jews. It had grown in large part because Israel had to absorb so many Jewish refugees in the late ’40s and early ’50s, many of whom came from Arab and Muslim countries.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Deïr Yassin

      Yeah, even a “Historian” can look up informations on wikipedia !
      Funny that he mentions the massacre at the Oil Refinery where Jews were killed, and NOT the massacre of Arabs PRIOR to that.
      And the fact that some of the workers at the Oil Refinery were from Balad al-Shaykh of course gives the proto-army the right to massacre the villagers. It’s a procedure that has been continued by The-Most-Moral-Army-In-The-World ever since: it’s called ‘collective punishment’.
      That Nesher was founded in 1925 still doesn’t justify the expulsion of nearly 5.000 villagers and the taking over of their land.
      Only ethnic supremacists would justify that.

      For those who want to read Mahmoud Darwish’ poem ‘Diary of a Palestinian Wound’ (Yawmiyyat jurh filastini):
      In English and Arabic: look what he says about the archeologists 🙂
      And extracts from the poem sung by Amal Murqus:
      She starts singing around min 1:40

      Reply to Comment
    6. M Hatherstone

      I love the way “Historian” neglects to mention that the refinery massacre only happened after the Etzel had killed six Arabs at a bus stop outside.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Historian

      My point is that it’s not black and white. The Etzel attack was also a response to Arab attacks on Jews in the Yishuv. So what? None of it is justified, but pretending that Nesher sits atop a cleansed village because a massacre took place there is not how Nesher came to be. And the attack on the village didn’t come out of the air.

      Oh, and Deir, do spare us the drama; had the Palestinians not launched a war of ethnic cleansing against the Yishuv, there wouldn’t be a “Palestinian wound.” Take some responsibility. It’s not the Zionists’ fault that the Palestinian leadership wanted war but didn’t realize how quickly things would fall apart for them. It’s also not the Zionists’ fault that the Arab countries surrounding Israel decided to wage war and were ill equipped to contend with a Yishuv that had its back to the ocean.
      You can, however, blame the Zionists for paying Palestinians, Egyptian and Turks (including the Palestinian leaders’ families – yes the ones who exhorted the Palestinians to go to war) exorbitant amounts for land which they purchased. You can also blame them for providing work at the Nesher factory to hundreds of Arabs. One wonders how many Balad al-Shaykh residents lived off that income and how many resided there because of the factory.

      Oh, and I got my information by going to the original sources including Palestine Post and a book written by General Dare Wilson. This is in contrast with you who went to propaganda sites.

      Reply to Comment
    8. Deïr Yassin

      >”My point is that it’s not black and white”
      No, that’s not your point at all ! Just look:

      >”Had the Palestinians not launched a war of ethnic cleansing against the Yishuv blahblahblah”
      Hopefully, others will see the damage Ziocaïne does to the brain, when there’s any brain left …

      >”…pretending that Nesher sits atop a cleansed village because a massacre took place there is not how Nesher came to be”

      Pretending to be a “historian” when one can’t even read must be an ‘American Dream’.

      I responded to ‘in the Jewish town of Nesher …lies a Muslim cemetery’. That cemetery was part of the Palestinian village Shaykh al-Balad that was ethnically cleansed in April 1948 and on which land the Jewish town expanded. You can manipulate all the sources you want, this is a historical fact !
      “This is in contrast with you who went to propaganda sites”
      Oh my ! Benny Morris, Ilan Pappe and Walid Khalidi are ‘propaganda sites’.

      Palestineremembered was for the photos, and particularly the one of Shaykh ‘Izz al-Dîn al-Qassam’s grave that Yuval looked for. And the informations on Palestineremembered are from well-established sources.
      “Historian”, what a joke !
      Irhal !

      Reply to Comment
    9. Historian

      Ilan Pappe?


      Just a note, since you clearly need some help in this area. Try to go beyond biased websites. When a website quotes only one side of a story, or the worst readings of an event, you can reliably dump that site as a source, unless you want to further their propaganda. In this instance, for example, it is Khalidi who made up the 60 dead number for the village, so that now it is repeated everywhere. But, if you go back to General Wilson’s coverage – and Wilson was alive and active at the time and had no motivation to cover up anything – it weren’t 60, but 14 who were killed in the attack on the village. Still unacceptable, but 46 fewer victims.

      Of course, Palestine Remembered only remembers the losses, as per Khalidi, and not the causes, and only lists the historians it seeks to endorse. When you use biased sources, don’t expect to be considered a reliable resource for information.

      Also, while it’s very hard, do try to recognize biases in academic works related to this conflict. I often hear tenured professors openly lie about the history of this conflict, and yes, they tend to side with the Palestinians. Sorry, I know you don’t want to hear that and I accept that as one person, I can only experience a limited range of lectures, so it may be that my perception is skewed by my limited data pool. However, what I’ve learned is that when academics are engaged in a cause, they permit their biases to color their scholarship. You should recognize that and if you’re honest with yourself, you’ll try to go to primary sources or at least read multiple sources with different political outlooks in order to develop your conclusions.

      Reply to Comment
    10. Bosko

      On another blog, where I asked Deir Yassin what she thought of ardent critics of her own side, people like Syrian born Wafa Sultan, Palestinian Walid Shoeblat and Muslim Irshad Manji, Deir Yassin responded as follows …
      “What I think about Wafa Sultan ? About the same as I think of Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Gilad Atzmon or Israel Shamir. That they have things to settle with their original culture, and that they better go see a shrink, all of them !”
      It seems that our Yassin is a bit selective about who has what to settle with their original culture. On the Israeli side, she conceded that the likes of Gilad Atzmon and Israel Shamir require shrinks but omitted Ilan Pappe. On her side however, she not only included Wafa Sultan but added Ayaan Hirshi. Oh well, they do say that most people like to believe only things that reinforce their own preconceived biases. Our Deir Yassin is no exception …

      Reply to Comment
    11. Deïr Yassin

      That’s called spamming, Bosko. When you reproduce a comment from another thread (and not another blog as you write: 972 is one blog).
      You did read Yuval’s article, didn’t you ? Nothing to say about it ? What about the Hafradah in Safed – considered the most racist town in Israel, and the competition is rude – since you claimed in that precise comment to which I answered that there is no Apartheid in Israel. Oh, you’ve never been to Israel, never left the Australian outback, in fact ….

      Reply to Comment
    12. Bosko

      @Deir Yassin
      You don’t know the difference between individual prejudice or even prejudice by many, as against discrimination as a matter of policy by the state. The former is just that, what many human beings do to each other especially during times of war but it happens anywhere to lesser or greater extent, even in democratic countries. The people who do it are known as bigots, rednecks or racists. But when a state does it as a matter of policy, it is known as apartheid. Go read up about it Yassin.
      As Irshad Manji says there is no Apartheid in Israel because the Arab votes count as much as Jewish votes, they study side by side in universities, the laws apply equally to all, except in a very few cases relating to security matters and immigration, Arabs are elected as politicians, they speak out and criticise the state with impunity, there have been Arab judges etc. Compare that to Apartheid South Africa, there is no comparison …
      As to where I have or have not been, that is no concern of yours just as much as it is no concern of mine as to where you are or where you have been. You obviously don’t know the foggiest about me judging by what you say. But keep on yapping about it if you think it will get under my skin which seems to be your objective. But you are wasting your time 🙂

      Reply to Comment
    13. Bosko

      I gotta say, according to our Deir Yassin, those who say things that she wants to hear are figures of authority. Yet unlike those who disagree with her, fellow Arabs and/or Muslims, she tells us that Israelis/Jews who who attack Israel …
      Don’t need a shrink
      They are knowledgable authorities
      They are not just cultural rebels
      Deir Yassin only reserves such descriptions only to fellow Arabs, those who disagree with HER point of view. Pathetic.
      And when one questions her about it, she goes on the attack. Accuses one of spamming and sidelining the topic. Of course she forgets to mention that she already managed to do that all by herself …

      Reply to Comment
    14. BIASED

      BIASED TOWARD PALESTINIANS??? Israel is an illegal colonial state built on ethnic cleansing..it must be dismantled immediately and all lands returned to their rightful owners.

      Boycott Divestment Sanctions until freedom for Palestine from the river to the sea is achieved.

      Reply to Comment
    15. Bosko

      Dream on.

      Reply to Comment

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