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Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Forbidden Fruit

Each day as I drive to and from work I pass dozens of small roadside fruit & vegetable stands.  Each is owned and attended-to by local Arabs, and all of the produce is carried to the stands by donkey or tractor directly from local orchards, vineyards and fields.

This stuff is, without a doubt, the most beautiful, perfectly ripe produce I have ever laid eyes upon... and for sheer mouth-watering attractiveness I would match it against any gentrified 'gourmet farm market' in the world!

The problem is that this produce is both figuratively and literally, 'forbidden fruit'.

Many of my friends and neighbors who are long-time residents of Gush Etzion tell me of a time not so long ago when the Israeli and Arab economies and communities mixed relatively freely. 

This isn't to say that there was peace and love flowing freely in the streets... but Israelis rode the Arab bus lines if an 'Egged' bus wasn't scheduled conveniently... and Arabs were a common sight on the streets of our communities.

Arabs came and went freely in Israeli communities/settlements for work and to avail themselves of things like free health clinics and shopping... and Israelis went into the heart of Arab population centers in search of bargains on such things as glassware, rugs, and building supplies.

In short, though there has never been anything approaching love or even trust between the two populations, there was a certain symbiosis that was fostered for the improved quality of life it brought to both communities.

Then came something whose cause or goal I have yet to fully understand: The Intifada(s).

My town, which had always been one of the more liberal communities in terms of relations with neighboring Arab villages, was forced, in stages, to exclude Arabs. 

Where neighboring villages had once been invited to use our emergency medical center as a free walk-in clinic, they were now barred because one of the villagers had strolled up to the medical center with a bomb strapped to his body and blown himself up. 

Another man from a neighboring village who was a long-time employee of an Efrat resident, and who was on friendly terms with many people here in town, walked into one of the supermarkets wearing a bomb belt and attempted to blow himself up in the midst of a large crowd of shoppers.  Luckily his bomb failed to fully detonate and he was shot by a local resident before he could complete his mission.

Where once Efrat had been considered a safe and convenient bedroom community, just a short drive from Jerusalem... the almost daily stonings and shooting attacks against motorists immeasurably magnified the 15 minute journey into something both risky and foolhardy.   New residents were few and far between... and those who already lived in Efrat became weary of attending funerals of local men and women who had been killed for the simple crime of driving while Jewish.

One by one the economic ties between the Jews and Arabs of Gush Etzion were severed until contact between the two sides was almost non-existent. 

As the latest intifada has begun to lose steam, Arab workers have again been allowed into our town (so long as the people hiring them also hire armed guards), and some building supplies are surreptitiously being obtained through back channels from Palestinian sources.

However, our emergency medical center remains closed to Arab patients, and Arab buses and taxis travel the roads with no Jewish passengers.

And perhaps most painful for both sides... the beautiful fruits and vegetables at the countless roadside stands rot quietly in the mid-day heat... because Jews are afraid to stop and buy... and there are not nearly enough Arab consumers to justify the volume of produce that the surrounding fields have been cultivated to yield.

I often joke with one of my regular passengers when we pass a particularly attractive roadside display of produce, that "maybe we should we stop and buy something tasty to bring home to the wives?" 

But this joke is of the darkest variety... because we both know that stopping for this 'forbidden fruit'... no matter how delicious it may be... might very well mean not making it home at all.


Posted by David Bogner on August 2, 2005 | Permalink


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I moved to Efrat in November of 2000, so I never got to experience "the good old days". But I have heard the stories, and it does seem idyllic.

However, I think it is important to note that at least in my neighborhood, it wasn't true that "[n]ew residents were few and far between".

While house prices and rent did drop at the height of the intifada, people moved in all the time. And I have a feeling this was true on a national level, as the success of Nefesh B'Nefesh started during the intifada as well.

Posted by: Dave | Aug 2, 2005 12:03:50 PM

I can not even imagine. I am not jewish, but in one blog I read something about a going and coming prayer? I hope you remember this as you head for work and I will send one up for your safety also.

Posted by: JC | Aug 2, 2005 12:06:39 PM

I pass a corner that is an arab taxi stop whenever I drive to Jerusalem. People sell fruit or bread and I often think how good it looks. The thing that gets to me is when I see the women sometimes alone,sometimes with their babies and sometimes pregnant, standing in the hot sun. I want to offer them a ride or at least some shade and a bench. But like you, I know that it just isn't safe to do. And that makes me sad.

On another note, for some inexplicable reason people are not afraid to buy ceramic pots, rocks and trees from the Arab nursery. Perhaps it is the proximity to the checkpoint.

Posted by: houseofjoy | Aug 2, 2005 1:07:00 PM

It's simply heartbreaking. We can only hope this cycle ends soon so we have some calm before the next one starts.

Posted by: Lioness | Aug 2, 2005 1:55:28 PM

How terribly sad. I wish I could hope for the hate and fear to go away forever.

Posted by: Sandra | Aug 2, 2005 2:47:55 PM

Reading your last sentence sent a chill up my spine.

How have you and your family been able to adapt to living in a place where there is always someone who wants to kill you (G-d forbid!)?

Is this something in your consciousness each and every day?

Posted by: A Simple Jew | Aug 2, 2005 2:52:52 PM

> However, our emergency medical center
> remains closed to Arab patients

As I understand it, there is limited access (perhaps an ambulance goes to the gate, or to the patient's location?) although as you say, an Arab patient can't simply walk in.

As it was explained to me, even that limited access happens below the radar since Arabs getting services from Jewish "settlers" can face reprisals from within their own community.

Can't vouch for the accuracy of this, but have no reason to doubt it based on the quite knowledgable source.

Posted by: Andy Levy-Stevenson | Aug 2, 2005 4:06:10 PM

The Arabs have been hurt by their leadership every single time and still don't choose better leaders. You're still not sure what the purpose of intifada 2 was? It was to prolong the armed struggle perpetually. Arafat's entire career was based on struggle-without-end. Peace would have destroyed his ability to remain a media darling and continue to receive gazillions of Euros.

I hope you don't mind if I gently disagree with two other commenters. (If you mind, you'll tell me.)

Lioness: There's no "cycle" of violence. You picked up that unfortunate term from the media which tries to portray the two sides of the Israeli / Arab conflict as morally equivalent. (I'm not at all accusing you of this, but the word suggests it.) Arabs purposely murder Jewish civilians. Israelis kill terrorist leaders and sometimes unintentionally kill Arab civilians. A cycle implies that one step leads to the next, which isn't true.

A Simple Jew: Where do you live that you don't believe people always want to kill you? I live in Los Angeles. I believe the jihadis always want to kill me and my kids, doubly because I'm a Jew and an American. They just haven't organized anything in LA yet.

Posted by: Doctor Bean | Aug 2, 2005 4:36:28 PM

A truly somber post there. I seriously doubt that things will go back to they way they once were. Now NY is starting to get a taste of what terrorism is all about. They do searches on subways etc. I wrote a post regarding the new ideas popping up on how to deal with the problem...possibly establishing laws permiting racial profiling etc. It is a very sad state of affairs indeed.

Posted by: Jewish Blogmiester | Aug 2, 2005 4:38:47 PM

What I find so sad is knowing that at one time relations were much better. To know that there was a symbiosis that was working and seeing how it has unraveled is so troubling. May that symbiosis you so eloquently wrote about return someday soon.

Posted by: Stacey | Aug 2, 2005 4:58:09 PM

Doctor Bean: I too live in a city that is certainly a target for Islamic terrorism.

My point to David was that in Efrat, the threat of terrorism appears to be much closer.

Posted by: A Simple Jew | Aug 2, 2005 5:40:01 PM

Dave... Perhaps 'idyllic' is too strong a word. There was a mutually beneficial economic relationship between the Arabs and Jews of Gush Etzion. There were also some genuine friendships that developed along the way. But many lost faith in the legitimacy of these friendships when one of the best known/liked of the local Arab employees - a man who had been a celebrant at many local weddings, and who was a frequent guest in the home of his employer - attempted to blow up the supermarket. As to your neighborhood... The Zeit has been the slowest of all the Efrat neighborhoods to be developed specifically because of the Intifada. Yes, there were people here and there who built homes or bought apartments... but the neighborhood itself has been a construction zone far longer than any of the previous areas to be developed.

JC... You are referring to 'Tifillat HaDerech' (the traveler's prayer), and yes it is a regular part of many an Israeli's travel routine.

House of Joy... I don't think there are many who won't buy from Arabs on principle. Rather it seems to be almost exclusively a security issue. Those Arab businesses that are located near major Israeli cities, or near army checkpoints tend to continue to receive Jewish patronage. By contrast, the Palestinian medical facilities actually refuse donations of 'Jewish blood' - even when their supply of blood is essentially depleted - simply because it was once in the body of a Jew.

Lioness... I was tempted to gently chide you for your choice of terminology... but I see Doctor Bean already has. I know you mean no malice by it, but please don't think this is a petty issue of semantics, because it is not. When Someone continuously and deliberately targets Israeli civilians in as brutal and random a manner as possible... and Israel responds with restraint in extremely targeted attacks on combatants (who hide in civilian population centers)... often at great personal risk to IDF soldiers... that is not a cycle. There is no moral equivalency to the two attacks. The term cycle of violence makes it sound like two drunks standing in the gutter taking swings at one another.

Sandra... No amount of wishing will make it go away. Every country maintains a means to defend itself from foreign and domestic attackers because no amount of wishing will ever magically make such threats disappear. Yet the world wants Israel to pretend that such magic is possible if only it will lay down it's arms.

A Simple Jew... As Doctor Bean already said, the only difference between you and me is that I have a better idea of where the next attack might come from than you. This isn't much of a comfort... but when you can see the people who hate you in person (instead of on the news) they are a bit less frightening. But only a bit.

Andy Levy-Stevenson... I believe your information is accurate.

Doctor Bean... We too have suffered from a lack of solid leadership for much of Israel's history... and have survived in spite of this shortfall. As far as the reasons for the Intifada, of course you are correct... but I'm talking about what the Europeans and UN bigots think the reason might be. I have never heard any of them voice a plausible reason for the Indifada yet. For a while it was the myth that Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount had so offended the Palestinians that they spontaneously went to war. Then when the flawed timing and inherent racism of that claim wore thin the prevailing theory became that a spontaneous uprising began due to 'frustration' at having lived under occupation for so long. The problem with this is that so well organized and funded an uprising could not possibly have been spontaneous.

Jewish Blogmiester... If what I saw during my last visit is any indication, NY's security precautions will be like considering 'safe sex' to be having intercourse with a condom in one's wallet. By this I mean that the tools will all be there, but they will not be deployed in an effective manner.

Stacey... At some point some of the mutually beneficial economic overlap will return. It has to because the average Palestinian cannot sustain this interruption of his/her livelihood indefinitely. The international aid money is not trickling down to the people on the street who need it most, but rather is going directly to the Swiss bank accounts of PA leaders as fast as it arrives.

Posted by: David | Aug 2, 2005 5:46:21 PM

I live in Los Angeles. I believe the jihadis always want to kill me and my kids, doubly because I'm a Jew and an American. They just haven't organized anything in LA yet.

To badly quote Bogart in Casablanca "There are places in Los Angeles that I think the jihadis would be wise to avoid.


Many years ago I spent time at the Northridge Jewish Community center which you may recall is where Buford Furrow went to try and murder Jews.

The Millenium bomber came over with the intent to go after LAX among other targets.

We also had the Egyptian who went on the rampage at the El Al counter.

The point being that we have tasted some of the bitter medicine that others are being forced to drink and I hope that we get no more.

But we certainly do not get it with the same frequency as Israel and I echo a Simple Jew's sentiments. It is hard to reconcile living in a place where life can be taken so quickly and for so little reason.

Yet I think that I understand it, or at least suspect I do and am very proud and glad that there are people like David who have made the move. And I hope that there comes a time where things slow down to the point where there is more interaction between Jews and Arabs.

That summer of '85 that I write about so frequently saw me spend a lot of time in the Arab quarter. I wandered through quite freely and I think that it is possible to get back to the point where there is more trust and less hate, or so I pray.

Posted by: Jack | Aug 2, 2005 5:47:19 PM

I had that same feeling whenever i was on a tiyul or for whatever other reason was taking a bus or driving up the Jordan Valley, through ‘Uja.

Btw, i remember reading or hearing about a poem written by someone from Gush ‘Etziyon called "Tefilat Haderekh for the Tunnel Road." Do you know anything about it, or where i could find a copy of it?

Posted by: Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) | Aug 2, 2005 6:03:15 PM

I can relate to the feeling that there is always someone who will hate me or want to kill me, if nothing else because I am Jewish. I live in a relatively peaceful country, but…

…in 1992 and 1994 two terrorist attacks left dozens of people dead or wounded. Guess which the objectives were? The Israel embassy first, and the AMIA (a Jewish institution) afterwards. The authors: islamic fundamentalists with the logistic support (and subsequent cover-up) of local people.
… during the bloody military government years, thousands of people were killed for political reasons. About 15% of them were Jews. The percent of Jews among the Argentinian population is less than 1%.
… there are many more examples.

It is not an overwhelming feeling. It will not prevent me from doing things or going out, but it is always there.

Posted by: Sandra | Aug 2, 2005 6:03:36 PM

A Simple Jew & Jack: I basically agree with you.

Posted by: Doctor Bean | Aug 2, 2005 6:09:41 PM

David, I am painfully aware that no amount of wishing will magically make it go away. My 'I wish I could hope for...' would be the equivalent of a religious person's 'I pray for...' :)

Posted by: Sandra | Aug 2, 2005 6:21:59 PM

This post, to me, points up the tragedy of not only the intifada (both 1 and 2) but also the entire history of the Arab inability to live peacefully with the Jews of Israel.

We could have made the desert bloom together, us and our Arab brothers...but they opted out, and decided that a depopulated desert was better, as long as it was Judenrein. What tragic nonsense.

If there is a roasty-toasty Gehinnom, Arafat will be spending an eternity there based solely on his miserable, hateful prolongation of this unnecessary enmity. Maybe he can roast some marshmallows with the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem...and all of the homicide bombers.

Posted by: Elisson | Aug 2, 2005 7:22:50 PM

Jack... The FBI ruled that the EL Al attack at LAX by the Egypt ion gentleman was not an act of terrorism, but rather a random crime which was not politically or racially motivated. I see no reason to doubt what was certainly a thorough investigation. :-)

Steg... I haven't heard of the poem you mentioned, but I will ask around to see what I can find.

Sandra... Living in Argentina, you have first-hand experience with the 'religion of peace' and its widespread practitioners. You also have the honor of being part of a Jewish minority that has not always been popular with the ruling regime. You make a wonderful example for those who suggest it is impossible to go about one's business when so many people could potentially do you harm. Oh, I knew what you meant in your earlier comment... it just triggered a related thought that I decided to share. I know you weren't suggesting wishing away a reality. :-)

Elisson... There is a great Rowan Atkinson bit where he comes out on stage dressed as the devil and begins welcoming people and nations to hell. He sends the rapists and murderers over to a specific corner of hell... and then sends the Germans to the same place. He then welcomes the French with the wonderful line, "Oh yes... why don't you French go on over there with the Germans... I'm sure you'll have plenty to talk about." Simply put, I don't think they'll have any trouble finding extras for the 'crowd scenes' in Hell's cinematography course.

Posted by: David | Aug 2, 2005 8:56:43 PM

It breaks my heart to read that story. You want to have good faith and trust that farmers selling their produce truly mean no harm and they only want to make a living, but you are right, you can't take the risk. When I lived in Jerusalem prior to the intifida in the late 80's, some may say foolishly but my friends and I would often go to East Jerusalem for dinner or to buy some sweet desserts sold near the entrances of the Old City. We always went in pairs through the shuk and throughout the old city except for the Jewish Quarter, but my Israeli friends, were always hesititate go with me. There was one Arab baker in the Jewish Quarter that only baked pitah bread in his stone oven, served it to you hot with a side of cumin in a newspaper. It was so delicious and always a treat to visit. I wonder if he is still around?

Posted by: Jaime | Aug 2, 2005 11:07:17 PM

There is a great Rowan Atkinson bit where he comes out on stage dressed as the devil and begins welcoming people and nations to hell.

Ok, that is it we are going to see a blogger reenactment of this. Get the script to Doc Bean stat, I'll handle the filming and Psychotoddler will take care of the soundtrack.

Posted by: Jack | Aug 2, 2005 11:17:52 PM

I just remembered this...In 1988, I spent the summer as a volunteer on Kibbutz Nir Am. The Intifada had only begun 7 months earlier and I remember one of the old timers telling us that the Intifada was just child's play. That back in the 30's and 40's - now that was something to be really afraid of. I am sure he meant it at the time but he probably never expected what was to follow.

Posted by: Jaime | Aug 3, 2005 8:03:06 AM

Jaime... I didn't mean to imply that the people running the produce stands would attack me. Rather the danger is a more genral one posed by stopping the car and standing in or near an Arab village.

Jack... I'm ready for my close-up Mr. DeMille! :-)

Jaime... The big difference back in the 30s and 40s was that there was no organized way for the Jews to legally defend themselves, which emboldened the Arabs... so in a way, your friend was correct. But that isn't much comfort to someone who is injured or killed in a modern terrorist attack.

Posted by: David | Aug 3, 2005 12:11:33 PM

David and Steg,
There is a modern religious Israeli poet living in Kfar Etzion who wrote the poem/prayer you are discussing. There was a feature article about him in the Jerusalem Post this winter but I can't seem to find his name when I do a web search.

Posted by: houseofjoy | Aug 3, 2005 2:29:15 PM

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