Maroun and his family had been harvesting their 70 odd olive trees for the last few Saturdays near Jish, up at the Lebanese border, so I duly went along. Fortunately they had also the foresight to hire three Thai workers from a nearby kibbutz who did all the hard work of moving groundsheets under the trees and whacking the branches to make the olives fall.
My task (after arriving just in time for breakfast!) was to sort out the olives from twigs and help put them in bags ready to be made into oil. I can’t pretend to have helped very much, but I enjoyed spending the day in the olive grove and being part of a tradition which goes back all the centuries. Olive oil is used in so many different ways, so is always prized. This year looks like a good harvest, and Maroun’s family have already over 20 gallons of oil. A good day - and the breakfast was wonderful...!
On Sundays you never know who will come to church. Last Sunday there were only a couple of people in the congregation, but half way through someone came in and stayed for the rest of the service. It turned out he was a refugee from Ethiopia and, like many Ethiopians and Sudanese, had come across the border into Israel illegally. Nebi has applied for permission to stay, but there seems to be a problem as he is technically Eritrean, though he has lived in Ethiopia all his life. His employer was making use of this, making him work long hours without any protective clothing and being reluctant to give him an appropriate salary – always threatening to cause trouble with the immigration people. Needless to say, Nebi finds it difficult to complain. He hopes to find a better job, and we’ll do what we can to help.
Hanna is one of the chefs at the Hotel and lives in the village of Peki’in in the Galilee Hills. It is an old village, very attractive with winding lanes, and unusual in Israel as it has Moslems, Druze, Christians and Jews living together (though not without tension). More Jews want to move in and are prepared to pay double the asking price for houses. However, most of the Arabs would resist the temptation to sell to anyone apart from their own community, in order to safeguard the character of the place. I had accompanied Hanna to his church, the Melkite (Greek Catholic) church. Services are held in the old church in the village only once a month, so we were in the hall of the new church which is being built outside the village, where many of the Christians have now moved. Hanna is engaged and hopes to marry next year, so he is busy building his house on top of his parents’ house (i.e. adding a new floor). This is very traditional, as families are very close. It was good to meet Hanna’s mother especially, as she bakes the communion bread we use on Sundays.
On Tuesday I had travelled to Haifa to meet with Archbishop Elias Chacour of the Melkite Church, to which a majority of the Christians in the Galilee belong. The archbishop is well-known as the writer of several books, including ‘Blood Brothers’ which present the pain and inequalities faced by Palestinian Christians in Israel, while calling for all faiths to live together peacefully. It was a privilege to visit with him. Afterwards I met up with a friend who is Anglican (again an Arab), but who was feeling particularly vulnerable after the terrible events in Iraq where many Christians had been held hostage and even killed in one of the churches. He bemoaned the rising extremism in Islam in the Middle East, and felt the Church was threatened throughout the region. It was immediately after this I visited Tareq, the restaurant manager at the Hotel, who lives in Haifa. He is Moslem and was on holiday celebrating the Eidh al-Adha, when Moslems remember how Abraham was about to sacrifice Isaac. I went with him to his brother-in-laws house and was interested to find two orthodox Jews visiting him. His brother-in-law is involved in inter-faith dialogue, had spoken in several synagogues and also presents television programmes on the subject. It was a good antidote to the gloom of my friend earlier.
Tiberias is a small town with quite an insular mentality, so it is good to get out occasionally and go to Tel Aviv, the biggest city in Israel. I had travelled down with Moshe to visit a wine exposition and check out new wines for the Hotel, but we also had time to wander about and enjoy the atmosphere of the city. It is a city of many restaurants and cafes, with wide avenues with walkways down the centre. A good place to people-watch! Also lots of people on bikes and people out walking dogs (which I rarely see in Tiberias). Tel Aviv is a very secular city ( in contrast to Tiberias, which is becoming more and more religious) and somehow seems more friendly and welcoming – interesting observation?