Friday, April 13, 2012

Road 805

When we lived in Tsfat in the 1980s, I once took my oil-guzzling, unroadworthy 1969 Saab to the Arab town of Sakhnin in the western Galil for its annual road test. Tiberius was closer but the word was that if you took your car to Sakhnin and gave the tester an especially generous handshake, your car would pass the test. Since the cost of repairs could be ruinous, the extra drive and bribe were worth it. I recall pockholed roads, a dusty, greasy area of garages, one of which was the official testing place and a general sense of neglect and stagnation hanging over the town.  A visit to the area not long after what is known in Israel as the October 2000 Events didn't do much to alter the impression either. I remember seeing smashed windows in bank branches and buildings plastered with photos of the victims.

Well not any more. Driving between friends in the Galilee over the Pesach holiday we found ourselves on Road 805 that links the triangle of  Deir HannaArrabe and Sakhnin where I took these photos through the window of the car (I wasn't driving).  Take a look at Sachnin's 'O Mall' for one sign of the rapid development of this area.

For an Israeli Jew - one that lives on a rooftop in Tel Aviv for example - driving through the Arab and Druse towns and villages is akin to visiting an alternate version of the country in which he thinks he lives: a country partly familiar and partly foreign. The first surprise is that communication is in Arabic (which most of us don't understand, a fact that some of us find threatening). The second is that the people who inhabit this Arabic-speaking alternate Israel also use strangely unfamiliar products like this 'Tirma' (?!) chocolate bar.

And here and there, flashes of the familiar, like the Superpharm or Home Depot chains , their signs satisfyingly written in Hebrew as well as Arabic. Or this billboard featuring popular comedian Tal Friedman exhorting the Pessah picnikers - who have swarmed over the green, flowering hills and valleys, lush from this year's abundant rain  - to take their refuse with them when they leave.

 This photo was take in Arrabe a town that served as the administrative based for a local Arab ruler, Daher el Omar who conquered and developed the Galilee in the 18th century, while keeping it part of the Ottoman Empire. The statue is part of what looks like a memorial, perhaps to the victims of Land Day (1976) in which this area played a major role, or perhaps something else. 

Along the road, there are more traditional enterprises too. Moslems, Christians and Jews have inhabited the Galilee for centuries both in the same villages and towns and in separate communities. Despite the influx of Jews that came with Israel's creation, the Galilee still has an Arab majority. The markets and the restaurants are where Jews and Arabs can comingle most easily.

This post was supposed to be dedicated entirely to Road 805 but with Spring in the air, I couldn't resist this. Apologies for the long silence. I'll try to blog more frequently.

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