On that day the Lower Galilee seemed crying out for some kind of God's sponge. Let some rain fall on a world where the summer heat is too late to go away, stuck between the burning of heaven and earth, in the furnace of hell into which we were thrown on October 7.
In the dusty industrial zone of Kafr Kana, a Mercedes emblem towering high above all the buildings, looks like its own proposal for the House of God. On the sides of the path leading to the building where the visitor center and the production plant of "Sindiana HaGalil" are located, lettuce and herbs insist on gorgeous freshness in hydroponic planters. Flowers in pots offer small joys, accompanying the way inside to a building where hyssop perfume and olive oil insist on the nostrils, and Arab-Jewish cooperation is seen as a way of life. Single choice.
The birth story of "Sindianat HaGalil" begins with Hadas Lahav, who in her youth knew all the leftists in Israel. She was the literary editor of The Shining Way, the organ of a radical leftist movement established in the late 70s, until it was banned in the late 80s. Over the years, she distanced herself from big words and devoted herself to doing. "From a very young age, I came to the conclusion that we couldn't live together if we didn't find a way to cooperate," she told me the first time we met, four years ago. "To create mutual appreciation, recognition and respect. Love is a heavy word."
Olive oil, soaps and carob syrup. Sindianat HaGalil products, photo: Arik Sultan
"What women want"
When Lahav decided to concentrate on social activism, she studied Arabic, and in 1994, in collaboration with teachers from Majd al-Krum, she led a project designed to give mothers tools to help their children with homework.
"No one took seriously a mother who had to clean, cook, serve the men," she says. "We gave mothers enrichment lessons in math and reading comprehension, and learned from them that women want to be able to make a living. To influence, to buy independence, to support themselves. We started thinking about what we could do. All we saw around were olive groves."
Friends introduced her to Abdelmajid Hussein from Deir Hanna, who recognized the beginning of the awakening of the olive industry in Israel, realized that merchants from the West Bank – who come with dollars in one pocket and dinars in the other – were not the way to develop the industry, and suggested turning his orchards organic. Volunteers came to harvest, and the oil was divided in half between the plantation owners and the association, which sold it to the bubbling world of restaurants in Tel Aviv.
Determined to improve and improve, Lahav deepened her knowledge of olive oil, but then came the events of October 2000, and with them a painful rupture. Israelis avoided ties with the Arab sector, and Lahav says there was fear in the air, and there came a moment of being or stopping. The fear gave rise to a deep understanding that they would not be able to rely on the local market.
"After a long journey, we were accepted into the World Fair Trade Organization because we had to convince us that even though Israel is a rich country, we are working with a disadvantaged population."
"An important part of the economy." Women at work, photo: Arik Sultan
The requirement to meet the stringent criteria that accompanied exports, along with the desire to improve and compete with olive oils that began to emerge in the local market, pushed the quality of their oil forward, and increased the level of involvement of the association in the care and cultivation of vineyards from its initial stages of establishment.
"For the first time, I find myself on Israel's side," Lahav told me. "In all wars I was against. This war was not started by Israel. Everything that's happening in Gaza now is on Hamas' heads. Everyone asks if I've become right-wing, so absolutely not. I want to live here, and I can't live with these people. No normal, democratic person can live here alongside them. Neither we nor the Arabs in Israel.
"The war shuffled all the cards. People come and say you can't make peace. I say quite the opposite! There were two concepts here that collapsed. The concept according to which Hamas is a kind of interlocutor from which quiet can be bought, and on the other hand, the concept led by the messianic right, which thought it was possible to live here without considering the Palestinians. To occupy for all eternity without any human solution, without guaranteeing their rights.
"Both concepts collapsed. It is impossible to live without a solution. I always say that the alternative, the narrative we are promoting here, is not just a moral or human option – it is our guarantee to continue living here."
Hadas Lahav: "The Palestinian national movement has never behaved the way Hamas does. Whoever wants to support the Palestinians must call on Hamas to release all the civilians it is holding in violation of all laws, logic and human morality."
"Not an easy task"
The shelves of the Visitors Center offer braided baskets made by the women from the village, soaps made in Nablus, local almond and halva spreads, embroidery from the Bethlehem and Hebron regions, and wonderful carob syrup – which at the end of August two years ago, in a world that seems almost imaginary now, I went on a journey between villages in the northern West Bank to document its production process.
Some of the olive oil that fills the bottles comes from Palestinian farmers. War or not, we must meet the obligations of contracts in Israel and abroad. Because at the end of all this work, at the end of each year, with all the challenges it will bring, we must remain with a profit line that will enable the organization's goals to advance and ensure the livelihood of Arab women.
"This year is not an easy task," Lahav says, "There are constant disturbances to the harvest by settlers. Since the war, the banks in Israel have also made it very difficult. Until now, you would make an agreement with farmers or producers from the West Bank, go to the bank, show a purchase agreement or a delivery note, and the bank would transfer the money to banks in the territories. Since the war broke out, if you want to transfer money to the Palestinians, you are suspicious. In the end, for some of our decision makers, every Arab is a potential terrorist, and you have to prove that he is not. Any transfer of money to the West Bank is an investigation."
In one of the rooms, the soaps that came from the Nablus factory are wrapped around the table of Sindiana staff - Wafia Zareiki, Nasrin Amara and Shirin Awawdeh. All three are daughters of Kafr Kanna for generations. They talk about the children and what they will be prepared to eat, baked with chicken shawarma or majdara with chickens. "Since the war, we have been eating all day," Nasreen says. "You go to work—if there's work, not everyone has—and eat.
"The situation is difficult, but what is important is to find a way to live together. If not now, then immediately afterwards.
"You've been through a lot of wars," she says, and I think that's also a way of counting a woman's age, and she continues: "You know there's never been anything as terrible as Hamas did, and it wasn't that hard. And there were no ministers who talked like that about Arabs."
Braided baskets made by women from the village, photo: Arik Sultan
They count the murdered this week in Arab society, and even now, when everyone looks at Gaza, crime continues to mature – this morning someone was murdered in Haifa, yesterday three were murdered in Nazareth, Tira and Kafr Qara.
"How bad the war is," they sigh. "It only brings sadness," says Wafia, "goes over people's heads. Eating the people."
Once there was an alarm in the village of Kana. They feared for children more than for themselves. The children, whose thoughts and future bite into thoughts and sleep. Because in the dark, precisely when it is possible to rest for a moment in a dream, it is precisely then that the worries come.
"We got a kappa"
In the room of Erin Salameh, the organization's bookkeeper, Jesus watches from all the walls, reflected from the pupils of her beautiful eyes. It comes from the settlement of Tur'an. Once Christians were the majority, but now they are only 2,000 people.
"The young people are leaving, unfortunately," she says, "going to live in places where there is a mixed population."
She is 36 years old, married with three children, and when she graduated from high school, her father, who worried about her beauty, did not really encourage her to study. When she went to the exams, he would send her with an escort to take the exam and come back. Today he says it was too his most successful daughter, who is studying at the University of Haifa for a master's degree in management of public institutions.
"When it all started, and Danny (Danny Ben-Simhon, the factory manager; H.A.) asked me what I thought about the situation, I told him that people are interested in me. It will probably be difficult to find a Christian who wants to live under Hamas, but I seek peace of mind for myself and my children. What is happening is terrible pain for the children who were kidnapped, who were murdered, and it also hurts for the children of Gaza."
Products of "Sindianat HaGalil", photo: Arik Sultan
She took the children out of school in Tur'an when crime increased ahead of the local elections, a campaign that was accompanied by incessant shootings in Arab villages in the north. Now who knows when the elections will be held, what they will look like in general and what they will bring with them to all the communities.
Today, the children attend school in Kfar Kana. Her husband works as an auto mechanic in a Tabriani garage. She says he went through some racist incidents when the war began, but that he still believes in this place. She is interested in how she obtains a Cypriot passport, for the family.
I look at her and think about what Amira said to me when we sat down in Jaffa for coffee a week ago: "We learned from you to think outward. Let all the fanatics be left behind. Let them get along."
Amira is a gynecologist who works in a large hospital in the center and in a small clinic in the city. "We got a kappa," she says, a tear settling in her gray eyes. 36 years old, Muslim woman who married a man whose mother is Christian and whose father came from a Jewish home that converted to Islam. "I couldn't stop crying for a week, from the sights and the stories. I have colleagues from the envelope. Hamas is an existential threat to my family, like every home in Israel.
"Apart from the pain and shock, I dealt with the shame that this horror came out of my religion. But every time I tried to say something, I felt like no one fully believed that the seed of Satan wasn't inside me either," her voice cracked. "I don't know if there will ever be a cure for people from this massacre, and I'm concerned about whether we will ever be able to convince Jewish society that nothing about Hamas or its actions makes our dream come true, that Hamas is our nightmare, and nothing more."
So why not talk? Why don't you allow me to write your full name?
"Because we've learned to be silent. Even before the horror of this war, we encountered zero ability to contain the complexity of our place. In the end, whatever you say, whatever picture you choose to upload, the Arabs or the Jews will accuse you of treason.
"You don't understand what's going on around me: layoffs, investigations, atrocities. I know someone from the university who posted a black picture, to express sorrow, without any caption or anything, and she was summoned for clarification. And voila, I really forgot to ask how it ended."
"We must not surrender"
Hanan Manadra Zoabi, Sindianat HaGalil's sales and social activities manager, says that to her great regret, even in her environment, she feels all the feelings of persecution that Amira speaks of, and there is a growing discourse around her on social media.
"In the first week of the war I became depressed," she says, "it hurt me so much. I am 43 years old, for 20 years I gave my blood to build an example of how we can live together. To build a shared future for us, for our children, for our grandchildren. It's been a terrible week.
"Then we started talking. We understood that we must not surrender, remain imprisoned at home. That we must continue to believe what we have always believed. Despite the horrors inflicted by Hamas, despite the war, despite the alienation and racism of the right-wing government, despite the persecution of young Arabs for nonsense. We must not deviate from our guideline, from the backbone that Sindiana has built all these years.
"We belong to a big camp," she continues. "Biden didn't get involved in the war because he likes Israel or loves Netanyahu, but because he knows that if Israel collapses, it will affect the entire region here. Hamas, Hezbollah, Putin, all these represent a dictatorial axis. We believe in social justice, separation of church and state, gender equality, democracy. If Hamas wins this war, there is no room for a free life here. There is no place for all values, there is no place for a liberal society."
Hanan Manadra Zoabi: "Hamas, Hezbollah, Putin, all these represent a dictatorial axis. We believe in social justice, separation of church and state, gender equality, democracy. If Hamas wins this war, there is no room here for a free life, for a liberal society."
What do you say to all the Jews who say they are afraid of Arabs, or no longer trust them?
"You don't have to be afraid, you have to believe. Whoever is afraid gives victory to Hamas. Something happened here that shook relations between Jews and Arabs within the country, but the day after the war we will have to deal with an atmosphere of alienation and extremism. In the end, even if Israel wants to throw the Arabs into the sea, it cannot. They are a significant part of the state, the health, justice and economic systems."
"Building a shared future." Zoabi and Lahav, Photo: Arik Sultan
Ten months ago, members of the association went out to demonstrate. "We were part of the protest movement," says Lahav, whose eye burning, her body movements, betray the fact that she recently turned 70.
Since COVID-1973, she has maintained a routine of running and tango dancing with her man, with whom she has been together since 7. "The protest movement came out against the extremist messianism and hatred of Arabs of this government. The movement did not receive a blow in the war, and this is not self-evident. On that day, October <>, this movement came to the rescue of Israel. Its people were the first to reach the front, this is a very important fact.
"People are afraid during wartime. Everyone is afraid, all sides. Who can even withstand the pictures that came from the Gaza envelope? Who can accommodate? Who can withstand the harsh images coming from Gaza now? What horrific violence. But once it's all over, we'll have to live together. There is no other alternative. Hamas has made a hostile takeover of the Palestinian problem. I'm going crazy with all these pro-Palestinian movements that are now demonstrating abroad. What's pro-Palestinian about Hamas?! Hamas is the death of the Palestinian movement.
"Hanan told you earlier that she gave 20 years of her life to build an example of living together. For more than 40 years, I have been giving my blood in a daily struggle to build an alternative to life with the Palestinians here. The Palestinian national movement has never behaved the way Hamas does. Whoever wants to support the Palestinians must call on Hamas to release all the civilians it is holding in violation of all law, logic and human morality!"
Sindianat HaGalil products, photo: Arik Sultan
After she speaks, as in a relay race in which Lapid ignites the thought, Hanan continues: "Hamas started a war and knew that it could bring disaster to the heads of children, women and the elderly in Gaza. He didn't do it in the name of the Palestinian people or Al-Aqsa. What Hamas did on October 7, it did in the name of an extremist Muslim religious agenda, following the axis of Iran and Hezbollah."
Just before parting, Lahav smiles. She asks if I've managed to get some hope in "Sindiana." And I think how, among the black soaps from the mud of the Dead Sea, I got on my head when I asked the packing women if we had no hope. How they cried out, as if losing hope was a luxury that could not be afforded in this incarnation, on this earth.
"Fear must be overcome," she states, "without hope it is impossible. When there is no hope, there is no life. We have to be strong, for all of our children, to be healthy."
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