Monday, 28 March 2011

New places

It is almost a year and a half since I arrived in Tiberias, but I still find myself stumbling across places which I have never visited before, yet which are on my doorstep. One such place is the ruins of Herod’s palace at Bereniki, a hill overlooking Tiberias. This was built by Herod Antipas and is a possible site for the beheading of John the Baptist (and also Salome’s dance!). It is a lovely place, not least because it is so undeveloped and is off the tourist trail. Not a single tourist bus there! But a place of wild flowers and lizards and the most marvellous views over the Lake. I had been to the Sabeel Conference in Bethlehem, whose theme was ‘Empire’, and I could see how imposing the palace must have been to the inhabitants of newly-founded Tiberias down below. Very much a case of ‘I am boss’. Even now, settlements are built on hills overlooking the Arab villages, such as Nazareth Illit overlooking Nazareth.

However, in the case of Bereniki, it is now overlooked by the ‘Swiss Forest’, a wooded area (forest is too grand a term) planted from donations from Switzerland. A super area for walks (and views), but also there are some memorials to those who have died, including parents who ‘vanished in Theresienstadt’, a reference to one of the concentration camps.

Another place which I discovered is again just outside Tiberias - Nebi Shu’eib. This is a sacred site for the Druze, who believe it is the tomb of Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses. In fact, the Druze believe that Jethro passed on rules about justice and monotheism to Moses. Nebi Shu’eib is extremely well-developed, with gardens, viewpoints and picnic areas, as well as a complex of a mosque, library and the tomb (which includes an impressive chandelier from Druze in Damascus, who sent it in lieu of coming on pilgrimage, as the current political situation means they are not allowed to visit their relatives in Israel). When I visited, there were a couple of hundred people there, mostly families, enjoying the peace and quiet.

The Druze are an interesting Moslem sect, found in the Galilee and Golan, in Syria and Lebanon. They wear a distinctive dress, the men wearing white tarbooshes and baggy trousers, while the women cover their heads in a white cloth. They are loyal to whatever state they reside in, and so, while other Arab citizens (Christian and Moslem) of Israel are exempt from serving in the army, the Druze perform the same military duty as Jewish Israelis. At Nebi Shu’eib the Druze flag (a multicoloured affair) flies alongside the Israeli one.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Against the odds

We travelled up into the Galilee hills to visit a factory! It was situated in an industrial park and seemed ordinary enough, but behind it lay a fascinating story of a woman fighting against the odds.

Gamila is a Druze lady, and in her childhood she learned all about the medical and healing qualities of herbs from her family. She put this knowledge into good effect by making soap using the various herbs. It started in the family home, but gradually it became a business, as Gamila wanted her children to go to good schools and have a chance in life.

As a woman she encountered much opposition; her fellow villagers felt her place was in the home, rather than running a business, and she had to suffer their taunts. In the end, however, she succeeded, and her soap has hit the luxury end of the market and exports all around the world. Her family have benefitted (her son was the first from the village to go to university), and so has the community.

It was good to visit the factory and see that Moslems and Christians, Jews and Druze, were all employed. As part of its procurement policy, the Hotel is going to use Gamila’s soap. It is also buying its olive oil from Sindyanna, a fair trade company based in the Galilee and is at present sourcing bed ‘throws’ and rugs through Sunbula.

International Womens' Day, 8 March 2011