Sixty-two year old Ali Buerat sits in the shade of his veranda, half a dozen of his twenty-something (he gives up on the exact figure after deep thought and active finger counting) grandchildren playing around his feet.
On the table a traditional style copper coffee pot of local stand-a-teaspoon-up-in strong brew and a plastic bottle of cold fizzy lemonade. Alongside Ali, his jovial wife directs older grandchildren to tend to a smaller sibling who has banged her head on the stone steps leading to the second floor of the building.
Coupled with the laughing, crying and general blurb of chit-chat between grandchildren and a visiting relative from the village of Kfar Kara a few kilometers away, sheep bleat, chickens squawk and now and then camels tethered in a field on the other side of his spacious home throw in their deep grunts of ‘don’t forget the Dromedaries.’ The one-hump camel grunts somewhat clash when a loudspeaker kicks into action and the local muezzin calls out for faithful to come to pray in the small yellow domed village mosque just meters away.
Throw in scores of cars, heavy duty trucks, buses and roaring motor bikes travelling the main road 50 paces away and you have the daily cacophony of the Buerat family. However, on the shady veranda the sound of the traffic somehow seems muffled except for the frequently passing patience lacking horn blowers among the drivers.
Had I been sitting in the southern part of Israel where the majority of Israel’s Bedouin tribes live, many of the sounds – especially the camels and sheep – would be as natural as the scorching sun and parched desert surroundings. But - central Israel, more specifically in Wadi Ara with the busy Route 65 highway passing through a narrow pass between the Amir mountain range and Menashe Hills, the sight of tethered camels grazing at the roadside is a more than a rare sight and certainly more than enough to make this writer do a double take – and that was before spotting a battered piece of cardboard tied to a pole at the side of the road proclaiming that there was camel milk for sale.
To turn off the main road make the short descent to the valley basin where the camels idle away the day below is not for the faint hearted and after taking one look at the height of the animal and the smallness of the udder, milking one surely is also not for the faint hearted. The animals not only grunt but also hiss and have a kick any professional footballer can only dream about.
So, what’s with camels in Wadi Ara, Ali?
“Well, it all started with a horse basically,” explains Ali as he pours a glass of cold camel milk for yours truly to taste.
“My grandchildren love animals,” he says with a broad smile as a chorus of bleating, squawking and camel grunts sweeps over the veranda.
“The older ones were nagging me to get a horse for a long time but I resisted and anyway they had the sheep, chickens and what have you,” he says with a grin but then said he buckled to pressure when offered a camel by a man from Beersheba who had married a local lady living in the second half of the village built on a steep hill on the other side of the road.
“The man from Beersheba bought a piece of land up on top of the Menashe Hills from someone in Ara village. He had dreams of living in a house on a hill and rearing camels and at one time he had fifty or sixty animals, none of which you could see from the main road,” he explains. After some time though the man sold the camels but kept one, that which eventually ended up with Ali. “That one turned into ten over the last few years,” he then says with a chuckle.
Also named Ali, a 14 year-old grandson takes care of the herd. Not only does he share his grandfather’s name but also his smile. Ali junior is a tall, slim and handsome young man who spends four hours every day walking his camel herd in the area between the Buerat extended family homes and Mei Ami, a Jewish community of sixty families living on the top of the mountain and literally hugging the pre-1967 border between the State of Israel and the Jordanian controlled West Bank.
Ali is also the milkman. He extracts around two and a half liters a day and eager buyers pay 50 shekels (ten pound sterling) for a liter of what would seem is almost white gold.
“Camel milk is good for you, very healthy,” says Ali senior as he downs another glass although just a few minutes beforehand he had explained he had not worked for many years due to heart, kidney and other ailments including diabetes. When this was pointed out he responded with yet another charming smile – “I’ve only had the camels for a year and half remember.”
The camel milk is high in both protein and vitamin C and low in cholesterol. With loads of minerals such as sodium, potassium, magnesium and more, the milk is easily digestible for folks with lactose intolerance and purported to be a possible cure for many known diseases and illnesses.
So how did I take to my first glass of ultra-nutritious milk from a humped one – well, as healthy as it might be – cannot say I found it tasty but maybe it will become an acquired taste before I get any of the illnesses and diseases the locals believe it can kick out of one’s system.
There are very few Bedouin in the Wadi Ara area and intrigued I asked Ali senior how many generations the Buerat family – or hamula as it is known in Arabic – have lived there.
“I really don’t know but I can tell you that I was born here just after the foundation of the State of Israel, my father, grandfather and great grandfather all lived and raised their families here. Before that – well … who knows,” he says shrugging his shoulders and lifting his hands upward toward the sky.
Photos and text by Lydia Aisenberg
The inscription on the side of the sofa reads: Give a smile, it’s all for the best! Right: Children of the Revolution apparently sleep here
Early one morning, camped out in the center of Tel Aviv and after a hot hard day’s night, a few tent dwellers begin to stir. Yawning and stretching they emerge from a line of flap-to-flap tents that have been part of the Rothschild Boulevard scene for the last month.
On either side of the canvas city in the middle of the road, a collection of impressive eclectic buildings, from historical stylish Levantine, European and Ottoman styles to stone and glass edifice modern era monstrosities housing banks and offices – the beginnings of a powerful Zionist tale turning sand dunes into a city a century ago in present times has become home to a city of canvas as Israeli people take to the streets – literally – in a student led citizen’s revolt demanding social justice.
Rothschild Boulevard is one of the areas boasting magnificent early Bauhaus style buildings, part of the White City declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site that attracts tourists from around the world and also a most favored place for Israelis visiting the city that supposedly never sleeps - but from what I saw early that morning in Rothschild, also has great difficulty in waking up.
Standing taking photographs alongside me, French tourists squint behind their cameras, absorbing the scene through their lenses. A black-bearded young man, fast asleep on his back, boot clad feet resting on the side where an inscription reads ‘Give a smile, it’s all for the best!’ becomes a tourist attraction of another kind.
Traffic moves slowly along either side of the wide swath of Rothschild Boulevard that has been taken over by the demonstrators. They are moving slowly as drivers inch forward whilst at the same time are reading the signs, some of which extremely creative, hanging from the trees, utility poles and plastered on to the tents themselves – one of which from the National Union of Israeli Students – the name of the organization in Hebrew, Arabic and English - stating ‘I’M ATENTING’ and another handwritten sign: ‘aTENTion, BIBI.’
Ron Cohen, is from the north of the country and recently finished 3 years in the IDF. Sitting on a wooden bench with a steaming cup of coffee in his hand, the man from Galilee explains what brought him to town.
“I have only been here for a week as I was abroad for a wedding in London. I was in an area where young people were rioting and some buildings very close to where I was staying were burned to the ground. I decided as soon as I return I would join the protesters here because otherwise maybe if things do not change in Israel, we will see scenes like those in London right here in Tel Aviv and other Israeli cities and towns as well. It’s a frightening thought and even more so because it really could happen.
“I am not going to study yet as my parents cannot afford to help and so I decided to take up a job offer in security abroad. Hopefully I will be able to save some money and return to study in Israel. I would like to stay here truthfully but really do not have much choice – the better paid jobs are here in Tel Aviv but everything I earn will go on rent and other basics and nothing will be saved for studies.”
British born translator Diana Rubanenko lives on Shenkin just a block or two down the road from Rothschild Boulevard. Diana and Tel Aviv born husband Ze’ev were founder members of Moshav Neviot (Nuweiba) in Sinai. Following the Egypt-Israel peace agreement they moved to a Sharon Plains moshav but in recent years moved to Tel Aviv where their son Guy has been living for the last ten years and daughter Morag, thirteen.
“Rothschild is on my morning daily walk from Sheinkin to Ibn Gvirol Street and so I have watched the developments right from the start. The street noise level quickly became quite high and I felt for the residents of Rothschild themselves but once I stopped to listen to the debates – all of which very polite and considerate of others and rather un-Israeli one might say – it became fascinating. The whole tent city, and the demonstrations that we took part in, filled me with elation because the young people seemed to have their priorities right,” said Diana who made aliya from Portsmouth after volunteering in a kibbutz during the 1967 war.
“For years I’ve been complaining about our kids’ generation, that they never read the papers and don’t know or care about what’s happening, but I was wrong. They may not read the papers as much as the 60 year-olds, but they knew what is wrong with the country’s circumstances. We never actually calculated what our kids have paid in rent in Tel Aviv but I know the sum is appalling. I read somewhere that one of the crucial aspects of these youngsters is that many of them have participated in different leadership courses, which has helped enormously in getting the protest off the ground and onto Rothschild Boulevard.”
Across the road from where Ron has bagged a bench, a portly gentleman in a somewhat crumpled white suit and Panama hat sits surveying the beginnings of a new day on the Boulevard walk.
In actual fact Mr. Conti has been doing exactly that for the last 11 years, sitting outside the Conti menswear shop at No. 45. The shop is about to close down and Mr. Conti will move on – or rather be removed by a fork-lift as he is a rather heavy very life-like plaster figure that always brings a smile to my face when walking his Boulevard. He always seems so benevolent sitting there, cigar in hand and rather reminiscent of Winston Churchill in appearance.
“Mr. Conti has been sitting outside my shop in all weathers for over a decade and he has seen so much during that time, you really don’t want to know,” says shop owner Ayal Naftali
“There were the extensive renovations of the Bauhaus heritage buildings as part of the deal with the big companies who built the multi-storey office blocks and banks; all sorts of art exhibitions, White Nights and darker times. Exhibitions of decorated bulls, dolphins and the like – so much, but he never expresses his opinion although I am sure of one thing, Mr. Conti is a deep thinker,” says Ayal with a broad grin!
Mr. Conti was originally outside a restaurant in one of the streets off the Boulevard and Ayal bought him to keep an eye on things outside hisup-market shop which is closing down, sign of the times as the huge banner behind Mr. Conti declares that everything is being sold at a 70% discount and that all items must go.
What about Mr. Conti? Is he for sale and at what discount?
“Mr. Conti is not for sale – he is coming home to Hod HaSharon with me. He’ll find it tough but the cost of living is slightly lower than here in Rothschild Boulevard and a lot quieter for an old man,” says Ayal with a heavy note of sadness in his humor.
Photos and article by Lydia Aisenberg.
Eriana Rivera-Rozo, a former Intensive Arabic Semester student, shared her unique experience in Israel with her university magazine. Since the article came out, Eriana has moved to Greensboro, North Carolina where she is busy working for an Israeli company called Albaad, following her time spent at the Carter Center for Peace.