For the past two weeks we have suffered from chamsin almost every day: The chamsin is a weather condition characterized by an almost constant wind from the east, from the desert, that is extremely dry, and laden with dust. Usually, this just means that the weather is very hot and dry, visibility is poor, and the house gets dusty if you leave the windows open. The chamsin frays tempers, strains airconditioners, makes outdoor activity taxing, causes headaches, and can be dangerous in causing rapid dehydration - and road rage. Sometimes I wonder how our history might be different if not for the chamsin...
But over the weekend there was a break, and yesterday was a perfect summer day. Scattered clouds broke the heat, and the dust blew away, revealing the landscape to the west in perfect clarity:
The drop to the bottom of the Hilazon Valley, maybe 300 feet, is quite steep. Immediately at the bottom of the incline is a large plastic quonset-style building, built 10 years ago to house Shorashims high tech tropical fish hatchery. It turned out that the filtration technology was unproved, and then with the fall of the iron curtain, the bottom dropped out of the European home aquarium market, so the effort was abandoned to cut losses, and the building is deteriorating in the weather.
Beyond the packed clay plateau on which the hatchery sits, old olive groves spread out into the distance, covering the valley bottom - about a mile wide and a couple of miles to the west. The earth there is flat and brown and fertile. The olive trees are just like in the paintings, gnarled and twisted, with uniform gray-green leaves. These groves all belong to residents of the Moslem village of Shaab; since many residents fled in 1948, the lands were all confiscated, and then redivided into small plots, assigned to those that remained. Every fall, around Sukkot, the families bring their picnics out to the groves, and spend several days enjoying a kind of unofficial holiday, beating the trees and collecting the olives; most are pressed for oil at local presses; some are kept for home curing.
Amidst the groves, on a shoulder of the mountain ridge on the south side of the valley, the houses of Shaab spill down to the valley floor. This is a quiet village, off the main road (a fact that has stunted its development), of about 5,000 inhabitants, including some original pre-48 families, as well as populations of refugees from two other villages that were destroyed in 1948, and Beduins moved here temporarily by the army in the 50s. Most of the houses are 3-5 flat modern buildings, each home to an extended family; but there are older, stone houses interspersed. At the bottom edge of the village, adjacent to the olive groves, is the shiny new high school building that opened this year.
On top of the ridge to the south, above Shaab is Yaad, a Jewish community like Shorashim, of about 100 families. Their newest neighborhood looks from here like a line of uniform little boxes. Across the valley, on the north side, the mountain is much higher. Along the top is another Jewish community, Gilon. There the system is build your own, so the look is less uniform, more like the Arab village from a distance.
Continuing to the west, just past Shaab, a small tel rises in the middle of the valley, a barren dome that seems to push up through the flat olive groves. Tel refers to a ruin, a layer-cake pile created when successive conquerors build their towns on the ruins of their predecessors. This one has never been excavated, though archaeological surveys associate it with Naiel (Joshua 19:27).
Past the tel, the olive groves give way to plowed fields that fill the flat Zevulun plain out to the Krayot, the northern suburbs of Haifa. And beyond this vaguely distinguishable built-up coastal strip, a clear and rich blue band of Mediterranean is visible, to the horizon. To the left, past the rooftops of Shaab, the seaview is framed by Mt. Carmel, and the hotel towers of Haifa. To the right, the view toward Acco is obscured by Mt. Gilon, with its steep, craggy limestone face dotted with evergreen carob trees.