How Citrus Fruits Came to Israel

Since its development in the 19th century, the Jaffa orange has been one of the land of Israel’s best known agricultural exports. Another citrus fruit, the citron (or etrog) plays a crucial part in the rituals of the holiday of Sukkot. But these fruits are native not to the Near East but to Southeast Asia. The archaeobotanist Dafna Langgut explains her findings about how they arrived in the Levant:

Citrus was first cultivated by humans at least 4,000 years ago in Southeast Asia, and all cultivated species derive from a handful of wild ancestors. Several years ago I found the earliest archaeobotanical evidence of citrus in the Mediterranean in a royal Persian garden near Jerusalem dating to the 5th and 4th centuries BCE. . . .

The citron (citrus medica) was the first citrus fruit to reach the Mediterranean, via Persia. The citron has a thick rind and a small, dry pulp, but [because] it was the first to arrive in the West, the whole group of fruits (citrus) takes its name from this economically unimportant species. . . . The citron and the lemon (a hybrid of the citron and the bitter orange, which was introduced to the West at least four centuries later) were originally considered elite products. For more than a millennium, [they] were the only citrus fruits known in the Mediterranean Basin. . . .

Because it is used during the Sukkot holiday, [the citron] is frequently depicted on Jewish coins and mosaics. . . . . Remains of this species were also found in gardens owned by affluent members of the western Roman world—for example in the area of Vesuvius and around Rome—dated to the 3rd or 2nd centuries BCE. It appears that the citron was considered a valuable commodity due to its healing qualities, symbolic use, pleasant odor, and rarity. . . . Its spread therefore was helped more by its representation of high social status, its significance in religion, and unique features. . . .

In contrast, the sour orange, lime, and pomelo were introduced to the West much later, beginning in the 10th century CE, by the Muslims—probably via Sicily and the Iberian Peninsula.

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More about: Archaeology, Etrog, History & Ideas, Israel & Zionism, Israeli agriculture, Sukkot

Yasir Arafat’s Decades-Long Alliance with Iran and Its Consequences for Both Palestinians and Iranians

Jan. 18 2019

In 2002—at the height of the second intifada—the Israeli navy intercepted the Karina A, a Lebanese vessel carrying 50 tons of Iranian arms to the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). But Yasir Arafat’s relationship with the Islamic Republic goes much farther back, to before its founding in 1979. The terrorist leader had forged ties with followers of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini that grew especially strong in the years when Lebanon became a base of operations both for Iranian opponents of the shah and for the PLO itself. Tony Badran writes:

The relationship between the Iranian revolutionary factions and the Palestinians began in the late 1960s, in parallel with Arafat’s own rise in preeminence within the PLO. . . . [D]uring the 1970s, Lebanon became the site where the major part of the Iranian revolutionaries’ encounter with the Palestinians played out. . . .

The number of guerrillas that trained in Lebanon with the Palestinians was not particularly large. But the Iranian cadres in Lebanon learned useful skills and procured weapons and equipment, which they smuggled back into Iran. . . . The PLO established close working ties with the Khomeinist faction. . . . [W]orking [especially] closely with the PLO [was] Mohammad Montazeri, son of the senior cleric Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri and a militant who had a leading role in developing the idea of establishing the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) once the revolution was won.

The Lebanese terrorist and PLO operative Anis Naccache, who coordinated with [the] Iranian revolutionaries, . . . takes personal credit for the idea. Naccache claims that Jalaleddin Farsi, [a leading Iranian revolutionary]. approached him specifically and asked him directly to draft the plan to form the main pillar of the Khomeinist regime. The formation of the IRGC may well be the greatest single contribution that the PLO made to the Iranian revolution. . . .

Arafat’s fantasy of pulling the strings and balancing the Iranians and the Arabs in a grand anti-Israel camp of regional states never stood much of a chance. However, his wish to see Iran back the Palestinian armed struggle is now a fact, as Tehran has effectively become the principal, if not the only, sponsor of the Palestinian military option though its direct sponsorship of Islamic Jihad and its sustaining strategic and organizational ties with Hamas. By forging ties with the Khomeinists, Arafat unwittingly helped to achieve the very opposite of his dream. Iran has turned [two] Palestinian factions into its proxies, and the PLO has been relegated to the regional sidelines.

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More about: Hamas, History & Ideas, Iran, Lebanon, PLO, Yasir Arafat