Celebrating Hanukkah, and Christmas, at a Druze Department Store Near Nazareth

Dec. 10 2018

Israel’s two Merkaza department stores boast an enormous selection of goods, competitive prices, and attentive customer service inspired, according to a spokesman, by the Druze ethic of hospitality instilled by Mounhal Hamoud and his son, the Druze who own and operate the stores. To Dore Feith, Merkaza represents something more profound than an example of economic vitality in the Jewish state:

This week, [the elder] Hamoud joined the mayor of Upper Nazareth—a mixed Jewish and Arab city in the lower Galilee that neighbors the all-Arab village of Nazareth—in lighting the first candle of Hanukkah in the Merkaza store that serves both cities. The Druze proprietor and the secular Jewish mayor were joined at the holiday celebration by a few other secular Jews, a handful of Orthodox Jews, and several dozen Arabs—some Muslim and others Christian. Several feet away stood an ornamented Christmas tree and advertisements for the store’s Christmas festival.

I watched an Arab Merkaza employee wish entering customers ḥag sameaḥ (the Hebrew holiday greeting) and distribute traditional Hanukkah candy and jelly donuts, while women in hijabs photographed their children bobbing to Hanukkah music alongside a dancing girl in a dreidel costume. Jewish musicians played Hanukkah classics while passing by tables laden with chocolate Santas and miniature Christmas trees. It was a sweet scene of casual, happy interaction among Jews and Arabs of various religions. It was not the standard image of violent intercommunal hostility that predominates in foreign news accounts of Israel.

What the Hamoud family has added to social health and tranquility in the lower Galilee is not accounted for in GDP calculations or economic analyses. But it is palpable and rich. They deserve credit for modeling how a business can give its customers material goods, but also goodness that transcends the material.

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More about: Druze, Hanukkah, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Arabs, Israeli Christians, Israeli society

The Syrian Civil War May Be Coming to an End, but Three New Wars Are Rising There

March 26 2019

With both Islamic State and the major insurgent forces largely defeated, Syria now stands divided into three parts. Some 60 percent of the country, in the west and south, is in the hands of Bashar al-Assad and his allies. Another 30 percent, in the northeast, is in the hands of the mostly Kurdish, and American-backed, Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The final 10 percent, in the northwest, is held by Sunni jihadists, some affiliated with al-Qaeda, under Turkish protection. But, writes Jonathan Spyer, the situation is far from stable. Kurds, likely linked to the SDF, have been waging an insurgency in the Turkish areas, and that’s only one of the problems:

The U.S.- and SDF-controlled area east of the Euphrates is also witnessing the stirrings of internal insurgency directed from outside. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, “236 [SDF] fighters, civilians, oil workers, and officials” have been killed since August 2018 in incidents unrelated to the frontline conflict against Islamic State. . . . The SDF blames Turkey for these actions, and for earlier killings such as that of a prominent local Kurdish official. . . . There are other plausible suspects within Syria, however, including the Assad regime (or its Iranian allies) or Islamic State, all of which are enemies of the U.S.-supported Kurds.

The area controlled by the regime is by far the most secure of Syria’s three separate regions. [But, for instance, in] the restive Daraa province in the southwest, [there has been] a renewed small-scale insurgency against the Assad regime. . . .

As Islamic State’s caliphate disappears from Syria’s map, the country is settling into a twilight reality of de-facto division, in which a variety of low-burning insurgencies continue to claim lives. Open warfare in Syria is largely over. Peace, however, will remain a distant hope.

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More about: ISIS, Kurds, Politics & Current Affairs, Syrian civil war, Turkey