The Rich Past, and Promising Future, of the Middle East’s Date

If there’s one thing that unifies the people who live in the area stretching from Morocco to India, writes Matti Friedman, it is their appreciation for the fruit of the date palm:

Long before refrigeration, dried dates could keep for years, making them invaluable for travelers across seas and deserts. They can be turned into honey by boiling and straining the fruit; in fact, the biblical phrase “land of milk and honey” refers to honey from dates, not bees. They can also be fermented into liquor, like the date wine enjoyed by ancient Babylonians, according to the historian Herodotus. The tree itself was a source of fiber for ropes and baskets, fronds for shelter and shade and columns for construction. That led one rabbi to remark at least 1,500 years ago, long before environmentalism was cool, “This date palm—no part of it is wasted.”

“A righteous person will flower like a date palm,” goes the verse in Psalms, one explanation being that the date palm, like the righteous, grows straight and sustains others with its fruit. A scientifically minded rabbi in 12th-century Yemen, Netanel al-Fayyumi, explained that just as the pinnacle of the animal kingdom is people, and the pinnacle of the human species is prophets, the pinnacle of the plant kingdom, according to God’s design, is this tree. “And among the plants,” wrote the rabbi, “He created the most honorable species, which is the date.”

And perhaps even more than Iran, it might be the threat posed to the crop by the red palm weevil that will bring Israelis and Arabs together:

The enemy is at the gates, and this is what brought me to Abu Dhabi, the scene of the International Date Palm Conference. . . . Of particular interest at the conference was the presence of a few Israelis, which would have been hard to imagine a few years ago, before the American-engineered agreements known as the Abraham Accords inaugurated official ties between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Morocco. If we understand the date palm as a unifier in a divided part of the world, dates offer an obvious field of cooperation. A weevil sensor manufactured by an Israeli company, for example, has already been drilled into thousands of trees in the UAE and Morocco, as well as in Arab countries that won’t trade directly with Israel but purchase the sensors through a third party. The sensor picks up the vibrations of weevil larvae and sends a warning to an app installed on the farmer’s smartphone.

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Read more at Smithsonian

More about: Hebrew Bible, Israeli agriculture, Israeli technology, Judaism, Middle East, United Arab Emirates

Condemning Terrorism in Jerusalem—and Efforts to Stop It

Jan. 30 2023

On Friday night, a Palestinian opened fire at a group of Israelis standing outside a Jerusalem synagogue, killing seven and wounding several others. The day before, the IDF had been drawn into a gunfight in the West Bank city of Jenin while trying to arrest members of a terrorist cell. Of the nine Palestinians killed in the raid, only one appears to have been a noncombatant. Lahav Harkov compares the responses to the two events, beginning with the more recent:

President Joe Biden called Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to denounce the attack, offer his condolences, and express his commitment to Israel’s security. Other leaders released supportive statements as well. Governments across Europe condemned the attack. Turkey’s foreign ministry did the same, as did Israel’s Abraham Accords partners the UAE and Bahrain. Even Saudi Arabia released a statement against the killing of civilians in Jerusalem.

It feels wrong to criticize those statements. . . . But the condemnations should be full-throated, not spoken out of one side of the mouth while the other is wishy-washy about what it takes to stave off terrorism. These very same leaders and ministries were tsk-tsking at Israel for doing just that only a day before the attacks in Jerusalem.

The context didn’t seem to matter to some countries that are friendly to Israel. It didn’t matter that Israel was trying to stop jihadists from attacking civilians; it didn’t matter that IDF soldiers were attacked on the way.

It’s very easy for some to be sad when Jews are murdered. Yet, at the same time, so many of them are uncomfortable with Jews asserting themselves, protecting themselves, arming themselves against the bloodthirsty horde that would hand out bonbons to celebrate their deaths. It’s a reminder of how important it is that we do just that, and how essential the state of Israel is.

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Read more at Lahav’s Newsletter

More about: Jerusalem, Palestinian terror