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Netanyahu: Of kings and apricots

The prime minister would do well to learn daring -- indeed, leadership -- from the cool kids on the playground

Bukra fil mish-mish is the Arabic equivalent of “once in a blue moon.” Loosely translated, it means “tomorrow, during apricot season.”

It is that time now — the fleeting season in which apricots still appear in our markets, signaling the end of spring and the beginning of a long, hot summer. Several weeks have passed since the first hard, green apricots caused impatient mouths to pucker. The soft bruised ones are already rotting, concealed under sublimely blush balls of fuzz in blue plastic baskets.

Muslims around the world are observing Ramadan and Jews recently celebrated Shavuot, our festival commemorating the appearance — even in those days — of the first summer fruit in our disputed Land.

Once upon a time here in the land of my birth, Arabic and Hebrew-speaking children played a street game resembling pitching pennies, in which apricot pits were tossed at a target or one’s opponents’ pits. Jewish kids in Jerusalem called the pits “ajo’im.” Kids in the center of the country, where I lived, Hebraized the word to “gogo’im.”

Similar to pitching pennies, a player won his opponent’s gogo by hitting it, and the kid with the most gogo’im not only won but took home the spoils — granting them a decided advantage in the next match. But there was a rub: the coolest kid in the neighborhood — the guy with slicked back hair and shorts weighted down by apricot pits — would shout out, “koolu lulu,” Arabic for “it’s all good” — or “kululush,” a Hebraized version of the same.

Either way, our hero then cast to the wind all the pits painstakingly collected throughout the season — whether by dint of a good arm, a strong right hook, or well-oiled extortion skills. The other kids scampered to fill their pockets, heralding their benefactor’s generosity, as they carried him on their shoulders back to the classroom.

Melech hakita,” the king of the classroom and last guy to perform this quintessentially Middle-Eastern feat, was the real winner. His bold sacrifice of all of his apricot pits earned the girls’ affection and the nerds’ indignant admiration. He had secured his place in the ultra-cool pantheon for at least a year — if not for a lifetime.

I often wonder whether Westerners, schooled in competitive sports, capitalism, and a winner-takes-all model, can even begin to imagine a game in which the winner goes home empty-handed. A game in which honor — born of hospitality and generosity — rules.

I have often thought that this game should be a mandatory object lesson in conflict resolution courses aimed at preparing Westerners to decode the Middle East. I have wondered whether it would even occur to Western leaders to appeal to a local leader’s sense of honor by means of his generosity — and whether this could shift the conversation.

Most of all, I have anxiously waited for our prime minister to make a bold move. To unclench his fist and give up any ajo’im to make this a better place. To do more than drop a pit here or there in response to pressure, as he did in the recently brokered agreement with Turkey.

Is there anything that would cause him to reach into his pockets and unclench his fists? Is there anything that would make him give up his attempt to trump David Ben-Gurion’s record for holding onto the prime minister’s seat?

Quick, how many of you know how many years David Ben-Gurion held the prime minister’s office?

Quick, how many of you remember a guy who stayed in any lost game the longest?

It was my privilege to learn from teachers like Rabbi Menachem Froman zt”l that “This land doesn’t belong to us, we belong to the land.”

And to see other “kings” of this neighborhood, Menachem Begin z”l, Anwar Sadat z”l, Yitzhak Rabin z”l, and Arik Sharon z”l, shout koolulu and surrender plenty of pits.

Yes, the results of such courage and sacrifice are often neither pretty nor immediate nor absolute. But it is the stuff of legend.

And yes, Mahmoud Abbas is not the king of this or any other neighborhood.

And yes, apricot season is short and blue moons are infrequent.

But a failure to shout koolulu in a loud clear voice or make any real concession could reduce Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to nothing more than historical footnotes.

Much worse, it could leave Israel/Palestine where it is now: in the pits.

About the Author
Varda Spiegel was Nurse-Director of the Bedouin Mobile Unit of the Negev, later serving as Maternal-Child Health Director for the Ministry of Health Jerusalem District. I am a grandmother, mother, and beachbum.