Israel Matters! – March 2021 – More Than News

The Abraham Accords

The last quarter of 2020 witnessed a remarkable Middle East peace offensive with the launch of the Abraham Accords, a series of agreements between Israel and several Arab countries. Signing the first declaration on September 15 were the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. This was followed by Sudan on October 23, and one month later with Morocco on December 22. So, what are the Abraham Accords about, and why are they so significant?

The Abraham Accords Declaration begins hopefully as follows: “We, the undersigned, recognize the importance of maintaining and strengthening peace in the Middle East and around the world based on mutual understanding and coexistence, as well as respect for human dignity and freedom, including religious freedom. We encourage efforts to promote interfaith and intercultural dialogue to advance a culture of peace among the three Abrahamic religions and all humanity.” This in itself is remarkable considering that these four Arab nations are former enemies of Israel, making this agreement the first peace accord signed by Arab nations with Israel since the treaty with Jordan on October 26 – more than 25 years ago – which itself lagged Israel’s March 26, 1979 peace agreement with Egypt by 15 and a half years.

And make no mistake – the four Arab signatories to the Abraham Accords were enemies of Israel. Consider the United Arab Emirates (UAE). On the books in that country was Federal Decree Law No. 15 of 1972, otherwise known as the Israel Boycott Law. This provision prohibited UAE citizens and companies from travel to or business and trade dealings with Israel. Any person or company breaching this law risked criminal prosecution, hefty fines and even imprisonment. More dramatic is the case of Sudan. Unlike the UAE and Bahrain, Sudan was a military adversary, having attacked Israel both during the 1948 War of Independence and the Six Day War in 1967. Khartoum (Sudan’s capital) has also hosted terrorist organizations such as Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Morocco is a most welcome addition to the Abraham Accords. As of 2019, Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics reported that just over 7% of all Jews in Israel were of Moroccan origin. Morocco’s Ministry of Moroccans Residing Abroad claims that 10% of Israel’s population is of Moroccan descent, making Israel the second largest Moroccan diaspora after France! Nonetheless, as a member of the Arab League since 1958, Morocco also was a sworn enemy of the Jewish state.

These facts in and of themselves make the Abraham Accords a big deal, but these peace agreements are more about the future than the past. Israel has much to offer these four nations in the realms of agriculture, education, healthcare and medicine, and science and technology. In return, Israel benefits in areas such as finance and investment (especially considering the UAE), civil aviation, tourism, culture and sport. There is also much to gain regarding security cooperation, given the age-old adage that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” with Iran being the shared threat felt by the Sunni Arab countries of the Middle East and Israel

With the Abraham Accords come new opportunities for everyday Israelis who love to travel and experience new places. Indeed, the UAE wasted no time arranging for air travel between Dubai and Tel Aviv, and before Covid put a temporary stop to air travel, Ben Gurion Airport witnessed a new addition to the fleet of planes normally hosted. Of course, Israelis are famous for seeking out travel bargains, and some enterprising holiday-seekers have already discovered much cheaper ways of flying to the Gulf. Israelis are also educating themselves about the countries they can now visit.

One burning question for Israelis: what is the difference between Dubai and Abu Dhabi? The answer is simple: people from Dubai don’t like the Flintstones, but people from Abu Dhabi Dooooo!
Until next time, everybody sing: Na Na Nah Nah! Na
Na Nah Nah! Hey Hey-ey, DU-BAI!

Eating like an Israeli

I’m not one for spicy foods, so when my friend Igal invited us for Shabbat dinner and offered me a portion of his family’s traditional Friday night Moroccan fish, I was
terrified! I’ve heard stories about Moroccan spiced foods…so I tried to avoid it, telling him I didn’t really like fish (a lie). But he insisted I take a taste, and proceeded to fill about half my plate with his red fish dish.

With a piece of the fish on my fork in one hand and a huge piece of challah to rescue me in the other, I was ready. As Igal watched with excited anticipation, I slowly put a small bite of the fish in my mouth. To my great surprise, it was absolutely delicious!

Of course, I asked Igal for the recipe. Since Igal learned how to cook this from watching his mom, he didn’t know exact measurements, and used terms like “enough” and “a little” to describe quantities. I’ve done my best to quantify amounts, but feel free to improvise. It can be modified in in many ways, including increasing or decreasing the “fire-factor” with more or fewer spices. Feel free to experiment. You simply can’t go wrong with this dish… on the continuum of deliciousness, no matter what you do, you’ll never go lower than “YUM.”

Yigal’s Moroccan Fish Ingredients
· 4-6 fish fillets (1.5-2 lbs) – My favorite is tilapia or
salmon, but most solid fish work.
· 1 red bell pepper cut in narrow strips and halved
· About a cup of fresh cilantro leaves (if you don’t have
the cilantro gene, you can use parsley instead). I use
just the leaves, which takes a bit more time, but Yigal
used the leaves and stalks chopped up.
· 1 large sliced and quartered tomato (You can used
crushed canned tomatoes in a pinch)
· 2-4 cloves of chopped garlic (I use 4 tsp of the crushed
garlic you buy in a jar – don’t judge me J)
· 1 can of chick peas
· Chopped carrots (option)
· 2 tbsp paprika
· 1/2 cup olive oil (I use extra virgin olive oil)
· 1 tsp turmeric
· 1 tsp salt
· ¼ tsp cayenne pepper (option)
· ½ tsp black pepper (option)
· 1-3 large dried chili peppers or a few tsp chili pepper
flakes (option)
Some people cook this stove-top – I bake it.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees
1. In In a bowl, mix oil, garlic, turmeric, paprika and salt
into a paste. Add optional spices (cayenne pepper,
cumin, black pepper, chili pepper flakes). Mix in the
cilantro – it will be a thick. Set aside.
2. Sauté the red peppers (and carrots if using) in a small
amount of olive oil to soften them a bit.
3. Take a large baking dish and layer the bottom with
the sautéed red pepper (and carrots if using), tomatoes
and chick peas. Place the fish on top of these. Pour the
oil mixture over the fish and make sure all is coated. If
you don’t have enough, make a little more with oil and
paprika. Everything should be coated at least a little.
4. Bake uncovered at 350 degrees for about 40 minutes,
when the fish is break-apart done. (It should smell
You can eat this warm or even cold for a snack –
delicious either way! It tastes even better the next day.

Fun Israeli Words and Phrases:

Al HaPanim!
When you speak with someone originally from Israel or when you visit, it’s fun (and useful!) to speak some Hebrew. What’s even more fun is to use idioms or current/common phrases. Soooooo, from time to time we’ll offer you a new Hebrew word or phrase to tuck into your kippah, to impress your Israeli friends (and yourself)!
This month’s phrase is “Al-hapanim.” Although it literally means “on your face,” the words “al-hapanim” together are what you can use to say something is “awful” or “lousy.” So, for example, if someone asks you, “how’s your dancing?” you could answer, “Al-hapanim!” (That is, assuming you have at least two left feet). So, how was 2020? AL HAPANI