Halabi is playing a shepherd’s tune on his flute to the delight of his guests. The Sheep Restaurant is a popular stopping point at the entrance of Daliat-el-Carmel, a Druze village high on the slopes of Israel’s Mt. Carmel, a short twenty minute drive from Haifa. A few minutes before, as the diners were enjoying dishes of lamb mixed with rice, pine nuts and walnuts; kebab with minced meat and mint; grilled chicken breasts; stuffed vegetables and fries; Halabi was strumming chords on his oud, a pear-shaped stringed instrument common to Middle Eastern music.
‘Welcome back my friends,” Halabi greeted us upon our arrival, although it’s not clear whether he actually remembered us from our previous visit a few years ago. He was eager for us to try the business meal, which started with tasty homemade humus, tehina, pickled vegetables and sour labneh, all accompanied by Druze pita, which is similar in shape and texture to an oversized pancake.
Daliat-el-Carmel is the largest community of Israel’s Druze, an Arabic-speaking religious minority that split from mainstream Islam during the 11th century. There are some 122,000 Druze living in Israel, and they live in the Galilee, on the Golan Heights, and in the mountains near Haifa. The Druze serve in the Israel Defense Forces and are Israeli citizens who, with the exception of some living near the Syrian border, dissociate themselves from Arab nationalism. They are very welcoming and hospitable, glad to have visitors in their communities.
“This olive oil is so good!”we inform our host after the meal.
We end up buying a Coca Cola bottle filled with the homemade olive oil. “It was just produced,” Halabi informs us. “It might still be a bit bitter, so let it sit for two weeks,” he says.
Dipping the flat pita bread into the olive oil we are rewarded with the strong taste of olives, but the price is very reasonable and we are pleased with the purchase.
Halabi seems to be a common Druze name, as in the center of Daliat-el-Carmel all the storefronts bear that name. There is a Halabi Anter restaurant, and next store is the establishment of the Halabi Brothers, and there are at least two dental surgeons who advertise their clinics with the name Halabi.
The parking lot attendant invites us to purchase more olive oil. “If you buy fresh olives here, I will refund your parking fee,” she tells us.
The shops in the market sell everything, from oversized framed posters of rock stars to luxurious circular “American-style” beds. We enter one touristy shop, its entrance graced with bows and arrows and a counter cluttered with round alarm clocks. Deep inside the darkened interior we are greeted by a Druze woman, who shows us the handiwork of the village residents.
“This is not made in China,” she says, displaying the hand-embroidered tablecloths, which appear in carefully planned patchwork designs. There are pillow covers and carpets, but we settle on one small cloth. “You can wash it in the machine,” she tells us. “The colors won’t run.”
A wedding is taking place in the village that night. A shiny sports utility vehicle passes in front of the shop, the bride with her fancy coiffure easily seen through the window. Behind the bridal car are the guests, honking their horns repeatedly as they drive through the street. We had seen this bride and her groom being photographed earlier in the day in the alleyways of Haifa’s German Colony. The procession of cars continues, passing by a young Druze man coming in the opposite direction on his horse.
As we pay for the locally crafted tablecloth, the mustached owner of the shop says to me, “You are good people.” I would have said the same for the residents of his village.