Diplomats on four legs
"To a great extent, the Arabian horse might be the most effective diplomat," says Bobby Shapira, horse rancher and founder of the Festival of the Arabian Horse in the Galilee, while examining the horses and colts that pass by. Shapira, one of the best-known breeders of purebred Arabian horses in Israel, explains his statement, one that put a smile on every face in earshot at the festival in the Druze village of Julis on Saturday.
"Look at the crowd and the competitors. There are people here from all over Israel. The common denominator is a love of horses, in general, and of Arabian horses, in particular. Jews and Arabs sit side by side, smiling and talking. Some of them are part owners of ranches or are partners in breeding and raising horses," Shapira says.
A total of 106 "diplomats," as Shapira calls them, came to Julis on Saturday to participate in the eighth Festival of the Arabian Horse, organized by the Israel Arabian Horse Society. The society was founded to promote the breeding and development of the Arabian horse, to insure that horse-breeding traditions pass to future generations and to tighten standards for certification by the society. "There are no impostors here. Every horse has a certificate, recorded bloodline and genetic profile," society officials explain.
One example of good relations between Arab and Jewish involved in the care and breeding of Arabians is the case of Prof. Michael and Dahlia Kreindler of Carmiel, owners of two champion horses shown at the festival - Sinjabi and Adham al-Asawad. Basam and Samira Halabi share all the responsibilities for boarding and grooming the horses at the Zohar Ranch in the Western Galilee.
"We are partners in every sense, and especially in terms of loving horses. We have become one family as a result. There are many examples of similar cooperation between Arab and Jewish horse owners and breeders."
"Look around and you will see happy people of every ethnic persuasion - Jews and Arabs, and all for the sake of the horse. There is no doubt that this sport, like any sport, can be used as an example of closer ties between both peoples and, in my opinion, nations in the region. This is an opportunity to persuade relevant institutions to support this branch of sport," says Julis Local Council Chairman Nadim Amar.
Horse breeding and ownership has blossomed in the village of Julis and other Galilee villages. "A few years ago, there were three Arabian horses in the village, and now there are about 30. Breeding of purebred horses was once considered to be the sole realm of the wealthy, but this has proven to be untrue," says Sheikh Salim Tarif, a Julis resident and one of the festival organizers.
It costs about NIS 500-600 to own a horse. However, buying an Arabian horse is more expensive - prices start at NIS 9,000. A horse named Lubnah holds the record for the highest purchase price in Israel - $500,000. Arabian horses have sold overseas for as much as $2.1 million.
There are those in Julis who dream of a racetrack, but festival organizers made do with the local soccer field. Stalls and tents were erected for the many guests, who were offered Turkish coffee and baklava while Arabic music played in the background. This atmosphere provided a backdrop for the exhibition of horses and foals of various ages, who passed before the eyes of two female judges from England and Switzerland, and a male judge from Italy.
The horses are divided into categories by age, and points are granted based on a horse's appearance and performance in walking, trotting and galloping; basic structure; head and neck shape; and general behavior.
"A horse has to be well-built and well-trained to win," explains groomer and handler Haled Sinati. "It is important to stress that this is a sensitive, highly- intelligent animal, and any type of treatment can influence the animal, for good or for bad, just as it can in humans. If we want them to be `diplomats,' we must make sure that the diplomats are in a good mood," he says.