Hello, Hussein Jaber from Abu Ghosh. Nir Gontarz here, a journalist with Haaretz. How are you?
Thank you. Fine. Good evening.
Tell me, sir, are you going to buy the chametz [the leavened food not permitted by Jewish law during Pesach] of the State of Israel again this year, ahead of Passover?
Do you have time to talk to me about it for a minute?
Yes, by all means.
How does it work from your point of view? What’s the procedure?
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It’s a full-fledged official contract. On March 29, Passover eve, we will meet at the Chief Rabbinate – [Finance] Minister Moshe Kahlon, I and the chief rabbis. With witnesses, of course. And then the ceremony begins. The finance minister gives the rabbis power of attorney to sell the state to Jaber Hussein – that’s me.
To sell the chametz.
All the chametz in the state.
And the leavened products that are on the way to Israel, on planes, on ships – it’s all mine. He grants the rabbis power of attorney, and the rabbis sell it to me, and I have to pay an advance with the intention of completing [payment of] all the money by the end of Passover.
And then there are the assessors, who have to estimate the cost of the chametz.
And in practice, you pay something?
A down payment of 50,000 shekels cash [about $14,000]. And then I have to complete the payment by the end of Passover.
What’s the total value of the transaction? How much do you have to come up with?
I see. Do you get the 50,000 back?
I pay it as a down payment.
And when Passover ends, you get it back?
If the transaction is annulled. But in the meantime, my intention is to buy. It’s a full-fledged official transaction. There are terms and everything.
How many years have you been doing this?
Twenty years already.
Did you ever say to yourself, “If this is an official contract, then maybe I will buy everything and not give back the flour”?
For that I have to organize the money. With God’s help, this time I’ll do it.
So this time, you’re really and truly going to buy it all and not give it back?
Yes, I want to organize the money.
This time you’re really going to try to organize it? Where are you going to find $300 million? You’re being serious?
Serious, of course.
Why do you actually cooperate with this unkosher deal of the Jewish rabbis?
If I can help with something – gladly, with pleasure.
It’s just a game. Because the Israeli chametz remains in the Jewish factory. It’s not that you really take it and hold on to it so the Jew won’t touch leavened food, heaven forbid. It’s a game. The rabbis are good at these games, but why do you take part in it?
Why do you see it as a game? It’s really a formal transaction in every sense: terms, contract, signatures.
Funny. For 20 years, the state has signed off on a $300 million transaction with a person it knows will not be able to meet the payment and who will regret it.
Yes, I simply don’t succeed in raising the money, you see? But the transaction itself is perfectly fine. Everything is written down. Signatures, witnesses, all proper.
I understand. But for 20 years, you have failed at raising the money, and every year you try?
I try every year. Certainly.
If a Saudi sheikh were to give you the money, $300 million, so that the Jews would be stuck without food, would you do it?
Every offer on its own merits. We’d examine it.
Alright, I can hear that you’re at least laughing. Don’t you notice that the whole situation is ridiculous?
Why? It’s actually perfectly fine.
You don’t think that once again, “God” is being made fun of?
Making fun of God? Heaven forbid. How?
Because if there were a God, he certainly wouldn’t be dumb. He’d understand that he was being tricked.
Why? In olden times, it was the custom to spill out the chametz, or burn it, or to get rid of it in some way.
Today it’s huge quantities. You can’t spill it out or throw it away. So because of that, it’s as if it’s transferred during Passover to someone who is not a Jew.
And that’s alright with “God”?
I don’t know if it is or it isn’t. It’s just done.
What do you do when you’re not trying to raise $300 million?
I’m a hotelier. I’m a manager at the Jerusalem Ramada, and also the deputy head of the Abu Ghosh municipal council.
For a salary?
On a volunteer basis.
Well, maybe this year you’ll succeed in raising the money and decide not to give back the flour.
We’ll see. We’ll check.
Hussein, send me your photograph, please.
No problem. Alright.
Can you take care of that now?
Do you want a photo with Bibi?
No, thanks. Just yours.
He also sold the state a few times, as finance minister.
No need. Why do you they choose you all the time?
Because I’m a good person, reliable.
Or they rely on your not being able to raise the money.
Good, sir, thank you very much.
All the best. Thank you.