I confess to making a dumb and painful mistake in Israel last month: trying to harvest a sabra fruit with my bare hand. I somehow failed to notice the tiny, hairlike darts that cover the entire fruit, one of which lingers in my right ring finger.
Conservationist and Ben-Gurion University Professor Alon Tal, who just received an award from the Israeli government for his environmental teaching and activism, is not a sabra; he grew up in North Carolina before emigrating to Israel at 20. But Tal is prickly, all right, bristling with sharp opinions, including hardcore attitudes about Zionism and “The Land” that rile some of his environmental colleagues on the left. He’s also one of the smartest people I’ve spoken with in Israel, which is saying something. And he talks really, really fast, which is why my notes from our interview were useless. Fortunately, I had a voice recorder, so I can share with you his explanations of why some conservationists make bad Zionists; how desert demographics could bury the Jewish state; and the possibility that Israel’s Bedouins might once have become Jews. Continue reading