began to call people on her cellular phone to see who was home and who
still had Saluqis. Her son came in and shortly thereafter her husband. We
drank coffee and ate cakes and Gideon chatted away with the family.
It turns out that one of the sons lives in Sacramento, California, and both he and the younger son have e-mail addresses. The younger son is studying computer programming. I showed the people Sighthound Review to give them some idea of the “sport of purebred dogs” in the USA, because they were amazed that I would come so far particularly to see Saluqis. At this point a young man who owned a Saluqi walked in and joined us. He told us that he had had two Saluqis but one died. He now has a five-year-old dog from Abu Juma. After more chat we went out for Gideon to take a good look at the Arabian colt in the courtyard and then both young men got into the truck and directed us to the home of Mohammed Omary, owner of the Saluqi.
We arrived at Mohammed’s home and he ran up the drive to the sheep pens and came back leading a wonderful cream smooth dog named Nijim, star, after a famous Bedouin warrior. The owner was delighted to have the dog photographed and measured and told me that every year he gets his shots and his license. Nijim is an excellent coursing dog, according to Mohammed, catches rabbits and partridge with no trouble and is a tough dog, beating a local rottweiler in his latest exploit. Despite his toughness, he had the same even temperament that all the Salukis I’d seen so far displayed, he didn’t object in any way to having his tail measured or to showing his bite, which was perfectly level with tarter free teeth. When turned loose he took off like a bullet to run to the street and mark everything standing, but was back in a few minutes, following his owner who was carrying a big plate of chicken bones and fat, which he fed to Nijim one piece at a time. Nijim stood on his hind legs to receive the food, which amused the men very much. Mohammed didn’t know Nijim’s pedigree other than the year of his birth and that he was bred by Abu Juma. He was very interested in the idea of having Nijim registered and receiving “papers” for him.
The son of the family with the colt knew a man on the West Bank with Salukis, so we said good-bye and thank you to Mohammed and headed to the border…..the Palestinian Authority on one side, Israel on the other. The border was about a mile from Sandalay, but it was a “real” border crossing with soldiers and armored vehicles parked on both sides. Palestinians and Israelis were dutifully searching cars and questioning passengers. Rather tattered Palestinian and Israeli flags fluttered above the concrete barricades which funneled traffic. What appeared to be years of blown paper and debris plastered the border fences, very much as it does the fences in the orthodox Jewish neighborhood where my niece lives in Jerusalem. Both areas look filthy. We were waved through and drove towards the shops where the man who had the Saluqis worked.
The man and his friend came out and were very excited that someone wanted to talk dogs, but their dogs were in a village some distance from the shop, could we come back tomorrow? Unfortunately I could not. They wanted to see photos of my dogs and told me they had bought a borzoi once, from an Israeli girl, but it was useless as a coursing hound. They hunted in the day and by lamping. They had photos of their dogs, too, and were anxious to share them, and I’m sure they had tons of stories, but Gideon was very tired and it was a long way back to Rosh Pina, where he had more work to do with his sheep and goats.
We dropped our guide off and headed back to Rosh Pina through the Galil, passing the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) and magnificent vistas of plowed, fallow, and planted fields as we drove through rocky gorges lined with pine and eucalyptus. It is such a beautiful region of Israel, hardly showing any signs of the overcrowding that every Israeli mentions. Bedouin were seen in several fields with flocks of sheep and herds of cattle. The animals were grazing stubble in areas that had been harvested of their main crops. Some of the cattle looked well fleshed, others looked thin. Some of the Bedouin were sitting in their pick-up trucks, watching their herds. The sheep were almost invisible they blended so well with the stubble.
We stopped at an Arab restaurant by a gasoline station owned by “fellahim”, farm Arabs. Gideon liked this restaurant particularly for its specialty of meat and rice, but the salads were also excellent as was the stuffed squash. We had Macabi beer and, altogether, it was a delicious meal, looking out onto a valley that seemed to roll on forever under an open sky. It was gorgeous.
We arrived back in Rosh Pina at almost sunset and had to get hay for Gideon’s horses. We drove up the road to the sheep and goat pen. The farm is 1000 dunams sitting on a rocky promontory. Gideon has 100 head of goats and sheep, all clean and beautifully fleshed; they are used for milk and meat. No one uses the wool anymore, so, it is burned, which seems bizarre, but there is no commercial demand for natural wool; everyone uses synthetic thread. Gideon spoke with the Bedouin farm workers who were readying the goats for milking while I took a last few photos before dark.
There was an old, long-coated chocolate dog, which barked at us from among the herd, and two parti-colored, long-coated youngsters chained in the corner of the pen. The youngsters were a marana-ridgeback accidental cross, which no one could possibly guess. They looked like typical Anatolian shepherds. Gideon did not trust them with the kids so he planned on finding them homes. They were handsome dogs.
We returned to Gideon’s house then went next door and sat on the patio of his daughter’s new house, a large, prefabricated building on a concrete foundation. The house was constructed in the USA and shipped in sections to Israel, where an American company does the actual on-site assembly and other necessary construction. The night was clear with a strong, cool breeze and the continual rustle of leaves from the thick vegetation of Rosh Pina. The stars were bright and there were no sounds of urban living to impinge upon the peace except for the large troop-carrying helicopters with flashing lights, flying into Israel from the border area of Lebanon, only 20 kilometers to the north. Oblivious to the sounds of war, Gideon’s mares munched their hay, just feet from the patio, where they could hear the conversation and we could hear their hooves stamp and their tails swoosh as the last helicopter passed and the silent night closed around the house.
Talking with Gideon Raski, August 2-4, 1999
Gideon began to share his experiences while we were waiting for Rashid Darawshe to return home. My tape begins with the question:
Ezayhel, they used the dogs for hunting….they were between Beershevah and Arad, to the north….today it’s a very big tribe….now they are in the town, Rahat…I knew the big sheikh, he passed away a few years ago. He used the Saluqi, not the Saluqi from Sinai, the Saluki with the long hair on the ears and tail.
I, in 1956 or 57, went to hunt with them together and it was very nice….
What did you hunt?
Gazelle….with Salukis…..they had two dogs and a bitch and we used horses, too. They surrounded the gazelle, when they know where they are, then the dogs run after them and make them tired. So, then the gazelles stand, they don’t move because they lost their strength….
About how long did they run, do you remember?
I can’t say it because in the beginning we were about ten riders and we surrounded them from far away, and they start to come from one side to the other until they see that they are surrounded and then the dogs run after them and they stand.
One of the dogs tried to bite the gazelle and the owner told him not to bite and he stood there and barked, the others they just lay down and held the gazelle there.
And I saw them… then we went one night to hunt rabbits….in the night they go, they say it’s very nice in the night to see also, it was March or April….the temperature? Look… it’s hot in the daytime but very cold at nighttime….like Sinai.
It wasn’t cold…it was hot!
When…in the night? So, you have no luck….Anyway….the dogs run very fast, it take maybe a minute, they catch the rabbit and they wait, they don’t bring it….like the other one we use it for hunting birds….pointers….they bring it back which the Saluqi never. I had a Saluqi a long time but he never did it….he ran after them, but when I shoot, I use the pointer, not the Saluqi.
My Saluqi I like to watch run….he was a very nice dog. He was thirteen years old when he died, I think. Also, I get him from the Bedouin in the Negev. Salman Hezayhel, he was the one I know. Sometimes people were coming from Saudia through Jordan, they come, sometimes they bring hashish and bring drugs and he ordered they bring him Saluqis, and all day they bring him Saluqis from Jordan and from Saudi. He was a very interesting man and when he get the two dogs, I was there, and he told me that they have some puppies from them. The other Saluqis I know were from Sde Boker and I’m not sure if they keep them pure. Hezayhel was keeping them pure.
How do you know that?
Because I was there. I saw the dogs there….in the Zayhel place, all the dogs that I saw were purebred and they keep them that way.
What did they look like?
They weren’t the same as the Sinai Saluqi. They were yellow color like Sinai….the tail was with hair, curled, and the ears hair and on the breast and they never had a mark on the nose like the Sinai dogs. The ones in Sde Boker and also the ones in Salman Hezahel’s place….yes, they’re purebred from this kind of Saluqis.
Look, you can see also the conformation of the body, the front legs very, very strong, and you see the muscles on them and the breast very wide and strong, which you don’t see it in other dogs…and they were very skinny [he means racy] when you see….like the English dogs, what you call them, the English dogs….the greyhounds….also you can see very, very deep breast and very narrow body. This kind of Saluqi they are the same, which means they can run fast and run far.
Yep, that’s what I know about them….which I saw them. To see Bedouin dogs, you have to be a good friend of them to see what they have. I never took pictures, nobody ever took pictures. I have no patience for it, just memories.
I know less about dogs than I know about horses more. Dogs, I don’t really love them, I use them but I don’t really like them. I use the hunt dogs, the pointers…we went to hunt wild boar with dogs.
Wild boar…in Israel?
Oh, we have a lot in Israel, you never heard? The wild boar I think is the wildest animal that I know.
That’s what everybody says…even the Greeks said this…
I don’t know the Greeks but I know we met them and we hunt them. The dogs? The boar takes them off in the bush…the dogs never catch them. Pointers, the real hunters mix the dogs, they bring them from Hungary, the vizsla, many kinds of pointer, the French pointer….the point is, the dog has to be very small.
Why? Because if not the pig catch him with the teeth, sharp like a razor…many, many dogs, they cut them and they make from the tail a cut until they’re dead. So, the small dog, he run away and he never will be hurt…I think I lost maybe ten or twenty dogs like this, at the time when we bring them to go after the smell and then when they fight. They want to fight and the pig just makes with his head like this [shakes his head]… so… we use the dogs. I use the dogs as shepherds…we use the marana and the German shepherd. They [German shepherds] are not good, you can never trust them. They, the marana is an Italian dog which I had, they never did anything [bad] with the sheep. As a guard dog…one thing…if you have a very strong and sharp dog, he will bite everybody. You don’t want a dog that will bite everybody, you only want a dog that will bite somebody that comes to touch the herds. We have Turkish dogs, Akbash and Karabash dogs, that’s what I look for…for my work.
You said that Lobo lived with you…what was he like?
Lobo was one of the best dogs that I had. He lived about twelve years. He had excellent endurance and he was very sensitive and good…he didn’t bite anybody, never, just scared people.
And what do you remember that he looked like?
He looked like a good Saluqi dog…he looked like Abu Juma’s male but he was a little taller…he had a little wider head, a long neck, good shoulder and good muscles on the shoulder and behind, and he was skinny…always…skinny. The people thought we don’t feed him but my daughter used to ride him; she would sit on his back. He had a good temperament.
But, sometimes when we went to feed the horses, he said, you’re crazy, I don’t go, and he went back…it happened quite a lot…but he could work, he could catch rabbits by himself in three minutes.
What else you want to know?
About the horses?
You know, the horses here in Israel and Palestine…I was born here, my father was born here, my grandmother was born here, all in Rosh Pina. My grandfather came from Russia when he was eighteen years old, in 1871; he came to Sfat, then Rosh Pina and we live here.
My grandfather liked horses. In the beginning he was very, very poor. All the people were very poor but he went to South Africa and he worked there a few years and he made good money. He came back and bought a lot of land and one of the first things he bought was a horse from Damascus.
In this time a dunam of land you could buy for one Turkish gold pound. This horse…he paid for….he told me….500 gold pounds Turkish. You can buy 1000 dunams of land. I don’t remember this mare but I remember her granddaughter.
Why did the mare cost so much?
When you lived in this time, the people who had good horses, they didn’t sell them and if you go to buy a horse, if you want to buy all of a horse, the whole horse, in this time you have to pay a lot of money and that’s what he did. He didn’t want to buy a horse with a partner [“shares” in the horse], he wanted to buy it alone.
Where did he get the horse?
Damascus. To buy a horse in the old time, it was very difficult…here in the area because there weren’t too many horses…good horses, everybody keep them and never sold them. So he went to Damascus and he waited there many months….he looked and asked and that’s what he get. And he get the lineage he liked and he bought her. And I remember her granddaughter.
Who did he breed the mare to?
It was a very difficult thing because most of the good horses were with the gypsies.
The gypsies. There was a special tribe of gypsies who keep the stallions.
Sleb? Saluba? Lady Anne writes about them…
No, no…look, they were a special tribe…they spoke Arabic. They were a special tribe in all the Middle East which they keep the stallions. They herd stallions and they make a circle during all the year, going from one place to the other, and they breed the mares.
Now they have to bring papers, at least five generations of paper…and the papers are good, and they get signs of five sheikhim or five mayors of towns that they know this mare and five generations before. And that was the proof it was asil, five generations…
That’s what it should be today…
Yeah, OK, but the point is more that the people in this time needed each other more…today, I don’t think so. Today everybody look first of all about the money.
Anyway, that was about the stallions. And, the Turkish government also had stallions, then, the English government, after 1917.
So they stood the stud horses until 1948?
They stood the stud horses; this was the process…yes. Do you know, I was a boy…I knew most of them…the kids wait when they put up the tent…I knew the people and I knew the horses. There were the donkeys there and mules and two or three studs. And, they use the stallions if they are good, and they make races. They don’t race like a race track…I remember every year, we went to see which horses would come…but, sometimes horses die and they bring another…normally they bring them from Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Nejd. I think these were the places mostly they bring them from…mostly they were gray, and the head was white.
And what were the horses like?
They decided, what I remember, they don’t care what the distance was, you can say 10 kilometer, 1 kilometer, 2 kilometer, they don’t care…so, OK, and most of the time they win…
Against your horse? Their stallions would race against anybody’s horse?
Usually they won. First of all they were very good riders and they made money from them. They knew if it was a very good horse, people come to breed their mares and in this time a good breeding was 10 or 12 Palestinian pounds. At this time you could buy a part of a horse for this amount; it was a good price.
Most of the horses what I knew were partners…24 shares…you could buy one share, two shares because you had no more money. It was a very complicated thing to know how you do it. There were special people who know it. It could take 20 years before you get a filly. Only the fillies were counted…the colts belong to the one who owns the mare.
If you sit with the Bedouin you can hear stories about how they fight…and he gave his sister for the filly and he give…you know…things which…
Well, they don’t think much of women.
Don’t be narrow…narrow. You can find it; not in this time…the people, they love horses but they used to be slaughtered [in raids]…but then the Bedouin thought that a real man, he needed a horse tied near the tent, with the saddle on, ready for anything. Now you can’t find it…
You can still find a camel, though…I saw it in Sinai, tied with the saddle on…
Yeah, in Sinai you can see it, not one, you can see a lot…yeah, ready to ride…that’s the best, I remember…yeah…when I was a child, horses were transportation.
At this point, Gideon told me the history of the asil Arabian bloodstock in the region under the British mandate and how, when the British left in 1948 the horses which were not taken by the Arab soldiers from Nablous and east Jordan were shot by the British and the tack was blown up with TNT because they did not believe the Arabs would take proper care of the horses and they didn’t want anything to go to the Jewish military because they would use it.
Who killed these horses? The British? So the Arabs wouldn’t have them and the Jews wouldn’t have them?
That’s exactly what they think…some people think that…
Who thinks that?
The English government! That’s why they did it…they killed the horses and they exploded all the equipment….not the stables, the equipment, the saddles and all that…destroyed it and that’s it. Some of the saddles we find during the war, and some of the [stolen] horses we find…
I don’t understand…why did they do this? They just didn’t want to leave it? That’s true or it’s just a story?
Look, I never will tell you stories that are not true. That’s what happened.
The best horses in the Middle East that they could find and then they killed them?
Yes…so that’s what happened to that bloodstock. You asked me about it and that’s what happened.
The writing of Lady Anne Blunt came up and Gideon commented:
Yes, I read it…she tells stories which they tell her…they tell her stories which she want to hear…but she did do good for horses…she did the best thing. She bought many horses, good horses, and she made good breeding from them…so that was the start of the typey Arabian horse that everybody followed.
The Arabian horse is very strong and very big…my mare is 15.2 hands which is very big and her grandfather almost 16 hands. If you want to ride you need good conformation…strong legs, strong things. And usually if the horse has good conformation, he will be good….if you want to ride you need good conformation. We know it for sure.
Why? Because every movement of a horse is from nature…so every movement which you want from a horse, he did in the nature. And if he did it good it means it was true and good horse…now you have just to know to ask it to do things which he knows how to do it and he will do everything that you want. He lie down, he stand, he change legs, everything he did it alone in the nature but he has to do it when you want it. And that’s all the thing…and if it is a good conformation horse it will be a good ride horse and a good work horse, and everything.
It’s a good idea…they say the same about dogs…
It’s not only a good idea, it’s my experience. You find a horse with not good legs, and the neck is not right, and the back not right, and it will be crazy…because it cannot do what you want it to.
I’ll end this section with the story of the Bedouin and his mare. Gideon told me this story twice, once in the restaurant and then again, as we were driving, so that I could tape it, and just hear him tell it again.
In 1967, after the Six Day War, in Gaza, in that area…they knew I was interested in horses…somebody told me that they knew somebody who has a very, very, very special horse…mare…
When you say somebody told you, you mean a Bedouin?
Sure, all the Bedouin because I worked with Bedouins there…and then somebody else and somebody else and everybody told me about the same mare…and I said, OK, I want to see her. They said it’s very difficult. They promised me to arrange a meeting between me and the owner of the mare.
So, one day they told me, OK, he will be someplace and we have to go there. I took my jeep and I drive there and I wait. Sinai is desert, no shade, no nothing, just sun, very strong sun…we wait, maybe three, four hours. All the time they say, “He will come, he will come, don’t worry”. Then, I saw a piece of dust very far away…slowly, slowly it came near…and I saw the shape of the horse and the rider and I remember I looked through the binoculars and I saw the rider which rides very, very, very slowly and the reins on the horse are loose. Usually the Bedouin, when the rider holds the reins loose, it means he looks for peace, he is not coming to fight. Otherwise, you can see it, when the horses are not ready, they seem easy, it means he doesn’t want to make troubles and he doesn’t want to have troubles. That’s the signal in the desert, when they see somebody riding with loose reins, it means peace.
So, he rides slowly, slowly, easy, easy and after half an hour he saw us…maybe he saw us before, but he saw the jeep and he was sure that’s the people he was coming to meet and he just put the reins a little bit, collect them a little bit, you know, and this horse became like electric…everything in the horse moved inside…it changed the picture maybe a hundred and eighty degrees….it looked something else at all. So nice movement which we know is the true Arabian.
So, he came near…and when he came near, I saw the mare and she was very, very, very old and the rider as well…old, old things. And the man he got down from the mare and her color was black but she lost a lot of hair so you could see the skin, but she looked in good shape, he fed her good, and she was the nicest horse that I see in my life…Arabian…nice, nice…everything was perfect but old, old, old. Usually the teeth are straight in a horse, but in the time, they become bent away from the mouth like a dog’s mouth…that means you can know the horse’s age when you see it. She had her teeth completely bent, she was so old.
And I asked him if he wanted to cover her with my stallion.
She never had any foals?
No…he say he don’t believe anybody….he don’t believe that they are enough good for this mare so he never bred her. And I know that she will never be in foal, but I say, OK, maybe, so nice horse, so I say look, if she will be a filly, it’s yours, if it’s a male colt, I will take it and I will pay you money, how much you want. I will bring the horse here, everything. He said, no way, no way, no way…he was afraid I would take the horse but I promised him nobody would take the horse and I gave him a paper that it is his horse and nobody will touch her…so, he rode away. And that’s the story.
That’s a beautiful story. Is that one of your sweetest memories?
Look, it was a nice time there. But, I was really surprised to see somebody who keeps the mare so well, even the skin, because they don’t believe in cleaning the horse, they believe…they wash them but never clean with the brush…and sometimes it makes damage to the skin. They wash them some, but, when they wash them they don’t have enough water, so the horse has to be very healthy to keep his skin good. Our talk concluded with the final exchange:
Today, the first reason people have the horses and the Saluqis is money. People think they can make money off them. The second reason is to show themselves…
Yeah, and that’s it.