Honey by Ibrahim Kilani

Product: Honey
Producer: Ibrahim Kilani, Beekeeper and Honey Producer
Location: Yafiya (near Nazareth)

Ibrahim Kilani is a honey producer. His delicious, nutritious honey is sold by Sindyanna of Galilee in jars, and is used as a natural additive to Sindyanna of Galilee’s olive oil & honey soaps.

Ibrahim Kilani of Yafiya, a village located near Nazareth, knows the Jezreel Valley (Marj Ibn Aamer) like the palm of his hand. This valley is, and has been for many years, home to his three-hundred beehives, no less. Scattered off the beaten paths, in between trees, and on every other corner there is practically no almond orchard, field of sunflowers, or watermelon patch that has not benefited from the services of his foraging honey bees, providing the bees essential food with which to make honey in return.

Photo: Erez Harodi

Ibrahim was born in 1953 in Kufr Yafiya to a family of shepherds. The largest Arab beekeeper in Israel, and undoubtedly the most knowledgeable professional in the area of honey production, Ibrahim’s forty-year professional beekeeping vocation began as a hobby, when at the age of ten Ibrahim began to raise honeybees in traditional hives – mud pipes (jarat). After sixth grade, Ibrahim started to work to help his father support his family of nine siblings. In 1973 he purchased his first modern hives, ten wooden crates, from Kibbutz Yagur, and placed them next to his parents’ home.

To the Kilani family, honey production is more than a family business – it is a way of life. Siham, Ibrahim’s wife, along with their six children (two boys and four girls), know more than a thing or two about bees, and their stings. Today, after many years of working in the fields, Siham stays home while their grown children do the work, especially Fuad, the second son in line, who, like his father, caught the ”bee-fever”.

photo: Tineke D'haese

“There is a saying: those who are lazy will not eat the honey”, explains Ibrahim. His day begins at sunrise when he goes out to do his rounds in the fields. “As with all farmers, everything beekeepers do must be done at the right time. If you are off by one day, the whole season can be ruined. If you neglect to move the hive to a new place on the correct day, you can lose an entire swarm….When I pass by a hive, I know just about everything that goes on inside of it. According to the movements of the bees, I can tell how the queen bee is doing, what she is doing with the males, how the worker bees awoke, and whether or not the baby bees are healthy. According to what I see when i open the hive, I decide on how to treat it.”

In the last two decades, Ibrahim has had to deal with diminishing pasture grounds. Previously, each of Ibrahim’s beehives produced an average of sixty to seventy kilos of honey per year. ”I had hives that reached 100 kilos per year,” he says. Today, he barely reaches a yearly average of 20 kilos. Shortage of pasture land is especially problematic for Arab beekeepers, because of the small number of agricultural lands in this sector. Therefore, Arab beekeepers depend upon the goodwill of their neighboring Jewish settlements. Ibrahim is no different, and relies on the pasture grounds of kibbutzim and other settlements in the Jezreel Valley, which also protect his hives from thieves. In this situation, in which Jewish and Arab farmers have to learn to live in peace with each other in order to see the fruit of their labor, the bees produce much more than honey – they are the root for unity among farmers.
In the harvest season, Ibrahim brings his beehives to a harvesting workshop, which he had set up in his home. Once in the workshop, the honey is removed from the beehive by modern harvesting machines. The empty hives are then cleaned and stored in a sealed and sterile room until the next season. Many visitors come to Ibrahim’s honey harvesting workshop, including pupils from the village school who are welcomed free of charge. It is important to him that people understand his profession and learn to appreciate real honey. By real honey he means his pure, unadulterated honey, which has not been mixed with sugars, syrups or other compounds. Many other honey producers, who prefer quantity to quality, adulterate the honey and easily get away with it since distinction between these two types of honey can only be achieved by laboratory tests, and is not possible through taste or sight.

Surprisingly, despite many hardships, Ibrahim is not despaired or embittered. ”The life of a farmer is about hope. Each year he believes that the next year will be better, that there will be more rain, and more blooming…,” he shares his vision with us.