Below is a highlight from the 2002 article entitled: "In This Philippine Town, Muslims, Jews, Rebels Set Aside Differences for Bananas."
By: Jay Solomon | THE WALLSTREET JOURNAL ONLINE | March 21, 2002 http://online.wjs.com/article/0,4287,SB1016661034460831680,00.html also linked at
This is a wonderful article and I encourage everyone to read the entire story at the iinks above.
Here is a highlight:
Perhaps the most unlikely figure at La Frutera is Yaal Pecker, an Israeli who grew up on a kibbutz, or communal farm, near the Sea of Galilee. During his service in the Israeli military in the 1980s, Mr. Pecker fought Muslim militants in Lebanon. He went on to become an agricultural specialist with the Israeli company Plastro International, which took him to Thailand, Australia, and South America. La Frutera’s foreign investors sought out Plastro for its strong reputation in irrigation technology. Any potential tension between the Israelis and the Saudi traders was overweighed by the desire for Israeli expertise, participants say. Mr. Pecker and six of his colleagues worked hand in hand with the former MILF guerrillas who tend the fields, oversee fumigation and provide security at Datu Paglas. Both sides saw themselves as members of agricultural cultures, rather than as combatants in a global religious war, the Israeli says. “They’re farmers just like me”, the gruff Mr. Pecker says. “What’s the big deal?”. He and Mr, Paglas call each other “brother” and kiss each other on the cheeks as a greeting. Approval for the Israeli participation had to be granted at the highet levels of the MILF command. In late 1997, Mr. Bullecer and Mr. Paglas trooped through the jungle to meet Hashim Salamat, the MILF Chairman. The rebel leader also happens to be Mr. Paglas’s uncle. As they made their way through the dense undergrowth, Mr. Bullecer expected the rebel chief to upbraid Mr. Paglas for bringing Israeli Jews into Muslim Mindanao. When they met in an MILF safe house, Mr. Salamat’s reaction was opposite. “He asked Toto if the Israelis were helping his people,” Mr. Bullecer recalls. Mr. Paglas said yes and that was it. The MILF commander declared the Israelis were welcome. Some lower-ranking local Muslim leaders remain wary of the Israelis, but overall, relations have been smooth. MILF consent is seen here as a big reason for the success of La Frutera and the town of Datu Paglas. Of La Frutera’s 2,000-man work force, company officials estimate that 90% had been members of the MILF or sympathizers. Mr. Salamat’s army signed a cease-fire agreement with Manila last year, but tensions have resurfaced recently. Philippine security forces accuse the MILF of having ties to Al Qaeda and improperly grabbing back land the MILF lost in fighting in 2000. Rebel leaders deny the accusations, saying they are manufactured to lure them into wider war with U.S. troops in Mindanao. Former MILF fighters working at La Frutera say they have no desire to return to fighting. On a recent Friday afternoon, about a dozen men lined up outside the Datu Paglas Rural Bank to receive their bimonthly paychecks. Many wore tattered basketball jerseys and Islamic skullcaps as they sat near a photo of a beaming Mr. Paglas and former Philippine President Joseph Estrada.