A Bus with a View

14 Dec

I’ve recently started taking classes at Haifa University.  In the beginning I endured the 80 mile (120 km) roundtrip drive, twice a week, back and forth, back and forth.  I even put up with the endless search for parking.  But after the first month, it got old; it also made my car old.  And at $7.00 per gallon, it made my pocket poor.

Golani Junction

Golani Junction

So I explored public transportation, instead.  Kfar Tavor, my hometown in Galilee, is the Capital of No Where.  It’s close to only one thing — itself.  Which means you have to get creative to get around.  At first, I tried the obvious–Egged Bus Lines.

Egged brings back childhood memories to all Israelis.  The buses have been crisscrossing Israel for decades.  They’re part of the culture, like the American Greyhound buses, only better.

The trip to Haifa involved taking 3 buses, each way.  I tried it for a week.  I gave up.  Getting off the buses, my body continued to twitch and jerk.  In time, I got to know every station, every turn, every bump in the road, even recognized the drivers behind their Ray-Ban sun-glasses.

So I gave up on the Jews and joined the Arabs.

Not entirely.

On board an Arab bus

On board an Arab bus

It turns out more than half the student body at Haifa university is Arab.  The University draws Arab students from all over Galilee, and beyond.  On campus I hear more Arabic than I do Hebrew; my university desk mates answer to Mohamed and Aziza more often than they do to Moshe and Dina; I see more women’s faces covered and less legs uncovered.

Talk about making an adjustment.

The privately owned Arab bus line makes its rounds through Arab villages only.  I wait for it at Golani Junction, a ten minute ride from my house.

The bus arrives.

I climb up the steps and hand the driver my bus pass.  “Good morning,” I greet him in Hebrew. He returns the greeting in Hebrew.  It’s a sign of co-existence, but we don’t admit to it.  The bus lurches forward.  I walk down the aisle to find a good seat in the back.  I’m the only Jewish passenger on board.  Men and women students, all Arab, are either dozing off, or they work their cell phones.

Arab WOmen in Tur'an Village waiting for a store to open

Arab WOmen in Tur’an Village waiting for a store to open

The first stop is in the village of Tur’an.  I’ve driven past it many times, but never went in.  I have no business going there.  But that day, the bus leads me deep inside the Arab village.  There’s a rock quarry at the rear of the village.  It looks like someone had punched a giant hole in the hillside, scarring it forever. Next, the bus goes past an automobile junkyard.  Dozens of trucks of every type, flatbed, concrete mixers, are parked in open spaces, waiting for an order to haul dirt, rocks.  The homes are mostly two to three stories high; they house the extended families of the Arabs.  The homes are covered in marble tile, overly ornate.  No dogs anywhere.  Rows of olive trees sprout between houses.  Grocery stores, computer repair shops– the signs are mostly in Arabic.

The bus stops.  More students board.  It gets back on the road to another village. On the radio, Arabic music is playing.  The strumming of the oud strings fill the bus.  I get into the groove.  I would have preferred songs by Arik Einstein, Eric Clapton, or The Doors, but it is what it is.  I lean my head on the glass and look onto the open highway.  The one hour and fifteen minute ride ends at the top of Mount Carmel.

Tur'an Village Rock Quarry

Tur’an Village Rock Quarry

A bus for Arabs, a bus for Jews.  A village for Jews, a village for Arabs.  We travel in parallel universes.

It’s the final stop. We all get off; students scatter in all directions of the campus.  I go through a security check at the main entrance, from there I head to class.  I take a seat next to an Arab student.  “Good morning,” I say, in English.  “Good morning,” he replies, in English.

If life were only this simple in the Holy Land.

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Maurice Labi is an Israeli-American who lived in Los Angeles for many years. In 2011 He returned to Northern Israel (Galilee) with his wife and twin teenage daughters. He is of two lands, of two cultures and he blogs about his experiences in Israel, particularly from Galilee where Jews and Arabs dwelled for centuries.

He has also written three novels: “Jupiter’s Stone,” “Into the Night,” and “American Moth” — available at Amazon.com

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=maurice+labi&rh=n%3A283155%2Ck%3Amaurice+labi

or at BN.com

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/maurice-labi?store=allproducts&keyword=maurice+labi

 

To Chase Down a Turkey in Galilee

27 Nov

Israelis are in love with all-things American.  Most things.  They speak of Black Friday as if it’s an Israeli event.  Television, radio and print are full with Black Friday sales.  But ask Israelis about Thanksgiving Holiday and most will tell you that it involves a turkey.  Here in Israel, the turkey is called an “Indian chicken” – referring to the first immigrants to the New Land and mistaking the American continent for India.

So, to better educate our Israeli friends in our village, we’re about to host the third annual Thanksgiving Dinner at our house.  Twenty people are invited.  But before we can carve the bird, and serve the pumpkin, corn bread, and apple cobbler, we must first find a turkey.

Israelis are mad about chicken.  Go into any home and you can hear the oil splatter in the pan. Everyone’s frying chicken breast, the breaded Schnitzel.  And here’s the paradox: Israel is a major producer and exporter of turkey; Israelis consume twice as much turkey as Americans, three times as Europeans, and yet, there isn’t one turkey on display at the supermarket.

Where did the turkeys fly to?turkey bird

They end up being cut-up into small pieces, grilled as Shawarma meat in countless restaurants and roadside eateries throughout Israel.

But what if you want a whole turkey for Thanksgiving?

That requires work and patience.  And planning ahead.  My wife Pnina has been calling around butchers for the last two weeks.  The phone call goes something like this:

Ring.  Ring.  Ring.

“HALO!”

“Hello, my name’s Pnina and I’d like to order a turkey (Indian Chicken).”

“What?”

“A turkey.”

“We don’t have any.  You have to order one.”

“That’s why I called.  I want to order one.”

“Wait.”

A LONG HOLD

“HALO.”

“Yes?”

“The turkeys are sick.”

“What?”

“There’s a disease with turkeys.  We will not get one until next week.”

“But I want a healthy one.”

“Call next week, shalom.”shawarma

And so began a round of phone calls to supermarkets and butchers.  They promised a bird, and 20 drumsticks (Israelis like dark meat) by this week.

Finally, I got the call.  I was happier than getting a call from a Hollywood agent.  We got in the car and raced to the market.  The butcher in the meat department knew nothing of the order.

Pnina said, ” I spoke to Yakov.  He kept one for me.”

“Turkey?  I don’t know how to ring it up.  Do you know the code?”

Pnina says, “No, but Yakov said it’s 30 shekels per kilo.”

“Come with me,” the butcher says.turkey 1

And together they go into a giant walk-in refrigerator in the back of the store.  Cardboard boxes with meats are piled high.  At last, Pnina identifies her name marked on a box.  in it, sits a turkey.

Pnina wheels the turkey in the shopping cart to the cash register, careful not stab people with the bird’s long neck that’s hanging out.  Being a kosher bird, it’s not fully plucked; there’s a plume of feathers that Pnina will have to pull out with tweezers.

The bird’s in our house, safe and sound, and will soon turn brown.  Guests will be arriving; they’ll dive into mixed drinks, nibble on corn bread, tear into drumsticks.  We’ll tell them about pilgrims and Indians.

Next year we’re serving shawarma and diet Coke.

——————————————————————————————————————

Maurice Labi is an Israeli-American who lived in Los Angeles for many years. In 2011 He returned to Northern Israel (Galilee) with his wife and twin teenage daughters. He is of two lands, of two cultures and he blogs about his experiences in Israel, particularly from Galilee where Jews and Arabs dwelled for centuries.

He has also written three novels: “Jupiter’s Stone,” “Into the Night,” and “American Moth” — available at Amazon.com

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=maurice+labi&rh=n%3A283155%2Ck%3Amaurice+labi

or at BN.com

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/maurice-labi?store=allproducts&keyword=maurice+labi

 

 

The (young) Old Man and the Sea

8 Nov

Israel.  1978.  Winter.  Tel Aviv municipal airport.  I’m sitting inside a 4-seater Cessna airplane on a wet runway.  The propeller spins.  My boss, Shimon Wilner, owner of Mediterranean Tours, is next to me.  In the front, the “business man” takes the passenger seat.  The pilot puts away the maps and eases the plane for a take off.

Cessna airplane

Cessna airplane

Minutes later I’m in the clouds.  We’re off to the Island of Rhodes, Greece.  The “business man” is from Kibbutz Ga’ash near Tel Aviv.  The kibbutz manufacturers outdoor lighting fixtures.  He wants to sell them to the beach hotels on the island.  Shimon, the money man, arranged for the airplane, the pilot, and for me.  My role?  To translate the three mens’ Hebrew into English, in the hope the Greek men in Rhodes will understand.

A storm hits.  Lighting.  Thunder.  Water hits the windows.  Visibility: Zero.  The plane sinks and rises in air pockets, as does my stomach.  My toes are frozen.  We all want to pee.  The pilot unzips his pants and pisses into a plastic tube.  He then passes it to the back like an Indian peace pipe.  My boss refuses.  I refuse.

Synangogue in Rhodes, Greece

synagogue in Rhodes, Greece

What is normally a 70 minute flight for a jet plane takes 4 hours on this noisy bumblebee.  Finally, we see land in the distance.  The pilot lowers the Cessna, approaches the runway.  A sudden gust of wind smacks the wing and tilts it sideways.  My face hits the glass.  Shimon, a 250 pound mass-of-a-man, leans into me.  The engine screams.  So do we.  The pilot bearly is able to right the plane and we come in for a hard landing.  The doors fly open.  We take in the air.  We exhale steam.  We survived.

To celebrate our good fortune we stand on the wings of the Cessna and piss on the runway in a beautiful arc.

Police.  Sirens.

The Greek border patrol surrounds us with Jeeps.  They yell in Greek, visibly disturbed on how we, primitive Israelis, had desecrated their land with our urine.  We jump off the wings and apologize.  Ten times.

We’re escorted to the terminal, our passports are stamped with a loud thud and we’re shown to the door.  Outside, it rains.  In the hotel lobby later that night I help the “businessman” with his outdoor lights presentation.

Two days later we’re on the runway again.  It’s sunny.  The pilot starts the engine.  The propeller spins.  Shimon hears something suspicious.  “Stop,” he tells the pilot.  The pilot steps out, then waves to us to do the same.  It turns out, the blade of the propeller had hit the purple emergency light on the runway.  The propeller is bent like a banana.  The pilot says: “We’re lucky as hell.  Had we taken off, we would have crashed into the ground.”

Young Jews in Rhodes before World War II

Young Jews in Rhodes before World War II

Back to the terminal we go…

Those were the heydays of the seventies.  In the summer I escorted a number of groups to tour the Greek island; I tanned in the sun, frolicked in the clear blue water, feasted my stomach on Moussaka and Feta cheese, and feasted my eyes on topless Swedish girls.

Roll tape, please.  To October, 2014.

I’m on board EL-AL Airlines to Rhodes with my wife Pnina for a 4 day vacation. Once we settle at our hotel, we venture to the Old City, the Medieval City of Rhodes, the city walls dating back to the Crusaders.  This time, I’m in search of history.  Down the cobbled-stone alleys we walk until we reach the one remaining synagogue on the island.  It’s now a museum.  The Jews had come to Rhodes by way of Spain, then to North Africa, then Italy.  They lived on the island for generations, spoke Ladino, a Judaeo-Spanish language.  Whenever they sensed trouble was brewing, they reverted from Greek to Ladino, “Lashon de tu padre” – the language of your father.  They dealt in commerce; many of them worked at the fish market.

Surviving Rhodes Jews in Seattle, Washington

Surviving Rhodes Jews in Seattle, Washington

Then the Germans came.  During World War II they rounded up almost 1500 Jews and sent them to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, the same camp my father was sent to.  Few survived.  After the war, their property was confiscated.  Inside the synagogue we meet one of the survivor’s children.  “Do you live here?” I ask.  “No,” he says.  “My family immigrated to the Belgian Congo.  Years later we moved to South Africa.”

An old(er) me in Rhodes, Greece

An old(er) me in Rhodes, Greece

Other survivors made to America.  Five years ago, I travelled to Seattle, Washington.  In the famous Pike Market I came across Jewish fish mongers.  The “Lost Greeks” stand over the beds of ice and arrange the crabs, the shrimp, the fish.

They’re a long way from Rhodes.

I leave the synagogue, remembering my days as a young man in Rhodes.  My wife and I go near the water and see the fishing boats.

The waves come and go, come and go.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Maurice Labi is an Israeli-American who lived in Los Angeles for many years. In 2011 He returned to Northern Israel (Galilee) with his wife and twin teenage daughters. He is of two lands, of two cultures and he blogs about his experiences in Israel, particularly from Galilee where Jews and Arabs dwelled for centuries.

He has also written three novels: “Jupiter’s Stone,” “Into the Night,” and “American Moth” — available at Amazon.com

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=maurice+labi&rh=n%3A283155%2Ck%3Amaurice+labi

or at BN.com

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/maurice-labi?store=allproducts&keyword=maurice+labi

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Muslims Barking at Dogs

19 Oct

The commotion begins at the sound of the buzzer outside our home’s front gate.  Max, our dog, barks and barks.  Needless to say he doesn’t like the irksome sound of the buzzer, and he likes strangers even less.  To people unfamiliar with Max, a mix between a German shepherd and red Alaskan Husky, he appears dangerous.  Max bares his teeth, his eyes open wide, his ears perk — the ultimate guard dog.  But at closer inspection, this almost 9 year-old dog is as friendly as a day-old puppy.

Our dog Max "guarding" the front gate

Our dog Max “guarding” the front gate

But try telling that to Arabs.

Galilee is 50% Arab, 50% Jewish, so it’s not unusual that we meet each other on the roads, the markets, the workplace. Living in Kfar Tavor village, we routinely rely on Arab men to repair a leaky faucet, to haul stuff away, to repair broken tiles.

The buzzer at the gate sounds again.  I slide my feet into my flip-flops and rush out the front door, not so much to greet the Arab men but to control Max.  But like a good “guard” dog, he’s at the gate barking, sniffing from under the gap.  The men start speaking fast, nervously, first in Arabic and then in Hebrew:  “Please, please, take the dog away!”

They’re terrified.

Max

Max

After three years in Galilee, I know not to argue with them or to reason with them with lines like “He’s a friendly dog.  He won’t harm you.”  Instead, I act like I always do when Max is near Arab men: I reach for the leash, apologize profusely behind the gate, tell them it will only be a minute, I tie up Max and drag him up the front yard stairs, through the open door, to my small office, undo his leash, pat him on the head, and lock the door behind me.

There, finally, the Arab men are safe!

I then run to meet them at the gate.  Immediately they repeat word-for-word what they say about dogs:  “We like dogs, but we’re allergic to them, you understand, yes?”

I do.  Now.

Dogs in Islam are unclean.  They are impure and should not come in contact with believers.  If they do, man must wash the “affected” area seven times until it’s pure again.  Under rare instances when Muslims own dogs, they’re strictly for hunting or watching after the herd and are always kept outdoors and people never come with touch with the animals’ saliva.

Muslims don’t keep dogs as pets; they regard them as wild animals that wander the streets in packs and should be avoided. A dog is another mouth to feed.  Go into any Muslim grocery store in Galilee, and there’s no liquor on the shelves, and there’s no dog food either.

Are they gone yet?

Are they gone yet?

Drunk dogs don’t make good pets.

Muslims reject dogs on religious grounds.  Dogs can’t come near a place of prayer. Angels are afraid of dogs, and will not enter a home.  Muslim who bring a dog into a home lose “points” in the afterlife.  Anxiety about dogs starts at childhood.  How else to explain that the Arab men that come to our door, men with arms as thick as telephone poles, shake like little girls?

“Come in, come in,” I tell them and lead the way in.  “The dog’s gone.”

The Arab men come into my yard, their eyes roving from side to side, fearing there might be another dog lurking in the bushes.

I go inside the house.  I say, “You’re not afraid of cats, are you?”

“CATS?!”

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Maurice Labi is an Israeli-American who lived in Los Angeles for many years. In 2011 He returned to Northern Israel (Galilee) with his wife and twin teenage daughters. He is of two lands, of two cultures and he blogs about his experiences in Israel, particularly from Galilee where Jews and Arabs dwelled for centuries.

He has also written three novels: “Jupiter’s Stone,” “Into the Night,” and “American Moth” — available at Amazon.com

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=maurice+labi&rh=n%3A283155%2Ck%3Amaurice+labi

or at BN.com

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/maurice-labi?store=allproducts&keyword=maurice+labi

 

 

 

 

 

 

What $10 will get you in Galilee

4 Oct

$10 doesn’t go far these days.  Years ago, in California, $10 would be enough for 2 movie tickets or four rounds of beer, or a decent meal.  Okay, okay, that was a long time ago.  But still, back then, when you had $10 in your wallet, you weren’t completely broke.  Uncle Sam saw to it that a dollar was a dollar.  Which is why, before going to settle in Israel 3 years ago, I thought dollars converted in shekels would go a long way.

They don’t.

Everything’s expensive in Israel.  Don’t even ask.  Use almost anything as an example, and it costs more in Israel than it does in America.

But prices are not the same everywhere.  Much the same way things costs more in New York City than in Montgomery, Alabama — things cost more in Tel-Aviv than where I live in Galilee.

So I assembled a few examples of feeling rich in Galilee for under $10.

Car Wash — Our village in Galilee is surrounded by farmland.  Wind kicks up dust.  My car is often dirty.  Most times, I hose it down and I’m done.  Other times I splurge on a personal car wash in Shibli, an Arab village next door.

Car wash in Shibli

Car wash in Shibli

Shibli sits at the foot of Mt. Tabor.  It’s a holy site for Christian pilgrims who climb to the church to hear of Jesus’s ascent to the mountaintop and his talk with Elijah and Moses.

But today I’m concerned with more earthly needs, like washing the grime and dirt from my car.  The “Car Wash” is nothing more than a flat pad over which a blue tarp is stretched to keep the sun out.  Arabic music at ear-splitting volume greets you.  I brake my car, hand the three Arab men my keys, and stroll to the “waiting area” – four plastic chairs under a canopy.  On the small table there’s a coffee Thermos, compliments of the house, tiny cups and a crowded ashtray.

Coffee while you wait at Shibli Car Wash

Coffee while you wait at Shibli Car Wash

Soon after, the men get to work.  Water is stored in steel drums.  They use power hoses to wash off the dirt, then soap it, then brush it with a broom (?), then hose it, then dry it, then hang a fragrant pine tree that smells like coconut on the rear-view-mirror, compliments of the house, then they hand me back my keys.  Time spent: 30 minutes.  Cost: $9.  I drive off, feeling like a millionaire, as I recover my sense of hearing.

Hummus — It’s fast food around here.  It’s everywhere, it’s always fresh, and hits the spot in the best possible way, if done right.  One place where they do it right is in Nazareth, at the footsteps of the Church of Annunciation.

Hummus plate in Nazareth

Hummus plate in Nazareth

The “El Sheikh” hummus bar is a hole in the wall, with simple tables, plain chairs.  They serve creamy hummus without frills, just authentic, stick to your gut goodness.  The owner throws in 3 falafel balls, sliced tomato, half a raw onion (?), pickles and two warm pita at no extra charge.  Time spent: 30 minutes.  Cost: $7

Shoe Repair  — Who repairs shoes any more?  In the old days, people had two pairs: one for work, one for play, and a pair of house slippers.  Today, it seems, people wear a different pair for every hour of the day.  The shoe cobbler is a relic of the past, went out of style and out of need along with watch repairmen.

Boots repaired

Boots repaired

But not in Galilee.  My wife loves the pair of boots she got in L.A a few years ago.  Over time, the zipper that ran  the side of the boot went bad.  Last week, in preparation for the rainy season, she found an old-fashioned shoe cobbler.  He’s Russian, ageless, built like a bear.  He used to repair boots for the communist army.  Today he sits in a shop in Afula, a small town 15 minutes from our house.  The shop is organized and spotless like a pharmacy.  The man takes pride in his work; his tools, hammers, saws, pliers, nails, glue jars are arranged neatly on shelves.  He blows new life into worn out heels, mends ripped leather and makes zippers slide effortlessly.   Time spent: dropped off boots, picked up the next day.  Cost: $10

Flat Tire — The low-pressure icon lit up on my car dashboard.  I drove to Kfar Kama, the Circassian village next door.  It’s eight in the morning, and the sound of the tire air compressor is at full blast.  My car is lifted on a jack.  Within seconds  the wheel nuts are removed, the puncture patched up, the tire dunked in a water tank to check for bubbles, then mounted back on the car.  “Do you want a receipt?” he asks me.  “No need,” I say.  Time spent: 15 minutes.  Cost: $9

So you could spend $35 in Galilee to fix a flat tire, wash the car, repair your shoe’s broken heel, and wipe a plate of hummus, or you could spend $1,000,000 to buy a two-bedroom apartment in Tel Aviv.

Which will it be?

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Maurice Labi is an Israeli-American who lived in Los Angeles for many years. In 2011 He returned to Northern Israel (Galilee) with his wife and twin teenage daughters. He is of two lands, of two cultures and he blogs about his experiences in Israel, particularly from Galilee where Jews and Arabs dwelled for centuries.

He has also written three novels: “Jupiter’s Stone,” “Into the Night,” and “American Moth” — available at Amazon.com

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=maurice+labi&rh=n%3A283155%2Ck%3Amaurice+labi

or at BN.com

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/maurice-labi?store=allproducts&keyword=maurice+labi

 

 

 

 

Greek Fish Out of Water

20 Sep

I’m sitting at a nice outdoor restaurant in Galilee.  Tired of ordering the old favorites: grilled chicken, hummus, salads, I ask the waiter “What’s your Catch of the Day?”  The waiter excuses himself only to return a moment later with his manager.  The manager leans forward and explains the options available.  There’s salt-water fish from man-made fisheries; there’s fish from man-made fresh-water pools and there’s “fresh” fish flown in.

I look up the waiter.  The Land of Israel is known for miracles, but flying fish is a bit much.  So I ask.  Turns out, Israel has exhausted most of its fish along the coastline.  Fresh fish are pulled out of the Mediterranean near Cyprus and Greece; they’re packed in ice, delivered to an airplane, and 24 hours later, the Greek-speaking fish is on my plate.

I squeeze lemon juice on the grilled fish I ordered and remind myself to find out why I can’t have an “Israeli” fish.  The short answer is that there is no short answer.

Map of Mediterranean Sea

Map of Mediterranean Sea

The Mediterranean is dying.  Look at the map and you realize it’s an enclosed body of water.  The narrow Straits of Gibraltar in the south of Spain is the only outlet into the Atlantic.  As a teenager I sailed on a passenger ship from New York to Israel, through the Mediterranean.  The ship sailed along the coast of North Africa. From the upper deck my sister and I could spot hundreds of dolphins escorting the ship, jumping in and out of the water playfully.

That was then.  1971.

In the last 15 years alone the amount of fish along Israel’s coast has dropped by almost half.  Blame it on many factors. Unlike other countries that ban fishermen from fishing during the breeding season (4 months), Israel’s fishing policy allows fishermen to fish year-round.  This means that tiny fish are caught up in nets; they don’t have a chance to mature and are thrown away.  Over time, this leads to fewer and fewer fish in the sea.

Trolling is the next bad boy.  You’ve seen documentaries on how big fishing vessels lower giant nets to the bottom of the sea.  The boats suck up everything in sight; they tear up rocks, coral and reefs.  They destroy all in their path. Many of the fish caught are not commercial grade; they’re part of the food chain, but they’re killed in the process.

fish trolling boats

fish trolling boats

The Japanese, and their insatiable appetite for bluefin tuna, have signed lucrative fishing contracts with Mediterranean countries. They catch boatloads of tuna, often illegally, and ship them to Tokyo.  Sony or Honda executives might step out to lunch with their buddies and not know or care that their sushi has emptied the Mediterranean.

And let’s not forget the Egyptians.  Strongman Gamal Abdel Nasser wanted to go down in history like an Egyptian Pharoah.  So he built the massive Aswan Dam on the River Nile with the help of the Soviets in the 1960s.  The Dam was a great success.  The Nile no longer flooded.  Water irrigated the fields regularly and evenly.  The dam generated electricity for the Egyptian masses.

But damn it, the dam is killing the Mediterranean.  Sediments and silt that flow from the highlands of Ethiopia and down to the Nile Delta never make it to sea.  The stuff gets trapped behind the dam’s concrete walls.  The fish, dependent on the sediments as food, sink to the bottom, starving.

Tuna at sea

Tuna at sea

We’re not done with Egypt.  The Suez Canal, completed in 1869, is an engineering marvel.  Ships from the Far East and India no longer had to sail around the African continent to get to Europe.  They went through the Suez Canal – the ultimate short cut.

But the short cut led to long-term damage.  Fish from the warmer Indian Ocean, with spicy hot curry in their tails, started to swim north.  They swam through the Red Sea, through the Suez Canal and into the Mediterranean.

War.  The Indian fish are predatory; they killed the mild, let’s-have-fun Mediterranean fish.

Before long, the Indians took over the waters without paying rent.

And they brought with them a whole bunch of illegal immigrants: millions of jelly fish.

Jelly fish gravitate to warm waters.  Yearly, they clog up electrical power plants along Israel’s coast.  They come near unsuspecting swimmers and release their venom.  The sting burns like hell.  And when they’re done with humans, they go after fish eggs, further lowering their numbers.grilled fish

It seems fish in the Mediterranean can’t catch a break.  Worse, everybody wants to catch them.

I’m done with my dinner.  The waiter comes to my table again, looks at the fish bones on my plate.  He asks, “Do you want desert?”

‘Yes,” I say, thinking my Greek fish should have a companion.  “How about a glass of ouzo?”

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Maurice Labi is an Israeli-American who lived in Los Angeles for many years. In 2011 He returned to Northern Israel (Galilee) with his wife and twin teenage daughters. He is of two lands, of two cultures and he blogs about his experiences in Israel, particularly from Galilee where Jews and Arabs dwelled for centuries.

He has also written three novels: “Jupiter’s Stone,” “Into the Night,” and “American Moth” — available at Amazon.com

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=mauricelabi

or at BN.com

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/maurice-labi?store=allproducts&keyword=maurice+labi

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s the Land, Stupid

6 Sep

We’re in the month of Elul, the last in the Jewish calendar.  It’s a month set aside for reflection, prayer and hope for the coming New Year.  During Elul, typically September, farmers harvest the last of their bounty in the fields.  Wheat is collected and delivered to the mills.  Bunches of grapes are picked off the vines and crushed into wine.  Almonds dry in the sun.  Olives will soon release their virgin oil.galilee land 2

This coming Jewish New Year is particularly special.  It’s the Year of the Sabbatical.  (שנת שמיטה).

 

According to the bible, in the Book of Leviticus, man is to cultivate the land for six years and give it a rest on the seventh.  It sounds like a noble idea.  Think of yourself.  You go to work, fight traffic, fight your boss, earn a paycheck, drive home. Once you’re home, you deserve a rest.  Pour yourself a drink, have dinner, go out with friends, then fight the world tomorrow all over again.  What’s not to like?

Vineyards near my home in Galilee

Vineyards near my home in Galilee

Somehow, with land, it’s more complicated.  Could it be because the world is 70% water and only 30% land?  Could it be complicated because God is not making more land, at least not in our lifetime?  Which is why we choose to ignore God’s command and continue to till and work the land until it is exhausted.  Some believe that after the destruction on the First Temple, the Jewish people were exiled to Babylon for 70 years because they failed to honor the Sabbatical every 7 years.

Somehow, man thinks he owns the land.  Colonialism, Zionism, Capitalism, Imperialism, Terrorism, Islam with its sword, Christianity on horseback.  This is all ridiculous, at least according to Leviticus, chapter 25, verse 23: “‘The land must not be sold permanently, because the land is mine and you reside in my land as foreigners and strangers.”

In other words, the land belongs to God.  Not us.

I’m not a religious man, but how did man become so dominant, excluding and eliminating other species?  Man is not much more than an ape with a larger computer in the skull.  And man continues to eat the banana all by himself.

In Leviticus we’re told that if we tend to the land lovingly, and let it rest on the seventh year, He will provide us with bounty; our bellies will be full, and we would settle the land safely and without worry.

So why aren’t we listening?galilee land

Israeli writer and poet, Michal Govrin, in her novel “Snapshots” (הבזקים) writes about an Israeli woman architect, married to a holocaust investigator, who has an affair with a Palestinian dance director.  The woman in the story, Ilana, questions the idea that land will give us happiness.  Armies and nations came and went and we died by sword and canon.  She says: “The land doesn’t belong to anybody!  It was given as a promise to the nation that came to it from far away, and the promise is ‘on condition.’ It will be kept only if the nation is at an ethical level that will justify it.  Otherwise, the nation will be sent to exile.  Every seven years, in the Year of the Sabbatical, the fences around the property have to be torn down.”

The poor, the humble, the unfortunate can enter the land and pick its produce without consequence.  No borders.

Hmmm.  Utopia indeed.

Next month it’s the Jewish holiday of Sukkot.  It’s a holiday to remind us of days Jews spent in the desert after their exodus from Egypt.  In the desert, they set up Sukkot — makeshift huts.  Every year, Jews around the world build a Sukkah and sit in it for a week.  A reminder that we’re wandering in the wilderness even today.  That land can shift beneath our feet without notice.  And our constant preoccupation with land, property, possession had brought on slavery — the very thing Jews had tried to escape.olive branch

In an excerpt in the book “Snapshots,” Ilana says of the Arabs and Jews: “It’s not us or them; it’s beyond ownership; give up the passion to conquer, to own…”

The war between Israel and Hamas ended last month.  I hope both people realize that land is sustenance to our bodies and a shackle to our feet.

We fight to claim land until the end of time.  As guests on this land, we’ll never get to see the end of time.

Former President Bill Clinton might agree.  It’s the land, stupid.

Let go.  Just let go.

Happy New Year

 

 

 

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