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.









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

or at











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.



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?”



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

or at







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?


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

or at





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?”


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

or at











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




Third Year Report Card from Galilee

16 Aug

Maybe it has to do with the Holy Land believed to be at the center of the universe, or maybe it’s the people, or the water, or the air, but the three years I lived in Israel feels like 10.

Holy Land at the center of the universe

Holy Land at the center of the universe

It’s seems like the dials of time move at a slower pace around here.  The move from California to Galilee in 2011 is a distant memory.  Don’t get me wrong.  I recall the packing of the furnishings, the loading it all inside a 40-foot container, waiting for it to sail the oceans and end up at our doorstep two months later.  I recall how we’d felt when we first set our bare feet on the cool tiles inside our custom-built home in Galilee.  Outside, the air smelled different, heavier, as if it had substance, meaning. Less than a week later, my twin girls enrolled in a new school, in a new land, in a language they hardly spoke, in a language they did not read nor write.crazy driver

In my first and second year report cards I spoke of crazy Israeli drivers; I spoke of the beer, the great coffee, the noise level, the creamy hummus of Nazareth, keeping time on a 24-hour clock, the shoddy imported products, on sticker-shock, from the price of gasoline, housing, to dining out.

Time does its thing.  Drivers on the road are still insane but they no longer irritate me.  I fill my Toyota gas tank, pay $100, and drive off.  In social gatherings, people continue to speak at an ear-piercing volume, above the din of the always-on TV.  Complete strangers will throw an arm around your shoulder, refer to you as: Ahi, Neshama Sheli, Mammy, Haver, Gever, Matok, Kapara (My Brother, My Soul, Mammy,Buddy, Macho, Sweetie, the Apple of my Eye).

The kitchen paper towels continue to disintegrate with the slightest contact with water.  Toilet paper continues to crumble in the crack of my butt.

The garden hose in the yard.  I want to strangle it, if I could.  All nurseries carry same the same brand, cheap, from China.  I turn on the water.  The hose crimps, twists, bends, spits, sputters, clogs, flails, wrestles, jerks, drips, spurts, vomits – as if possessed by demons.  I let the petunias and roses wilt in the sun.  Why get upset?

Fresh fruits and vegetables at our local grocer

Fresh fruits and vegetables at our local grocer

My wife hates the grocery plastic bags that come in every size, shape, and color.  They leak.  And they’re noisy to the touch. Opening the fridge turns into a treasure hunt.  Green apples inside red plastic bags are mistaken for peaches.  Red cabbage inside a yellow a plastic bag is mistaken for a melon.

Speaking of fruits and vegetables, here in Israel we don’t have bananas from Honduras year-round, nor raspberries and blueberries from the Northwest, nor avocados flown in from Mexico.  Seasons dictate what’s on the shelf.  It’s all local and fresh.  Want oranges in summer?  Sorry, wait till winter.  Bananas?  They’re trucked from the coast or the Jordan Valley, 2 hours away, not a continent away.

Time does its thing.

In 2011, first thing in the morning, I searched the on-line edition of the Los Angeles Times.  It was natural; I wanted to know what was happening at “home.”  Months later – don’t know when exactly – I switched to Israeli on-line newspapers in Hebrew. Somehow, the hurricanes of the Midwest, the drive-by shooting in L.A, the severe drought, ObamaCare, illegal immigration – it all belonged with Americans.  I was on the outside looking in, unable to influence the slightest thing.

From time to time, I’d open my desk drawer and fish out my American passport, just to remind me that I’m an American. And proud of it.  I’m equally proud to be an Israeli.  At the airport in Tel Aviv, I hand the officers my Israeli passport, answer a couple of security questions in Hebrew and then I move up the line.  The American passport stays in my carry-on.

In Rome do as the Romans do.  In Tel Aviv, do….Well, you ge the picture.

Typing the simplest message in Hebrew on my laptop was brutal.  My fingers crawled over the Hebrew peel-off and stick-on alphabet on the English keyboard.  I inadvertently erased entire sentences, text danced from left to right, from right to left, could not find the צ or the ק or the פ.  I still can’t, but now I can start sending out a message in the morning and finish it before sunset.

War changes people.  Israel has experienced more than 10 in its young history.  War hardens people, makes them more suspicious, cynical.  It also makes Israelis grab life with both hands, enjoy the moment, as there might not be another moment.

The current war against Hamas in Gaza changed my twin daughters, 15.  They matured beyond their age.  They still speak of American celebrities, idols, music, movies, fashion.  But they’re more grounded in reality.  They sense the fragility of life around them.  And like most young people, they don’t understand why adults go to war.

My older daughters, 27 and 30, live in America.  They’ve been to Israel several times.  They learned firsthand about the complexities of the Middle East, that Arab and Jews are both right.  And wrong.  They’ve become goodwill ambassadors, able to carry a conversation confidently.  And for that, I’m happy.

With my dog Max

With my dog Max

At the end of the second year in Galilee, I conducted an unofficial survey of our family’s adjustment in this new/old land.  Now, at the end of the third year, it’s still a work in progress.  As for our dog Max; he’s happy in the fields.

Years ago, in my early twenties, I enrolled in a “Tour Guide” course.  Had I finished it, I could have taken tourists and shown them around Israel, for a fee.  I distinctly remember the teacher asking: “How is American history different from Jewish/Israeli history?”  Many of students tried to answer, including myself, unsuccessfully, according to him.  He went on to say that the Jewish nation draws inspiration, validation, strength, justification, lineage and linkage – from its past.  Prophets, kings, tribes, God himself gave us history.

America looks to the future; Israel clings to its past

America looks to the future; Israel clings to its past

On the other hand, Americans don’t have much of a history: the founding fathers, settling the West, the Civil War, WWI, WWII.  Their history could be summed up in decades, not millenia, he said.  Jews hark back to the past.  The past chains you; it does not liberate you.  Instead, Americans look forward. Americans embrace the promise of a better future, the pursuit of happiness.

In closing this 3rd year report card, I look to the future.  I’m an American, after all.


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

or at


Why Israel Won the War on Gaza. and Lost.

2 Aug
Map of Israel and Gaza

Map of Israel and Gaza

The war between Israel and Hamas, now into its fourth week, is unlike any war before.  In the past, the mention of the word “Hamas” conjured up images of suicide bombers boarding Israeli buses and yelling “Allah Akbar.”  Since 2006 Hamas has come a long way militarily.  Its leadership must have ordered “War for Dummies” from Amazon.  How else to explain that today Hamas has a solid chain of command, strategy, logistics – a semi-professional army that doesn’t run from the sound of Israel’s cannons.

There’s no denying Israel’s superior fire power.  Let’s face it, Hamas has launched thousands of rockets into Israel, most of which were knocked out of the sky by “Iron Dome,” Israel’s defensive missile shield, or they fell in open spaces.  In contrast, Israel killed hundreds of Hamas militants.  Hundreds of buildings in Gaza were flattened by Israel’s air strikes and artillery. Thousands of civilians fled their homes.  Hamas’s other weapon  – tunnels that reach Israel’s border — are being destroyed one by one by Israel’s Combat Engineering Corps.

So, if everything’s going so well on the battlefield, why does it seem that Israel has lost?

The simple answer is that often war is not won on the battlefield, but off.  Ariel Ilan Roth in the latest issue of “Foreign Affairs” cites an example.  Egypt has lost during the October 1973 Yom Kippur War.  Yet Egyptian President Sadat claimed correctly that his army was able to cross the Suez Canal and into the Sinai, inflict many casualties on the Israelis.  This gave him bargaining power to negotiate peace with Israel in 1979.  He ended up getting back his Sinai Peninsula.  Mr. Roth talks about Hamas next.  Hamas would love to kill as many Jews as possible.  But their main target is to disrupt the “sense of normalcy” in Israel.  Up until recently, most Israelis ignored Hamas and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  Call it “conflict fatigue.”  Israelis wanted to go about their lives, work, travel, and believe they’re no different from the residents of London and Paris. Hamas changed all that. A decade ago, crude Hamas missiles landed hundreds of yards or a few miles beyond the border.  Today they reach Tel-Aviv and beyond.  All of a sudden “there” has become “here.”

Israeli soldier discovers Hamas tunnel in Gaza

Israeli soldier discovers Hamas tunnel in Gaza

Dozens of underground Hamas tunnels add to the terror.  Tunnels are not new to Gaza.  Turns out, the Gazans had dug them more than 2400 years ago when they fought Alexander the Great.  Alexander lay siege to Gaza for 100 days (!) before the city surrendered. Infuriated by the Gazans’ resolve, he ordered mass executions and a vengeful rampage (Gaza: A History, by Jean-Pierre Filiu).

That’s a win for Hamas.  A win because Israel’s bubble of normalcy has been burst.

Rockets falling in Israel are not so much a military victory for Hamas as it is a psychological defeat for Israel.  By engaging in war so many times, Israel has shown its cards: airstrikes to soften resistance followed by a ground assault.  Much like a boxer in the ring, if a fighter (Israel) uses the left jab time and time again, the opponent (Hamas) will duck before taking the punch to the chin.  In other words, what’s troubling me as an Israeli-American is that Israel’s deterrence is slowly eroding in the eyes of the Arabs.  Like a pack of wild dogs, Arabs are willing to lose a few of their own, so long as they keep biting at Israel’s rear legs.

Hamas is willing to die so long as Israel will not live.

Hamas rockets

Hamas rockets

Tactically, Hamas is losing.  Some of its Gaza neighborhoods lay in ruin.  Strategically, they’re winning.  Once the war planes return to base, once the dust and smoke settles, Israeli society will have paid a price.  Already, cracks are beginning to show.  An overwhelming support for the war still exists among most Israelis. Patriotism is at all-time high.  Flags are unfurled, songs are sang, civilians volunteer to deliver food and supplies to the front line. But there are Israelis who question the war. They’re not as loud.  A handful of celebrities who dared criticize the war’s goals were quickly silenced.  War protesters in Tel Aviv assembled under the watchful eye of police guards.  The vitriol, the hatred between right-wing and left-wing Jews has spilled into social media.  Facebook is full of hate messages, one camp accusing the other of betrayal, of sliding down a slippery slope.  A wedge between bothers is now evident.

Mark that one as another win Hamas.

This summer tourism to Israel is down 70%.  Other than Evangelical tours to the Holy Land, other than  Orthodox Jews from America and patriotic Jews from France — hotels rooms go begging for guests.  Airlines around the world, fearing Hamas rocket attacks, cancelled flights into Israel for 48 hours.  For two days, Israel felt under siege.  Thousands of vacationing Israelis on the Turkish Riviera were unable to return home.  Eventually, Israel airlifted them back home.

War puts everything on hold.  Israel’s manufacturing is down.  Agriculture is down.  Scores of unfinished high-rise buildings in the south of Israel, and within range of Hamas rockets, remain idle and silent in the summer sun.  Laborers, mostly Arabs, are unwilling or unable to come to work.

Another win for Hamas.

Israel’s is also taking it on the chin internationally.  The images of dead children in Gaza cannot be erased.  Norwegians, Swiss, British, Americans sitting in their living rooms don’t know or don’t care that Hamas started firing rockets at innocent Israeli civilians.  A few ditches, holes in the ground, a burning gas station, a smashed balcony — all caused by Hamas rockets — are not as “sexy” and brutal as showing a dying Gaza child with a bloody teddy bear in his arms.  Israel lost, again.

“The Lancet,” the worlds leading medical journal published a damning letter on Israel.  Read by thousands of doctors worldwide, the journal accused Israel of indiscriminate killing in Gaza.  The journal was and is regarded as antisemitic, but there’s no denying its influence.  Israeli doctors attending future conventions in Europe and the U.S. will be heckled and booed.  Some research institutions want to severe ties with Israel, pull back funding, ban attendance, boycott Israeli products.

One more win for Hamas.

Another casualty of the Gaza war are the relations between Israeli-Arabs and Jews in Israel.  They’ve reached bottom in the last week.  There’s so much animosity and hatred between Arabs and Jews in Jerusalem, it can’t be even measured in truckloads.  Almost 40% of Jerusalem’s population is Palestinian.  Daily, thousands come to West Jerusalem (Jewish) to work in hospitals, municipal services, hotels, construction.  Mistrust is everywhere.  Jews want Arabs to disappear off the face of the earth.  Arabs want the same.

Gaza under Israeli fire-power

Gaza under Israeli fire-power

Two weeks ago, I took in my Toyota for servicing at a garage in Nazareth owned by Arabs.  Months before, the mood was cheerful.  Not this time.  I was all business.  The Arab receptionist behind the counter recognized me, tried to put on a smile, unsuccessfully.  My “hello” was awkward too.  The mechanics went about their work.  There’s untold tension.  I paid the invoice and left. I wasn’t in the mood for chitchat.  They weren’t either.  The scar is deep.  It will take a long time to heal, if ever.

Another win for Hamas.

But don’t get me wrong.  Hamas is a loser.  Big time.  A recent poll showed that more than half of the Gaza population don’t support Hamas; they want a cease-fire.  But not their leader – Khaled Mashal.  Last week Mashal was interviewed by Charlie Rose on America’s news program Face the Nation.  Mashal’s stupidity knows no limits.  Hamas will never defeat Israel. Here was his chance, on American TV, to say he’ll recognize Israel’s right to exist.  If he agreed to lay down his rockets, if he abandoned his quest to destroy Israel, then he might have really won the war.  In time, he could have gotten what he wanted: the end to Israel’s siege, the go ahead to build his own seaport and airport, to man the border crossings, to see his own people live better.  He blew the chance.  He’d rather continue to see his people die and his towns flattened.

I don’t pity him.  Nor his people for having elected Hamas into power.  People get the leader they deserve.

Arabs contribute little to science and the pursuit of knowledge.  This wasn’t always so.  In past centuries, the Arabs developed astronomy and algebra.  The Arabs invented “zero.”  Without the zero, we would have continued with the Roman gibberish of XLVXVIII.  But Hamas and similar radical fundamentalists in Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya have chosen to inscribe “zero” on their flags:  Zero-Tolerance, Zero-Achievements.

Israel is being grilled in the media, and at the U.N.   Jew-bashing and Jew-hating is nothing new.  Antisemitism has a long history and its reasons are beyond the scope of this post.  Arabs slaughter each other by the hundreds of thousands, by chemical gas, torture.  Theses tragic stories rarely grab the headlines.  Add a Jew to the mix, and all hell breaks loose.  Why this double-standard?

So, once this round of fighting and bloodletting is over, Israel and Hamas will still be in the boxing ring.  Israel will claim a knockout.  Hamas will claim it was a knockdown, nothing more.  Both will be bloodied.  They’ll go to their respective corners and rest.  Until the next round.

Mr. Mashal, remove your gloves, extend your bare hand and negotiate a settlement with Israel.  You win more by not doing war.

Israel would do well to speak to Hamas, directly or indirectly — even if they’re terrorists.

Remember, you make peace with your enemies, not your friends.

What do you think?


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

or at



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