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


Gaza Rockets, Bomb Shelters and Rock Music

20 Jul

Events unfold so fast in the Middle East, you need to hit the “pause” button on the TV remote to slow down the action.  Just four weeks ago, three Israeli teenage boys were kidnapped and killed by Arab terrorists.  Just two weeks ago, a group of Jewish boys kidnapped an Arab boy and killed him in revenge.  In this part of the world that’s ancient history.  Today, we’re into day 13 of operation “Protective Edge,” an all out war between Israel and Hamas militants in Gaza.

Don’t ask who started it.  If you’re Arab, the Israelis started it.  If you’re Israeli, the Arabs started it.

entrance to public bomb shelter

entrance to public bomb shelter

Hamas launches rockets into Israel, day and night.

Israel’s warplanes pound targets in Gaza.  A ground offensive of tanks and infantry went in.  Casualties, although disproportionate, are mounting on both sides.

A crane lowers a small public bomb shelter to the ground

Media coverage in Israel is round-the-clock.  Network television updates viewers minute-by-minute.  Commentators and experts abound.  Psychologists speak of ways to help children deal with anxiety. On the radio, songs are played occasionally, often interrupted by the military: “Red Alert!  Red Alert!”

That’s the signal to run for your life.

Israeli villages, towns, kibbutzim near Gaza have 15 to 30 second to run for cover before the Hamas-launched rockets fall.  Tel Aviv and Jerusalem are farther away.  People there have 60 to 90 seconds.  I live in Galilee – too far from Gaza.

There are bomb shelters of every kind, variety.  Israelis stranded outdoors can run for cover inside public bomb shelters made of reinforced concrete and steel.  In my house there’s a bomb shelter at the lower level.  Like most Israelis, during periods of quiet, the shelter is used up as an extra bedroom or storage room.

Huddled inside the restaurant bomb shelter

Huddled inside the restaurant bomb shelter

All single family homes must have them, at the least the newer homes.  Apartment buildings have them.  Theaters have them.  Restaurants have them.  Some can accommodate just a handful of people, others can accommodate hundreds.  It’s a way of life.  Security is all around you.

Earlier this week I went to visit my father and mother, and my sister, in Bat-Yam, a seaside town bordering Tel Aviv.  It felt strange to hear their stories of near-misses, stories of explosions, and sonic-booms.  They spoke of how “Iron Dome” — Israel’s missile defense shield, was able to knock out Hamas rockets out of the sky.  It was strange, because for once, my village in Galilee was in the clear – no longer the target of rockets coming in from Hezbollah in Lebanon.

But the rockets did not stop us from arranging to meet at Cafe Joe for breakfast the next morning.  Cafe Joe is on the beach, with views of the blue waters of the Mediterranean.  At that hour there were a few “crazies” like us who’d had enough of running and hiding.

Teenagers on Bat Yam beach after the bomb alert ended

Teenagers on Bat Yam beach after the bomb alert ended

We looked at th menus and ordered a sumptuous breakfast.  A faint siren sounded in the distance. The waitress rushed to our table.  “Alert!  Alert!” she said.  Within seconds we all assembled inside the restaurant’s bomb shelter.  Soft-drink bottles, jars, boxes, bags of coffee were all around us. Employees and diners spoke nervously. I stood next to my mother and sister, thinking this was mad.

The all-safe signal was given and we returned to our table, not before my brother-in-law took me outside and showed me the trail of smoke that the rocket had streaked across the sky.  The plume was white, puffy, like an innocent cloud.  Then it vanished. Blue skies again.

We went back in and finished our breakfast.

Israel’s “Home Front Command” is strict about its instructions on bomb-shelter maintenance. But during times of peace the shelters fall into neglect; they’re used to store mattresses, old bikes, unwanted furnishings.  But not today.  An extra-large bomb-shelter in Ashdod, Israel’s seaport town, and only 25 miles from Gaza, was converted into a live concert venue.   Residents of Ashdod, tired of being holed up in their homes and shelters came to watch and cheer Israeli rock bands.

Rockets might be flying.  Tanks might be rolling in the street of Gaza.

But the music must go on.

Welcome to the Middle East.


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



Stop the Train – I want to get off!

6 Jul

The summer’s hot in Israel and I’m not talking about the weather.  Last month, three young Jewish boys in Judea and Samaria (West Bank) were kidnapped by Arab terrorists.  The terrorists murdered the boys and dumped them in a field.  Last week, an Arab teenage boy was kidnapped, his body burned.  Was it murder committed by Arabs?  Was an act of revenge committed by Jews for the three boys’ killing? The police is investigating.  Update: The Israeli police and secret service have made arrests; they believe it was a group of Jewish boys who’d killed the Arab boy.

Jerusalem Light Rail Map

Jerusalem Light Rail Map

Jews and Arabs relate to loss of life differently.  There’s no sugar-coating this difference.  The entire State of Israel was in mourning following the death of the three boys.  Whether you are on the left or on the right, every single Israeli felt as he had lost a son, a collective tragedy.  I don’t doubt the Arab boy’s mother is grieving.  But not the surrounding Arab community.

Jerusalem train during better days

Jerusalem train during better days

Instead, they took to the streets, hurled stones at Jews and security forces, burned tires, blocked streets, destroyed portions of the Jerusalem Light Rail that runs through their neighborhoods. To repair the trains will take months and cost millions.

Arab and Jewish passengers on train

Arab and Jewish passengers on train

To think that Arabs and Jews could live together; it’s naiveté that borders on stupidity.  Take the city of Jerusalem, for example.  Its eastern flank has been “united” with western Jerusalem since the Six Day War in 1967.  For decades, steps were taken to unite the city.  Israel’s tourist office, the city mayor, the media – they all speak of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital city. Yet few advertise the fact that almost 40% of its population is Arab.

How would London, Paris, Washington, Tokyo be able to operate if 4 out of 10 of its residents were hostile or uncooperative?

Yet Jerusalem hides this fact.  It hopes against hope that “we can all get along.”  Arabs migrate from surrounding villages and towns to East Jerusalem.  There they intermarry, prosper and multiply.  Jews, in return, add more Jewish neighborhoods on hillsides in a game of one-upmanship.

Arabs vandalize Jerusalem train station

Arabs vandalize Jerusalem train station

The Jerusalem Light Rail, open for business since 2011, is the flagship of public transportation. It was to be the experiment to unite both sides of Jerusalem.  At 9 miles long, the slick, electric train makes its way through Arab and Jewish neighborhoods.  Each day, 130,000 passengers cross town.

Be careful of what you wish for.

Suddenly, for the past three years, Arabs who were confined to their homes could step out their front doors, hop on a modern train, and minutes later find themselves in fashionable shopping promenades, markets, city hall, university, and much more.  Now sitting inches apart on board the train, Muslim women wearing Hijabs to cover their faces stare at Orthodox Jewish men wearing shtreimel and tzitzit.

Arabs burn rubber and steel train tracks

Arabs burn rubber and steel train tracks

But if the Light Rail can be likened to an artery that meanders through the body, the blood cells (Jews and Arabs) are sick of each other.  They want to flow in separate bodies, in separate veins.

Poor Englishmen and poor Englishwomen board trains in East London to London’s West End and there’s no war at the end of the day.  The Berlin Wall came down in 1989 and there was no war.  There were Germans on both sides of the wall. During the Los Angeles Riots of  1992 Blacks burned down their own liquor stores, markets, gas stations to protest against years of neglect by the Whites on the Westside.  But at the end of the day, when the dust and smoke settled, there was a truce, rebuilding, hope.

Arabs demonstrating

Arabs demonstrating

Arabs and Jews share no common future.  The events of the last few weeks prove that.  The road to heaven is paved with good intentions, and although Jerusalem is in God’s backyard, heaven is a long way off.  The Arabs’ carnage of the Light Rail and other violent demonstrations are evidence that we’re different peoples.  We should disengage from each other.

My station is coming up.  I’m getting off.

What about 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







Confessions of a World Cup Slob

21 Jun

Plates and cups clog the kitchen sink.  Empty beer bottles roll back and forth in the front yard.  Dirty, sweaty clothes pile up in the laundry room.  This is the life of a World Cup slob – me!

This is what the World Cup does to some men – turns them from Metrosexuals to Neanderthals.  The few times I looked at myself in the mirror the past 10 days, I don’t recognize the image.  The clean shave has been replaced by a prickly stubble; the eyes are bloodshot from staying up past 2 in the morning; the hair’s wild.Kitchen sink

What’s even better (worse?) is that I don’t have to report or answer to anyone.  Days before, my wife and daughters flew from Israel to  California for a summer vacation.

I have the entire house to myself!

During the World Cup, other than part-time work, I don’t do much.  Weeds sprout in the garden undisturbed.  The sun beats down on the uncovered lawn furniture.  My dog howls for attention.   The trash can in the kitchen smells.  Ants crawl on the countertop.  The toilet bowl has many colors;  white is not one of them.   The towels are crunchy.  The bed is unmade; the decorator pillows are on the floor.  The fridge releases an echo when open.

But I’m happy.

World Cup

World Cup

The Wold Cup – the celebration of football (soccer) – comes once every four years.  Over 160 nations compete to be in the Wold Cup.  Only 32 make it.  For me, it’s not just a celebration of the beautiful game; it’s a celebration of life.  Fans in the stadiums all over Brazil jump for joy, hug strangers, shed tears of victory or defeat.

For many fotballers, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime adventure.  They’re at the top of their game.  These superb athletes represent flag and country.  They fight with the skin of their teeth.  They defend, attack, score, pray, rejoice.  It’s the ultimate rush.

From the comfort of my armchair at home, I cheer and heckle, watch replays of goals in slow motion, somehow feel the unbearable Brazilian heat, the cold, the humidity, thirst, exhaustion.

pile of clothes

It’s great to hear old-timers speak of past World Cups: 1966 in London, 1970 in Mexico City, 1994 in the United States.

I AM such old-timer.  As a kid, I watched a Wold Cup game in 1966, on a black-and-white TV, in a crowded cafe in Rome, with my father.  I watched the 1970 Wold Cup on a giant screen at the Forum Sports Arena in Inglewood, California, again, with my father.  And I watched the 1994 World Cup in Pasadena’s Rose Bowl, live, with a friend.

On the radio recently some Israeli women complained that during the World Cup they had turned into “sports widows or girlfriends.”  The talk show host responded:  “Listen, women, once a month, you’re unavailable for a week.  Once every four years, men are unavailable.

Equal abuse for all.  Laundry

The Final is almost three weeks away, but already, the World Cup in Brazil is destined to be one of the best.

Come July 14, a day after the final, I promise to shave more often, to tak out the trash, to wash, to kill ants, to clear out the fridge.  But until then, I’ll remain a happy slob.

A final note from where I’m reporting: Israel did not qualify for the World Cup.  But no worry — if there’s ever an accountants World Cup, I’m sure Israel will win.

Until then, Israel can only dream of reaching this event, as shown in this YouTube clip.



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








Beware, Lifeguard on Duty

8 Jun
Lifeguard Station in Bat-Yam closed for the evening

Lifeguard Station in Bat-Yam closed for the evening

Ask most people what’s their favorite vacation choice and most will say: the beach.  What is it about the beach that people love?  The powder-white sand, the salty air, the blue waters, the warm sun on your skin are all ingredients for a good, relaxing time.

But would you ever add a lifeguard to the mix?

I spent my young adult life 1/2 a mile from the Mediterranean.  I spent many years in my hometown Bat-Yam, literally translating into Daughter of the Sea, in Hebrew, or, more simply: Mermaid.

Growing up, the beach was part of our everyday lives.  It was just there, for the taking.  I could see the blue waters from the kitchen window, almost see sailboats near the horizon.

"Hasake" Life Boat

“Hasake” Life Boat

Some three decades later, I return to Bat Yam, to visit my aging parents, my sister, the beach.

And the lifeguards.

The lifeguards I knew as a child are long retired or they’re swimming with the fish in another universe.  The lifeguards in Bat Yam are a breed all of their own.  They hand over the whistle, the life vest and the hard-core training to the next generation.  They command the waters.  They rely on good eyesight, instinct, muscles, experience.   They rely on their “Hasake,” a giant, heavy surfboard with extra-long paddles to navigate the rough waters.

They’re perched like birds in their wooden lifeguard station at the water’s edge.  They peer into their binoculars to see who’s in trouble in the water.  They take turns eating.  And since they work long shifts, from early morning until evening, they take turns napping.

Bat Yam beach and skyline

Bat Yam beach and skyline

They’re family.

June is the kick-off month for summer in Israel.  Everyone’s itching to work on a bronze tan, to order coffee or a cold beer from the kiosk, to dig into a watermelon, to snooze to the sound of rushing waves.

But if you’re itching to get into the water, you’d better listen to the Bat Yam lifeguards, or else!

I’m lying on a lounge chair.  It’s almost 6 in the evening.  In a few minutes, the lifeguards will be off-duty.  This is what I hear on the LOUD-SPEAKER, much the same as I did more than 30 years ago:

ALLO!  ALLO!  Yes, you there in the red swim trunks – what do you think you’re doing?!

Sunset at Bat Yam Beach

Sunset at Bat Yam Beach

DUDE, yes, you, you, you, with the red swim trunks – What? you want to drown?

How many times have you heard me calling that the sea is very dangerous today?!

You, you, kid, KID, KID, – where’s your father?  Your mother?  What, you want to die?  Get out of the water. Now!

Ladies and Gentlemen, we’re closing shop.  We’re pulling the black flags from the water in five minutes.  No one’s going to watch over you.

ALLO!  Yes, yes, you with that funny green hat.  Didn’t you hear me?

Enjoying my childhood beach in Bat Yam

Enjoying my childhood beach in Bat Yam

Get out of the water.  Yes, yes.  What? You’re going deeper in the water as I’m talking to you?  YOU!  Don’t go macho on me.  I want to go home.  We all want to go home.  Come out of the water now.  After 6, when I’m home, you can go in all you want for all I care.  You, you – get out.

Lady, lady with the one-piece bathing suit with the polka dots, yes, yes you:  You found a great time to give swimming lessons to your boy.  Didn’t you hear?  The sea is rough.  D-A-N-G-E-R-O-U-S.  What don’t understand, lady with the polka dots?

Last warning, I’m going home.  I wanna go home.


The lifeguard’s “singing” is music to my ears.  I fold my towel, admire the setting sun.  Nothing’s changed.

Bat Yam lifeguards rule.







“Price Tag” may prove costly for Israel

24 May

It’s long been said that extremists hijack the headlines.  Their message is raw, sexy, controversial.  Whatever they do and say is splashed in bold print in newspapers, on television, and online.  It’s true of fashion designers who shock us with vulgar clothes, with writers who punch us below the belt, with artists whose sole aim is to jolt rather than entertain.

Hate Slogans against Arabs

Hate Slogans against Arabs

Extremists in politics and religion are the most dangerous.  They might be few, they may not represent the majority, but their actions are deadly.  I’m talking about the right-winged men and women that live in the settlements of the West Bank (Judea and Samaria).  These men and women, typically orthodox Jews, get up in the dead of night, then cross into Arab villages.  Once there, they desecrate Moslem mosques, Arab homes and public buildings.   They spray-paint graffiti with the words: “PRICE TAG,” “DEATH TO ARABS,”  “ARABS ARE PIGS.”  The ‘price tag’ refers to taking revenge on Arabs’ terrorist acts against Jews.

It’s back to an eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth.

Burning an Arab's car

Burning an Arab’s car

Israel’s security forces is slow to react to these acts of violence.  This emboldens the Jewish settlers to venture even farther from their home and to widen their strikes.  Three month ago, Jewish men entered Gush Halab, a peaceful Arab village in Galilee, about an hour’s drive from my home.  At dawn, the settlers vandalized more than 50 cars, broke windows, punctured tires, sprayed messages of hate and escaped undetected.  Only this time the village security camera caught them in the act.  But since the men and women wore hoodies, they could not be identified.  And nothing became of it.

desecrated Christian tombstone

These extremists don’t tolerate anyone who’s not Jewish.  They hate Moslems and they hate Christians.  And they hate Jews who don’t think like them or support them.  They’ve gone as far as saying they’ll harm Israeli soldiers if they try to stop them.

Israel’s military is busy protecting its borders and people.  The police has its hands full with crime.  So, it seems, catching these Jewish terrorists is not a priority.  There’s fierce talk about it in the news.  Elite intelligence officers come on the show and condemn these acts.  They say they must catch these hoodlums before someone gets killed.  But little gets done.  I’m not saying that Israel’s security forces are looking the other way.  But it’s clear not enough manpower, resources, and urgency is spent on catching the attackers.

pope francis

Pope Francis

The attacks have crossed into the Green Line.  In other words, more and more assaults are committed in Israel proper: in Faradis, a Druze village near Haifa, an attack on a church in Beer-Sheba, cars smashed in Jaffa outside Tel-Aviv.

So far the Arabs are holding their fire.  They assembled protest marches through their villages.  They met with the Israeli media to show off the damage.  And their restraint.  They’re good at public relations.  It’s doubtful the Moslem elders and sheiks will be able to hold back the young for long.

I’m worried that if these men aren’t caught and brought to justice, and punished — the situation will escalate.

Pope Francis is due to arrive in Jerusalem tomorrow.  A lot will be on the agenda.  It is only 20 years ago that the Vatican recognized the State of Israel.  The Vatican has still to atone for the Christian atrocities upon Jews through the ages.  The Pope will want to continue to strengthen the bridge between Christianity and Judaism.  But I’m sure he will raise his concerns over attacks on churches in the Holy Land.

Jerusalem is welcoming the Pope.  Flags of peace are everywhere.  White doves will be released into the sky.

Extremists of any persuasion: Arabs, Jews, Christians, atheists  — they all belong in the extreme corner of jail.


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

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