Build and they shall not come

16 May

Israel has a relatively attractive figure: tall with narrow hips; the midsection widens then tapers off at the feet.  Galilee occupies the north, the Negev Desert stretches in the south, and at the center of things – Tel Aviv.

Distance of towns from Tel Aviv as a measure of success

Distance of towns from Tel Aviv as a measure of success

For the past several years, the government through its ministry of transportation is attempting to decentralize the country.  Around Galilee where I live there’s highway and bridge construction that would make proud a nation ten times Israel’s size.  Mountains are being shoved aside, cranes, bulldozers carry giant boulders like toy things.  Trucks haul dirt by the millions of cubic yards.  Driving to teach in Upper Galilee I eat red dust for breakfast, and on my return, brown dust for lunch.

As much as these 21st century modern highway arteries pump blood into Galilee and Negev Desert, they have really one purpose in mind – to connect them, you guessed it, to Tel Aviv.  Everyone in the media and in government talks about the need to develop the outer fringes of the country at the expense of the center.  It’s just talk.  These new roads and bridges don’t keep thousands of young men and women from swarming to Tel Aviv and its suburbs.  Tens of kilometers of railway tracks being laid down have one purpose – bring the masses to Tel Aviv.

Tel Aviv

Tel Aviv

Israelis (and foreigners) moving to Tel Aviv are willing to put up with horrible traffic, congestion, apartments the size of shoe boxes, arrogant landlords who demand one year’s rent up front.  Why put up with such abuse?

Jobs.  Hipness.  Vibe.  Sea.  Opportunity.  These are some of the reasons.  Galilee is 60% Arab.  So I’m a minority of sorts in my own backyard.  The Negev, mostly desert, is vast and desolate.  The Israeli military will be moving many of its Tel Aviv installations to the Negev in the coming years.  While Tel Aviv gets more freed up land for sky scrapers, the Negev gets army barracks and training grounds.  Galilee gets domestic tourism and food-processing plants.

road construction in Galilee

road construction in Galilee

Tel Aviv gets it all, the rest of Israel gets scraps.  Jerusalem?  Yes, it’s the capital and the seat of government, and not much more unless you count 40% disgruntled Arabs in the East of the city, and pockets of ultra-orthodox Jews who still think they live in 19th century Europe.  What about the West Bank, aka Judea and Samaria?  The 400,000 Jewish settlers there don’t care much about Tel Aviv; they’re too busy surviving, praying, and fighting the Palestinian Arabs over land.  Why fight them there when you could come and fight good-old native Arabs in Galilee?

I step outside my Kfar Tavor home in Galilee and go for a walk in the beautiful trails and fields.  Almond, olive and grape vines surround me.  It’s pretty.  But ask anyone in Tel Aviv if they’d be willing to move here, and you’ll get a laugh.  Sure, it’s romantic, it’s reminiscent of the days the first Jewish immigrants returned to the Land of Israel, the air is cleaner (most days), and… that’s about it.  I keep walking down the trails.  In the very distance, I see the hillsides of Jordan.  If I were to get in the car, I’ll be in Lebanon in one hour.  Although Tel Aviv is less than 2 hours away (110 km), it’s a different country.

Bridge construction in Galilee

Bridge construction in Galilee

Tel Hai College is a cottage industry in Galilee, minutes from the Lebanese border.  Over 4000 students attend.  Most come from the center of the country, near Tel Aviv.  They want to get away from the big city, learn and enjoy country-style living.  Asked recently if they’d stay in Galilee after graduation and seek a job, make the place their home, only 10% said “yes.”

I get in the car and drive to Zefat in the north.  Hammers pound the roadside.  Concrete is being poured.  Men flatten black, steamy asphalt with rakes.  For whom, I wonder?  The radio’s on. Patriotic Israeli songs about the good old days (in Galilee) are heard.  I tap my fingertips on the steering wheel.  Dust hits the windshield.  Haze all around.


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

Ich bin ein Berliner – Maybe

18 Apr

Berlin is the second most-visited destination by Israelis.  So last week, my wife, twin daughters and I bolstered this statistic by spending almost a week in the German capital.  The decision to go wasn’t easy.  My father is a holocaust survivor.  Growing up, I heard his firsthand accounts of his captivity at Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.  Seventy years later, he has yet to set foot in Germany.  It’s a sore subject.  At 87, he’s done well for himself, married, raised a family, and has 7 grandchildren.

My daugthers inside the maze of the Holocaust Memorial - Berlin

My daugthers inside the maze of the Holocaust Memorial – Berlin

So what made me go against the grain and travel to Berlin, the underbelly of tyranny?  Could it be that time did its thing?  Could it be that Germany today is not the Germany of yesteryear?  I went to find out.

Cafe scene in Berlin

Cafe scene in Berlin

Berlin’s neither pretty nor romantic; it’s not Budapest; it’s not Paris.  There’s only a handful of neoclassical buildings.  Berlin “owes” its look of 1950s and 1960s square, unflattering residential blocks to the British and the Americans.  During WWII, the allies bombed and leveled 80% of the city.  So communist East Berlin and democratic West Berlin built itself out of the rubble and into present day.

We started out on a 3-hour walking tour of the city with an English guide who’s doing his PhD in German history.  The Berlin wall, the Holocaust Memorial, the Brandenburg Gate where Hitler delivered his speeches, are all mobbed by tourists.  Young students are everywhere. Cafes are full. Boutiques and storefronts are blocked by curious onlookers.  Double-decker sightseeing buses swallow and vomit tourists at regular intervals.  The city vibe is palpable.  People appear to be relaxed, smiles all around.  So I asked our guide to explain this unbound energy.  Not all is rosy, he explains.  Berlin is financially broke.  The German government pours billions to prop it up, to eventually make it worthy of the title “capital city.”  Berlin’s mayor was quoted as saying: “Berlin’s poor but sexy.”  The reunification of East and West Berlin was costly.  Many companies fled to Munich and Frankfurt.  Every year, there’s a negative migration of five to ten thousand.  But you wouldn’t know it by the revelers in the streets, in the malls, in the parks, on the bicycle paths.  “Poor” in German is relative.

Enjoying a spring day in Berlin

Enjoying a spring day in Berlin

The guide escorts our group to an open square.  It was the place of book-burning rallies before the War.  He then speaks of Germany’s economic miracle.  Germany’s the 4th largest economy in the world, and the strongest in Europe, the envy of all.  It reached this pinnacle because of one important reason ignored by the British, the French, the Hungarians, the Poles.  Germany is dealing with its past.  The Holocaust memorial is next door to the Bundestag, Germany’s parliament.  Hate-crimes are punished at the source.  Tolerance is key to any education program in school.  During last summer’s Soccer World Cup, the Germans won the title.  The were champions.  The national anthem was played in the streets, yet few knew the lyrics.  They’re uneasy with any sign of nationalism, content to raise a team flag or a jug of beer, instead.

I don’t buy this remarkable transformation, not all of it.  After the War, the German courts handed light sentences to Nazis.  In East Berlin it was different.  The communists rounded them up and sent them to gulags.  But still, I couldn’t help but notice that Israelis flock to Berlin by the thousands, to live, to study, to invest – and they are welcomed.

Berlin Street Art

Berlin Street Art

What a difference seventy years make.  I can’t adopt President Kennedy’s words of 1963 just yet. This week was Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day.  Dark memories still haunt us.  Man is capable of unspeakable atrocities.  One man, Willy Brandt, West Germany’s former chancellor, Berlin’s mayor, and Noble Peace Prize winner made a difference.  He fought tirelessly to bring Germany back into the family of nations, fought communism and brutality everywhere.  In 1988 he said: “My real success was having contributed to the fact that in the world in which we live, the name of our country [Germany] and the concept of peace can be mentioned in the same breath.”

It’s a good start.

Dad, I went to Berlin to see, to learn.  I wish you well.


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


Living in a Bubble

21 Mar

This week, Israel’s general elections were Dead on Arrival.  The autopsy wasn’t pretty; a gunshot wound to the head.  To the left, liberal head.  What started out as hope to replace the Netanyahu government, collapsed onto itself like a circus tent after all the animals had run out.

This is a time to admit that after almost four years since my return to Israel, I live in a bubble. What’s not to like about a bubble?  So long as it continues to inflate, so long as the world beyond it looks soapy, clean; so long as the bubble rises in the mild wind, leaving all else behind – I can continue to live in a make-believe world.

Life is like a box of chocolate. You never know what you're goona get

Life is like a box of chocolate. You never know what you’re goona get

The villages and the kibbutzim  around my home supported the opposition overwhelmingly.  The numbers were stacked in my favor, or so I thought.  The neighbors I talk to, the friends I associate with – we all sing from the same music sheet.  We wanted to replace the right-wing government.  I threw my support behind Itzhak Hertzog, leader of the Zionist Camp party. His pedigree is without question: His grandfather was a respected rabbi, his father was the president of Israel.  Hertzog had no skeletons in the closet.  During the campaign he spoke for me: negotiate with the Arabs, advocate a two-state solution, one Jewish, one Arab, in an attempt to end the conflict.  He promoted social programs and an accountable government.  A speech therapist coached him on how to drop his squeaky voice.  Political strategists helped him how to show more presence in front of the cameras.

The bubble continued to inflate.

My wife Pnina showing our daughter Romy the voting booth and the democratic process on election day

Until Netanyahu put a needle to it.  All came crashing the day after the elections when results were in.  Overnight, Netanyahu’s numbers improved markedly and Hertzog’s sank.

What went wrong?

In two words: 1. Demographics  2.  Hubris

In the U.S., for example, minorities will become the majority in 2040.  In just 25 years from now, the white man’s supremacy will be a thing of the past.  Hispanics, Asians, Blacks and other mixed races will outnumber whites.  It’s unlikely the Republicans in the U.S. will seize the White House unless they will learn how to include Jorge, Jun, and Jerome in their political platform.

In Israel’s demographics, the left will not win unless it learns to include, or at least understand the mindset of the Sephardi Jews (originally from Arab-speaking countries), the disenfranchised blue-collar sector far away from Tel Aviv’s glitz, the Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union, and the orthodox.  It’s a tall order.  And now, days after the defeat, it’s not likely the left will win anytime soon.  Unless things get a lot worse and the voting public will take a gamble on the alternative.  Unless the left will drop its arrogance (mine included).  At the ballot box, a minimum-wage factory worker from a hole-in-the-wall town is equal to a university dean in his/her ivory tower.  For the left to think that they know better is naive. Its leaders need to roll up their sleeves, reach out to these marginalized groups, reinvent themselves.

The left has to change its language.

My sketch of Netanyahu

My sketch of Netanyahu

It’s not to say Netanyahu has done anything to help these groups.  He hasn’t.  He’s just a better demagogue, borrowing tactics from Ronald Reagan.  Netanyahu is a great speaker; he doesn’t use dollar words like Hertzog when nickel words will do.  In Israel, he gets to the largest common denominator, scares the shit out of people regarding Iran and Isis, then retires to his Prime Minister home and sips French wine.  A true king.

See you in four years, Hertzog.  In the meantime, go to the gym, lift weights, roughen your voice, roughen your beard, charm the ladies, and kick ass.

Israelis like to be kicked around.  Even if they don’t know it.



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

Run Maya Run

28 Feb

Tha alarm clock goes off at 4 in the morning.  I climb up the stairs to my daughter’s bedroom.

Maya eats, laughs with her running buddy on board train

Maya eats, laughs with her running buddy on board train

Maya’s already up, still bundled in a bathrobe.  This morning, this sixteen year-old is all business. Her running gear is spread out neatly on the bed: the 2015 Tel Aviv Marathon jersey, running shoes, socks, tights, running bra, hair bands, her assigned official chest number, safety pins. Her twin sister Romy in the next room, who’d written for most of the night on her laptop, comes down to offer support. Pnina makes sandwiches, I fill water bottles.

Minutes later, we all pile into the car to Binyamina, a train depot an hour away.  We meet up with Maya’s running buddy, Rotem.  Dozens of runners of all ages and sizes are on the platform awaiting the train.  There’s a buzz in the air despite the early hour.  In anticipation of Purim, some of the men runners flaunt red Superman capes; women swirl in ballerina tutus.  The train conductors help people onto the approaching train.  Thirty minutes later, we’re disgorged into a mass of runners in Tel Aviv.  And from there, we’re swept up by the crowds leading to the fairgrounds.  Roads are sealed off.  Security is at full force.  In the meantime, Maya continues to load up on carbohydrates, empties a water bottle, chews on fresh dates.

Maya gets ready

Maya gets ready

It’s almost time.  Pnina, Romy and I stand on a bridge overlooking the start-line.  Thousands of runners are antsy to get on with it.  Maya’s one of them.  For months she’s been training like a pro; she’s been watching what she eats.  For months she ran at night around our village; she trained on stationary bikes at the gym.  For months she came in through the house door, checked her vitals on her phone app, promised she’d do better next time.

If you think you know what you’re capable of, you don’t.  Five years ago, in 2010, Maya dreaded going to Track & Field meets in Los Angeles.  She struggled with the 100 and 200 meter dash. But there was someone who believed in her: Diana Nyad.  Diana is the first woman ever to swim from Cuba to Florida.  At the Los Angeles running track she offered words of encouragement to Maya and to those that fell short, always there to push them to do their best — with kindness wrapped with purpose.

2015 Tel Aviv Marathon Start Line

2015 Tel Aviv Marathon Start Line

We all need a pick up now and then.

Maya after the race

Maya after the race

So it’s no small wonder that Maya who was born prematurely at 3 1/2 pounds, who wheezed and coughed as a toddler, could raise her game and set out what she wanted to do.

Two hours and twenty minutes later, Maya completed the half-marathon – 21 kilometers.  We met her at the finish line.  She breezed through streets of Tel Aviv, and came back happy, joyous, giddy.

Romy hugged her sister.  She’s no marathoner.  But don’t ask her to arm-wrestle you.  She’ll press your arm down before you knew what hit you.

On the way back, we dined at a sushi and noodles restaurant to stock up on lost calories.

At home, in bed, I stocked up on memories for years to come.

Way to go, kid.


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





Your Land is my Land

14 Feb

Imagine yourself waking up one morning and finding yourself in a different country.  You don’t remember packing, you don’t recall crossing a border, and yet, outside, there’s a “foreign” flag rippling in the wind.  You recognize the flag, but it’s not your own.

Avigdor Liberman

Avigdor Liberman

This so-called dream might become a reality for thousands of Israeli-Arabs after the Israeli upcoming general elections only a month away.  I’m speaking of Avigdor Liberman’s initiative, Israel’s foreign minister until not long ago, and his political party “Israel, Our Home.”  His plan is simple and straightforward: Transfer Israeli-Arabs to a future Palestine.  This would solve the Arab problem, create a more homogeneous Jewish state.  He’s speaking of residents who live exclusively in Arab villages, in Israel, along the “stitch-line” of the Israel/West Bank border and some villages further north, on the road leading to Galilee, a place I call home.

Liberman, a staunch right-wing politician, was born in Moldova, one of the Soviet Union’s former republics.  At age 20 he immigrated to Israel.  In time, he joined Netanyahu and moved up the ranks.  Russian Jews, who are generally right-wing and against making concessions to Arabs, further helped Liberman climb the political ladder.

Liberman's Elections Campaign: Swap Arab city Um El Fahem for Jewish Settlement Ariel

Liberman’s Elections Campaign: Swap Arab city Um El Fahem for Jewish Settlement Ariel

Why does Liberman bring up this land-swap idea now?

His party has been recently rocked by scandal.  Officials in his party are under investigation, accused of siphoning money, controlling and awarding contracts, receiving bribes.  Although he’s not personally accused, he’s suffered a black eye.  The fallout is evident.  Would-be voters and supporters are abandoning ship. According to latest polls, his current 14 seats in Israel’s parliament, will be reduced to 6 on election day.

So, in pure Putin-fashion, Liberman is getting on his horse and is trotting all over the Israeli map to sell his idea. His campaign to transfer Arabs appears in newspapers and highway billboards. There’s one such billboard at the entrance to my home village in Kfar Tavor.  It reads:

Um El Fahem to Palestine

Ariel to Israel

Bottom Line: Liberman -“Israel, Our Home.”

The message speaks to the conservative base.  At first glance, the message is appealing, even intoxicating.  What’s not to like?  Throw them out.  All of them.  The city Um El Fahem is a buzz-word for Arab trouble-makers, and for good reason.  In the 2000 Arab Intifada, Arab residents blocked Wadi Ara, the highway that goes though their city, essentially cutting off Israel in two.  The burning tires and stone-throwing are long gone, but their bad-ass image remains to this day.  So, it’s no wonder, Liberman wants to get rid of all 50,000 Arabs in the city, send them to Palestine, where they belong.

Jewish city Ariel

Jewish city Ariel

But do they belong in Palestine?

Under the law, they’re Israeli citizens.  Their forefathers had lived on this land long before Israel was established.  In Liberman’s view, Um El Fahem is nothing more than a bargaining chip, to be exchanged for Ariel.

Is that a fair or even exchange?

Ariel is a Jewish settlement in the West Bank, also known as biblical Judea and Samaria.  Any way you call Ariel, it did not exist, at least not in its present form until 1978.  Ariel, now numbering 20,000 Jews, sits in occupied territory.  The town offers enviable municipal services, parks, schools, and even a university.

Arab city Um El Fahem

Arab city Um El Fahem

Liberman wants to eat the blintzes and have them too; he wants both to transfer the Arabs from Israel and keep Jews in occupied territory.  The rules of his games are odd.  He doesn’t ask the Arabs if they want to play; they’re moved off the board game.  He’s decided Jewish Ariel will be included in a Greater Israel.  What if Ariel were to be a Jewish outpost inside Palestine?  Would it not be sinilar to a West Berlin behind Israel’s own wall?  Sensing that his block of seats in parliament will further strengthen a conservative government, he’d already let be known that he will no longer seek the foreign minister position.  Instead, he wants to be minister of defense.

If that were to happen, could the land-swap proposal go beyond elections rhetoric, and really happen?  Smelling something’s in the air, the four or five Israeli-Arab parties, who were always splintered and stepping over each other’s toes, decided to put their differences aside.  They’re going into the elections as one block.  Analysts predict their united party might be the 3rd largest in parliament.  No Jewish party, Left or Right, would do business with them, but that’s beside the point.

Map of Israel showing Ariel and Um El Fahem, the proposed land-swap by Liberman's party


I don’t like Wadi Ara.  The road leading to the coast goes through the Wadi.  The road is narrow, the traffic lights are slow, the Arab truck drivers zigzag all over the place; it’s a hazard.  But I don’t see myself getting off the road and throwing the first Arab I see over the border.  They, too, when asked, don’t want to leave.  More than 85% want to stay in Israel.  Can you blame them?  They do well financially.  Originally, they used to peddle coal (Fahem, in Arabic) from the forests on the hilltops.  Today, they haul heavy-duty loads on semi-trailers, they work in road construction, manufacturing, auto industry.  They’re not stupid.  They see the turmoil in the West Bank, in Gaza, in Jordan, in Syria.  They’re Israeli and they want to remain Israeli.

They don’t like us, and I don’t love them much, either.  Tough.

Liberman is playing with fire.  The game can be played two-ways. In Galilee, Arabs are the majority.  As a Jew, I’m a minority in Galilee.  Who’s to stop Arabs in Galilee from wanting to establish their own “nation” here.  As is it, the Jewish-Israeli authorities, police, social workers, and such hardly set foot in Arab villages.  Arabs run their own show.  Worse yet, Arabs in mixed cities (Jews and Arabs) such as Haifa, Jaffa, Acco, Lod, Ramla, Nazareth – they may claim their own “autonomy.”  Before long, Israel will turn into Swiss cantons.  Only instead of dipping their bread into fondue, Jews and Arabs should first smell the hummus.

This is a centuries-old conflict.  It cannot be solved unilaterally.  Liberman’s idea is sexy and populist.  But it’s a non-starter, a dead-end, a dangerous political game.  No one’s going anywhere. Jews and Arabs are here for the long haul.

Deal with it, Liberman.


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 Live in Israel?

31 Jan

Several days ago an Israeli military helicopter fired missiles onto Syrian territory.  Six Hezbollah militants and an Iranian accomplice were killed.  Within hours of the strike, North Galilee and the Golan Heights were on lockdown.  The area near the border was off-limits in anticipation of a Hezbollah attack.  It didn’t take long.  Earlier this week, Hezbollah fired anti-tank missiles into Galilee.  Two Israeli soldiers on patrol near the border were killed instantly.

Hezbollah leader killed by Israel

Hezbollah leader killed by Israel

The score?

Israel 1 – Hezbollah 1

Hezbollah retaliates - kills 2 Israeli soldiers

Hezbollah retaliates – kills 2 Israeli soldiers

Back to business as usual.  The Israeli army spokesman called for Israelis to return to “normal life.” The next day, schools re-opened, the ski summit at Mount Hermon was re-opened for business. Yet, tourists and vacationers, aware of the ongoing risk, chose to stay home.  Hotel cancellations were near 100%.  The snow pack on Mount Hermon was without skiers.  Except one family.

French Jews arriving in Israel

French Jews arriving in Israel

The television reporter caught up with the woman and her young children.  Immediately he noticed her accent.  “Where are you from?”

The woman behind sunglasses and a winter scarf said: “We’re originally from France.  We came to Israel three years ago.”  After being probed by the reporter, she continues: “You see what’s happening to Jews in France, no?  I’m here for three years.  I came to Hermon to show support.  In Israel, we have an army to protect us.  In France, we don’t.”  She’s speaking for other French Jews in France who are expected to come to Israel in greater numbers this year.

Sudanese Refugees seeking home in Israel

Sudanese Refugees seeking home in Israel

But what about non-Jews.  Why do they want to live here?  A Sudanese refugee was recently interviewed.  He’s one of 50,000 Africans who regard South Tel Aviv as their home.  The African man shows the reporter his scortched hands.  He trekked through Sudan, and Egypt. Then he crossed into the Sinai desert.  There he and others were captured by Bedouin bandits.  His only chance at freedom was if his family back home paid the ransom.  During his captivity, they tortured him, burned the paws of his hands.  He escaped, was picked up by soldiers on the Israeli side of the border and was put on a bus.  Days later, he walked aimlessly the streets of South Tel Aviv, eventually taken in by a homeless shelter.  In time, he recovered.  He now lives in Israel.  “Will you go home?” he’s asked. His reply:  “Israel is my home.”

Filipina Caregiver wins Israel's X-Factor Music Competition

Filipina Caregiver wins Israel’s X-Factor Music Competition

The Israeli elderly are looked after by caregivers from the Philippines.  The word got out that the pay in Israel is about $1200/month.  In the Philippines, young, unskilled men and women earn $100/month.  It’s no wonder that Filipinos and Filipinas are coming to Israel by the thousands.  Here, they have their own food markets, online presence, local newspaper, and even the annual Ms. Filipina Beauty Pageant.  Employment contractors in Manilla and in Israel exploit this labor market.  They charge them $8000 for the privilege of working in Israel, all paid in advance, in cash.  Once in Israel, it takes them years to repay their debt.  They visit their children back home once every two or three years, and keep in touch by Skype.  They endure long hours, take their old clients to the clinic, push their wheelchairs to the park; they learn Hebrew; they watch Israeli forces and terrorist groups clash on TV; they dig their chopsticks into their rice.  They continue to live in Israel until their clients no longer live.

What’s the fascination with this war-torn narrow strip of Land of Israel that attracts from the world over?

My two adult daughters remained in America.  My wife and younger twin daughters returned to Israel 3 1/2 years ago after having lived in California for over 30 years.  Is it really the Promised Land?

I doubt it.  Look up any “Best Places to Live” surveys and Israel is nowhere on the list.  War looms ever more frequently.  Corruption is rampant.  Politicians are guilty of taking bribes, police chiefs are accused of rape.  Arabs and Jews are at each other’s throats.  The cost-of-living has gone mad.  Etiquette, manners, empathy, respect are out the window.  Cynicism is at an all-time high.

So why am I here, still?  Why am I living in Galilee Hills and not returning to Hollywood Hills?

I wish the answer were than simple.  Call it habit, call it unwilling to pack up all over again, call it watching my daughters becoming “happy” Israelis despite their complaints, call it caring about what happens to this country despite feeling powerless, call it feeling the pulse of life here, call it seeing it all from the inside, call it what many Sudanese, Russian, French, Filipinos are feeling – it’s home.

For now.


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






Guns N’ Roses (and Pencils)

10 Jan

At what price freedom?  Is the sword mightier than the pen?

This week 10 journalists and cartoonists at a French satirical magazine were gunned downed by Islamist terrorists.  A second terror attack at a Paris Jewish market left more dead.  People around the world are rallying in solidarity with the victims and their families.  Soon, the all-too-familiar sight of lighting candles and laying roses on fresh graves will be with us.

France's September 11

France’s September 11

Could it be that we’re weak and afraid to speak out?  We’d rather have cartoonists and controversial writers do the fighting (and the thinking) for us.  We cheer them on from the sidelines.  We hide behind our national flag.  When attacked, we show our disgust, we support our president, primed minister, and the armed forces.

Soldiers, police, we plead.  Restore our calm.  Go out there and kick butt.

The rift between the West and Islam cannot be over exaggerated. We don’t understand Islam. Islam hates the West.  Let’s face it, assemble ten terrorists in a room, nine will be Muslim.

Could it be that Muslims don’t have a sense of humor?

In Galilee, I come across Muslims daily.  I see them where I teach English in college, and I see them as a student at Haifa University. Muslims laugh, just like the rest of us.  But they don’t laugh at Muhammad.terror

And here lies the difference.  In the West, we make fun of anyone alive, maybe risk being sued.  In the West, we can ridicule the dead (Elvis, Nixon) with impunity. Why? Because they’re dead.  They can’t come after us.

Christians make fun of Jesus, Jews make fun of Moses and get to see the light of day. But not in Islam.  Muhammad lives forever.  They don’t get the joke.

Satirists the world over are very clever.  They poke fun at government, at the Establishment. They make us think.  They hope to bring change with pens and pencils.  They criticize the government, and yet, when these French cartoonists and satirists were threatened months before, it was the government and police that stepped in to protect them.  It’s democracy and liberty at its best.

So, what’s next?  Lock up 6 million Muslims in France?  Put up barricades, fences, and armored cars around their neighborhoods?

I think not.

Yes, the majority of terrorists are Muslim.  But Europe had its own crop of terrorists who were not Muslim:  The German Baader Meinhof, the Italian Red Brigades.  They too killed and bombed. Most Muslims in France and the rest of Europe want to go about their lives, earn a decent paycheck, send their kids to school.  But they can’t shake off the stigma and the label that haunts them: Muslim = terrorist.

What are they to do?

First, they should walk out into the streets, by the thousands, by the millions and declare:

“We are French.  We are with France.”

Anything less is cowardly.  To keep silent in their homes is equal to being partners in crime.  They should demand of their mosque leaders to quit fanning the flames of hatred.  Now, the proof is in the doing, not talking.

France should do its share, too.  France can borrow a page from America’s imperfect past regarding blacks.  America in its violent past did finally relent, it did include blacks in public restrooms, in restaurants, in schools, in churches, in jobs, in government.french bread

France, it’s your turn.  Bring Muslims into the fold. Make Muslims feel proud to be French.  In time, ten, twenty, fifty years from now, France could look back on this bloody week and say it was a turning point in its history.

In a brighter future, Muslim men will be seen wearing a French beret.  Muslim women will model French perfume. They will ride their bicycles not with a Kalashnikov, but with a French baguette in hand.

Now, that would be funny.




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