Archive | June, 2013

School’s out for summer!

21 Jun

The more things change, the more they stay the same.  Yet, for my twin daughters, Maya and Romy, 14, things did change this year.  They’re done with middle school at Kadoorie, an agricultural and boarding school in Galilee.  The large campus, horse stables, milking cow shed, fields — they all stretch below Mount Tavor.  Last week the renowned school celebrated its 80th anniversary.  Among the graduating class of 1940: the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin; in 1937: Yigal Allon, the late Foreign Minister.

Yitzhak Rabin graduated from Kadoorie School in 1940

Yitzhak Rabin graduated from Kadoorie School in 1940

With such a pedigree of alumni, I thought it fitting to ask my daughters of their impressions of the school, a summer away from becoming freshmen at Kadoorie.

Me:  “This is your second year in Israel.  How would you say Kadoorie is different from your school in Los Angeles?”

Romy: “In L.A., we had 200 kids in the entire school.”

Maya: “At Kadoorie we have 2000.”

Romy: “The kids come from all over.”

Me: “You mean from the different villages?”

Romy: “I mean the kids are bused from ALL over: villages, small towns, some Arabs, Circassians.”

Yigal Allon graduated from Kadoorie School in 1937

Yigal Allon graduated from Kadoorie School in 1937

Maya: “And kids from Ukraine, Belarus, Russia.  They come from these countries without their parents.”

Romy: “And refugee kids who’d escaped from Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia.  They live at the boarding school.”

Me: “Do you know that some of Israel’s most famous leaders attended and graduated from your school?”

Maya: “They talk about it at school all the time.  But no one listens or cares.”

Me: “Why?”

Romy: “Because no ones listens to ANYTHING being said at school.”

Maya: “You can’t imagine how loud the kids are.  They’re out-of-control.  Wild.  Crazy.”

Romy: “The teachers can’t control the kids.  The kids don’t respect authority.”

Kadoorie school

Kadoorie school

Maya: “A kid will talk back to the teacher.  The teacher warns the kid.  The kid doesn’t care.  The teacher writes his name on the board.  The kid acts out.  The teacher warns the kid.  The kid get up from his seat, cusses the teacher, walks out of class, slams the door.”

Romy: “Half the kids are on Ritalin.”

Me: “How do you know?”

Maya: “It’s easy to spot them, the ADHD kids; they’re like zombies, their heads are on the table.”

Romy: “Sometimes they forget to take their medicine in the morning.  That’s when they go wild in class.”

Kadoorie school grounds

Kadoorie school grounds

Me: “What does a typical period looks like?”

Romy: “Okay, this is _____”

Maya: “Let me tell you.  The period is 45 minutes long.  First off, the teacher is late arriving in class.  By that time, the kids are on their phones, calling, texting, screaming, jumping.  It takes 10 to 15 minutes to settle the class.”

Romy: “Then we might learn something for 20 minutes.”

Maya:” Most kids put away their books 10 minutes before the bell rings.”

Me: “What kind of bell or buzzer is it?”

Romy: “It’s not a bell.  It’s a song.  The school plays a Hebrew song on the PA system.  They change the song every week.”

View of Mount Tavor from Kadoorie School

View of Mount Tavor from Kadoorie School

Me: “Do you guys smoke?”

Maya and Romy: “No! But several kids in our class smoke.  They smoke near the school bus depot, on the grass.”

Me: “And the teachers don’t care?”

Maya and Romy: “They smoke too!”

Me: “What about school tests.  Do you cheat?”

Romy: Dad!!!

Maya: “Kids take screen shots of WikiPedia articles with their cell phones before the test or write stuff on the desks.”

Me: “And the teacher lets them?”

Maya and Romy: “Kids don’t care.”

Me: “What do kids bring for snack?”

Kadoorie -- last day of the school year

Kadoorie — last day of the school year

Maya: “Nutella spread on white pita bread.”

Romy: “The kiosk sells disgusting hot dogs.  The fries are pretty good.  Everyone buys soda and candy.”

Me: “Do kids do their homework?”

Maya: “If they do, most teachers don’t bother to check.”

Me: “What’s your favorite subject?

Maya: “History.”

Romy: “geography.”

Me: “What’s you least favorite subject?”

Maya and Romy: “Bible!!”

Me: “Why?”

Maya and Romy: “Because the teacher herself is on Retalin!  She gets God, Moses, Yehoshua, everyone, mixed up.”

Me: “There’s a school uniform T-shirt, but I noticed they don’t all wear it.”

Maya: “They do.  But some of the girls cut the neckline lower so they can show more….  And some roll up their shirts to expose their belly button.  And often they’re pierced.”

Me: “And the boys?”

Romy: “They all wear flip-flops and shout all day.”

Maya and Romy selling their old textbooks at Kadoorie book fair

Maya and Romy selling their old textbooks at Kadoorie book fair

Me: “No, I mean do you find some of them cute?”

Maya: “The ones that are smart or mature are not cute.  The the ones that are cute are not smart or mature.”

Me: “Shouldn’t you cut them some slack?  You’re not perfect.”

Maya and Romy: “We’re not perfect.  We just hope they’ll mature next year.”

Me: “Did you make friends?”

Maya and Romy: “We each have a best friend.”

Me: “So how would you best describe Kadoorie school?”

Maya: “A playground with teachers.”

Me: Did you know Yizhak Rabin and Yigal Allon went to your school?”

Maya and Romy: “Dad!!!!

END OF INTERVIEW

Do you remember your LAST summer before starting high school?

Let me remind you:

Here are some lyrics from Alice Copper’s “School’s Out for Summer:”

Romy and Maya -- Is it summer vacation or what???

Romy and Maya — Is it summer vacation or what???

“We Got No Class

And We Got No Principals

And We Got No Innocence

We Can’t Think of a Word That Rhymes

School’s Out for Summer

To play, click on link below….

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WDqNHl9ACQs

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

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

Gatekeepers – the film, the conclusions

1 Jun

It’s an April morning.  There’s a buzz in the air.  And it’s not coming from the hearing aids of the mostly elderly crowd seated inside Kibbutz Ein Harod auditorium.  I’m seated with my wife in the front rows near the stage.  It’s a packed house; some are seated on folded chairs against the walls.  It’s the first of two screenings of the documentary film, “The Gatekeepers,” nominated for an Oscar in 2012.  After a short introduction by the MC, the director of the film, Dror Moreh, gets on stage.  He’s brief, matter-of-fact, throws an occasional smile.  He says,” This is not your typical film.  It’s hard to watch.  I ask that you hold judgment until after the screening, in the Q &A.”  He vacates the stage.  The lights go out.

Gatekeepers film poster

Gatekeepers film poster

Action.

If you’ve ever been submerged underwater and felt like your lungs might explode, then you’ll come close to the feeling you’ll get when you watch “Gatekeepers.”  And there’s little chance for coming up for air during this 100-minute film, which seems like you’ve spent a decade inside a watery diving bell.

For those of you readers at the edge of your seat, who’re thinking: “YES,  BUT WHAT IS THIS MOVIE ABOUT???” then I’ll tell you.  It’s a story about six of Israel’s former chiefs of Secret Service, the Shin Bet.  They tell their story on camera.  They tell how they gathered intelligence behind enemy lines, how they recruited and paid off Arab informants to snitch on their brethren, how they intercepted and foiled scores of terrorist attacks.  They speak without embellishment, without drama.  Their ages range from 50 to 84, yet it seems their hardened faces were chiseled from the same rock.

The film mixes interviews with animated video, archival footage.  In one instance they speak of a decision to take out a terrorist in Gaza.

Targeted Airstrike

Targeted Airstrike

A pilotless aircraft takes silently to the sky.  Information on the terrorist’s whereabouts is gathered.  It’s checked and double checked.  It’s nighttime.  A bird’s-eye view shows a moving car in a shabby neighborhood.  The crosshairs of the target hover over the car.  An order is given.  A missile is launched.  Poof!  A white puff erupts from the car below.  It’s eerily quiet, surgically clean.  The score?  Israel: 1  Terrorists: 0

There’s also a retelling of the Hamas terrorist Yahya Ayyash, known as the ‘Engineer,” who’d long eluded the Shin Bet.  Finally, in 1996, an insider hands the unsuspecting terrorist an explosives-packed cell-phone.  Ayyash puts the phone to his ear and answers the call.

Let’s just say he didn’t live to get the phone bill.

Israel's six former Secret Service men and the film director, Dror Moreh, top, second from left

Israel’s six former Secret Service men and the film director, Dror Moreh, top, second from left

The six men take turns in telling of their “day in the office.”  They describe their operations in an even tone, as if they’re telling you how to assemble an IKEA bookshelf.  Their term in office ranged from 2 years to 6, collectively from 1980 to 2011 — some thirty years of assassinations, of bomb-planting, of finding and paying off informants.  

The mission: protect Israel.

As if the Shin Bet wasn’t busy enough, it now had to turn its attention inward, to right-winged Jewish extremists who terrorize Arabs.  Luckily, the extremists’ plan to blow up the Moslem Mosque, Dome of the Rock, in Jerusalem, was foiled last-minute.  Yet the Secret Service men admit they failed miserably to stop Yigal Amir, a Jewish extremist, from killing Prime Minister Itzhak Rabin, in 1995.

Then, when you least expect it, while you try to suck in a lungful of air,  the six men drop another type of “bomb.”  They have second thoughts, doubts; they question the logic behind the whole thing.  The men avoid dealing in politics; they agree that they made Mission Impossible — Possible, that they granted Israel with what it wanted most: security.  They’ve done a masterful job.  But for how long?  Their cold assessment is unanimous: There’s no military solution to the conflict.  Only diplomacy, negotiations will win the day.

The screen goes dark.  

Lights on.

The audience is stunned, claps mechanically.  I watch the director Dror Moreh climb the stage.  The Q & A begins.  It’s not a hostile crowd.  On the contrary, he’s convincing the convinced, singing to the choir.  In Ein Harod, mere miles from Jordan and from the West Bank, the kibbutniks from far and wide have come to weigh in their opinions, but mostly to agree with the film’s premise.

Ami Ayalon, the first of six Secret Service heads that agrees to speak on camera

Ami Ayalon, the first of six Secret Service heads that agrees to speak on camera

My wife Pnina asks Dror, “You must have filmed much more than the film’s 100 minutes.  Did you bend the material to fit your message?”

“No,” he replies.  “There was plenty of film that was left on the cutting room floor.  What you see is the essence of the story.  Six more hours will be shown on the government-run Channel 1 this coming June.”

Next question: “How did you come up with the idea for the film?”

Dror says he completed “Sharon,” a documentary about Israel’s former prime minister, Ariel Sharon, before he suffered a coma.  It was then that he learned plenty about Israel’s Secret Service .

“How did you convince these secret men to open up?” comes from the back row.

The director smiles.  He says he convinced one of the Shin Bet’s former heads, who, in turn, convinced his “buddies” to cooperate.

Time’s up.  The audience shuffles out, still shaken by the images and sounds of the film.  The crowd for the second showing filters through the doors.

We get in the car and drive off.

Will violence ever cease?  Here’s the population scorecard in the West Bank, aka occupied territory, aka Judea and Samaria: Jews – 325,000.  Arabs 2,500,000 – a ratio of 8 to 1.  For how long will Israel be able to put its finger in the wall, to plug up the hole, to keep the floodwaters from rolling in?  If a dimplomatic solution is ever reached and most of the Jewish settlers are ordered to leave, will they?

Unlikely.

Why?  Because according to Amos Harel, a military commentator and journalist for Haaretz left-wing paper, Israel’s population has shifted its ideology to the right.  In a Sept. 2012 story in the New Yorker, by David Remnick, Amos is quoted:

“And the military itself is becoming more and more heavily populated by religious Zionists—soldiers and officers who would be, at best, reluctant to follow orders to dismantle Yitzhar or Givat Ze’ev or Beitar Illit. In 1990, only two per cent of the infantry’s officer training corps was religious; now the figure is forty-two per cent. “People here fail to understand this profound change…They still think of an army of kibbutzniks, the way it used to be.”

I roll down the car window, slow down, take in the Galilee sunshine.  In 1967, a solution was easier, in 1973 it became harder, in 2002, harder still, in 2013 almost impossible.

Are we just kicking the can to future generations?

Will no one listen to the Gatekeepers?

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

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