Archive | September, 2013

Blood Stronger than Friendship

29 Sep

I’m at the Sacramento Hyatt as part of my recent trip to the U.S. to visit my oldest daughters, Michelle and Vanessa.  It’s morning.  Outside my hotel room there’s a complimentary copy of the Sacramento Bee.  I bring the newspaper to bed, skim over the headlines.  I stop on page 2.  “Israeli soldier abducted, killed by Palestinian.”  But what draws me most into this horrific story is the mention of my childhood’s hometown – Bat-Yam, a coastal city south of Tel Aviv.

Slain Israeli Soldier - Tomer Hazan

Slain Israeli Soldier – Tomer Hazan

Tomer Hazan, age 20, a Bat-Yam native, was an Israeli sergeant in the airforce.  The military allowed him to work off-base.  He supplemented his income by working at a popular Bat-Yam restaurant.  There he befriended Nidal Amar, a 42 year-old Arab from the West Bank who’d worked illegally in the restaurant for years.  The chain of events are not yet clear, but the Arab was able to convince Tomer to cross into the Palestinian Territory, near the town of Qalqiliya.  The Arab strangled Tomer and dumped him in a well.  Once the military had learned of Tomer’s vanishing, a massive manhunt was conducted, and finally, his body was found.  The Arab was arrested.

The motive for the killing?

The Arab’s brother is jailed in Israel for terrorist acts.  Amar wanted to negotiate his brother’s release in exchange for Tomer’s dead body.  In the end, blood ties and tribal obligations were stronger than friendship.

Who can you trust?


I fold away the newspaper, get out of bed, and an hour later I meet up with my daughters.  I make no mention of the killing.

Protesters outside restaurant

Protesters outside restaurant

Three months earlier, Michelle and her husband Jonathan, and my daughter Vanessa came to visit me in Israel.  I showed them around Galilee, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and ultimately we spent time strolling Bat-Yam’s seashore, kicking our toes in the water.

On their last night before returning to California, we dined at Tzachi Grill and Hummus Bar in Bat-Yam.  We feasted on shawarma, smooth-tasting hummus, falafel balls, salads.

Little did we know then that Tomer and Amar, his Arab “friend,” were working in that SAME restaurant.  Little did we know that three months later tragedy will strike this community.

How was Amar able to mask his “friendship” for so long?

How and why did the owner of Tzachi Grill employ an illegal Arab from the West Bank?

"Blood on your hands" the protesters chant, angry at the restaurant owner

“Blood on your hands” the protesters chant, angry at the restaurant owner

How did the Arab lure the unsuspecting soldier to enter “forbidden territory?”

The people of Bat-Yam are mad.  They wish to boycott the restaurant.  They accuse the owner of wanting to save a few shekels by employing an illegal. To his defense, the owner said Amar showed no signs of being a “Jew Hater.”

Tensions are running high.

The Israeli military routinely warns its personnel not to trust Arabs, not to get into vehicles with unknown drivers, and yet – it happened.

My nephew, Daniel, is devastated.  He’d known Tomer for years, shared beers and Karaoke songs with him.  Now the restaurant is closed pending an investigation by the secret service.  All in the hope of preventing the next tragedy.  

In Sacramento I join my daughters and we settle for Mexican food at Chipotle.  The cook behind the grill is not killing his co-worker. No one’s kidnapping anyone.

Do they know how lucky they are?


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

Live to age 100 in Galilee

15 Sep

If the promising title prompted you to open the blog and read, you’re not alone.  Most people wish to live longer.  Just a couple of hundred years ago, newborns were lucky to survive childbirth; they were lucky to make it to age 40 or 50. WHO (World Health Organization) ranks 200 nations around the world for life expectancy.  Americans are ranked 36 in the world, average lifespan is 78.

Israel, among other Mediterranean countries, is ranked in  the top 10.  Average lifespan is 82.

Conclusion?  Americans should move to Israel and collect 4 more years of social security.

Dan Buettner

Dan Buettner

Dan Buettner, an explorer and writer, wrote an amusing article last year in the New York Times titled “The Island Where People Forget to Die.”  He’s best known for identifying and describing the “Blue Zones,” distinct areas in the world where life expectancy surpasses 100.

One such place is the Greek island of Ikaria, some 30 miles off the coast of Turkey.

Greek Island of Ikaria in the Mediterranean

Greek Island of Ikaria in the Mediterranean

As a researcher, he wanted to find out why these villagers live longer. Running on the treadmill and doing push-ups does not help.  But keeping busy does.  Go mend a fence, clear stones from your vegetable garden, pick fruit off trees, knead dough, tend to sheep (or grandchildren), climb hills – all these will add years to your life and life to your years.

According to the centenarians in Ikaria, a glass or two of wine will help too.  So will an afternoon nap.  So will organically grown vegetables, herbs, legumes.  A lively discussion or talk among friends and family late into the night will help.  And so will a good roll-in-the-hay with a lover.

Ikaria Village

Ikaria Village

Living in Israel, I thought of swimming to Ikaria – it’s 600 miles in a straight line. I figured if Dan Buettner had biked 15,000 miles from Alaska to Argentina (world-record holder), the least I could do is jump into Mediterranean and take a look at wrinkly old faces in Ikaria.

But then I realized, I could look at wrinkly old people outside my front door in Galilee.

That saved me plenty on airfare, boat fare, swim trunks and goggles…

Galilee is rural; it’s full of almond orchards, olive groves, figs, vineyards.  But at the end of the day, these crops will be produced industrially like many Western countries.  People here might take up gardening, plant tomatoes, eggplants, mint, herbs, basil, soak up better olive oil, but they get most (processed) food at the supermarket.  Therefore, the food eaten here is not the reason why people in Galilee reach into their 80s and 90s.  Working hard on the farm is not it, either.  The farmers rely on hired help (Vietnamese, Thai) to pick almonds off the trees, and the Arabs to pick tomatoes and greens in the fields.

And as for the people of Galilee having a great time in bed when the lights are out – I don’t know – I was thrown out of a couple of bedrooms trying to find out.

Which leads to the one key ingredient why Galilee people live longer.  They talk.  Boy, do they talk.

Which is wonderful!

People here do wash their laundry in public.  Tide detergent sells by the truckload in Galilee.  Everyone knows everyone in Kfar Tavor, my village, at least the old timers. They know who had back surgery, who built an addition for the in-laws, who married three times, why olive oil will cost more this season, why the incumbent mayor will win again in the local elections, whose turn it is to host Passover dinner this year (they all virtual Rolodexes in their heads), who sold his house and for how much, who made money, who lost money, who lost a kidney, which pill is best for fighting cholesterol, which salad dressing is low-calorie, how to cool the house, how to save on water, how to fight the Syrians, how to (not) negotiate with the Arabs, and what to whisper in Obama’s big ears.

And that’s only on Tuesday.

So people in Galilee are tightly knit (and tight), and they give and receive advice; they kiss, hug, love, cry together.  A sense of community and common purpose all add to a feeling of belonging.  And this, according to Buettner, adds years.

So check with me in a few years.  We might climb from number 10 to number 1.

But don’t come to Galilee all at once.  

I can spare only one extra bedroom.


If you could choose a number, to which age would you like to live?



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