Archive | August, 2014

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.

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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 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 Amazon.com

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=mauricelabi

or at BN.com

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/maurice-labi?store=allproducts&keyword=maurice+labi

 

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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?

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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 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 Amazon.com

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=maurice+labi&rh=n%3A283155%2Ck%3Amaurice+labi

or at BN.com

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/maurice-labi?store=allproducts&keyword=maurice+labi