Archive | January, 2015

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.