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.
Israel 1 – Hezbollah 1
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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
or at BN.com