Peacefulness amidst Chaos

4 Dec

On a frigid and clear Friday morning I scale the roads leading to the summit of Mt. Tavor.

ENtrance to church grounds

Entrance to church grounds

Tired of hitting the university books, disgusted with the depressing news of violence between Arabs and Jews, I decide to take refuge at the highest point in Lower Galilee.  At eight in the morning I’m the sole driver negotiating the hairpin turns of the mountain.  The car radio is off, only the sound of the shrieking wind that bends the cypress trees up ahead.  At the next turn, the entrance to the church compound appears, all majestic.  tavor 11The Franciscan flag with its signature four small crosses and one large cross is splashed against the blue sky.  The flag sits atop a tunnel that dates back centuries.  I park at the plateau alongside several large vans.  Eager parishioners must have come ahead of me.  At the main gate, a large group of Filipino worshippers are about to leave.  They giggle like school children, rubbing their glove-less hands to ward off the cold.  Mt. Tavor is a long way from Manila, I think as I continue down the pebble pathway leading to the church.

Franciscan Friar on Mt. Tavor

Franciscan Friar on Mt. Tavor

Three men wrapped with scarves round their necks rake the pebbles on the ground, back and forth, back and forth, until all is flat and even.  Gardeners tend to the flower pots, pull errant leaves and discard them.

The peacefulness hurts.

What is it about these men-of-the-cloth that makes them appear so tranquil and at ease.  Just 600 meters below, we’re out to kill one another.  The contrast is so severe, the solitude so intense, the beauty so striking that it pains me more than the icy wind.  I march on and read the plaque honoring Antonio Barluzzi, the “architect of the Holy Land.”  An Italian Franciscan monk, he left his mark on several churches in Jerusalem, Sea of Galilee, and here, on Mt. Tabor with his Church of Transfiguration, completed almost one-hundred years ago atop the ruins of Byzantine and later a Crusader church.  Tavor 7

Pilgrims from far-away Colombia at Mt. Tavor

Pilgrims from far-away Colombia at Mt. Tavor

It is at this point that I’m reminded that history in this neck of the woods has always been bloody, crusaders on horseback pillaging,killing, torching, and now, surrounded by green lawns and colorful petunias, it seems unimaginable.

The space inside the church is awesome.  The acoustics are first-class; the prayer coming from the chapel down below.  A Franciscan friar with his robe and its trademark rope tied with three knots (poverty, chastity, obedience) leads the prayer service.  Turns out, this summit atop Mt. Tavor is revered by Christians the world over, along with Bethlehem and Nazareth. It is here that Jesus is believed to have “transfigured.” tavor 12It is here that he shone, became radiant and spoke to Elijah and Moses before descending the mountain.  Sounds familiar?

Bird's eye-view of my village below

Bird’s eye-view of my village below

I visit the small chapels dedicated to Judaism’s forefathers.  Then off to the rooftop balcony to take in the magnificent view.  A group of pilgrims from Colombia are listening attentively to their tour guide.

From this vantage point I see my village, Kfar Tavor, sprawled.  Below, nothing but houses upon houses and lush fields sparkle in the morning sun.

Must I come down and face reality?

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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/Maurice-Labi/e/B00A9H4XEI

or at BN.com

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

Playing Arab Roulette

14 Nov

In the last couple of weeks Arab terrorism ventured beyond Israel.  A Russian plane exploded over the Sinai Peninsula.  All 227 passengers died.  ISIS, the Islamic State terrorist group, is suspected of this horrific, cowardly attack.  ISIS accuses Russia for attacking its forces in Syria.

Russian plane explodes over Sinai

Russian plane explodes over Sinai

Last night, in Paris, more than 120 Frenchmen were killed in six coordinated attacks.  The eight gunmen are believed to be ISIS operatives.  They’re taking aim at the French for their involvement in Syria. What’s most terrifying is not so much what has happened but “Who’s Next?”  This not-knowing is at the heart of terrorism. Terrorists alter our lives irrevocably.  Stepping out our front door becomes a matter of life and death.

Terrorist attack outside Parisian soccer stadium

Terrorist attack outside Parisian soccer stadium

I bring up these sad examples to illustrate what the typical Israeli has to endure in the last two months since the recent Arab uprising.  Daily Israelis are stabbed to death, run over at a bus stop by a mad terrorist, their cars struck with rocks.  In the first few days, Israelis went into shock.  Shopping malls remained empty.  Buses rolled half-empty across city streets.  People look over their shoulder for would-be killers.  Every Arab-looking man or woman is a suspect.  Israel’s security forces are instructed to shoot and kill.  Soldiers and security personnel could easily disarm a knife-carrying man or woman by wounding and disabling them.  But the order are clear: shoot to kill.  I agree.  The shoot-to-kill policy is two-fold: 1. deter any Arab from launching at attack knowing he will not come out alive.  2. Calm the Israeli public.  I doubt many Israelis want a wounded terrorist to be tended to in an Israeli hospital by Israeli doctors (that has often happened), and then brought to trial, jailed, then released in a swap.

Living in Galilee, I encounter Israeli-Arabs daily.  They’re everywhere; they stock the shelves at the supermarket, cut and slice beef at the butcher’s section; they’re gas station attendants, mechanics, day laborers, vendors at falafel stands, and pharmacists behind the counter.  This proximity is what’s terrifying.  To be constantly on the alert, to be vigilant does a number on the nerves.  It’s Arab roulette.  Who can you trust?  We living amidst them and them living amidst us  is not like walking on egg-shells but walking on land-mines.  What will explode next?

A game of chance with life

A game of chance with life

If Israeli-Jews are jittery and scared, Arab-Israelis are terrified.  Recently I took in my car for service at a Toyota dealership in Nazareth, an Arab town.  For years, the service manager greeted me kindly. Service was superb.  Against my better judgment, I decided not to cave in to fear and “give peace a chance.” Arriving at the dealership, I found it empty.  All the lifts were idle, not one car was being serviced. Phones were mute, as if their cords had been cut dead.  After we warmed up to one another, the Arab manager said between s series of nervous cigarette puffs: “Yesterday, I was terrified.  Yesterday, I drove my SUV into a Jewish town and came to a stop at the light.  Jews in the car next to me eyed me. I thought I was having a heart attack.  I thought they were going to lynch me.”  When I prodded him some more, he said Arabs are panic-stricken. They stay home.  They venture out only when necessary, fearing a reprisal from Jews.  I return to my seat at the dealership and read the paper. Soon I’m offered coffee, baklava pastries, fruit, dates – compliments of the house.  I don’t even have to haggle over the invoice, as before.  This time the discount is offered with a smile, a nervous smile. Everyone’s on edge.  I drive home.  I don’t bother to stop at the nursery to pick up seasonal plants and flowers from the Arab owner. Why tempt fate?  I’m a casualty of fear.  And there are thousands and millions like me in Israel, in Russia, in France.

As for playing the roulette, even Vegas gives better odds.  Spin, baby, spin.

 

 

Deterrence that does not Deter

31 Oct

During this third round of Palestinian terror, Israel is bent on protecting its citizens with all possible means.  Bulldozing and detonating a terrorist’s home is not new.  Israel has destroyed many terrorists’ homes in the past.  The rationale is twofold: 1. Punish the terrorist’s family by turning his home into rubble.  2. As a tool of deterrence; other would-be terrorists will think twice about venturing out with guns, knives, or rocks against Jews, knowing the consequences.  The scenes of the bulldozing’s aftermath are familiar: the surviving family members who’d been given ample notice to evacuate are seen sitting atop concrete slabs and twisted iron bars, what was once their home.  Small children climb up and down the rubble.  Older family members of the terrorist, typically the parents, are shown throwing fists into the air and shouting that Allah will seek revenge.  By the times this video makes its rounds in every social media and television outlet around the world, no one cares or recalls that the “good son” had maimed or killed Jews.  Israel has lost the public opinion battle.  It is at this stage where Israel Defense Forces issues a memorandum or a counter-explanation to try to win what was lost.  Too little, too late.

demolished Palestinian terrorist's home

demolished Palestinian terrorist’s home

And yet, Israel continues to bring house demolition cases before its Supreme Court to get the green light to tear down more houses.  In Israel, we’ve had two significant Intifadas (Arab uprising), in 1988, in 2000, and another one on the way, in 2015.  Did we learn nothing from the previous two?  We destroyed Palestinian homes for acts of terrorism and it did not help curb the current uprising.  Why should this time be any different?  Hate toward Israel is spread among the Arab youth day and night by Hamas and other crazies.  Here’s my point: An Arab teenager whose brother or cousin sees his relatives become homeless overnight — would this deter him from committing terrorism?  I doubt it.  I argue that it only hardens him to take action against Israel, turning hundreds of young men into religious or political fanatics.  The demolition of the house is no punishment either.  Days after the house is brought down, Palestinians step in and collect enough money to start the rebuilding.  It’s been known that money from the Gulf States, and from Hamas in Gaza soon makes its way to the West Bank.  A terrorist who may have been a despicable human being is now raised to a status greater than a rock-star.  Now he’s a martyr in Allah’s quest.

I wish to turn now to another Israeli tactic of deterrence that does not work: dead bodies.  The Israeli public is rightly infuriated by all the recent knife stabbing and disruption of life.  Israeli security forces take no chances; they shoot to kill.  Within weeks of the violence, Israel amassed about two dozen Arab bodies in the morgue.  What is one to do with the corpses?  Most times, the bodies are returned to the terrorists’ families for burial.  But lately there’s a new wrinkle in the fight against terrorism.  Israel is contempalting keeping the bodies.  The rationale:  Punishment and deterrence.  Does this sound familiar?  Here, again, I think this is bad policy.  Not because I care about the dead bodies “honor,” but because I think that withholding them from the relatives does nothing for Israel’s security.  When a terrorist is killed and soon returned, we’ve witnessed funeral processions in the streets of the West Banks that included hundreds of Arab men.  Now that the bodies are not returned, demonstrations are tenfold larger, into the thousands.  Much like with the tearing down of terrorists’ home, the flames of hate are many times larger.  Dead women terrorists are even more revered, the protests are louder and more violent.

Did we not learn anything from the Gilad Shalit episode.  Shalit was an Israeli soldier who was captured by Hamas and was released after five years, in 2011.  Israel agreed to exchange him for 1000 (!) Palestinian terrorists.  Are we not digging a similar hole this time around?  One dead Israeli soldier in the hands of the terrorists will trigger the release of all the bodies we accumulated. So why go down this treacherous road again and turn the dead terrorists into martyrs, and the living terrorists into heroes?

Deterrence is not found in demolished houses and dead bodies.  If not this, what then?  I suggest Israel send airplanes into the air and scatter thousands of flyers over the West Bank: “Let’s stop the killing for 24 hours.  On Tuesday, at 12pm, we are coming to the border without guns.  You are to come by the thousands without your knives or explosives.  We’ll talk.  If it does not work, we can always go back to killing on Wednesday.  Come hungry.  Catering provided.  We might even break bread over a plate of hummus.  Inshalah.”

Crazy?  Yes.

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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/Maurice-Labi/e/B00A9H4XEI

or at BN.com

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

A kitchen Knife Wrapped in Conspiracy Theory

10 Oct

This week, the latest round of attacks of Arabs against Jews and Jews against Arabs promise to make the year 2015 one of the most violent.  It’s nothing new.  Attacks and counter-attacks date back more than 100 years, decades before Israel was established.  What is new are the actors.  It is no longer army against army, or militias against insurgents, or tribesmen against organized kibbutz settlers. This time individuals, vigilantes, and loners take center stage.  Just in the last 48 hours, ten Arabs, acting independently of one another, lashed out at Israeli-Jews all over the country.  These young Arab men (and two Arab women) were armed with knives, screwdrivers, any sharp implement they could get their hands on. Weeks before, Jewish extremists also lashed against Arabs villages, burning houses with the occupants inside.

Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The Jewish Western Wall in the foreground and the Al Aqsa Mosque on top

Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The Jewish Western Wall in the foreground and the Al Aqsa Mosque on top

Who are these madmen?

On the Jewish side, it’s mostly right-wing settler-extremists who want to drive away Arabs from the West Bank.  They’re driven by faith to settle Judea and Samaria at all costs.  Through their elected members of the Knesset (Israel’s parliament), they wield great influence to build more settlements.  When their demands are not met, they take the law into their own hands and raid Arab villages and mosques in the dead of night.  After numerous attacks, few if any were apprehended.  Those caught by Israel’s security forces and police choose to remain silent under investigation.  With no “evidence” to try them, they are soon released.  It’s this kid glove attitude; it’s this turning a blind eye to the violence that invites counter-violence from the Arabs.

Arab resistance in East Jerusalem

Arab resistance in East Jerusalem

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not justifying the recent Arabs’ violence.  Throwing rocks is wrong. Hurling burning molotov cocktails at innocent Jewish drivers is wrong.  Running over Jews with automobiles is insane.  Stabbing Jews in the street is cowardly.  Arab social media instructional video on how to stab and kill Jews is demented and sick.  But why are they killing?  Arab frustration is at an all-time high.  Despair is higher.  Fear of Jews infringing on their sacred Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem turns sleeper-cell Arabs, college students, and seemingly normal men and women into murderers.  Something goes berserk in their heads, and they start looking for the first Jew to kill. I attribute much of this insanity and violence to conspiracy theory.  Here’s my theory: The more educated and democratic a country, the less the likelihood its people will subscribe to conspiracy theory.  Let me illustrate.  Some people in America still think Americans never landed on the moon, that JFK was killed by the mob, or by space aliens, or that the tragedy of 9/11 was an inside job. They’re the minority.  Most Americans know better.  However, in Arab countries ruled by strongmen with an iron fist, conspiracy theory is alive and kicking.  It’s their narrative; it’s how they explain the world.  It’s how the uneducated and no access to power by peaceful means deal with events beyond their control.  Were it not the Arabs who invented the fables of One Thousand and One Nights? They love a good story to explain life’s mysteries.  Let me invent a story to help explain: There’s a dinner party in Washington DC.  A senator is rushed to the hospital where he’s pronounced dead. The next day, the newspapers reveal he’d suffered a heart attack. End of story. Take this same event, only this time put it in Cairo.  An Egyptian delegate dies after eating a rack of lamb at the president’s banquet.  The word on the Arab street the next morning: “Delegate was poisoned because he was critical of the president’s policies.”naftali bennett

Why am I telling you a story of conspiracy?  Recently Naftali Bennett, Israel’s current Minister of Education, chose to speak less of math and grammar and more of God-given rights to Jews.  As a right-wing extremist he said Jews have the right to visit Jerusalem’s entire Temple Mount, including the compound assigned to the Muslims at the doorstep to the Al Aqsa Mosque.  This is a definite red line.  It was crossed before in 2000 by then prime minister Ariel Sharon.  Hell broke loose.  The trampling over this holy Arab site triggered an Arab Intifada (uprising) that took the lives of many.  Today, one slip of the tongue, one misspoken word (Bennett’s), one incitement or challenge to their faith or Mosque ignites the Arabs’ imagination that we’re out to get them.  They soon run into the streets with knives between their teeth.  Conspiracy theory at work.

Benjamin Netanyahu

Benjamin Netanyahu

Who’s the winner?  No one.  Who’s the loser?  Everyone.  Israel is isolated diplomatically.  To those who say it doesn’t matter, only security matters, think again.  We need friends.  We can’t cut off everyone.  Tourism is down.  Hotels in Jerusalem are near empty.  Jerusalem’s mayor urges his residents to carry pistols.  Schools in the city are closed until security guards can vouch for the children’s safety.  Arabs too are losing big time.  Jews who wanted to give peace talks a chance are now disillusioned.  Images of Arabs stabbing innocent bystanders will not convince even the doves in the crowd that Arabs want coexistence  Jews are boycotting Arab businesses.  Daily 50,000 Arab documented laborers and 50,000 undocumented workers come to work in Israel from the West Bank.  If violence were to continue, they will be blocked from entering.  Assuming these 100,000 workers provide for a family of six, then 600,000 will go wanting.  This will lead to more despair, more violence.

Mahmoud Abbas

Mahmoud Abbas

What’s the solution? There isn’t any.  But for now, cool heads must prevail.  Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should stop with his “rally around me because everyone’s out to kill us” rhetoric. Enough of scaring us.  Not all Arabs are killers.  Netanyahu is not acting; he’s only reacting, turning his nightly appearance on our TV into a war room.  He’s weak; he lets right-wing extremists run the show so long as he stays in power.  For what purpose?  But he’s done two things right this week: 1. He put a freeze on expanding the Jewish settlements in the West Bank (reacting, not acting).  2.  He prohibited all members of Knesset – Jews and Arabs — from entering the Al Aqsa area (reacting, not acting).  Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, is still coordinating his security forces with those of Israel to stem out the violence.  It’s not because he loves Israel; it’s his fear that if the PA falls, Hamas and others will come after his neck.  Abbas may walk softy, he may carry a long stick, but he knows there’s no military solution to his aspiration for a Palestinian statehood.  Knives will not help.  Our futures are locked for generations.  And that’s no conspiracy theory.

 

Jerusalem today: below is a video showing the aftermath of two Israeli policemen hit by friendly fire (Israel’s security forces) after trying to apprehend an Arab terrorist/stabber.  He was later shot dead.

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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/Maurice-Labi/e/B00A9H4XEI

or at BN.com

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

The Chinese are Coming!

19 Sep
chinese laborer

Chinese Laborer

The year’s 1973; I’m eighteen and it’s a late Saturday night and I’m returning home from a night of disco dancing with the gang.  I’m asleep all of four hours when on a very early Sunday morning my father pulls the summer sheets off my bed.  “Get up,” he says.  “We leave for work.”  At six in the morning, my eyes half-shut, I report to a construction site near Tel-Aviv.  Arabic is heard all around me.  I help my father mix cement, haul bricks and blocks up the apartment complex.  By noon several walls have gone up, by late afternoon I pack up my tools and walk home with my dad. This is how I spent my summer vacation, working, speaking nothing but Arabic with a bunch of Arab help from the Gaza Strip.

Fast forward to the 1990s, my dad’s near retirement but he’s still working full-time as a bricklayer, not with Arabs, but this time with Romanians.  Arabs are no longer welcome in Israel after a period of terrorist attacks.  Romanians by the thousands take their place.  They’re reliable, cheap, and do not carry bombs in their lunchbox.  And so begins Israel’s love affair with foreign labor.  Tens of thousands of Filipinos are employed here as caregivers to aging Israelis, thousands of Thai immigrants pick produce from fields.  Most Israelis don’t do menial labor.  My father belonged to a bygone era.  Today Israelis would rather work at high-tech jobs, medicine, military hardware, or develop the next killer-app for Silicone Valley. Getting one’s hands dirty in construction jobs is just that – dirty.

Chinese construction laborers in Israel

Chinese construction laborers in Israel

And so begins the next round of immigrant labor to Israel, this time the Chinese.  Homes in Israel are notoriously expensive.  Americans on average have to work 60-70 months to buy a home. Europeans: 80.  Israelis: 140.  Why?  There are many reasons: Jewish immigrants and investors come to Israel in large numbers, adding to demand.  Majority of land is owned by the Israeli government which has a vested interest in keeping land values high so it can get its share of taxes.  To keep demand high, it doles out land gingerly.  High labor costs add to high cost of homes. Demand outstrips supply. Building projects remain idle for lack of laborers.  Jews don’t want to climb scaffolds, to pour concrete, to plaster.  Arabs from the West Bank are suspect.  What’s a developer to do?  Using their strong lobby, the developers recently petitioned the Israeli government to allow “importing” 30,000 Chinese.  They claim the Chinese earn less than Jews and Arabs, and therefore they can pass on the savings to home buyers. Prices will go down by 5%.

Arabs in Construction

Arabs in Construction

This entire plan smells like a week-old chow mein.  Judging from past “import” of foreign labor, there was no price reduction.  On the contrary, prices are still spiraling out of control.  Developers and contractors will pocket the savings and blame the higher prices on others.  Secondly, why do we need 30,000 Chinese?  It’s common knowledge that these poor immigrants pay hefty “transaction fees” to Chinese and Israeli brokers.  Before these Chinese men lift a single brick, they start out with a debt of thousands of dollars, a modern-day slavery.  Yet these Chinese men are willing to cough up the money just so they come and work.

But what about the Arabs?  According to figures, there are 37,000 Arabs who enter daily from the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) to work in Israel proper, and an estimated 13,000 who enter as undocumented laborers.  Unemployment in the West Bank is high.  If Israel is to put out the fire on its turbulent relations with the West Bank Arabs of late, is it not better off employing them?  Will bringing home a paycheck to their villages not help quell the Arabs’ festering anger toward Israel? It’s not my love of the Arabs that convinces me that this is the better solution, but the love of the Jews and what’s best for them/us.

These 50,000 Arab laborers are reliable; they leave their village homes at daybreak, go through security check-points manned by Israeli soldiers; they stand in congested lines for hours before being admitted in, and finally once inside Israel, they build homes for the Jews, return home late in the day to start the whole thing all over again the next day.  When asked on TV if they’re content, the answer is a resounding “yes!”  They earn Israeli Shekels with dignity, return home and feed and care for their families.  Are there bad apples in the bunch? Terrorist cells?  Very few.  The majority want nothing more than to work.  And if 30,000 Chinese are going to land here, what will it do to labor costs?  Arabs will be squeezed further.  They will not be able to provide.  Anger and frustrations will escalate.  One more brick in the wall that will lead to an uprising, an Intifada.  My disco days are long gone, but if the Chinese are allowed to enter and displace Arabs, we could all be dancing to a different tune.  And I didn’t read this in a fortune cookie.

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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/Maurice-Labi/e/B00A9H4XEI

or at BN.com

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

 

Almond Fields Forever

5 Sep
Galilee almond tree at full winter bloom

Almond tree at full winter bloom

Okay, the title of this post doesn’t have the same ring as the famous Beatles song, but here, in Galilee, almond fields are eternal.  Originally from China, almond trees made their way to the Mediterranean region.  At first the wild almond trees were poisonous and full of cyanide to ward off the leathery tongues of goats.  In time, man domesticated the tree, and the almonds, a cousin of the peach and cherry, became man’s best friend on the road.  In biblical times, during the great famine, Patriarch Jacob sent his sons to Egypt stocked with almonds.  During Roman times, horsemen and mercenaries lived on almonds as the ultimate Trail Mix.  When attending a wedding, guests showered the newlywed couple with almonds for good luck.

Liora at the controls

Liora at the controls

Recently I too was in luck.  It was mid-August, the height of the almond harvest in Galilee.  Liora, a third-generation woman farmer and friend of ours offered to give me a private tour of “the business.”  So I get in my car and drive thirty minutes to Kibbutz Geva to meet her.

The first thing I see are stretches of flat land extending in very direction.  At one end, there’s a makeshift camp covered with tarp. Under it, all-terrain vehicles are at the ready.  Several semi-trailer trucks appear, sending clouds of red dust into the air.  They’re loaded with un-shelled almonds.  Liora stands like General Patton and gives out orders into her two-way radio. The drivers inside the trucks come to a halt, swerve, and follow her every command.

Almonds drying in the sun

Almonds drying in the sun

She waves to me to come and join her under the tarp.  I obey.

“So this is where we scatter the almonds to dry,” she says and gestures in a sweeping motion.  “Tons and tons and tons of them.”  We step out from under the shade.  I cast a flat hand over my eyes and scan the endless rows of drying almonds in the sun.  I ask her a city-slicker question: “Why don’t you let the almonds dry at the foot of the trees where you shook them off the branches?”

Her face, brown from too much sun, caked with dust, becomes quizzical.  She declares the obvious: “What do you think, we live in your California, huh?  If I leave the almonds on the ground for more than one day, they’ll be gone the next!”  I help her out.  “Thieves,” I say.  Liora chuckles and says, “Definitely not goats.”

And so begins a massive month-long operation where tons of almonds are harvested at the source, loaded on containers that are loaded onto big trucks that drive to Kibbutz Geva.  There, the almonds in their shells are left to dry for days, tossed and re-tossed, collected into bins and delivered to the almond almonds 3mill just one kilometer away.  At the mill the millions of almonds are crushed, the shell extracted. Then they’re sorted by size, grade and quality by Italian-made machinery.  The shells ultimately will become feed for cattle.  The almonds will be packed and sold to a nuts merchant.  Israel’s almond fields are large but they’re dwarfed by California’s (100 times larger!); the world’s number 1 grower and exporter.

Reporting from Galilee

Reporting from Galilee

Liora and her husband Allon who’d taken me on an olive tour a couple of years ago make a good living off the land.  Unlike California’s Central Valley that relies on rainwater and sporadic drilling, the almond trees in Israel rely on delivered irrigation as well, making them less vulnerable to nature’s whims.  But there are other problems: pests, excessive heat, and the bees.  “Bees?” I ask Liora.  “I thought they’re the good guys that pollinate the blossoms.”  Liora speaks of the bees and the trees as if they were her wayward children, worthy of an occasional spanking. She says, “Almond trees are just dumb.  They’re stupid!  All fruit trees blossom in April.  Almonds do it in February, at the peak of winter.  Now you show me a bee that wants to freeze its butt off buzzing from one flower to the next?”

Homemade almond milk

Homemade almond milk

I nod, trying to imagine a swarm of bees with frozen butts.

Almonds grown in Israel meet most of the local demand.  The rest is imported from California. Whereas California almonds are smaller, rounder, Galilee almonds are longer, meatier, more crunchy. Israel sells almonds to Jordan through a land-bridge and from there to the rest of the Arab world.  A prince sitting on a bunch of pillows in the Emirates of the Persian Gulf could be sipping dark, strong tea and not know he’s munching on Israeli almonds.

At home, other than to add a splash to my morning coffee, I gave up on milk several years ago. Instead, we drink homemade almond milk.  Its nutrient value is high, it tastes good and it’s easier on the stomach.  If it was good enough for Jacob and the Romans, it’s good enough for me.

Enjoy.

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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/Maurice-Labi/e/B00A9H4XEI

or at BN.com

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

 

 

God is watching… PART 2

9 Aug

I’m no prophet in this land of the bible.  But 15 months ago I predicted of what was to come.  I saw the writings on the wall, literally.  I wrote of “price tag,” the act of Jewish orthodox men terrorizing Arab villages in the West Bank (Judea and Samaria).  Numerous acts of violence were committed: desecrating, inscribing hate messages on the walls of Muslim mosques, the burning of cars and property. Not one perpetrator was apprehended.  Emboldened with their success, they become more violent after each act.

Burned CHurch of Loaves and FIshes in Galilee

Burned Church of Loaves and Fishes in Galilee

Next they turned their attention on churches.  Recently they burned large parts of the Loaves and Fishes Church on the Sea of Galilee where Jesus is said to have performed miracles.  There’s no other word for it but terrorism.  6 in 10 tourists to Israel are not Jewish.  These christian pilgrims come in large numbers to support the State of Israel, to visit their holy sites.  And what do you in return?  We burn what’s dear to their heart.  These right-wing extremists, affectionately called the “hill boys” because they protect God-given hills in Judea and Smaria, are committing bolder and bolder crimes, and more frequently.  These “boys” look up to their Yeshiva (seminary) rabbis and to Daniella Weiss for guidance and inspiration.  Weiss is the hardcore founder of the Settlement Movement, an organization bent on building Jewish settlements throughout the West Bank at the expense of the Palestinian population.  She’s in the headlines again.  Last week Jewish terrorists torched two Arab houses and scrolled the words “revenge” and “Long live the Messiah King” on the walls along with a Star of David.  The fire consumed the structures.  An infant died.  Israel Defense Forces came on the scene and airlifted the mother and father to the hospital.  Later the father died of his burn wounds.  Israel’s president Reuven Rivlin, the media, and the majority of the Israeli public condemned the attack.  Weiss accused president Rivlin of being too soft with the Arabs and that he should watch his comments.  Rivlin stood his ground.  Weiss declared: “Rivlin can sleep well at night.  He’s not important enough to be killed.”  Does this not remind us of the escalation leading up to the killing of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995?

Burned Arab home by Jewish extremists

Burned Arab home by Jewish extremists

God must have watched the events that unfolded at the Gay Pride Parade in Jerusalem two weeks ago.  A deranged orthodox Jewish man who’d just been released from a long prison sentence for violent crimes went on a killing spree during the Parade.  He stabbed people left and right.  One 16 year-old girl died at his hands.  For him and his supporters, gays are not God’s children.

Extremists do not follow one of God’s ten commandments: “Thou Shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in Vain.”  Yet these men, Jewish, Muslim, Christian continue to misconstrue God’s will.  They interpret His word as their word.  They’re righteous, worthy of God’s blessing while others are ignorant infidels worthy of damnation and death.  For those of you who’re thinking why don’t I mention the atrocities committed by the Islamic State (ISIS), by Hamas, by Hezbollah, I say this: Jews are expected to behave and act on a higher moral ground.  As Jews we should not stoop to their level but bring theirs to ours.

After all, God is watching our Parade.

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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