Tag Archives: Ashdod

Gaza Rockets, Bomb Shelters and Rock Music

20 Jul

Events unfold so fast in the Middle East, you need to hit the “pause” button on the TV remote to slow down the action.  Just four weeks ago, three Israeli teenage boys were kidnapped and killed by Arab terrorists.  Just two weeks ago, a group of Jewish boys kidnapped an Arab boy and killed him in revenge.  In this part of the world that’s ancient history.  Today, we’re into day 13 of operation “Protective Edge,” an all out war between Israel and Hamas militants in Gaza.

Don’t ask who started it.  If you’re Arab, the Israelis started it.  If you’re Israeli, the Arabs started it.

entrance to public bomb shelter

entrance to public bomb shelter

Hamas launches rockets into Israel, day and night.

Israel’s warplanes pound targets in Gaza.  A ground offensive of tanks and infantry went in.  Casualties, although disproportionate, are mounting on both sides.

A crane lowers a small public bomb shelter to the ground

Media coverage in Israel is round-the-clock.  Network television updates viewers minute-by-minute.  Commentators and experts abound.  Psychologists speak of ways to help children deal with anxiety. On the radio, songs are played occasionally, often interrupted by the military: “Red Alert!  Red Alert!”

That’s the signal to run for your life.

Israeli villages, towns, kibbutzim near Gaza have 15 to 30 second to run for cover before the Hamas-launched rockets fall.  Tel Aviv and Jerusalem are farther away.  People there have 60 to 90 seconds.  I live in Galilee – too far from Gaza.

There are bomb shelters of every kind, variety.  Israelis stranded outdoors can run for cover inside public bomb shelters made of reinforced concrete and steel.  In my house there’s a bomb shelter at the lower level.  Like most Israelis, during periods of quiet, the shelter is used up as an extra bedroom or storage room.

Huddled inside the restaurant bomb shelter

Huddled inside the restaurant bomb shelter

All single family homes must have them, at the least the newer homes.  Apartment buildings have them.  Theaters have them.  Restaurants have them.  Some can accommodate just a handful of people, others can accommodate hundreds.  It’s a way of life.  Security is all around you.

Earlier this week I went to visit my father and mother, and my sister, in Bat-Yam, a seaside town bordering Tel Aviv.  It felt strange to hear their stories of near-misses, stories of explosions, and sonic-booms.  They spoke of how “Iron Dome” — Israel’s missile defense shield, was able to knock out Hamas rockets out of the sky.  It was strange, because for once, my village in Galilee was in the clear – no longer the target of rockets coming in from Hezbollah in Lebanon.

But the rockets did not stop us from arranging to meet at Cafe Joe for breakfast the next morning.  Cafe Joe is on the beach, with views of the blue waters of the Mediterranean.  At that hour there were a few “crazies” like us who’d had enough of running and hiding.

Teenagers on Bat Yam beach after the bomb alert ended

Teenagers on Bat Yam beach after the bomb alert ended

We looked at th menus and ordered a sumptuous breakfast.  A faint siren sounded in the distance. The waitress rushed to our table.  “Alert!  Alert!” she said.  Within seconds we all assembled inside the restaurant’s bomb shelter.  Soft-drink bottles, jars, boxes, bags of coffee were all around us. Employees and diners spoke nervously. I stood next to my mother and sister, thinking this was mad.

The all-safe signal was given and we returned to our table, not before my brother-in-law took me outside and showed me the trail of smoke that the rocket had streaked across the sky.  The plume was white, puffy, like an innocent cloud.  Then it vanished. Blue skies again.

We went back in and finished our breakfast.

Israel’s “Home Front Command” is strict about its instructions on bomb-shelter maintenance. But during times of peace the shelters fall into neglect; they’re used to store mattresses, old bikes, unwanted furnishings.  But not today.  An extra-large bomb-shelter in Ashdod, Israel’s seaport town, and only 25 miles from Gaza, was converted into a live concert venue.   Residents of Ashdod, tired of being holed up in their homes and shelters came to watch and cheer Israeli rock bands.

Rockets might be flying.  Tanks might be rolling in the street of Gaza.

But the music must go on.

Welcome to the Middle East.


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




Of Mice and Men

21 Nov

Homeland Security Conference Tel Aviv 2012

I’m attending the 2nd International Homeland Security Conference at Tel Aviv fairgrounds.  If the sound of the conference alone doesn’t throw fear in your heart, try walking past security at the main gate.  Once inside the park-like grounds, I make it to the main exhibit hall.  This is where I leave behind the world I know and plunge into a world of security and defense.  Black is the dominant color inside the giant hall.   Black drapes hang from ceiling to floor, illuminated by glaring track lights.  Pretty hostesses in dark skirts and slim-fitting jackets hand out colorful programs and direct attendees to coffee and juice bars.

Mice work as explosives detectives

Hundreds of men strut the corridors.  I later learn they came from 65 countries for the 3 day event, from Finland to Kenya, from Brazil to China — all hoping to learn, purchase, upgrade, sell the next defense system.  The floor space is taken up by SWAT trucks on display, first response vehicles, smart fence barriers, surveillance cameras, 3D terrain mapping, cyberspace gadgets.

I meander between the exhibits, can almost hear the late James Brown sing: “This is a man’s world, but it wouldn’t be nothing, nothing without a….”  Well, here women are optional.  The lyrics might read more like “nothing without a… missile defense, combat vehicles, satellite hardware.”  A large group of Nigerians and Germans huddle around a large metal booth.  I follow.

“This is latest in airport and explosives security,” the presenter for Tamar Industries says and directs us to a walk-through booth.  His co-presenter, a woman pretending to be a passenger, stores a “suspicious” package on her body and walks into the booth.  First, air is pushed into the chamber through invisible vents.  Eight seconds later the scan is complete.  An alarm and a red light go off.  She’s apprehended, questioned.  And  who deserves the credit for such quick detection?  The answer is mice.

The developer of this ingenious invention relies on mice to do the work.  We’re told they’re stored out-of-sight in the booth compartment.  Over time the mice are trained to smell over 50 odors, from coffee, hand cream, to explosives.  The moment the mice detect a suspicious odor they scurry to one side of the booth panel and trigger the alarm switch.  Their work shift includes 4 hours on, 8 hours off.  A fresh army of mice arrive to replaced the tired ones every 14 days.

I plan to unionize the mice at the first opportunity, demand a 401k and a dental plan.  And cheese in the lunchroom.

The invited lecturers in the main auditorium approach the lectern and give their take on the latest security challenges.  The words “critical” “security” “synergy” “intelligence” “infrastructure” “9/11” “cyber attack” “Pearl Harbor” are thrown around like confetti.  The director for the London Olympics talks about his success of keeping the games terror-free.  The Brazilians are taking notes; they’re hosts for the world’s biggest sporting event in 2014: The World (Soccer) Cup followed by the Olympic Games in 2016.

Israeli security companies come on stage and present their wares on giant screens to the music of Double-O Seven and Mission Impossible.  Sorry, no girls in bikinis and boots allowed on stage.

On board an armored truck at Ashdod Seaport

The last day of the conference includes a trip to the seaport of Ashdod.  The event is for the foreign delegates only.  A well-connected friend arranges a pass for me.  Hundreds get off buses and are ushered to the port terminal.  After a short PR film, after rounds of coffee and pastry, we’re escorted to the port entrance.  Heavy trucks idle at the gate with containers on board.  The spokesman for the port says no one’s allowed unless they’re cleared by license plate recognition, container number cross-reference, and biometrics on the driver.

Israeli commando drill at Ashdod Seaport

The best is left for last.  We sit on bleachers near the water’s edge.  It feels like a show at Universal Studios.  A cruise ship is tethered to the dock.  Explosions sound.  “Terrorists” are on board the ship.  One launches a shoulder-mounted missile in the direction of the pier.  We cover out ears.  Gun fire erupts.  The port commandos, 8 in number, dressed in black fatigues and black ski masks, scale the ship.  They disarm the terrorists, dispatch a robot-controlled vehicle to detonate a bomb.  Speedy port boats patrol the waters.  It’s over.

The score?  Men: 1 Mice: 0.

Applause.  Israel is safe.  My name’s Bond.  Itzhak Bond.

The delegates are taken back to their hotel after a tour of Jerusalem.

That same afternoon, just hours after the staged attack, Israel’s Defense Forces scramble an unmanned reconnaissance aircraft into the blue sky.  The aircraft, some 15 miles away from us, identifies a car making its way through the streets of Gaza.  The order is given.  A missile is fired.  Ahmad Jabari, the Hamas military commander, is killed.

And so begins another round of violence.