Tag Archives: China

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.


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




Are you happier than an Israeli?

12 Apr

The United Nations recently published its “2013 World Happiness Report.” Consider yourself lucky If you’re sitting in a Copenhagen cafe and sipping a latte, enjoying a Danish.  Denmark was ranked as No.1 in the Happiness Index.  The Danish people avoid conflict; they did not take sides during World War II, they value the environment and they help each other out.  Makes you want to throw them all into the Atlantic.

2013 United Nations "World Happiness Report"

2013 United Nations “World Happiness Report”

But if they’re No. 1, what about the rest of us?

First off, we must define “Happiness.”  I’m not a social psychologist, but the United Nations report attempted to evaluate people’s happiness on two levels: 1.  Emotion: “Were you happy yesterday?”  2.  Evaluation: “Are you happy with your life as a whole?”

Researchers recognize that Happiness has “changed” over time.  In the days of the Greek philosophers it had more to do with a person’s moral character and whether that person had “purpose,” “passion,” and “thrived.”  Since 1800, Happiness has shifted and has more to do with material conditions: income, money, and consumption.

I think it was billionaire Donald Trump who was once told that money can’t buy happiness.  His response?  “You just don’t know where to shop.”

So the United Nations went out and interviewed thousands in each of the 156 countries in the report.  People were asked if they felt good today and how they felt about their lives 5 years down the road.  Some “thrived,” some “struggled” and some “suffered” – all based on answers to questions on health, income, education, social support.

Jews in Israel complain, bitch & moan, kvetch.  So it’s a surprise that Israel came in at…number 11.happy face

Other than Northern European countries, Israel came out ahead of Mexico (16), USA (17), England (22), France (25), Germany (26), Spain (38), Italy (45), Russia (68), China (93), India (111).

So, why are Israelis happy?

One measure was longevity.  Israelis live longer.  Healthcare is decent and affordable.  Standard of living was another.  Although home prices are skyrocketing, homeownership is high.  But the number 1 contributor to happiness, according to the UN report, is “social support.”

The social support, the connectedness, are engrained in the Jewish and Israeli DNA.  They look out for one another.  I assume it has to do with history.  To survive, they always had to stick together.

Israelis complain, but hey, at least they complain together.

I teach English in Nazareth and in Zefat.  During a night class, the school security guard comes into class.  “Your car lights are fading off,” he says.  “You’re battery’s dead.”  The students immediately offer help and suggestions.  One woman student gets on her cell phone.  She’s calling her husband and from the tone of her voice it doesn’t appear he has a choice.  Five minutes later, in the parking lot, the student’s husband jump starts my car, and before long, he tells me his life’s story and plans.

In onion field with my dog Max

In onion field with my dog Max

Israelis connect with ease at home and overseas. I’m at the Anne Frank Museum in Amsterdam.  There’s a map of pre-war Europe on the wall.  A man next to me points at Germany.  Within minutes, we strike up a conversation, debate.  We’re no longer in a foreign land but rather at a street corner in Israel.

Don’t get me wrong.  All this “togetherness” has its price.  There are times that you do want some privacy, a chance to breathe, a moment without someone offering opinions, asked for or not.  You might be a renowned doctor and an Israeli plumber will tell you how to perform by-pass surgery.  You might be a great criminal lawyer, but an Israeli law student will tell you how to defend your client.

Israelis know better.

But at the end of the day, it’s familiar, like an old sweater.

I’m sitting at a cafe in Galilee, Israel.  I’m sipping Turkish coffee (77) and munching on a bar of Swiss chocolate (3).  Can’t be all bad.

Are you happy?


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