Tag Archives: Galilee

It’s Spring – You’re invited to Galilee

5 Mar

No, I’m not Israel’s tourism minister, but now that spring is just around the hill, I feel compelled to

Fields behind our house

Fields behind our house

Max: “I am ready to go!”

share some of the physical beauty of Galilee.  Granted, there are days when the summer heat is oppressive, when winter is wet and cold, when dust storms roll in from the desert, yet I can’t deny that the scent and color of spring makes it almost all worthwhile.  The morning treks just behind our house are glorious.  Olive trees dot the landscape.  The almond trees just completed their pinkish bloom, the farmers are pruning the grapevines, the wheat is bending in the wind, the soil is dark brown-red-black and the sky above is pregnant with fat clouds. Our dog Max sniffs the change in seasons; he’s the first out the door to run in the fields and the last to return.  Judging by his wagging tail, I trust he’s happy to be in the outdoors, to chase after imaginary prey, and to disappear behind tall stalks of wheat and barley.

Wild mustard plants against the hill

olive trees in distance

Out for a walk in the fields

My walking partners

Hanging out in the garden

Purple thorn in full bloom

The Jewish holiday Passover is late this year, arriving at the end of April. This does not keep us from getting a head start in cleaning, arranging, rearranging, fixing, clearing, throwing, dusting, spraying, polishing, and crashing for a much deserved rest.  Cooking by the pot-loads will soon begin in the kitchen. Days are longer, the sweaters and coats make their way back into closets.  The space-heaters in the house are unplugged.  The natural stone pathways and entryway outside our home are given a good scrub-down and wash with a power hose.  The waterproof covers over lawn furniture are removed.  Now the outdoor armchairs and sofas inhale deeply, releasing a long-held winter breath.  Sparrows, hummingbirds, robins come in for a landing on the branches and to suckle from fragrant flowers.  Bees buzz.  Kids on bikes buzz past our front gate.  Spring is here, almost.  Next time you’re in Israel, include Galilee in your itinerary. living room

Stone path

Stone path

iron chairs

kitchen

Kitchen is all ready for cooking

That’s a warm suggestion from Israel’s unofficial tourism minister – me!

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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 Moment (or 50 years) of Reflection

13 Feb

A few months ago my twin daughters got their first summons for active military duty.  At 08:00 they appeared in a large building with dozens of other would-be girl soldiers where they took a physical and a written aptitude test.  The ordeal lasted for a better part of the day; interviewers stepped in and out of the office, asked questions and jotted down notes in their “military file.”  In the near future they will be ordered to appear again, this time to help determine what’s the best post for them and what’s best for the State of Israel.  My daughters came home very excited, not sure how they performed and whether they will be stationed close to home or on a base far away for the mandatory 24 month enlistment.  I too was excited for them.  They will acquire skills like no one’s business, they will learn how to shoot a rifle, engage in self-defense drills, trek over desert terrain, sleep outdoors, serve with men soldiers and establish friendships and experiences for a lifetime.  And then, two weeks ago, this idyllic and patriotic notion shattered when 19 year-old woman soldier Hadar Cohen was killed by an armed Arab terrorist.  The latest round of violence that’s lasted 4 months, and what many define as the third Intifada, has claimed the lives of 35 Jewish-Israelis.  The attacks are random which makes them even more terrifying.  The terrorists are young, too young, 80% are under age 25.  They come from the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and for many their attack is their first encounter with a Jew.  And they keep coming after us.  They’re being incited by their leadership but that would be only half the truth. Many are encouraged through social media to be the next shahid, a Muslim martyr, to avenge the honor of their families, to make it to Heaven, to escape the desperation and hell they’re in now, to score points with their fellow-friends, to brag of bravery, to instill pain and horror in Jews, to save their Palestine from infidels, to act out domestic violence at their village, for kicks, for fun, and for whatever the f*** the reason, they keep coming and coming, with stones, with knives, with guns.

Hadar Cohen, young Israeli recruit border-patrol soldier killed by Arab terrorsits

Hadar Cohen, young Israeli recruit border-patrol soldier killed by Arab terrorists

What makes me mad is that Israel’s leadership, civil and military, think that if they apply more pressure, put more Arab towns under siege, close off roads, erect fences and dig ditches, install concrete barricades, stretch concertina wire in fields, uproot olive groves, arrest people in the dead of night, blow up the homes of terrorists, refuse to return the bodies of the dead terrorists, threaten the Arabs with more measures– that all this will somehow stop terrorism.  It will not.

What’s more maddening is that most of the Israeli public, undoubtedly terrorized, is actually buying into its leadership’s bullshit.  Family members grieve and wail at open, fresh graves to bury the Jewish victims.  The surviving spouse, brother, sister, mother, father speak of their lost ones.  The next day newspapers splash the photos of the killed with some touching biography.  TV reporters interview the grieving family and all is shown on prime-time night after night after night.  The first time, four months ago, I was glued to the screen, shocked.  Four months later, I no longer ache.  I’m just mad.  Mad at the ineptitude of Israel’s military for not saving Hadar Cohen.  She recently enlisted, was fresh out of boot camp and was stationed at a border-crossing as a patrol soldier.  Her experience was next to none.  An Arab opened fire and killed her.  The military made excuses, said she was partnered with an experienced officer.  Try explaining this to her parents.

There is little chance this round of violence will end soon. Israel is doing the same thing for almost 50 years, since the Six-Day War in 1967, when it annexed the West Bank.  Over the past 50 years Israel has taken over large sections of the West Bank, built towns, cities and settlements that today number 1/2 million Jews.  Right and Left wing governments over the past decades have entrenched the settlements and their near-fanatic residents that it would take divine intervention to pull them out.  Would He?  Settlers will never leave willingly their “God-promised” land.  No Israeli government, Left or Right, has the balls to undo what was done.  Billions are poured into the settlements at the expense of crumbling towns and the neglect of the poor in “proper” Israel.  I see it daily in Galilee.  We’re at a point of no-return.  Israel continues internationally and domestically to make the impression that our survival is in question.  Bull.  Israel is the strongest military power in the Middle East and beyond.  We have enough tanks, planes and submarines to bury any Arab nation.  We’re a net exporter of military hardware and software to rival the Americans, English, French and Russians.  Yet we continue to act like victims.  I don’t care much for the Arabs.  Like or not, they’re here to stay.  A century ago we should have taken the offer to build a Jewish homeland in Argentina (nothing like a juicy steak from the Pampas), or in Uganda (At least take a train to vacation on the Indian ocean), but luck would have it that we’re stuck and surrounded by a bunch of Arabs.  I did not count the wars–10?–with the Arabs since 1948.  And we’re still fighting.  More and more men, women, children are killed daily on both sides.  I can’t speak for the Arabs.  Nor can I speak for the Israeli government, but every generation or two there rises a wo(man) who might lead us out of this nightmare. I think we’re long overdue.  Hadar Cohen, 19, you’re dearly missed–you’re but two years older than my daughters.  It’s not suppose to be so.

I love you, Hadar.

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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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When in Israel, Don’t Act American

26 Dec

More than three decades of living in America does its thing.  I thought of explaining “thing” but decided to better illustrate with Show & Tell.  It’s now past my 4th year in Israel.  America, its ideals, its way of life, its oddities and mannerism, still sticks to my ribs.  I still answer the phone with “Hello” rather than “HALLO!”  This is a dead give away that I did not completely assimilate with the locals.  The stranger on the line will either admire the quaintness of my pronunciation or seize to exploit the “foreigner.”  But I’m not totally defenseless.  I’ve acquired the thick skin of the “Sabra,” a thorny cactus fruit, tough on the outside and tender and sweet on the inside — a nickname assigned to the Israeli-born.

After 4 years I find myself speaking LOUDER to be heard, or be drowned by louder voices; I find that I give less personal space while waiting in line at the bank, at the clinic, at the university.  Most Israelis don’t seem to mind, and they return the favor in kind.  I give advice when none is asked.  (Okay, then, don’t take my advice).  I no longer cringe when invited guests poke their utensils in dishes for a double-triple-quadruple dip rather than use the serving spoons.  It’s all a family “thing.”  And now during winter, it’s common to see people carry rolls of toilet paper, cut a few squares and blow their noses, set the roll back on the table as if it’s the most beautiful adornment, and continue chatting away.  I no longer reach for the scented menthol Kleenex.  A sandpaper toilet roll is okay by me.

I’m just as tough as the next Israeli.

Place: University parking lot.  Time: 6 at night (18:00 in Israeli military clock).

My damaged baby

My damaged baby

Conditions: Dark, cold.  I’m seated inside my American-made, sporty-looking, limited-edition Toyota Camry.  I bend over my dashboard to charge my cellphone.  BANG!  I hear a grinding noise.  I raise my head.  A car is trying to unlock itself from my front bumper.  I honk.  (When in doubt in Israel, just HONK!).  I leap out of my car and see a very pregnant woman step out of her car.  She apologizes.  I look at her car.  It’s a very old, banged up on all four sides.  I’m thinking she had lots of practice.  A security guard rushes to the “crime scene” and confirms her “guilt.” I’m upset but I don’t want to upset her for it seems her baby had dropped six inches while we’re talking.  We exchange information and I drive off with my bashed bumper.  During the drive I regret having bought an American “imported” car.  I wanted to act American in a land that is not America.  The drawbacks are many: 1.  Warranty.  No Toyota dealership in Israel would cover me 20151221_153405during the typical three or four years in case something major broke down.

You’re on your own, Mr. Americano.  2.  Exotic Model.  Parts are not available at the warehouse but have to be imported.  Ouch!  3.  Insurance companies don’t like privately imported cars.  Therefore, I pay higher premiums.  4.  Resale value will suffer, I’m told, because it was imported instead of through a dealership.  5.  Radio frequency in America is different from the one in Israel.  Changing over is tedious and expensive.  So I continue to fidget with the dial and land on hissing, half-tuned stations.  But I did find an English music-playing station that’s reasonable – from Jordan!  May Allah Akbar be with me.

The next day I spend at the body shop.  The mechanic, Arab, has wonderful hands, runs his fingers over the wounded car.  After he copies my car registration he makes a few calls and returns with the verdict: To replace the dented bumper (“You see it will come from America…) $1700.  The cracked headlight: $700.  (“Did I tell you, this too will come from America?”).  I point to the relatively little damage and wish to protest.  He reads my mind.  “It’s American,” he says.

Mr. Tough Guy

Mr. Tough Guy

I drive home trying to pump myself for the upcoming confrontations.  I’ll be tough with the insurance company which threatens to raise my premium although I’m not at fault (“This is how it is in Israel, Mr. Labi.”).  I’ll be tough with the pregnant woman whose husband called several times and said that they are poor and for me to go easy on them. (“Did I tell you my wife is not well, and we are going to be a family soon?”)

I come to a stop at a red light.  I’m no longer an Israeli-American.  This is the “thing.”  I’m tough as a “Sabra.”  I reach for a roll of toilet paper and blow my nose.

————————————————————————–

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.

 

 

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.

—————————————————————————————————————

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.

—————————————————————————————————————

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

 

Build and they shall not come

16 May

Israel has a relatively attractive figure: tall with narrow hips; the midsection widens then tapers off at the feet.  Galilee occupies the north, the Negev Desert stretches in the south, and at the center of things – Tel Aviv.

Distance of towns from Tel Aviv as a measure of success

Distance of towns from Tel Aviv as a measure of success

For the past several years, the government through its ministry of transportation is attempting to decentralize the country.  Around Galilee where I live there’s highway and bridge construction that would make proud a nation ten times Israel’s size.  Mountains are being shoved aside, cranes, bulldozers carry giant boulders like toy things.  Trucks haul dirt by the millions of cubic yards.  Driving to teach in Upper Galilee I eat red dust for breakfast, and on my return, brown dust for lunch.

As much as these 21st century modern highway arteries pump blood into Galilee and Negev Desert, they have really one purpose in mind – to connect them, you guessed it, to Tel Aviv.  Everyone in the media and in government talks about the need to develop the outer fringes of the country at the expense of the center.  It’s just talk.  These new roads and bridges don’t keep thousands of young men and women from swarming to Tel Aviv and its suburbs.  Tens of kilometers of railway tracks being laid down have one purpose – bring the masses to Tel Aviv.

Tel Aviv

Tel Aviv

Israelis (and foreigners) moving to Tel Aviv are willing to put up with horrible traffic, congestion, apartments the size of shoe boxes, arrogant landlords who demand one year’s rent up front.  Why put up with such abuse?

Jobs.  Hipness.  Vibe.  Sea.  Opportunity.  These are some of the reasons.  Galilee is 60% Arab.  So I’m a minority of sorts in my own backyard.  The Negev, mostly desert, is vast and desolate.  The Israeli military will be moving many of its Tel Aviv installations to the Negev in the coming years.  While Tel Aviv gets more freed up land for sky scrapers, the Negev gets army barracks and training grounds.  Galilee gets domestic tourism and food-processing plants.

road construction in Galilee

road construction in Galilee

Tel Aviv gets it all, the rest of Israel gets scraps.  Jerusalem?  Yes, it’s the capital and the seat of government, and not much more unless you count 40% disgruntled Arabs in the East of the city, and pockets of ultra-orthodox Jews who still think they live in 19th century Europe.  What about the West Bank, aka Judea and Samaria?  The 400,000 Jewish settlers there don’t care much about Tel Aviv; they’re too busy surviving, praying, and fighting the Palestinian Arabs over land.  Why fight them there when you could come and fight good-old native Arabs in Galilee?

I step outside my Kfar Tavor home in Galilee and go for a walk in the beautiful trails and fields.  Almond, olive and grape vines surround me.  It’s pretty.  But ask anyone in Tel Aviv if they’d be willing to move here, and you’ll get a laugh.  Sure, it’s romantic, it’s reminiscent of the days the first Jewish immigrants returned to the Land of Israel, the air is cleaner (most days), and… that’s about it.  I keep walking down the trails.  In the very distance, I see the hillsides of Jordan.  If I were to get in the car, I’ll be in Lebanon in one hour.  Although Tel Aviv is less than 2 hours away (110 km), it’s a different country.

Bridge construction in Galilee

Bridge construction in Galilee

Tel Hai College is a cottage industry in Galilee, minutes from the Lebanese border.  Over 4000 students attend.  Most come from the center of the country, near Tel Aviv.  They want to get away from the big city, learn and enjoy country-style living.  Asked recently if they’d stay in Galilee after graduation and seek a job, make the place their home, only 10% said “yes.”

I get in the car and drive to Zefat in the north.  Hammers pound the roadside.  Concrete is being poured.  Men flatten black, steamy asphalt with rakes.  For whom, I wonder?  The radio’s on. Patriotic Israeli songs about the good old days (in Galilee) are heard.  I tap my fingertips on the steering wheel.  Dust hits the windshield.  Haze all around.

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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

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