Tag Archives: Hamas

Third Year Report Card from Galilee

16 Aug

Maybe it has to do with the Holy Land believed to be at the center of the universe, or maybe it’s the people, or the water, or the air, but the three years I lived in Israel feels like 10.

Holy Land at the center of the universe

Holy Land at the center of the universe

It’s seems like the dials of time move at a slower pace around here.  The move from California to Galilee in 2011 is a distant memory.  Don’t get me wrong.  I recall the packing of the furnishings, the loading it all inside a 40-foot container, waiting for it to sail the oceans and end up at our doorstep two months later.  I recall how we’d felt when we first set our bare feet on the cool tiles inside our custom-built home in Galilee.  Outside, the air smelled different, heavier, as if it had substance, meaning. Less than a week later, my twin girls enrolled in a new school, in a new land, in a language they hardly spoke, in a language they did not read nor write.crazy driver

In my first and second year report cards I spoke of crazy Israeli drivers; I spoke of the beer, the great coffee, the noise level, the creamy hummus of Nazareth, keeping time on a 24-hour clock, the shoddy imported products, on sticker-shock, from the price of gasoline, housing, to dining out.

Time does its thing.  Drivers on the road are still insane but they no longer irritate me.  I fill my Toyota gas tank, pay $100, and drive off.  In social gatherings, people continue to speak at an ear-piercing volume, above the din of the always-on TV.  Complete strangers will throw an arm around your shoulder, refer to you as: Ahi, Neshama Sheli, Mammy, Haver, Gever, Matok, Kapara (My Brother, My Soul, Mammy,Buddy, Macho, Sweetie, the Apple of my Eye).

The kitchen paper towels continue to disintegrate with the slightest contact with water.  Toilet paper continues to crumble in the crack of my butt.

The garden hose in the yard.  I want to strangle it, if I could.  All nurseries carry same the same brand, cheap, from China.  I turn on the water.  The hose crimps, twists, bends, spits, sputters, clogs, flails, wrestles, jerks, drips, spurts, vomits — as if possessed by demons.  I let the petunias and roses wilt in the sun.  Why get upset?

Fresh fruits and vegetables at our local grocer

Fresh fruits and vegetables at our local grocer

My wife hates the grocery plastic bags that come in every size, shape, and color.  They leak.  And they’re noisy to the touch. Opening the fridge turns into a treasure hunt.  Green apples inside red plastic bags are mistaken for peaches.  Red cabbage inside a yellow a plastic bag is mistaken for a melon.

Speaking of fruits and vegetables, here in Israel we don’t have bananas from Honduras year-round, nor raspberries and blueberries from the Northwest, nor avocados flown in from Mexico.  Seasons dictate what’s on the shelf.  It’s all local and fresh.  Want oranges in summer?  Sorry, wait till winter.  Bananas?  They’re trucked from the coast or the Jordan Valley, 2 hours away, not a continent away.

Time does its thing.

In 2011, first thing in the morning, I searched the on-line edition of the Los Angeles Times.  It was natural; I wanted to know what was happening at “home.”  Months later – don’t know when exactly – I switched to Israeli on-line newspapers in Hebrew. Somehow, the hurricanes of the Midwest, the drive-by shooting in L.A, the severe drought, ObamaCare, illegal immigration – it all belonged with Americans.  I was on the outside looking in, unable to influence the slightest thing.

From time to time, I’d open my desk drawer and fish out my American passport, just to remind me that I’m an American. And proud of it.  I’m equally proud to be an Israeli.  At the airport in Tel Aviv, I hand the officers my Israeli passport, answer a couple of security questions in Hebrew and then I move up the line.  The American passport stays in my carry-on.

In Rome do as the Romans do.  In Tel Aviv, do….Well, you ge the picture.

Typing the simplest message in Hebrew on my laptop was brutal.  My fingers crawled over the Hebrew peel-off and stick-on alphabet on the English keyboard.  I inadvertently erased entire sentences, text danced from left to right, from right to left, could not find the צ or the ק or the פ.  I still can’t, but now I can start sending out a message in the morning and finish it before sunset.

War changes people.  Israel has experienced more than 10 in its young history.  War hardens people, makes them more suspicious, cynical.  It also makes Israelis grab life with both hands, enjoy the moment, as there might not be another moment.

The current war against Hamas in Gaza changed my twin daughters, 15.  They matured beyond their age.  They still speak of American celebrities, idols, music, movies, fashion.  But they’re more grounded in reality.  They sense the fragility of life around them.  And like most young people, they don’t understand why adults go to war.

My older daughters, 27 and 30, live in America.  They’ve been to Israel several times.  They learned firsthand about the complexities of the Middle East, that Arab and Jews are both right.  And wrong.  They’ve become goodwill ambassadors, able to carry a conversation confidently.  And for that, I’m happy.

With my dog Max

With my dog Max

At the end of the second year in Galilee, I conducted an unofficial survey of our family’s adjustment in this new/old land.  Now, at the end of the third year, it’s still a work in progress.  As for our dog Max; he’s happy in the fields.

Years ago, in my early twenties, I enrolled in a “Tour Guide” course.  Had I finished it, I could have taken tourists and shown them around Israel, for a fee.  I distinctly remember the teacher asking: “How is American history different from Jewish/Israeli history?”  Many of students tried to answer, including myself, unsuccessfully, according to him.  He went on to say that the Jewish nation draws inspiration, validation, strength, justification, lineage and linkage – from its past.  Prophets, kings, tribes, God himself gave us history.

America looks to the future; Israel clings to its past

America looks to the future; Israel clings to its past

On the other hand, Americans don’t have much of a history: the founding fathers, settling the West, the Civil War, WWI, WWII.  Their history could be summed up in decades, not millenia, he said.  Jews hark back to the past.  The past chains you; it does not liberate you.  Instead, Americans look forward. Americans embrace the promise of a better future, the pursuit of happiness.

In closing this 3rd year report card, I look to the future.  I’m an American, after all.

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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?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=mauricelabi

or at BN.com

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

 

Why Israel Won the War on Gaza. and Lost.

2 Aug
Map of Israel and Gaza

Map of Israel and Gaza

The war between Israel and Hamas, now into its fourth week, is unlike any war before.  In the past, the mention of the word “Hamas” conjured up images of suicide bombers boarding Israeli buses and yelling “Allah Akbar.”  Since 2006 Hamas has come a long way militarily.  Its leadership must have ordered “War for Dummies” from Amazon.  How else to explain that today Hamas has a solid chain of command, strategy, logistics – a semi-professional army that doesn’t run from the sound of Israel’s cannons.

There’s no denying Israel’s superior fire power.  Let’s face it, Hamas has launched thousands of rockets into Israel, most of which were knocked out of the sky by “Iron Dome,” Israel’s defensive missile shield, or they fell in open spaces.  In contrast, Israel killed hundreds of Hamas militants.  Hundreds of buildings in Gaza were flattened by Israel’s air strikes and artillery. Thousands of civilians fled their homes.  Hamas’s other weapon  — tunnels that reach Israel’s border — are being destroyed one by one by Israel’s Combat Engineering Corps.

So, if everything’s going so well on the battlefield, why does it seem that Israel has lost?

The simple answer is that often war is not won on the battlefield, but off.  Ariel Ilan Roth in the latest issue of “Foreign Affairs” cites an example.  Egypt has lost during the October 1973 Yom Kippur War.  Yet Egyptian President Sadat claimed correctly that his army was able to cross the Suez Canal and into the Sinai, inflict many casualties on the Israelis.  This gave him bargaining power to negotiate peace with Israel in 1979.  He ended up getting back his Sinai Peninsula.  Mr. Roth talks about Hamas next.  Hamas would love to kill as many Jews as possible.  But their main target is to disrupt the “sense of normalcy” in Israel.  Up until recently, most Israelis ignored Hamas and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  Call it “conflict fatigue.”  Israelis wanted to go about their lives, work, travel, and believe they’re no different from the residents of London and Paris. Hamas changed all that. A decade ago, crude Hamas missiles landed hundreds of yards or a few miles beyond the border.  Today they reach Tel-Aviv and beyond.  All of a sudden “there” has become “here.”

Israeli soldier discovers Hamas tunnel in Gaza

Israeli soldier discovers Hamas tunnel in Gaza

Dozens of underground Hamas tunnels add to the terror.  Tunnels are not new to Gaza.  Turns out, the Gazans had dug them more than 2400 years ago when they fought Alexander the Great.  Alexander lay siege to Gaza for 100 days (!) before the city surrendered. Infuriated by the Gazans’ resolve, he ordered mass executions and a vengeful rampage (Gaza: A History, by Jean-Pierre Filiu).

That’s a win for Hamas.  A win because Israel’s bubble of normalcy has been burst.

Rockets falling in Israel are not so much a military victory for Hamas as it is a psychological defeat for Israel.  By engaging in war so many times, Israel has shown its cards: airstrikes to soften resistance followed by a ground assault.  Much like a boxer in the ring, if a fighter (Israel) uses the left jab time and time again, the opponent (Hamas) will duck before taking the punch to the chin.  In other words, what’s troubling me as an Israeli-American is that Israel’s deterrence is slowly eroding in the eyes of the Arabs.  Like a pack of wild dogs, Arabs are willing to lose a few of their own, so long as they keep biting at Israel’s rear legs.

Hamas is willing to die so long as Israel will not live.

Hamas rockets

Hamas rockets

Tactically, Hamas is losing.  Some of its Gaza neighborhoods lay in ruin.  Strategically, they’re winning.  Once the war planes return to base, once the dust and smoke settles, Israeli society will have paid a price.  Already, cracks are beginning to show.  An overwhelming support for the war still exists among most Israelis. Patriotism is at all-time high.  Flags are unfurled, songs are sang, civilians volunteer to deliver food and supplies to the front line. But there are Israelis who question the war. They’re not as loud.  A handful of celebrities who dared criticize the war’s goals were quickly silenced.  War protesters in Tel Aviv assembled under the watchful eye of police guards.  The vitriol, the hatred between right-wing and left-wing Jews has spilled into social media.  Facebook is full of hate messages, one camp accusing the other of betrayal, of sliding down a slippery slope.  A wedge between bothers is now evident.

Mark that one as another win Hamas.

This summer tourism to Israel is down 70%.  Other than Evangelical tours to the Holy Land, other than  Orthodox Jews from America and patriotic Jews from France — hotels rooms go begging for guests.  Airlines around the world, fearing Hamas rocket attacks, cancelled flights into Israel for 48 hours.  For two days, Israel felt under siege.  Thousands of vacationing Israelis on the Turkish Riviera were unable to return home.  Eventually, Israel airlifted them back home.

War puts everything on hold.  Israel’s manufacturing is down.  Agriculture is down.  Scores of unfinished high-rise buildings in the south of Israel, and within range of Hamas rockets, remain idle and silent in the summer sun.  Laborers, mostly Arabs, are unwilling or unable to come to work.

Another win for Hamas.

Israel’s is also taking it on the chin internationally.  The images of dead children in Gaza cannot be erased.  Norwegians, Swiss, British, Americans sitting in their living rooms don’t know or don’t care that Hamas started firing rockets at innocent Israeli civilians.  A few ditches, holes in the ground, a burning gas station, a smashed balcony — all caused by Hamas rockets — are not as “sexy” and brutal as showing a dying Gaza child with a bloody teddy bear in his arms.  Israel lost, again.

“The Lancet,” the worlds leading medical journal published a damning letter on Israel.  Read by thousands of doctors worldwide, the journal accused Israel of indiscriminate killing in Gaza.  The journal was and is regarded as antisemitic, but there’s no denying its influence.  Israeli doctors attending future conventions in Europe and the U.S. will be heckled and booed.  Some research institutions want to severe ties with Israel, pull back funding, ban attendance, boycott Israeli products.

One more win for Hamas.

Another casualty of the Gaza war are the relations between Israeli-Arabs and Jews in Israel.  They’ve reached bottom in the last week.  There’s so much animosity and hatred between Arabs and Jews in Jerusalem, it can’t be even measured in truckloads.  Almost 40% of Jerusalem’s population is Palestinian.  Daily, thousands come to West Jerusalem (Jewish) to work in hospitals, municipal services, hotels, construction.  Mistrust is everywhere.  Jews want Arabs to disappear off the face of the earth.  Arabs want the same.

Gaza under Israeli fire-power

Gaza under Israeli fire-power

Two weeks ago, I took in my Toyota for servicing at a garage in Nazareth owned by Arabs.  Months before, the mood was cheerful.  Not this time.  I was all business.  The Arab receptionist behind the counter recognized me, tried to put on a smile, unsuccessfully.  My “hello” was awkward too.  The mechanics went about their work.  There’s untold tension.  I paid the invoice and left. I wasn’t in the mood for chitchat.  They weren’t either.  The scar is deep.  It will take a long time to heal, if ever.

Another win for Hamas.

But don’t get me wrong.  Hamas is a loser.  Big time.  A recent poll showed that more than half of the Gaza population don’t support Hamas; they want a cease-fire.  But not their leader – Khaled Mashal.  Last week Mashal was interviewed by Charlie Rose on America’s news program Face the Nation.  Mashal’s stupidity knows no limits.  Hamas will never defeat Israel. Here was his chance, on American TV, to say he’ll recognize Israel’s right to exist.  If he agreed to lay down his rockets, if he abandoned his quest to destroy Israel, then he might have really won the war.  In time, he could have gotten what he wanted: the end to Israel’s siege, the go ahead to build his own seaport and airport, to man the border crossings, to see his own people live better.  He blew the chance.  He’d rather continue to see his people die and his towns flattened.

I don’t pity him.  Nor his people for having elected Hamas into power.  People get the leader they deserve.

Arabs contribute little to science and the pursuit of knowledge.  This wasn’t always so.  In past centuries, the Arabs developed astronomy and algebra.  The Arabs invented “zero.”  Without the zero, we would have continued with the Roman gibberish of XLVXVIII.  But Hamas and similar radical fundamentalists in Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya have chosen to inscribe “zero” on their flags:  Zero-Tolerance, Zero-Achievements.

Israel is being grilled in the media, and at the U.N.   Jew-bashing and Jew-hating is nothing new.  Antisemitism has a long history and its reasons are beyond the scope of this post.  Arabs slaughter each other by the hundreds of thousands, by chemical gas, torture.  Theses tragic stories rarely grab the headlines.  Add a Jew to the mix, and all hell breaks loose.  Why this double-standard?

So, once this round of fighting and bloodletting is over, Israel and Hamas will still be in the boxing ring.  Israel will claim a knockout.  Hamas will claim it was a knockdown, nothing more.  Both will be bloodied.  They’ll go to their respective corners and rest.  Until the next round.

Mr. Mashal, remove your gloves, extend your bare hand and negotiate a settlement with Israel.  You win more by not doing war.

Israel would do well to speak to Hamas, directly or indirectly — even if they’re terrorists.

Remember, you make peace with your enemies, not your friends.

What do you think?

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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

 

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.

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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

 

 

Boston is not in Galilee

18 May
Number of Israelis killed by suicide bombings years 1993-2009

Number of Israelis killed by suicide bombings years 1993-2009
(courtesy of Wikipedia)

The images of the recent Boston Marathon bombing were hard to watch.  Confusion, mayhem, running for cover, tending to the injured.  It reminded me of the suicide bombings in Israel of yesteryear.  The attacks, mostly carried out by Hamas, reached their peak in 2002.  Since then, a 20-foot high concrete wall was erected along the West Bank with multiple checkpoints.  It proved to be very effective in thwarting terrorist attacks, as can be seen by the graph above.

You’d think that after a decade of quite, Israel would let down its guard.  But you’d be wrong.  It’s been almost two years since my return to Israel from the United States, and security is as tough as it ever was.

Only now, I don’t notice it as much.  Security is part of life.  Much like after 9/11, we all have to remove our shoes and expose our smelly socks at airport security, here, in Israel, we all have to follow the rules.

armed guard at school entrance

armed guard at school entrance

Security is all around, and around the clock.  I encounter it as early as eight in the morning, the time I drop off my daughters at school.  I go through an iron gate and stop.  An armed guard approaches.  “Good Morning,” I say.  He leans into the car window, sees my half-asleep girls in the backseat, pulls away from the car, gives me the nod to proceed.  In my rear-view mirror I see him return to his booth, a gun in his holster.  I don’t give it a moment’s thought.  It’s how it is.

There’s a guard at the entrance to the supermarket.  He’s carrying a gut.  He must be getting free samples from the bakery.  In his hands he holds a metal detector wand.  He hardly uses it.  After years on the job, he’s an expert at profiling.  He knows the good guys from the bad.  And the market we frequent caters to both Jewish and Arab Israelis.  Somehow, using a sixth sense, he knows what he needs to know.

entrance to shopping center

entrance to shopping center

Once I’m done with the groceries, I drop them off at home and my wife and I head to an open-air, large shopping center some 20 minutes from our house.  I slow down my car at the checkpoint.  Two young guards man the post.  I know the routine.  I roll the car forward, then stop.  I see his familiar hand gesture to pop open the trunk.  I follow his instructions.  The engine’s still running.  I hear a tap  on the trunk, my signal that all is clear.  I enter.  It’s that quick, that simple.  Do what they tell you, and you won’t even notice this tiny intrusion into your life.

After shopping for clothes and housewares, we’re hungry.  We dine at Joe’s Cafe.  The guard measures us for an instant, lets us through.  We step up to the hostess and ask for a table in the back.  We sip our coffee, dig into our salads and sandwiches.

Guard at entrance to Cafe Joe

Guard at entrance to Cafe Joe

“Check, please.”

Security Fee added to restaurant check

Security Fee added to restaurant check

Once it arrives, I notice that we’ve been charged a “security fee” of 4 shekels ($1.10).  The fee is meant to cover the expense of keeping a security guard on the premises.  Not all businesses charge a fee.  Many have raised a stink about having to “subsidize” the cost of security, but many see it as a necessary evil .

Drink up, your coffee is getting cold.

We get in the car and drive home, walk through our house gate.  No guard here.

“What’s for dinner?” my 14-year-old twin girls ask.

They’re safe.

It’s a wonderful day in Galilee.

Boston, we love you.

________________________________________________________________________________________

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 teen-age 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 BN.com.

Two Passports to Paradise?

16 Dec

Open any of Israel’s daily newspapers and on the back pages you’ll find stamp-size ads that promise a better future.  They’re listed at the bottom in bold type: GET YOUR EUROPEAN PASSPORT.  The ads are a barometer of the national mood.  There’s more of them, it seems, when things in Israel aren’t going well, i.e., the recent week-long war against Hamas terrorists in Gaza, the upcoming national elections in January 2013, the spike in the price of housing.

Polish Passport

Polish Passport

The idea is simple: if your mother or father, or grandparents, alive or dead, were at one time citizens of, say, Poland, and you can prove it, then you, as the applicant, can claim a Polish passport as well.

As an Israeli/Polish citizen, the doors to the European Union (EU) are now wide open.  You may study abroad, in Poland or in Oxford, England, work in Vienna or Helsinki, buy real estate in Berlin.  And you can buy Belgian chocolate for your not-as-fortunate left-behind family members when you come to visit them during the summer in Israel, in the “old country.”

European Union

European Union

Behind these small newspaper ads there’s a small army of service providers that include attorneys, contractors, notary publics, interpreters, translators, photographers, national archive researchers, website developers, advertisers, bill collectors — and that’s only in Israel.

To get the coveted passport/citizenship you may have to jump through more hoops than a circus horse.  And eat plenty of hay.   The TO-DO list is long and expensive.  Online companies offer to hold your hand while putting their other hand in your pocket.  You’ll have to provide original birth/death certificates of your family tree, be fingerprinted, photographed, notarized,  interviewed.  All has to be completed in Polish, in triplicate, please.  Pull out your wallet, pay from $600 to $1000 at the cash register.  Take a seat on that bench in the corner for the next 18 months, and don’t call for status during the Polish Holidays.

And yet, many Israelis go though this ordeal.  From 2000 to 2007, according to Dr. Yossi Harpaz from Tel Aviv University School of Sociology, 100,000 foreign passports (!) were issued to Israelis by Poland, Romania, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Germany, Bulgaria, Slovenia, the Czech Republic, and other European countries.  Not everyone is happy.  Even those that are eligible choose not to apply.  They accuse their Ashkenazi brothers of selling short their homeland and going back to the countries that sent them to the death camps.

Seeking such passports when Israel was first established would have bordered on treason.  The country and its people from the world over were united then around key goals: Nation-building and defending against the Arabs.

German Passport

German Passport

Today the threads of the nation’s quilt are getting frayed in some places.  Everyone’s in one bed, pulling the blanket every which way.  The goals have changed.  The Arabs cannot defeat Israel.  Its citizens are preoccupied with sectarian politics, the Orthodox, the Arab minority, education, jobs — all the symptoms of a nation that’s showing its age.

And this is why getting a European passport is no longer creating an uproar.  Everyone’s looking for an edge, real or imagined.

Dr. Harpaz, the son of Romanian parents and who’d gotten his own Romanian passport, doesn’t see it as an act of betrayal.  His scholarly research shows that fewer than 10% actually follow through on their plans to immigrate out of Israel.  In today’s global economy, it’s all about having the right connections and assets, and the European passport is one such tool in the toolbox.  He cites Switzerland and Holland which have as small populations as Israel and without threats of war and still, they experience negative migration.  Young, upwardly mobile people from Zurich and Amsterdam are staking their future elsewhere.

For the highly professional Israelis, the economic lure of Poland or Hungary, for example, is non-existent.  They earn much more at home.  For them, the U.S. and Canada is the place to be, and a Polish passport will not admit them there.

The Sephardic Jews in Israel don’t call on these passport ads.  They don’t have this “privilege.”   In the early 1950s the governments of Morocco, Egypt, Libya, Iraq, Syria, etc, stripped them of their citizenship, their passports, forced them to get the hell out —  to Israel.  Millions of Israelis of Sephardic background are UNABLE  to “get back” their citizenship from these Arab regimes.  This led to the Ashkenazi Jews who are seeking a European passport to be labeled as the “Exodus of the Able.”

Let’s get a second passport, this “Just in case” gene is embedded deep under the skin of the  Wandering Jew.  Throughout history we had the horses saddled and the engines running to make a quick get away.  We slept uneasily.  We saved for a rainy day when the sun was out.  Jewish chicken soup might help the common cold, but a European passport might be the ticket out.

It may not help, but it can’t “huit.”

JUST IN CASE.

What about you?  If you had a parent who was born outside the country you were born in — would you get a second passport?  Why?