Tag Archives: Hezbollah

Why Live in Israel?

31 Jan

Several days ago an Israeli military helicopter fired missiles onto Syrian territory.  Six Hezbollah militants and an Iranian accomplice were killed.  Within hours of the strike, North Galilee and the Golan Heights were on lockdown.  The area near the border was off-limits in anticipation of a Hezbollah attack.  It didn’t take long.  Earlier this week, Hezbollah fired anti-tank missiles into Galilee.  Two Israeli soldiers on patrol near the border were killed instantly.

Hezbollah leader killed by Israel

Hezbollah leader killed by Israel

The score?

Israel 1 – Hezbollah 1

Hezbollah retaliates - kills 2 Israeli soldiers

Hezbollah retaliates – kills 2 Israeli soldiers

Back to business as usual.  The Israeli army spokesman called for Israelis to return to “normal life.” The next day, schools re-opened, the ski summit at Mount Hermon was re-opened for business. Yet, tourists and vacationers, aware of the ongoing risk, chose to stay home.  Hotel cancellations were near 100%.  The snow pack on Mount Hermon was without skiers.  Except one family.

French Jews arriving in Israel

French Jews arriving in Israel

The television reporter caught up with the woman and her young children.  Immediately he noticed her accent.  “Where are you from?”

The woman behind sunglasses and a winter scarf said: “We’re originally from France.  We came to Israel three years ago.”  After being probed by the reporter, she continues: “You see what’s happening to Jews in France, no?  I’m here for three years.  I came to Hermon to show support.  In Israel, we have an army to protect us.  In France, we don’t.”  She’s speaking for other French Jews in France who are expected to come to Israel in greater numbers this year.

Sudanese Refugees seeking home in Israel

Sudanese Refugees seeking home in Israel

But what about non-Jews.  Why do they want to live here?  A Sudanese refugee was recently interviewed.  He’s one of 50,000 Africans who regard South Tel Aviv as their home.  The African man shows the reporter his scortched hands.  He trekked through Sudan, and Egypt. Then he crossed into the Sinai desert.  There he and others were captured by Bedouin bandits.  His only chance at freedom was if his family back home paid the ransom.  During his captivity, they tortured him, burned the paws of his hands.  He escaped, was picked up by soldiers on the Israeli side of the border and was put on a bus.  Days later, he walked aimlessly the streets of South Tel Aviv, eventually taken in by a homeless shelter.  In time, he recovered.  He now lives in Israel.  “Will you go home?” he’s asked. His reply:  “Israel is my home.”

Filipina Caregiver wins Israel's X-Factor Music Competition

Filipina Caregiver wins Israel’s X-Factor Music Competition

The Israeli elderly are looked after by caregivers from the Philippines.  The word got out that the pay in Israel is about $1200/month.  In the Philippines, young, unskilled men and women earn $100/month.  It’s no wonder that Filipinos and Filipinas are coming to Israel by the thousands.  Here, they have their own food markets, online presence, local newspaper, and even the annual Ms. Filipina Beauty Pageant.  Employment contractors in Manilla and in Israel exploit this labor market.  They charge them $8000 for the privilege of working in Israel, all paid in advance, in cash.  Once in Israel, it takes them years to repay their debt.  They visit their children back home once every two or three years, and keep in touch by Skype.  They endure long hours, take their old clients to the clinic, push their wheelchairs to the park; they learn Hebrew; they watch Israeli forces and terrorist groups clash on TV; they dig their chopsticks into their rice.  They continue to live in Israel until their clients no longer live.

What’s the fascination with this war-torn narrow strip of Land of Israel that attracts from the world over?

My two adult daughters remained in America.  My wife and younger twin daughters returned to Israel 3 1/2 years ago after having lived in California for over 30 years.  Is it really the Promised Land?

I doubt it.  Look up any “Best Places to Live” surveys and Israel is nowhere on the list.  War looms ever more frequently.  Corruption is rampant.  Politicians are guilty of taking bribes, police chiefs are accused of rape.  Arabs and Jews are at each other’s throats.  The cost-of-living has gone mad.  Etiquette, manners, empathy, respect are out the window.  Cynicism is at an all-time high.

So why am I here, still?  Why am I living in Galilee Hills and not returning to Hollywood Hills?

I wish the answer were than simple.  Call it habit, call it unwilling to pack up all over again, call it watching my daughters becoming “happy” Israelis despite their complaints, call it caring about what happens to this country despite feeling powerless, call it feeling the pulse of life here, call it seeing it all from the inside, call it what many Sudanese, Russian, French, Filipinos are feeling – it’s home.

For now.

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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

 

 

 

 

 

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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

 

 

2006 in the rear-view mirror

26 Feb

To date, my blogs have been about my experiences as an Israeli-American who’d returned to Israel in 2011.  I recently dug up a story I wrote about my family and the Lebanon War of 2006, while we were visiting and building our new home in Kfar Tavor.  Much has changed since, and little has changed since.  The story was picked by a Jewish publication.

2006:

Picture this: A hot summer afternoon in Kfar Tavor, a small village in Northern Israel. I’m sitting on our rooftop deck in our just completed new home.  The easterly wind so typical of the Lower Galilee blows amidst the rows of olive groves, bending the tree branches in every direction. Vineyards stretch to the hillsides.  My twin daughters, Maya and Romy, age 8, are playing downstairs with their new Israeli friends.  My wife Pnina had just returned from the market and will soon join me to a cup of Turkish coffee.  It was during this seemingly idyllic setting that I asked myself: What were our chances of being struck by a Hezbollah rocket?

That question crossed my mind as the war raged for three weeks against the Hezbollah with no end in sight.  Only yesterday, the number of rockets that slammed the Tzafon, the North, reached the three-thousand mark.  But still, to any reasonable man the odds of being hit by a rocket were as remote as claiming a winning Lotto ticket.  A handyman who was busy putting the final coat of paint to our new kitchen quickly dispelled my sense of calm.  “No one buys 150 lottery tickets per day,” he said, waving his paint brush at me, referring to the daily deluge of rockets that rained down on Galilee.  That statistic was unsettling but I wasn’t ready to panic just yet.  I wanted to replace panic with cold, hard facts.  Being a geography graduate from the University of Tel Aviv some thirty years earlier afforded me some tools unavailable to the average Joe, or here, in Israel, to the average Yossi.  A quick lookup in the atlas confirmed what we all know: Israel is small, about half the size of San Bernardino County.  Pencil in hand, I circled the map of Galilee, noticing that the region comprised one-third of Israel’s land.  My confidence suddenly slipped.

The Israeli media aggravated our already frazzled nerves.  Days earlier, cameramen had swooped down over Nahariya, an otherwise quaint resort town on the Mediterranean.  A direct rocket killed a woman instantly while she sat in her penthouse balcony.  Pictures of the attack were splashed in newspapers.  Red was the dominant color.  Each day, it seemed, the red spilled further and further south, closer and closer to our home.  Kfar Tavor, 45 miles from the Lebanese border, had become the frontier.  Fighter jets streaked the sky on their way to Lebanon.  The drone of the Apache helicopters above was omnipresent during all hours of the day, ferrying soldiers and materiel to the battlefront.

My daughters didn’t ask questions.  They didn’t need to.  War permeated every room, every conversation, and every funeral.  They soaked up the war from the TV monitor in my sister-in-law’s living room, from hearing about the Hezbollah from the anchorman, from the front page pictures of the dead and maimed, from their friends, and from sensing our disquiet.  They knew their vacation in Israel was different, like no other they’d experienced during their young lives.

The summer camp shut down abruptly.  School buses idled in parking lots.  My daughters gazed through the padlocked gate and the chain link fence that surrounded the community swimming pool.  A sign read: “Due to the situation, pool is closed until further notice.”  They didn’t ask.  They knew.

During a brief lull in the fighting, I piled the girls into the car, packed their bathing suits, slathered their faces with sun-block, and drove ten minutes to a neighboring village which chose to keep its swimming pool open, ignoring strict directives from the military to keep people from assembling in any one place.  The pool swelled with kids and their parents.  Beach balls skipped over the water.  I stretched on a comfortable lawn chair, watched my girls jump off the diving boards; I watched them lick ice cream cones while the amplified radio played a Rolling Stones classic, the sound of the electric guitar aching.  Overhead, Apache helicopters, resembling giant grasshoppers, thumped in a northerly direction.  For a moment, it felt as if I were a character in the movie Apocalypse Now.  Out in the open and without cover, I gambled in a game of Russian Roulette, or Hezbollah Roulette.  Now, in retrospect, I acted recklessly.  Then, it was escapism, if only for a day.  Then, it was not to deprive my daughters of the summer vacation we had promised them.

Gambling with our lives seemed ordinary.  Rockets fell everywhere and people went about their business.  Many ignored sirens and bomb shelters.  This was doubly true of the elderly.  They’d seen greater calamities in the past.  Rockets weren’t going to change their calendar.  Case in point: at the grocery store I pushed my shopping cart past an old man with a cell phone attached to his ear.  The person on the other end informed him of a fatality in Haifa.  A rocket struck a driver, incinerating his vehicle.  I could see the horrific news affected the man.  He covered his eyes and shook his head in disbelief.  He then reached for a coffee can off the shelf and said into the mouthpiece, “That’s terrible, terrible.  Listen, they have a two-for-one special on Brazilian coffee, should I get some?”

Life went on.

In time, everyone told stories of almost being hit by a rocket.  They were either on their way to a shop or an office minutes before or after rockets had landed.  Miracles abounded.  I had one of my own.  The doors in our new house were missing door handles.  I climbed into my sister-in-law’s car and we drove twenty minutes from Kfar Tavor to Nazareth.  Nazareth’s vibrant Jewish, Moslem, and Christian communities drew people from far and wide for generations.  To Nazareth you went if you wanted to repair your car on the cheap, to buy gold jewelry, spices, or in my case, door handles.  Once done with our shopping in Nazareth we dined at a local Arab-owned restaurant.  We complimented the owner-chef on the fine humus and fluffy pita bread.  We returned home.  Two hours later I learned a Hezbollah rocket exploded a half-mile away from the restaurant in a courtyard where children were playing soccer.  The rocket killed two young Arab brothers.  That night, Nasarallah of the Hezbollah labeled the dead children as Shaids, martyrs.  That night, my head on the pillow, I realized half a mile was a close call.  I turned over and slept.

The next morning an Israeli-Arab laborer was to lay tile in our guest bathroom.  I watched him measure and cut the tile.  It didn’t take long for the conversation to veer into politics.  “As Arab-Israelis, we’re screwed,” he said and drew a deep puff from his Marlboro.  I didn’t respond right away.  I gave him space.  “You see,” he continued, “The Arabs in Lebanon, in Jordan, in Syria – they all regard us as traitors.  We live inside a Jewish state with Jews.”  He put out his cigarette.  “On the other hand,” he said, “all the Israelis think of us as collaborators, as Hezbollah sympathizers.  Either way, we lose.”  He then made mention of the two young Arab boys who were killed indiscriminately by Hezbollah in Nazareth.  He said: “Our blood is as red as yours.”

When he left, I climbed on the rooftop.  The Galilee population is 50% Moslem and Christian, 50% Jewish.  From my vantage point I could see Arab villages hug the hillsides.  Shepherds led their grazing sheep up the slopes.  The cries of the muezzins from the mosques over the loudspeakers sliced the air several times a day, calling the believers to prayer.  Whether we wanted it or not, the lives of the Arab-Israelis and the Jews were intertwined.

And the rockets kept coming.  Huddled on the floor inside our bomb shelter with Pnina, Maya and Romy, our eyes squinting in the dark, staring at the steel trap door and steel-plated window, sucking air from the vent that led to the outside world, I said to Pnina in code language:  Did you hear the boom of the “Tet – Yod – Lamed?”  Forgetting completely that the girls had learned Hebrew at Adat Ariel in first grade, Romy stood up and shouted, “Abba, you said TIL, — that’s Tet – Yod – Lamed — That means ROCKET.  Did a rocket fall on our house?”

No, it didn’t.  The tail of a rocket malfunctioned in mid-flight and fishtailed to the ground about a mile away.

Every day the names and pictures of the fallen soldiers and civilians were shown on television and in the papers.  Grief suffocated the nation.  We spoke of nothing else.  Then grief gave way to anger.  Israel wasn’t used to protracted wars, to such high casualties.  Israel’s military supremacy was never in question, but with each passing day, victory became elusive.  Finger-pointing dominated the airwaves.  Everyone was a general.  We all asked the same question:  How could Israel have allowed the Hezbollah to build its war machine?  As if to mock us, every time Israel upped the ante, dropped more bombs, and turned Lebanese villages to rubble, the Hezbollah slammed Galilee even harder.

If an army marches on its stomach, it took but one phone call in Kfar Tavor to enlist the women in the village.  Within minutes my wife Pnina jumped in the car and came back with enough groceries to feed Napoleon’s army.  She toiled in the kitchen for hours.  Juicy meatballs materialized in no time.  Plump chickens filled pots.  Coffee cakes rose in the oven.  Hours later the women assembled at the main square of the village and a long convoy of cars snaked its way north, to feed soldiers just across the Lebanese border.

The war affected Israel disproportionately.  In the north, thousands lived around the clock inside ill-equipped, neglected and smelly public bomb shelters.  Shopping malls resembled ghost towns.  Theaters were empty.  Restaurants begged for diners.  Thousands fled to relatives and friends to the south.  Tel Aviv, beyond the rockets’ range, belonged to another planet.  People there continued to frequent the cafes, to work on their beach tan, and to fill the night clubs.  Such was the case when we packed an overnight suitcase and drove the two-hour ride to Tel Aviv to attend my niece’s Bat Mitzvah celebration.  I feared we’ll witness nothing but empty tables and a teary-eyed twelve-year old.  Who in his right mind wanted to attend a Bat Mitzvah in the middle of the war?  I was wrong.  Two hundred guests feasted, laughed, and danced.  Unlike the Hezbollah that chose death, we, as Jews embraced life.

The next morning we couldn’t return to Kfar Tavor, our home.  The war escalated to new levels.  Rockets pummeled Galilee.  Cars clogged up the highways leading south.  No one dared head north.  “I want to go home,” I told my father in his apartment overlooking the Mediterranean.  “What?  Are you nuts?  Stay with us for a few days,” he said.

“I don’t have a change of underwear? “ I told him.

“Use mine, then,” he laughed.  “It’s war time.”

The following day I accompanied my father to a Yad Vashem satellite museum near Tel Aviv.  The museum’s director invited my father to give firsthand testimony of his days in the Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp as a boy.  The museum was to document my father’s incarceration on video and to archive the DVD at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.  During the three hours I spent in the studio with my father, the present did not exist.  The Hezbollah was off limits.  I only heard of his days in the camps, of his subsequent Aliya to Israel as a holocaust survivor, of farming on a kibbutz, and of his fighting the Arabs during Israel’s War of Independence in 1948.  Once the interview ended, we stepped out into the sun, and into the present.  Sitting in the back of a taxi, he said, “What do you say we take the grandchildren to the beach this afternoon?”

Life went on.

Coincidentally, the cease-fire went into effect during our last day in Israel.  Israel and Hezbollah fought it out for more than a month.  Now they removed their boxing gloves without a clear winner.  They were both bloodied.

In the evening, the taxi pulled up to our house.  We drew the shades down over the windows, locked up, and strapped the many suitcases on the roof of the cab.  We were going home, this time to America.

A sudden explosion startled us.  “Did the Hezbollah violate the ceasefire already?” I asked the driver as to where the rocket might have landed.  “The Arabs,” he said, and pointed to the source of the mesmerizing display of red, yellow, green, and white fireworks igniting the night sky.  “They’re celebrating a wedding; they’re going to sing and dance till dawn.”

Such was the case in the Middle East.  Life and death mixed.

As we neared the airport on Highway 6, the latest addition to Israel’s freeways, I saw an enormous truck on the right lane struggling to pull its load.  The cab sped up until we were even alongside the giant flatbed.  The cargo was covered with camouflaged netting.  As if reading my mind, the driver said,” It’s a damaged tank.  It took a hit in Lebanon.”

I rolled down the window.  The netting on the truck flapped erratically in the wind, revealing the body of the tank, much like a doctor pulling back the bed sheets to reveal the patient.  Israel was hurt.  But just like the tank that will be nursed back to health, so Israel will recover, gain strength, and learn its lessons.