Tag Archives: Israel

Tribute to Old Man and the Sea

7 May

My father, Joseph Labi, 88, always loved the sea.  As a child in Benghazi, Libya, he frequented the seaport and watched boats sail in and out of the Italian, Fascist-controlled harbor.

Joseph Labi today

Joseph Labi today

Many years later, in Israel, I recall my father taking me to the sea in Bat-Yam, our hometown outside Tel-Aviv.  We waded into the blue water until our toes could no longer touch the sand below. Then we floated and awaited for the waves to roll in from the deep.  We body-surfed the waves, our arms swinging like windmills to catch the cresting wave, carried to shore, and back again, and back again.

Joseph and wife Yvonne today

Joseph and wife Yvonne today

It is fitting, then, that last week the Holocaust Memorial documentarian chose to film my father with the sea behind him as a backdrop.  I look at my father and I can’t believe his age, nor mine — time did fly.

Joseph Labi at 15 in Italian village

Joseph Labi at 15 in Italian village

It was not until 1968, shortly after my Bar Mitzvah that I fully learned of my father’s horrific experience at the hands of the Nazis.  I was in the Israeli-equivalent of the Boy Scouts and I was asked to volunteer my father to speak of his ordeal in front of the “troops.”  It was a hot summer evening.  My father, dressed fashionably as he always did, fanned his face with a folded handkerchief.  I sat speechless long after he’d finished talking.  The images didn’t add up.  How was this stong, muscular, handsome man who stood before me was tortured to near nothingness by the Nazi machine?

Two years before, in 1966, and some twenty years after the end of WWII, my father, mother, sister and I visited a remote village in the Italian mountain range near Reggio Emilia.  “This is where I spent my childhood as an orphan,” he said.  Here in the village, Castelnovo Ne Monti, my father was interned by the Fascists and Nazis for two years.  Walking with him then in the picturesque cobblestone streets shrouded by mountain mist, I couldn’t imagine what he’d endured as a 15 year-old boy before the Nazis put him on a train to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany.

Joseph with Isael's prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu

Joseph with Isael’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu

That same night he and I sat at the Italian village outdoor cafe and watched on a grainy black-and-white TV the 1966 soccer World Cup final game between England and Germany.  While the Italian crowd rooted for their Germans war-allies, my father and I jumped for joy when England won the game and took the cup. That night my father couldn’t be happier, a small revenge of sorts.

Years passed.  He sometimes spoke of his experience at Bergen-Belsen, of his hunger, of his loneliness, of his humiliation, and his desire to live.  After liberation by the Americans, alone, he wandered the bombed-out cities

Joseph, at far left, with Special Combat Forces

Joseph, at far left, honored by Special Combat Forces

of Europe, finally returning to his port city of Benghazi, and the sea.  But it was no longer his home.  Almost everyone he’d known had scattered. He made it to Egypt with a childhood buddy, and from there, dressed as a British Jewish Brigade soldier he was smuggled into British-controlled Palestine.  For two years at a kibbutz he learned to tend to crops, milk the cows; learned to shoot a rifle, learned to read and write Hebrew before being drafted as a soldier in Israel’s War of Independence.

Joseph honored by his family at Holocaust Memorial Stage

Joseph honored by his family at Holocaust Memorial Stage

The rest is history.  The number of Holocaust survivors is diminishing worldwide.  Soon there will be no one left to give first-hand testimony.  This week my father was honored as one of six survivors to light the torch at the Holocaust Memorial Services in Jerusalem.  He met with Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, finally awarded a stage on which to tell his story.  He owes thanks to his son-in-law Israel who’d campaigned for him for years, and to his grandson Daniel.  My younger daughters, Maya and Romy, 17, honored their grandfather by heading an Israeli delegation to Bergen-Belsen.  There they found his name recorded in the Nazi archives, including the date the train arrived at the camp.

Playing with the latest addition, his great-granddaughter

Playing with the latest addition, his great-granddaughter

My older daughters in America, Michelle and Vanessa, are proud of him, sharing his story with many of their friends of their generation.

The ceremony at Yad Va’Shem is over.  The cameras stopped.  The phone calls to my father from reporters and news crews stopped.  But my father hasn’t.  He will soon put on his soft walking shoes and head to the sea.  There he will stand on the cliff and look into the water, watch the waves roll in.  An old man and his sea.

 

Below there’s a link to my father’s video testimony.

http://www.yadvashem.org/yv/en/remembrance/2016/labi.asp


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.barnesandn

 

 

Beer Lover’s Paradise in Galilee

16 Apr

I met Tal Bitton at an Arts & Crafts fair in my village last week.

"Tavor Brewery" Boutique Beer in Galilee

“Tavor Brewery” Boutique Beer in Galilee

He was sitting on a large cooler under an umbrella selling home-brewed beer.  It was a hot day and within hours he’d sold all his “Tavor Brewery” bottles with their distinctive mustard-yellow and ketchup-red beer caps.  I was intrigued, bought a six-pack, tasted them at home, was taken by the aroma and flavors, and called him to come see his boutique “brewery” up close and personal.

The raw ingridients: wheat and malt

The raw ingredients: wheat and malt

Tal lives in the next village over, Shadmot Devora, named after the wife of famous Baron Rothschild.  It’s a sleepier village than ours, still retains its old world charm.  I pull in front of a basalt, volcanic-rock covered house.

Ground mix of malt and wheat

Ground mix of malt and wheat

He steps out to greet me and we walk in.  Tal’s in his forties, married with two young children.  I did not know what to expect once he opened his front door.

Brewing pots on the balcony

Brewing pots on the balcony

Ornate furniture, sofas, 19th century English dining tables, china plates take up the entire living room.  “My wife Sigal is an art dealer,” he explains.  “She imports one-of-a-kind pieces in ship containers, displays them at home and online.”  We sidestep the delicate furniture pieces and climb up the stairs to his business.  In one of the bedrooms while his kids play soccer on their Playstation, Tal shows me the 25kg sacks of wheat and sacks of malt imported from the UK and other European countries.  “I struck a deal with local Galilee farmers to get their wheat this year,” he tells me.

Tal Bitton showing me around the house

Tal Bitton showing me around the house

He then goes on to explain about the proper ratio between them (70/30).  He first grinds the wheat and malt, places all in a bath at 70 degrees centigrade until a mash develops.  He then drains the stuff. To the liquid brew he adds hops as a preservative and as bitterness agent.  All comes to a boil.  Toward the end he adds his own “secret” spices, essentially coriander, black pepper and orange peels.  Once it cools off with reverse osmosis hoses Tal lets the brew ferment for two weeks at 17 degrees (uses A/C in summer or heater in winter), constantly monitoring the fermentation and the alcohol content at around 5.2%.  This is a small operation soon to be bigger, so at this stage family members all lend a hand.  The bottles are washed and sterilized, grape sugar is added at the end to add effervescence and fizz, and to flatten the last of the fermentation.  The beer is poured into bottles, the caps are sealed one by one.  “Tavor Brewery” is open for business.

“How did you start out?” I ask.

Bottling the liquid gold one by one

Bottling the liquid gold one by one

Tal tells me he’s a casualty of the boom/bust hi-tech in Israel.  As a telecom executive he worked in Germany, then in Belgium.  After office hours he, the employees and the business partners frequented the local pubs. He became hooked.  Back in Israel, he still does consulting work but his passion is evident in the wonderful aroma and flavors of his beer.  Each bottle sells for $2.60 (about $15 for a six-pack) – a reasonable price by Israel’s high-priced beer market.  He now sells out of his brew-at-home bottles days after they’re available.

He wants to expand but must get permits from the Ministry of Health, get the green light from Ministry of Religious Affairs (has to be kosher), and is required to work out of a warehouse, not his spare bedroom and balcony.  It’s a tall order, but I suspect he will succeed.

wheat at the foot of Mt. Tavor

wheat at the foot of Mt. Tavor

He ordered new “upgraded” labels for his bottles, and is considering getting the word out with a multi-level marketing model.

The beer is unfiltered, much like Tal – what you see is what you get. On a warm spring day, as an accompaniment to a good meal, there’s nothing like a homegrown beer from Galilee.

What a nice kick to the head.

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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.barnesandn

Life is like a box of dynamite

26 Mar

Last week a group of Israelis toured the streets and promenades of Istanbul.  It was part of a culinary trip to explore the flavors of the wonderful Turkish cuisine.

Israeli tourists in Istanbul before the terrorists' attack

Israeli tourists in Istanbul before the terrorists’ attack

While they dined at a restaurant, an ISIS (Daesh) suicide-bomber detonated his explosives belt killing three and wounding scores more. The festive outing had turned into a disaster.  Within hours Israel sent its own doctors and transport airplanes to bring everyone home.  This is one more story of Islamist terrorism against Jews.  What’s absurd is that one of the killed, Avi Goldman, was a tour guide in Jerusalem.  He survived the daily attacks of Arabs against Jews in his own city, yet had to travel to Turkey to meet his death.

Forrest Gump had it all wrong.  Life is not like a box of chocolate.

Islamist suicide-bombers in Brussels

Islamist suicide-bombers in Brussels

It used to be that if you kept out of trouble, trouble would not find you.  Islamists terrorists changed all that after 9/11.  We’re sitting ducks.  Anywhere we go, San Bernardino in California, Paris, Istanbul, Tel-Aviv, we can have our heads blown off or be stabbed to death.  There are no Swedes, Frenchmen, Englishmen, Italians pulling anchor from their homelands and going on a killing spree in Afghanistan, Iraq, or Syria.  It’s an Islamist thing.  Even those Muslims who’d lived in Europe for two or three generations produce sleeper-cell terrorists.  It’s assimilation gone wild.  I feel sorry for all the law-abiding peaceful Muslims who just want to get by in life, find a decent job, raise a decent family, build a decent home.  Yet many indecent, violent, hell-bent Islamist fundamentalists are ruining it for their own people and their own religion.  But you can’t talk sense into them.  They’re sick in the head.

Victims of the suicide-bombing in Brussels

Victims of the suicide-bombing in Brussels

What’s most terrifying is that these Islamists terrorists can strike at any moment, anywhere, in capital cities and sleepy villages.  Ten days ago my twin teenage daughters flew to Bergen-Belsen, Germany as part of a worldwide delegation to explore and learn about the Nazi atrocities in the concentration camp (more on the subject on a future post).  They flew from Israel to Frankfurt, and from there to Hanover, and from there to Bergen-Belsen.

Then the ISIS terrorists struck Brussels, Belgium.  Thirty-four innocent people were killed at the airport and subway.  My wife and I panicked.  That same week they were to return to Israel with a connecting flight through…Brussels.  While in Germany the local media had learned of my daughters’ involvement in the Bergen-Belsen project.  They wanted to interview them for TV and radio and take their account of their Germany visit.  The reporters asked their Israeli adult escort for permission to interview.  Their woman escort and former teacher called Jerusalem for instructions.  Jerusalem called back.  “Do not let them talk to anyone!”  Why expose them to would-be attackers, they said.  Toward the end, the reporters and Israeli security reached a compromise.  My daughters spoke of their experiences in Germany and the story could be told only after they’d left the country.

My daughters in Bergen-Belsen this week

My daughters in Bergen-Belsen this week

They traveled to Germany to learn of the horrors committed in the camp more than 70 years ago, only to learn that the horrors continue to haunt us today. Luckily they took a flight back through Munich instead, and arrived safely early this morning.

The families from the Istanbul attack are grieving. Brussels, known for its Belgian chocolate, is now known for dynamite and bombs.

Forrest Gump, your mama was wrong.  We know exactly what we’re going to get.

——————————————————————————————————————

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.barnesandn

 

 

 

 

 

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!

———————————–

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

 

Peacefulness amidst Chaos

4 Dec

On a frigid and clear Friday morning I scale the roads leading to the summit of Mt. Tavor.

ENtrance to church grounds

Entrance to church grounds

Tired of hitting the university books, disgusted with the depressing news of violence between Arabs and Jews, I decide to take refuge at the highest point in Lower Galilee.  At eight in the morning I’m the sole driver negotiating the hairpin turns of the mountain.  The car radio is off, only the sound of the shrieking wind that bends the cypress trees up ahead.  At the next turn, the entrance to the church compound appears, all majestic.  tavor 11The Franciscan flag with its signature four small crosses and one large cross is splashed against the blue sky.  The flag sits atop a tunnel that dates back centuries.  I park at the plateau alongside several large vans.  Eager parishioners must have come ahead of me.  At the main gate, a large group of Filipino worshippers are about to leave.  They giggle like school children, rubbing their glove-less hands to ward off the cold.  Mt. Tavor is a long way from Manila, I think as I continue down the pebble pathway leading to the church.

Franciscan Friar on Mt. Tavor

Franciscan Friar on Mt. Tavor

Three men wrapped with scarves round their necks rake the pebbles on the ground, back and forth, back and forth, until all is flat and even.  Gardeners tend to the flower pots, pull errant leaves and discard them.

The peacefulness hurts.

What is it about these men-of-the-cloth that makes them appear so tranquil and at ease.  Just 600 meters below, we’re out to kill one another.  The contrast is so severe, the solitude so intense, the beauty so striking that it pains me more than the icy wind.  I march on and read the plaque honoring Antonio Barluzzi, the “architect of the Holy Land.”  An Italian Franciscan monk, he left his mark on several churches in Jerusalem, Sea of Galilee, and here, on Mt. Tabor with his Church of Transfiguration, completed almost one-hundred years ago atop the ruins of Byzantine and later a Crusader church.  Tavor 7

Pilgrims from far-away Colombia at Mt. Tavor

Pilgrims from far-away Colombia at Mt. Tavor

It is at this point that I’m reminded that history in this neck of the woods has always been bloody, crusaders on horseback pillaging,killing, torching, and now, surrounded by green lawns and colorful petunias, it seems unimaginable.

The space inside the church is awesome.  The acoustics are first-class; the prayer coming from the chapel down below.  A Franciscan friar with his robe and its trademark rope tied with three knots (poverty, chastity, obedience) leads the prayer service.  Turns out, this summit atop Mt. Tavor is revered by Christians the world over, along with Bethlehem and Nazareth. It is here that Jesus is believed to have “transfigured.” tavor 12It is here that he shone, became radiant and spoke to Elijah and Moses before descending the mountain.  Sounds familiar?

Bird's eye-view of my village below

Bird’s eye-view of my village below

I visit the small chapels dedicated to Judaism’s forefathers.  Then off to the rooftop balcony to take in the magnificent view.  A group of pilgrims from Colombia are listening attentively to their tour guide.

From this vantage point I see my village, Kfar Tavor, sprawled.  Below, nothing but houses upon houses and lush fields sparkle in the morning sun.

Must I come down and face reality?

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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

Deterrence that does not Deter

31 Oct

During this third round of Palestinian terror, Israel is bent on protecting its citizens with all possible means.  Bulldozing and detonating a terrorist’s home is not new.  Israel has destroyed many terrorists’ homes in the past.  The rationale is twofold: 1. Punish the terrorist’s family by turning his home into rubble.  2. As a tool of deterrence; other would-be terrorists will think twice about venturing out with guns, knives, or rocks against Jews, knowing the consequences.  The scenes of the bulldozing’s aftermath are familiar: the surviving family members who’d been given ample notice to evacuate are seen sitting atop concrete slabs and twisted iron bars, what was once their home.  Small children climb up and down the rubble.  Older family members of the terrorist, typically the parents, are shown throwing fists into the air and shouting that Allah will seek revenge.  By the times this video makes its rounds in every social media and television outlet around the world, no one cares or recalls that the “good son” had maimed or killed Jews.  Israel has lost the public opinion battle.  It is at this stage where Israel Defense Forces issues a memorandum or a counter-explanation to try to win what was lost.  Too little, too late.

demolished Palestinian terrorist's home

demolished Palestinian terrorist’s home

And yet, Israel continues to bring house demolition cases before its Supreme Court to get the green light to tear down more houses.  In Israel, we’ve had two significant Intifadas (Arab uprising), in 1988, in 2000, and another one on the way, in 2015.  Did we learn nothing from the previous two?  We destroyed Palestinian homes for acts of terrorism and it did not help curb the current uprising.  Why should this time be any different?  Hate toward Israel is spread among the Arab youth day and night by Hamas and other crazies.  Here’s my point: An Arab teenager whose brother or cousin sees his relatives become homeless overnight — would this deter him from committing terrorism?  I doubt it.  I argue that it only hardens him to take action against Israel, turning hundreds of young men into religious or political fanatics.  The demolition of the house is no punishment either.  Days after the house is brought down, Palestinians step in and collect enough money to start the rebuilding.  It’s been known that money from the Gulf States, and from Hamas in Gaza soon makes its way to the West Bank.  A terrorist who may have been a despicable human being is now raised to a status greater than a rock-star.  Now he’s a martyr in Allah’s quest.

I wish to turn now to another Israeli tactic of deterrence that does not work: dead bodies.  The Israeli public is rightly infuriated by all the recent knife stabbing and disruption of life.  Israeli security forces take no chances; they shoot to kill.  Within weeks of the violence, Israel amassed about two dozen Arab bodies in the morgue.  What is one to do with the corpses?  Most times, the bodies are returned to the terrorists’ families for burial.  But lately there’s a new wrinkle in the fight against terrorism.  Israel is contempalting keeping the bodies.  The rationale:  Punishment and deterrence.  Does this sound familiar?  Here, again, I think this is bad policy.  Not because I care about the dead bodies “honor,” but because I think that withholding them from the relatives does nothing for Israel’s security.  When a terrorist is killed and soon returned, we’ve witnessed funeral processions in the streets of the West Banks that included hundreds of Arab men.  Now that the bodies are not returned, demonstrations are tenfold larger, into the thousands.  Much like with the tearing down of terrorists’ home, the flames of hate are many times larger.  Dead women terrorists are even more revered, the protests are louder and more violent.

Did we not learn anything from the Gilad Shalit episode.  Shalit was an Israeli soldier who was captured by Hamas and was released after five years, in 2011.  Israel agreed to exchange him for 1000 (!) Palestinian terrorists.  Are we not digging a similar hole this time around?  One dead Israeli soldier in the hands of the terrorists will trigger the release of all the bodies we accumulated. So why go down this treacherous road again and turn the dead terrorists into martyrs, and the living terrorists into heroes?

Deterrence is not found in demolished houses and dead bodies.  If not this, what then?  I suggest Israel send airplanes into the air and scatter thousands of flyers over the West Bank: “Let’s stop the killing for 24 hours.  On Tuesday, at 12pm, we are coming to the border without guns.  You are to come by the thousands without your knives or explosives.  We’ll talk.  If it does not work, we can always go back to killing on Wednesday.  Come hungry.  Catering provided.  We might even break bread over a plate of hummus.  Inshalah.”

Crazy?  Yes.

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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 kitchen Knife Wrapped in Conspiracy Theory

10 Oct

This week, the latest round of attacks of Arabs against Jews and Jews against Arabs promise to make the year 2015 one of the most violent.  It’s nothing new.  Attacks and counter-attacks date back more than 100 years, decades before Israel was established.  What is new are the actors.  It is no longer army against army, or militias against insurgents, or tribesmen against organized kibbutz settlers. This time individuals, vigilantes, and loners take center stage.  Just in the last 48 hours, ten Arabs, acting independently of one another, lashed out at Israeli-Jews all over the country.  These young Arab men (and two Arab women) were armed with knives, screwdrivers, any sharp implement they could get their hands on. Weeks before, Jewish extremists also lashed against Arabs villages, burning houses with the occupants inside.

Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The Jewish Western Wall in the foreground and the Al Aqsa Mosque on top

Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The Jewish Western Wall in the foreground and the Al Aqsa Mosque on top

Who are these madmen?

On the Jewish side, it’s mostly right-wing settler-extremists who want to drive away Arabs from the West Bank.  They’re driven by faith to settle Judea and Samaria at all costs.  Through their elected members of the Knesset (Israel’s parliament), they wield great influence to build more settlements.  When their demands are not met, they take the law into their own hands and raid Arab villages and mosques in the dead of night.  After numerous attacks, few if any were apprehended.  Those caught by Israel’s security forces and police choose to remain silent under investigation.  With no “evidence” to try them, they are soon released.  It’s this kid glove attitude; it’s this turning a blind eye to the violence that invites counter-violence from the Arabs.

Arab resistance in East Jerusalem

Arab resistance in East Jerusalem

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not justifying the recent Arabs’ violence.  Throwing rocks is wrong. Hurling burning molotov cocktails at innocent Jewish drivers is wrong.  Running over Jews with automobiles is insane.  Stabbing Jews in the street is cowardly.  Arab social media instructional video on how to stab and kill Jews is demented and sick.  But why are they killing?  Arab frustration is at an all-time high.  Despair is higher.  Fear of Jews infringing on their sacred Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem turns sleeper-cell Arabs, college students, and seemingly normal men and women into murderers.  Something goes berserk in their heads, and they start looking for the first Jew to kill. I attribute much of this insanity and violence to conspiracy theory.  Here’s my theory: The more educated and democratic a country, the less the likelihood its people will subscribe to conspiracy theory.  Let me illustrate.  Some people in America still think Americans never landed on the moon, that JFK was killed by the mob, or by space aliens, or that the tragedy of 9/11 was an inside job. They’re the minority.  Most Americans know better.  However, in Arab countries ruled by strongmen with an iron fist, conspiracy theory is alive and kicking.  It’s their narrative; it’s how they explain the world.  It’s how the uneducated and no access to power by peaceful means deal with events beyond their control.  Were it not the Arabs who invented the fables of One Thousand and One Nights? They love a good story to explain life’s mysteries.  Let me invent a story to help explain: There’s a dinner party in Washington DC.  A senator is rushed to the hospital where he’s pronounced dead. The next day, the newspapers reveal he’d suffered a heart attack. End of story. Take this same event, only this time put it in Cairo.  An Egyptian delegate dies after eating a rack of lamb at the president’s banquet.  The word on the Arab street the next morning: “Delegate was poisoned because he was critical of the president’s policies.”naftali bennett

Why am I telling you a story of conspiracy?  Recently Naftali Bennett, Israel’s current Minister of Education, chose to speak less of math and grammar and more of God-given rights to Jews.  As a right-wing extremist he said Jews have the right to visit Jerusalem’s entire Temple Mount, including the compound assigned to the Muslims at the doorstep to the Al Aqsa Mosque.  This is a definite red line.  It was crossed before in 2000 by then prime minister Ariel Sharon.  Hell broke loose.  The trampling over this holy Arab site triggered an Arab Intifada (uprising) that took the lives of many.  Today, one slip of the tongue, one misspoken word (Bennett’s), one incitement or challenge to their faith or Mosque ignites the Arabs’ imagination that we’re out to get them.  They soon run into the streets with knives between their teeth.  Conspiracy theory at work.

Benjamin Netanyahu

Benjamin Netanyahu

Who’s the winner?  No one.  Who’s the loser?  Everyone.  Israel is isolated diplomatically.  To those who say it doesn’t matter, only security matters, think again.  We need friends.  We can’t cut off everyone.  Tourism is down.  Hotels in Jerusalem are near empty.  Jerusalem’s mayor urges his residents to carry pistols.  Schools in the city are closed until security guards can vouch for the children’s safety.  Arabs too are losing big time.  Jews who wanted to give peace talks a chance are now disillusioned.  Images of Arabs stabbing innocent bystanders will not convince even the doves in the crowd that Arabs want coexistence  Jews are boycotting Arab businesses.  Daily 50,000 Arab documented laborers and 50,000 undocumented workers come to work in Israel from the West Bank.  If violence were to continue, they will be blocked from entering.  Assuming these 100,000 workers provide for a family of six, then 600,000 will go wanting.  This will lead to more despair, more violence.

Mahmoud Abbas

Mahmoud Abbas

What’s the solution? There isn’t any.  But for now, cool heads must prevail.  Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should stop with his “rally around me because everyone’s out to kill us” rhetoric. Enough of scaring us.  Not all Arabs are killers.  Netanyahu is not acting; he’s only reacting, turning his nightly appearance on our TV into a war room.  He’s weak; he lets right-wing extremists run the show so long as he stays in power.  For what purpose?  But he’s done two things right this week: 1. He put a freeze on expanding the Jewish settlements in the West Bank (reacting, not acting).  2.  He prohibited all members of Knesset – Jews and Arabs — from entering the Al Aqsa area (reacting, not acting).  Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, is still coordinating his security forces with those of Israel to stem out the violence.  It’s not because he loves Israel; it’s his fear that if the PA falls, Hamas and others will come after his neck.  Abbas may walk softy, he may carry a long stick, but he knows there’s no military solution to his aspiration for a Palestinian statehood.  Knives will not help.  Our futures are locked for generations.  And that’s no conspiracy theory.

 

Jerusalem today: below is a video showing the aftermath of two Israeli policemen hit by friendly fire (Israel’s security forces) after trying to apprehend an Arab terrorist/stabber.  He was later shot dead.

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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

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.

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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