Tag Archives: Jerusalem

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

 

 

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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

Build and they shall not come

16 May

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

Distance of towns from Tel Aviv as a measure of success

Distance of towns from Tel Aviv as a measure of success

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

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

Tel Aviv

Tel Aviv

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

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

road construction in Galilee

road construction in Galilee

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

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

Bridge construction in Galilee

Bridge construction in Galilee

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

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

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Maurice Labi is an Israeli-American who lived in Los Angeles for many years. In 2011 He returned to Northern Israel (Galilee) with his wife and twin teenage daughters. He is of two lands, of two cultures and he blogs about his experiences in Israel, particularly from Galilee where Jews and Arabs dwelled for centuries.

He has also written three novels: “Jupiter’s Stone,” “Into the Night,” and “American Moth” — available at Amazon.com

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

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

 

 

Stop the Train – I want to get off!

6 Jul

The summer’s hot in Israel and I’m not talking about the weather.  Last month, three young Jewish boys in Judea and Samaria (West Bank) were kidnapped by Arab terrorists.  The terrorists murdered the boys and dumped them in a field.  Last week, an Arab teenage boy was kidnapped, his body burned.  Was it murder committed by Arabs?  Was an act of revenge committed by Jews for the three boys’ killing? The police is investigating.  Update: The Israeli police and secret service have made arrests; they believe it was a group of Jewish boys who’d killed the Arab boy.

Jerusalem Light Rail Map

Jerusalem Light Rail Map

Jews and Arabs relate to loss of life differently.  There’s no sugar-coating this difference.  The entire State of Israel was in mourning following the death of the three boys.  Whether you are on the left or on the right, every single Israeli felt as he had lost a son, a collective tragedy.  I don’t doubt the Arab boy’s mother is grieving.  But not the surrounding Arab community.

Jerusalem train during better days

Jerusalem train during better days

Instead, they took to the streets, hurled stones at Jews and security forces, burned tires, blocked streets, destroyed portions of the Jerusalem Light Rail that runs through their neighborhoods. To repair the trains will take months and cost millions.

Arab and Jewish passengers on train

Arab and Jewish passengers on train

To think that Arabs and Jews could live together; it’s naiveté that borders on stupidity.  Take the city of Jerusalem, for example.  Its eastern flank has been “united” with western Jerusalem since the Six Day War in 1967.  For decades, steps were taken to unite the city.  Israel’s tourist office, the city mayor, the media – they all speak of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital city. Yet few advertise the fact that almost 40% of its population is Arab.

How would London, Paris, Washington, Tokyo be able to operate if 4 out of 10 of its residents were hostile or uncooperative?

Yet Jerusalem hides this fact.  It hopes against hope that “we can all get along.”  Arabs migrate from surrounding villages and towns to East Jerusalem.  There they intermarry, prosper and multiply.  Jews, in return, add more Jewish neighborhoods on hillsides in a game of one-upmanship.

Arabs vandalize Jerusalem train station

Arabs vandalize Jerusalem train station

The Jerusalem Light Rail, open for business since 2011, is the flagship of public transportation. It was to be the experiment to unite both sides of Jerusalem.  At 9 miles long, the slick, electric train makes its way through Arab and Jewish neighborhoods.  Each day, 130,000 passengers cross town.

Be careful of what you wish for.

Suddenly, for the past three years, Arabs who were confined to their homes could step out their front doors, hop on a modern train, and minutes later find themselves in fashionable shopping promenades, markets, city hall, university, and much more.  Now sitting inches apart on board the train, Muslim women wearing Hijabs to cover their faces stare at Orthodox Jewish men wearing shtreimel and tzitzit.

Arabs burn rubber and steel train tracks

Arabs burn rubber and steel train tracks

But if the Light Rail can be likened to an artery that meanders through the body, the blood cells (Jews and Arabs) are sick of each other.  They want to flow in separate bodies, in separate veins.

Poor Englishmen and poor Englishwomen board trains in East London to London’s West End and there’s no war at the end of the day.  The Berlin Wall came down in 1989 and there was no war.  There were Germans on both sides of the wall. During the Los Angeles Riots of  1992 Blacks burned down their own liquor stores, markets, gas stations to protest against years of neglect by the Whites on the Westside.  But at the end of the day, when the dust and smoke settled, there was a truce, rebuilding, hope.

Arabs demonstrating

Arabs demonstrating

Arabs and Jews share no common future.  The events of the last few weeks prove that.  The road to heaven is paved with good intentions, and although Jerusalem is in God’s backyard, heaven is a long way off.  The Arabs’ carnage of the Light Rail and other violent demonstrations are evidence that we’re different peoples.  We should disengage from each other.

My station is coming up.  I’m getting off.

What about you?

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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

 

 

 

 

 

 

My bed is your bed for $100

27 Apr

It’s Passover.  Every year we celebrate the Jewish holiday as hosts or guests.  Now into our third year in Israel, my wife and I, and my twin teenage daughters, decided to celebrate the Passover dinner in Jerusalem.  Hotels hike the prices to the max during the holiday season; typically they double the nightly rate.  And since there’s four of us (2 hotel rooms), it means that we would not be “free” but rather “slaves” once again, to our credit card.

The other option is to book an apartment in Jerusalem.  From strangers.  For 2 nights.  So that’s how the travel website AIRBNB came to the rescue.  Since I booked the apartment two months ahead of time, and since the owners wanted to rent their place, we were able to secure a daily rate of about $100.

Our Jerusalem apartment hosts

Our Jerusalem apartment hosts

What a deal!

This is not the first time we stay at other people’s home for a fee.  We routinely travel from Galilee to Tel Aviv, see the town, catch a show, stroll the beach, dine at cafes, and a night or two later, we trek back home.  The apartments come fully furnished, the kitchen comes fully stocked with utensils, dishes, coffee maker, fridge, stove top.  The bed linens are clean, the towels are a little rough and worn.  The “artwork” on the walls is mostly posters of young couples holding umbrellas in the rain, or wild horses grazing in green meadows.  But for $150 a night in Tel Aviv, it’s considered a bargain.   The Tel Aviv apartments are devoid of the owners’ personal belongings.  You get a stripped-down apartment, much like a time-share.

But not in Jerusalem.

During Passover we stayed at Beit Kerem, a secular neighborhood in the center of Jerusalem, quaint, quiet, and close to the Light Rail that takes you to the Old City.  The hosts, a young man and woman, greet us at the curb.  We introduce ourselves and a minute later we climb up the stairwell to the second level.  From behind each door there’s the smell of matzo-ball soup, roasted chicken, and whatever your imagination can conjure up.   The front door opens to a living room with modular furniture, a reclining chair, rug on the floor,big stereo speakers attached to the wall.  The couple gives us the tour: “Here’s the kitchen.  One of your daughters can sleep on the couch, the second daughter on a roll-away bed over here.  And here’s the bedroom for both of you.”  We nod and follow them in.  Folded towels sit on an IKEA-type double-bed.  The one bathroom is full with their stuff: toothpaste, mouthwash, make-up, deodorants.   They then show us the kitchen, how to operate the small appliances.  “And as we stated on our website,” they continue, “we have a cat that strolls in and out.  Just fill the bowls with cat food and water.”  They write their phone numbers with a whiteboard marker on thekitchen tile, hand us the keys, and close the door behind them.

We stand there, in the middle of the living room, with our suitcases, in someone else’s house.  For a $100.

For someone who’d spent decades in the U.S., personal space is almost a God-given right.  Here, in Israel, in God’s country, and in God’s town – Jerusalem – personal space is much less personal.  Typical Israelis don’t give personal space and they don’t expect personal space, either.  They don’t seem bothered with limited space.  They aren’t bothered much when their opinion is cut short, interrupted.  They just return the favor.   If you don’t speak out, if you don’t speak loud enough, your voice will be drowned by someone else’s words, music, noise.

View of Jerusalem's Old City

View of Jerusalem’s Old City

Speak up, or be silenced.

Grab the beach chair, the restaurant chair, or remain standing.

Take up space, or have it taken away from you.

Park your car in impossible spaces, or circle the parking lot until sundown.

Tailgate the car ahead of you, or have some other driver sit on your bumper.

It’s a small country, buddy.

It’s midnight.  We just returned from Passover Seder.  Our heads are full of wine, and our stomachs are full of matzahs and chicken.  My wife and I floss our teeth in our hosts’ Jerusalem bathroom, shower in their tub, use their conditioner and shampoo, use their towels.  We climb into bed.  Their bed.  Their pillows.

In the morning, we use their skillet to make eggs, use their coffee-maker.  A cat meows in the yard below.  I lounge on the living room sofa, sort through their LP collection from the sixties: Beatles, The Who.

Such memories the songs bring.

I take a seat on a padded-chair in their small, flower-potted balcony.

It’s my personal space.

At least until check-out time.