Tag Archives: middle-east

Uncivilized Civilians

15 Feb

Civic Studies ( אזרחות ) is a mandatory subject in Israeli high schools.  Without it, the student can’t graduate.  And that’s the way it should be.  Much is discussed in Civic Studies: the role of the state, sovereignty, the rights and duties of citizens, the court system, and much more.  The idea is to introduce the real world to youngsters, my daughters included.

The Other is Me Campaign

The Other is Me Campaign

Only lately, it’s become too real.

One such case involves Adam Verta, a Civic Studies teacher near Galilee.  During a lesson, he questioned the morals of the Israeli military.  A girl student opposed his views and later complained to the school.  The teacher was brought before a disciplinary hearing and his job was placed in jeopardy.  The classroom incident ignited a fireball in the media, each camp claiming the high road.  People supporting the student (mostly right-wing) said the teacher acted recklessly, that he incited against the State, discouraged young men and women from enlisting, and demoralized soldiers in uniform.  People supporting the teacher (mostly left-wing) cited freedom of speech.

The Other is Me Campaign

The Other is Me Campaign

My opinion?  If the teacher brought up his views in class and did not preach and coerce, and if he opened up the discussion and allowed other views – I’m all for it.  It’s not a physics or chemistry class where everything’s formulaic and exact. It’s a civics class.  Nothing’s clear-cut.  Life is messy.  It involves human beings.  Classrooms are where opinions and views should be heard.  In not there, then where?

Right-wing settlers in the West Bank believe the land there is God-given to them.  And when Israeli soldiers are called to settle disputes, the settlers spit on the Israeli soldiers, insult them, throw paint on their faces.  It that not demoralizing?

The teacher was allowed back in the class.  He still has a job.  No one’s happy, least of all the teacher.

Five Broken Cameras Film Poster

Five Broken Cameras Film Poster

Here’s another civics lesson, this one involving the film “5 Broken Cameras.”  Nominated for an Oscar in the foreign-film category last year, it tells of the life of a Palestinian in the West Bank during the time Israel built the Security Fence to block terrorists from infiltrating and killing innocent Israelis.  He filmed the daily hardships of being trapped from behind the tall concrete fence, movement restricted, life forever changed, for him and his children.

This year, the Israeli Ministry of Education allowed the film to be shown to high school juniors and seniors, as part of the “cultural curriculum.”  I applaud such action and bravery.  17 and 18 year-olds, a year before military duty are old enough to view the film, discuss it in class and draw their own conclusions.

Maybe both Arabs and Jews will become more civilized.  But I doubt it.  In my daughters’ school, Israeli Jews say horrible things about Arabs when they’re not around to hear it.  I’m sure Arabs say equally horrible things about Jews.

So much mistrust.

And this all takes place in a year which the Ministry of Education rolled out a campaign titled: “The Other is Me.”   It loosely means that we are all similar and let’s learn about the other within, and in turn, learn about ourselves.  But that’s hard to do when most Arab Israelis know Hebrew but very few Jewish Israelis know Arabic.  Arabic is a mandatory “foreign” language in high school, as is English.  Yet few take Arabic seriously, many drop out or do the minimum.

Peace, In Hebrew

Peace, In Hebrew

This year the Ministry is dropping Arabic, making it an elective.  That’s wrong.  Like it or not, Israel is in the Middle East.  Yes, the Arabs boycott Israel.  Left with no choice, Israel plays soccer and basketball against England and France, and not Saudi Arabia.  It ships its oranges to Berlin, its knowhow to Wall Street.  But Israelis can’t swim or walk away from the Middle East or from itself because 20% of its population is Arab.  The Arabs here live in a Jewish state.  They learn Hebrew from a young age.  Why shouldn’t the Jewish Israelis learn Arabic?  I’m not talking about the high-brow, literary complex Arabic that even the educated Arabs can’t follow.  I’m talking about spoken, conversational, everyday Arabic.

Peace, in Arabic

Peace, in Arabic

If this will not break the ice, then let’s at least break pita bread together.  And that’s my civics lesson for today.

The bell is ringing.

Go and play, Arabs and Jews.

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


or at BN.com


Second Year’s Report Card from Galilee

17 Aug

This week marks our second year anniversary since we returned to Galilee, Israel after having lived in California for many, many years.  My First Year Report Card spoke of mad drivers in Israel, of crazy road signs, of great coffee, of great people, delicious hummus, and of not so great dust storms, of oppressive summer heat.

Our second year is no longer characterized by shock, but more like getting used to things, liking or disliking things, or just putting up.  It may remind you of your spouse when on the first date he/she burped or picked his/her nose in public.  It wasn’t endearing, but in time it became familiar.

Here are some samples:

Cross-talking: Ten people are sitting at someone’s house.  Everyone’s in good spirits.

The Art of Talking all at once

The Art of Talking all at Once

Coffee and pastry is served.  A juicy watermelon is sliced and diced.  Nuts.  Olives.  Crackers.  Diet Sprite is passed around (everyone carries a gut), sealed beer bottles sweat on tables (very few drink the stuff).  Noise level: High, High, High.  Ten mouths chew.  Then ten mouths talk.  The ears are just mounted on the sides of heads for show.  They don’t work.  “Did you hear about the air-conditioning special at Home Center?”  “Pnina, what did you put in the cake?”  “I almost fell off the bike today.”  “My granddaughter got her first tooth this week.”  “What are your taking for high blood-pressure?”  “Whole chickens are sold out for the holidays.”  “Our water bill killed us last month.”  “Our Toyota gets 16 kilometers to the liter.”  “Moti sold his land to developers at full price.”  “Found a flight to Greece for next to nothing.”

Pass the watermelon, please.

Fruit: Unlike the U.S, where produce has to be trucked across hundreds of miles, here the fruit and vegetables are grown nearby.  Plums, apricots, grapes stay on the vine longer so they arrive at the market ripe and sweet.  Bite into a peach and it squirts.  Tomatoes ooze, cucumbers snap, lettuce crunch.  But bananas are bad.  I really miss American bananas, and how they added zest to my morning cereal.  They were always perfectly shaped and sized.  They ripened so perfectly.  Here the bananas are grown in the Jordan Valley and the Coastal Plain.  They’re finger-size, odd-shaped, odd-colored, either too hard or too soft, bruised; they go from rock-hard to rotten in one day.

Pass the Chiquita, please.

Made in China (For Israel):  China is the world’s factory.  It manufacturers to order.  It produces high quality for the U.S. and Europe and inferior products for the rest of the world.  HoseAt first glance, the products here appear the same, but at closer inspection and use, they’re downright cheap.  Toasters trap bread slices and release pieces of charcoal.  Desk fans spread more noise than air.  Garden hoses twist in knots, pee a few droplets.  Refrigerator doors don’t stay shut.  Beach chairs collapse after one use.  Plastic cups crumble.  Dinner plates chip.  Sunglasses bend.  Shirts shrink.  Buttons pop.  Zippers fall off the track.  Shoes pinch.  But you could pay more for American-designed, Chinese-made jeans ($120), shirts ($70), shoes ($200).

Paper-Size:  Coming to Israel, I brought reams and reams of paper from the U.S. — all letter-size, 8 1/2 by 11, known here as Imperial Standard (think King of England).  

European A4   Vs. U.S. Letter-Size

European A4 Vs. U.S. Letter-Size

Americans are still in love with inches and feet.  Everyone else is on Metric.  Last month I ran out of paper.  Had to go and buy what they sell here: European A4.  The dimensions are different.  The paper is narrower at the hips (8.2) and it has longer legs (11.7).  You don’t realize how weird it looks until you hold one.  Makes a manuscript read like the Magna Carta.

Newspaper Headlines:  



Sensationalism takes center stage.  Headlines take up 1/3 of the newspaper page followed by a giant photograph image to back up the obvious headline, followed by eye-popping font.  In the past, the main newspapers were more restrained, respectable.  Now they have to compete with the free, flashy newspapers handed at grocery stores, gas stations, bus terminals.  “BLOODSHED IN CAIRO.”  “INFANT DIES IN SEALED CAR”  “HOUSING PRICES AT RECORD LEVEL”  It’s Noise wherever you turn.

Restaurants:  Tel Aviv is a long way off.  But even here in Galilee, restaurant food quality is a pleasant surprise.  Israeli RestaurantThe decor is airy, bright.  Tables and chairs are of high quality (Made in Italy), the silverware is top-notch even at modestly priced restaurants, and the service is impeccable.  The food arrives fresh, in large quantities and in large varieties.  The prices?  Breakfast: eggs, great salads, cheeses, tuna, dips. freshly baked bread, great cup of coffee, fruit juice — $12.  Falafel on the go — $4.  Shawarma — $6  Hummus — $7.  Sit down luncheon: $16.  Dinner: $20.  Consider that Israelis make less than 1/2 of Americans and eating out takes a big bite…

Gas Prices and Cars: After two years in Israel and it’s still a shocker at $8 per gallon.  

Gas Prices in Shekels per Liter

Gas Prices in Shekels per Liter

This explains why most cars on the road resemble washing machines on wheels.  They’re small, noisy, unattractive.  And expensive.  A simple Toyota Corolla will cost you $36,000.  The Koreans and Japanese, lifting a page from the Chinese operating manual, manufacture the most basic cars and with the least frills.  Floor mats are a joke.  windshield wipers struggle.  Car seats send you to the chiropractor.  Yet these sluggish car engines sip gasoline with a straw.  Five people pile into a tiny Hyundai (with their camping gear).  Taking your legs along for the ride – optional.  We chose to “export” our American-made Toyota Camry to Israel.  That was a mistake.  I sweat every time I fill up the tank.  I break into hives every time I have to navigate this “limo” in Tel Aviv’s alleys.  Parking? Forgetaboutit

Israelis: In my youth, living in Israel, in a Tel-Aviv bedroom community, I believed there were mostly two kinds of Israelis: 1.  Those that came from many lands (my parents included), and 2.  Those that were “true” Israelis, the native-born Sabras.  Decades later I find Israel to be more complex.  They include the Tel Aviv hipsters, the High-Tech wizards and darlings of Wall Street, the tycoons who control much of Israel’s money, the after-the-army-service-I’m-going-to-India-Thialand-Bolivia-Peru and-I’m-going-to-smoke-pot-till-I-drop crowd, the Ultra-Orthodox, the knitted-kippa, the Sephardi Jews, the Ashkenazi, the Israeli-Arabs in the big cities, in the villages, the farmers, the ex-kibbutzniks who cherish old kibbutz life and those who detest it, the million-plus Russian immigrants who added spice to an already overly spiced country, the hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants who’d come from the former Soviet Bloc, and from war-torn Africa.  It’s eight million Israelis wedged between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River and they all want to swim, eat, pray, love, vacation – while Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, and the West Bank around us go up in smoke.

So I decided to conduct an unscientific survey of my family.  “After 2 years in Israel, on a scale of 1 to 10, how would you say you adjusted?

I'm doing great.  How about you?

I’m doing great. How about you?

Pnina:     6

Maurice:    6

Maya, age 14:   6

Romy, age 14:   6

Max, our American dog: 10+

Pass the Kibbles, please.


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


or at BN.com


Boston is not in Galilee

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

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

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

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

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

armed guard at school entrance

armed guard at school entrance

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

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

entrance to shopping center

entrance to shopping center

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

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

Guard at entrance to Cafe Joe

Guard at entrance to Cafe Joe

“Check, please.”

Security Fee added to restaurant check

Security Fee added to restaurant check

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

Drink up, your coffee is getting cold.

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

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

They’re safe.

It’s a wonderful day in Galilee.

Boston, we love you.


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

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

Masada Falls Yet Stands

6 Apr

My family and I are stationed at the base of Mt. Masada to buy cable car tickets.  After a three-minute ride inside a crowded car with some one-hundred eager tourists, we’re whisked to the very top.  We are released into the thick, still air.  The Dead Sea shimmers in the east.  The sun pounds the chalk-white terrain.  To describe the landscape is to describe the craters of the moon.  Neil Armstrong of Apollo 11 could have easily practiced his lunar walk around here.

Masada Cable Car

Masada Cable Car

Map of Masada

Map of Masada Plateau

Tourists disperse on the wide plateau, their maps unfolded, their eyes searching for 2000 year-old antiquities.  They follow their tour guides who speak of King Herod’s palatial rooms, mosaic floors, and bathhouses atop Masada.  French, Spanish and English is heard everywhere.  The guides are retelling the heroic story of the Jews against the Roman Empire.  The few against the many.  The narrative goes something like this: The Romans destroyed the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem.  The remaining Jews escaped to the Judean Desert and took refuge on Masada.  The Romans lay siege to the place.  The Jews put up a good fight but in the end the Romans breached the fortress walls only to find that the 960 men, women and children had committed suicide, choosing death over slavery.

The End.

Or is it?

For years Masada stood for bravery in the Israeli consciousness.  The mountain and its story had forged a new generation of hard-core Israelis, much different from the submissive Jews of the Diaspora.  “Masada shall never fall again!” was chanted at school rallies, in the army.

Back view of Herod's Palace

The climb to King Herod’s palace

The drum beat today is not as loud.  Attendance by Israelis at Masada is at an all-time low.  Paratroopers who once celebrated the end of their training at the top of Masada choose today to celebrate the event at the Western Wall and elsewhere.

Why the change?

The seeds were already planted in 1946, by Ben Gurion, who was to be Israel’s first prime minister in 1948.  He didn’t care for all that “suicide” story.  To win the battle against the Arabs, he advised his men to fight to the bitter end.  To him Masada was a symbol of hopeless resistance.

In the 70s the American State Department urged Golda Meir, the then prime minister, to ditch the “Masada Complex.”  In other words, to ditch the view that everyone’s after the Jews, that they’re one step away from extinction.  Golda shot back and said, “We suffer from the Masada Complex, the Pogrom Complex, the Hitler Complex.”

Menachem Begin, the hard-line prime-minster who’d eventually signed a peace treaty with Egypt, he too didn’t care much for the suicide narrative.

The attitude towards Masada and its significance is changing.  Maybe it has to do with Israel now being all grown up.  It doesn’t need a hard-luck story to justify its existence.  And there’s also archeology and historical data.  They are now being questioned.

Take, for example, the number of Jews killed or committed suicide.  Yigael Yadin, Israel’s renowned archeologist of the 1960s, led a highly public excavation of Masada, partly funded by the English newspaper, The Observer.  Three human remains were found.  The hair braids of one woman were also found.  Yadin claimed they were Jewish.  After much Rabbinical debate, the remains were given a proper Jewish burial ceremony.  Years later, after further forensic investigation, it is believed they were Romans.  Twenty-eight other human fragments were also found.  With them, pig bones were buried, a typical Roman burial ritual.

View from Masada plateau

View from Masada plateau

So where are the Jews?  We live in an age when we want quick answers and want all the puzzle pieces to fit nicely.  Their absence doesn’t mean they weren’t there.  It just means, for now, they weren’t found.  Or they were carried away, disposed of, burned.  Or…put in your own theory.

And what about the drawn-out siege that lasted almost three years, until 74 A.D.?  It is now believed the siege lasted several weeks or months at best.  The slopes of the mountain are steep and impassable on all sides, except the western.  The Romans with their 10,000 warriors, auxiliary fighters, Jewish POW, and slaves dumped thousands of tons of rocks and stones to create a ramp to the top.  It was all over sooner rather than later.

Cooling off at Ein Gedi Falls

Cooling off at Ein Gedi Falls

And what about the heroic Jews who chose death over slavery?  The fighters were called the Sicarii, or the dagger-men.  For good reason.  The conventional story was that they fled burning Jerusalem and took refuge on King Herod’s abandoned place – MASADA.  Many now believe they were driven out, kicked out of Jerusalem, because they were blood-thirsty trouble-makers.  Before being holed-up in Masada, these Sicarii men had raided Ein Gedi, a Jewish desert oasis, killed its 700 inhabitants, then looted their food and provisions.

Then there’s the suicide?  Did it happen?  Eleazar Ben Yair, the Sicarii leader, proposed drawing a lot, a “Roman Roulette” of sorts.  The men would first kill off their wives so they will not be defiled by the Romans.  Then the men killed each other off.  Only the last man standing committed suicide.  The story tells of “one old lady” who survived to tell of the horror.  In fact, Josephus Flavius, the Jewish-Roman historian stationed in Rome and the only known person to write about Masada, in Greek, spoke of 7 survivors…

Lastly, what business did the Romans have in this desolate, remote, barren place?  Weren’t they better off splashing water on each other’s back in some bathhouse in Rome?  Weren’t they better off nibbling on a bunch of grapes and watching gladiators fight in the arena?  Why trek across a harsh desert to chase after a few hoodlums?  It can only be that it was all part of the Roman war machine.  No one takes over a fortress and calls it its own.  It all belongs to Rome.  The cost in human lives, in material was inconsequential.  Punish and all will learn.  All will fear.

For 1900 years Masada stood as a rock in a desert until it was “discovered”.

Rome fell and is long gone.

Yet Masada stands.

Israel stands.

Two hours later we take the cable car down, see the minerals fog lift off from the face of the Dead Sea.

“How about lunch?” I ask.

“Yeah, Dad, we’re hungry!”

“Roman pizza, anyone?”

Maybe something Roman did survive.


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

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

Is that Big Brother in your Pocket?

8 Mar

Your neighbor’s raking in millions and you’re struggling to come up with mortgage or rent money.  You drive to work in a beat-up Volkswagen and your boss pulls into his reserved parking space with a shiny BMW.bmw

I ask you: Is that fair?

The handyman who fixed your toilet last month just got back from a week’s vacation in Italy.  Sorry, you can’t step into the elevator with him because it’s taken up with his three Gucci suitcases.

You’re fuming.  You kick the elevator door.  You’re mad.  But then what?

If you’re in Israel, don’t get mad.  Get even.


If you suspect the neighbor, the boss, the handyman is not paying his fair share of taxes — just snitch on him to the authorities and watch him boil in hot (olive) oil.

This is all thanks to Israel’s Tax Authority and its  latest initiative to raise 20 billion shekels (5 billion dollars) in uncollected taxes over the next four years.  Israel, a Middle Eastern and Mediterranean country, wants to model its moral code, according to its fiance minister, after the “honest” countries of Northern Europe (Sweden, Norway).

Good luck.

This tax-collection drive is the latest wrinkle in today’s “share the burden” phenomenon.  The scenario goes something like this:  The Middle Class is being wrongfully squeezed.  It shares the majority of the burden; it pays more in income tax, serves in the military while the well-connected, the Orthodox Jews, and the Arabs get a free ride.

It’s time to level the playing field.

"Justice Hotline"

“Justice Hotline”

The informants are encouraged to call the “Justice Hotline” anonymously and report the cheaters.  Since the “Justice Hotline” was first launched a few weeks ago, thousands of calls came pouring in.  The informants rat on plumbers, repairmen who give a small discount in exchange for getting cash.  No receipts, no invoices, thank-you-very-much.  They snitch on cab drivers who don’t care to turn on the meter.  They inform of dentists who drill a hole in your tooth and in your pocket, of piano teachers who sing all the way to the bank, of  landlords who act like lords, of math tutors who add their own numbers.

Cheaters unable to sleep at night are counting sheep.  And Shekels.

Big Brother is watching.

Greed and jealousy are what drives most calls.  It’s neighbor against neighbor.  Family members who have a score to settle.  On a recent news program the 5 staff members sitting at the Tax Authority switchboard were overwhelmed with calls.

Opponents are quick to criticize the campaign.  “It will collect pennies on the dollar,” they say, while the Fat Cats, Israel’s multi-national corporations (Teva, Osem, etc) use the loopholes to pay little or no taxes.  They say it’s all a smoke screen to divert attention from other pressing problems: housing, education, the political stalemate.

In a sense, the government has turned the average Yossi into its tax-collector.


The original 1.0 Version has been upgraded.

Informants that come forward and identify themselves can share in the loot.  If the tax-evader is found guilty and is told to pay up, the snitcher collects 15% of the total.

Ka-Ching!  Ka-Ching!  Cash registers are ringing from Galilee to Tel-Aviv to Eilat.

It’s doubtful the taxman will be able to collect the monies they’re projecting.  If anything, it’s a powerful deterrent.  People might think twice before they settle for cash only.

Recently hundreds of private tutors received a text message on their cell-phones.  It warned them to report ALL transactions, or else.  It later turned out to be a clever hoax.

Or was it?

As for me, I plan to wire my few Shekels to Switzerland.  After all, it’s pretty close to Northern Europe.

Below is a campaign from the Tax Authority to all citizens to do their “civic duty” for the benefit of all.

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

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

Tel Aviv vs. Galilee

23 Feb

Quick!  Name a city in France.  Name one in England, in the U.S.

If you’ve chosen Paris, London and New York, you’re not alone.  Which is to say, in Israel, it’s all about Tel-Aviv.  The city here is nicknamed the “Country of Tel-Aviv,” as if to say, there are two countries in Israel: Tel-Aviv and all the rest.

Tel Aviv

Tel Aviv

Urbanization is at an extreme pace in and around Tel-Aviv.  People flock to it in numbers, for jobs, for a way of life.  The young and the restless are willing to put up with rented apartments that are small even for pigeons, put up with leaky plumbing, peeling paint, no elevator, no parking, no privacy.


The city has a buzz.  It’s where you live, work and play.   The city’s not homogeneous; it has its rich sections and poor sections.  Rothschild Blvd is the line in the sand.  To the north of it: cafes, museums, theaters.  To the south: slums.

But you’d be hard pressed to find a place to live, even in the south of Tel-Aviv.  Competition is cut-throat.  Put an online ad for an available apartment and there will be hundreds of applicants at the doorstep willing to bid up the rent.

At Tel Aviv Boat Marina, Winter 2013

At Tel Aviv Boat Marina, Winter 2013

Centralization has gone mad.  Years ago Israel’s main population centers stretched from what was known as “From Gadera to Hadera, ” referring to “border towns” 25 miles south and north of Tel-Aviv.  Today, it’s been reduced to about a 10 mile radius around Tel-Aviv.

Everyone’s climbing over each other’s back to get into Tel-Aviv.  Skyscrapers, 40 and 50 stories high, are going up.  Old, rundown neighborhoods are being gentrified with lots of new and old money.

Forbes Magazine in its Hebrew edition ran a survey of the 10 best cities in Israel.

Number 1?  Tel Aviv.

Jerusalem?  Not a prayer.  Not even in the top 10, somewhere around 15.  Haifa?  Dead in the harbor.Tel Aviv

All the remaining 9 are within spitting distance from Tel Aviv (Herzelia, Givataim, Ramat Gan, Raanana, Kfar Saba, Rishon Le Zion, Holon, Bat-Yam).

Forbes’ criteria was clear-cut: educational level, ratio of university graduates, centrality vs. the boondocks, access to art, green space, employment opportunities, income, longevity.

Towns and villages in Israel did not see kindly the results of the survey.  “What about the quality of life in the countryside?”

Kfar Tavor

Kfar Tavor

In 2011 my wife and I and two of my four daughters moved from Los Angeles to Israel, to Kfar Tavor, to Galilee.  Even then, in the U.S., at the mention of Galilee, more so Kfar Tavor, the common response was: “Wow, what a quality community you’re moving to!  Well done!”

Kfar Tavor evokes positive and emotional feelings far beyond its 4000 residents.  It has history.  It CREATED history, established in 1901 by European Jews who wanted to work the land.

Even here, even now, when I visit family and acquaintances in Bat-Yam ( 2 miles from Tel Aviv! ) — to them  Kfar Tavor sounds romantic, rural, green, pure,  the Old Country that was lost in 21st century Israel.

A national survey of  Israel’s “Non-Metropolitan” communities shared the sentiment: it placed Kfar Tavor near the top of the pile.

Winter Vineyards in Kfar Tavor

Winter Vineyards in Kfar Tavor

Yet, as a resident and the owner of a nice home that overlooks the fields of Kfar Tavor, I sometimes question their judgment.  And their taste.

Yes, Kfar Tavor is nice if you enjoy going for long walks among olive groves, almond orchards, vineyards.  Kfar Tavor is nice if you want to explore great bike trails.  It’s close to streams and rivers, to the mountains of Galilee.  Around our home there are Jewish communities, kibbutzim, and Arab villages.

Kfar Tavor has celery, onion and parsley fields, olives, almonds, grapes, figs, irrigation pipes and sprinklers, a water treatment facility, a sports center, a soccer field, a swimming pool, a community center for performances, an elementary school, one library, one post-office, kindergartens, senior center, two clinics, two synagogues, a town hall, mini-market, one  butcher, one  kiosk, one gym, one pizza delivery joint, one Chinese Take-Out, one sit-down restaurant, one cafe, one winemaker and cellars, one hair salon for women (men walk bald), one clothing store for women (men walk naked), one-one-one-one, and lots of dogs doing their business wherever the hell they please.

Kfar Tavor IS  the Tel-Aviv of the rural countryside.

Absurd, but true.

Jews and Arabs come to shop here.  Kibbutzniks come to watch a play or a recital.  Junior and adult basketball teams hold their tournaments here.

Kfar Tavor

Kfar Tavor

We’re on top of the pile.

Yet I itch for the allure of the big city.  With Pnina, my wife, it’s worse.  Her itch has developed into a skin rash.  She craves the big city.

I want to see colors other than gray, the predominant color in people’s hair in Kfar Tavor.

I want to see styles of clothes that don’t resemble biblical sandals and Kibbutz overalls.

I want to see slick, fast cars, not John Deere tractors.

I want to hear languages other than Hebrew and Arabic.

I want to see summer dresses, bikinis, cleavage; I want to smell bus fumes (?), perfume, aftershave, salt air, the sea.

And I don’t want to drive two hours one-way to Tel-Aviv to get my fill of the big city.  And yet we do.  We book a hotel night once a month, go with the girls, see the city, cringe at the noise, jaywalk, drink a beer at a cafe, savor a great cup of coffee, try the many dishes, run in the sand on the beach.  And when it’s all done, we pile into the car, drive the two-hour ride through coastal highways, through vast meadows and hillsides, through Arab towns and villages until we see the dome of Mt. Tavor.

Kfar Tavor Almond Blossom

Kfar Tavor Almond Blossom

We got our lungs full with Tel-Aviv oxygen.  Until next month.

It’s nighttime in Kfar Tavor.

Black sky.

Millions of stars.


I sleep.

Chirp.  Chirp-Chirp.

Crickets, any one?


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

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

Yellow Brick Lane to Nowhere

23 Jan

If you’re old enough to remember the 1976 movie “Network” with Peter Finch and a young, gorgeous Faye Danaway, then you’ll remember the famous quote:  “I’M MAD AS HELL AND I CAN’T TAKE IT ANYMORE.”

During Israel’s general elections yesterday, it seems many of the voters have seen the movie, recited the quote or added some original lines of their own.

We're off to see the Wizard

We’re off to see Netanyahu

What’s clear is that it’s no longer business as usual.  The people have spoken.  For four years they’ve taken the yellow brick lane to the “Promised Land,” only to find a confused man at the switches behind the curtain.  Many may say that “There’s no place like home” but half the voting public don’t want the home Netanyahu is offering.

My brush with Israeli politics came in the form of a postcard addressed to me.  It said I was now a registered Israeli voter and was told the location of the election booth during election day, yesterday.

I held the card in my hand and didn’t know what to make of it, what to think, what to feel.  I’ve been away from Israel for more than 30 years, in America, was glued to issues affecting the U.S.  For years I watched Israel from afar, unable to influence the slightest of outcomes.

Now I’ve been given that privilege, duty.  With each passing day I learned more about the issues, attended and listened to Yair Lapid last year when he came to Kfar Tavor, my hometown.  Friends threw in their two-cents (shekels?) about whom I should vote for.  I read articles.  Political horse-trading is common here.  Israeli parties who hate each other, have opposing world views, and are the strangest of bedfellows will jump into that same bed, will do and say anything — just so they can be IN the ruling government, to get their slice of the bagel.

Voting in Israel's general elections

Voting in Israel’s general elections

On election day I took my twin daughters to see me vote.  I dropped the envelope in the box.  I didn’t feel elated.  We went outdoors, sat on a bench, enjoyed the winter sun.

Judging by last night’s results, many are mad as hell.  Voters who sat on fence finally came down and voted differently.  Netanyahu’s party, the Likud, is still the dominant party, yet it can’t go it alone.  He will have to partner with the elections’ upset, the runner-up in  the number of votes – Yair Lapid.  Lapid has promised to spread the financial and military (read, the draft) burden among all Israelis, including the Orthodox.

This is a wake up call for the Orthodox.  They may be down but not out.  And it gives them pause.  They no longer have the Israeli prime-minster in their back pocket.  If they’re not invited to join Netanyahu to form a new government, they’ll sit in the opposition for the next 4 years.  They’ll sit (sleep?) with the Labor party, but also with the Israeli-Arab parties.  Will they like themselves in the morning.  Will they share tables at the Knesset (parliament) lunchroom?

Hummus and lamb kebabs anyone?  How about breaded Schnitzel and potatoes?

It’s also a historic opportunity for the Israeli-Arabs in Galilee and in the Negev and in Jerusalem and in Yaffo.  They can shed their stereotype as the disadvantaged.  They can pull themselves by the galabia belt and tell anyone that would listen that they’re Arab and Moslem (and Christian), but they’re Israeli, that they’ll consider 2 to 3 years of National Service in lieu of military draft.  That will go a long way and convincing the Jewish Israelis to trust them.

Time will tell if we’re headed toward peace with the neighboring Arabs, or toward war, or perpetual uncertainty.

If Faye Danaway was running for office, I’d vote for her.


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

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