Joel Mowbray

HAIFA, ISRAEL—In the small camera store, a 30-something mother with two children in tow started screaming at the petite, gray-haired woman standing next to me. The older woman’s offense? One of her feet was too close to the door, preventing the mother from opening it enough to push her stroller through.

The screaming was pungent and the tension palpable. It ended shortly after it began, though not soon enough for my American sensibilities. But after reflecting for a while on the silly squabble, my distaste turned to an odd serenity.

Normalcy had returned.

As I trekked last week across the north of Israel, the only signs that the area was just a month removed from being a war zone were some battered buildings, an unusually high volume of earth-moving equipment, and a handful of tanks on the highway on large flatbed trucks. Otherwise, life seemed almost like it was just a few months ago, right down to social interaction.

Israelis liken themselves to the sabra, a fruit with a tough, prickly hide that envelops a sweet, soft interior. The rugged exterior part of the analogy is regularly on display, not just in traffic jams or store aisles, but even in service-oriented business, such as hotels and restaurants.

Fights can erupt anytime, anywhere. Israelis yell at strangers, neighbors, and friends. Fighting aside, normal conversation is often terse, even brusque. Perhaps owing to their spoken language—Hebrew, I’ve been told, has one-fifth the working vocabulary of English—Israelis are blunt, to put it nicely. Even tourists are not immune. At the hotel, for example, the chef responded to my request for extra cheese on my omelette by barking that there was already enough.

Finding the soft, sweet core of sabra Israelis is typically a tougher task. Not during the war, though. Israelis banded together in every way possible, and the national mood was noticeably different. Even the notoriously fractious political culture stood united.

But something uniquely Israeli also happened. Residents of the north who refused to be cooped up in bomb shelters boarded buses and headed south. Even though the suddenness of it all meant that destinations had not been worked out in advance, most of the evacuees were not worried. Nor should they have been. Across the country—well, the areas out of Hezbollah’s rocket range—Israelis volunteered to take in displaced residents from the north.

A young Israeli woman said it best, “Israelis have hot tempers, but warm hearts.”

Joel Mowbray

Joel Mowbray, who got his start with, is an award-winning investigative journalist, nationally-syndicated columnist and author of Dangerous Diplomacy: How the State Department Threatens America's Security.

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