What This Israeli Was Doing in Iraq

This week at the Tel Aviv airport: What it's like to walk around with an Israeli flag in Iraq; This couple moved to Israel because they couldn't bear the dull, problem-free life in Australia

Moshe Amiel Block.
Tomer Appelbaum

Moshe Amiel Block, 26, from Beit Shemesh; arriving from Turkey

Hello, it looks to me as though you have something interesting to say.

True. By chance you caught me on an interesting day. I’ve just landed from Iraq.

Wow. How did that happen?

I was talking with an American friend of mine on the phone. I edit film clips and called to help him with something he’s working on. Suddenly he tells me that he’s going to Iraq, to photograph the [parliamentary] election for American newspapers. You have to shoot videos, to tell the story. One of the parties in Iraq hired him. He invited me.

Did you have any qualms?

I like offbeat things, to go with the flow. Within half an hour I had a ticket in my hand.

You have a U.S. passport?

Yes. I made aliyah from Baltimore. I served in the Haredi [ultra-Orthodox] unit of the Nahal Brigade, and I attended Eish Hatorah Yeshiva. We were a group of 11 on the trip to Iraq, among them my friend, the American. I was the only Israeli I try to get good and joy out of people. I wanted to do that there, too, to show that the Israelis are fun people, but they already knew that. They really love Israel. Only a few made faces at me.

Okay, but what happened there?

We get to Erbil. It’s in Kurdistan or Iraq, depending on who you ask. In general, it’s not too dangerous there. But things are more complicated there than in Israel. They [the Kurds] are fighting for their independence. Israel is the only one that recognizes them and wants to help them.

What exactly were you supposed to do there?

We checked out all the political parties, we interviewed them all. The election interested me less, I looked for Jews the whole time. There was an article about someone who hoisted an Israeli flag at some convention in Afghanistan. I contacted him. I wanted to see how I could help him from the point of view of Judaism. I gave him and his friend my tzitzit [ritual fringes]. He has a Star of David tattoo on his arm, and he’s trying to make aliyah, but has no proof that he’s Jewish. He has a few documents. I’ll try to help him from here.

You did the work of a Mossad agent.

I also walked around with an Israeli flag. At first I was really afraid, but when I got there, I saw they were exaggerating a little about how scary it is and I was less afraid. It’s like what people in the world say about Israel.

Was there any action?

Each party has its own army; there was shooting between members of two of the parties. I had just been there a few hours before. Too bad I didn’t stay to cover it.

What language did you speak?

They have terrific English. The Kurds didn’t like it when I said “shukran” or “habibi” [“thank you” and “my friend,” in Arabic]. They also don’t look like the other Iraqis, they look like Israeli Kurds.

Were you able to understand their politics?

Gradually, yes. In the end, they’re all corrupt. Everyone wants power and drives you nuts to vote for him. That’s clear. One of the party leaders built himself a copy of the White House. I was also in Saddam Hussein’s torture chamber, which is now a museum.

You weren’t afraid to be there?

People are afraid to go there because of what they hear. But the country is relatively safe.

Safe? What about ISIS?

We were on the border where the war with ISIS was going on. They have lots of spies, but all they do is collect information. The Jew I met told me he’d received many threats from Baghdad and from Iran for hoisting the Israeli flag. They say that Kurdistan is the Israel of that region, because it’s quite a modern place, and men and women hold hands. There are Christians, Muslims and a few Jews, who make no noise at all. It’s a place that’s looking for Israel’s support, and I think that if Israel supports them, it will help Israel internationally.

What else do you remember from there?

Someone there told me that he was caught smoking and thrown into jail for three months. When he got out he shot the man who told on him in the legs, and for that they didn’t do anything to him. It’s a topsy-turvy world. You can buy weapons without a permit in the market – it’s all a bit hush-hush, but you can do it. You only have to deposit the weapon if you go into a diplomatic post.

Who buys the arms?

Everyone. Whoever wants them. You have money? Go ahead and buy them. I bought a Kurdistan patch there and stuck it on a Trump cap: “Make Kurdistan great again.” They gave me a flag of the party that invited us: the New Generation.

You should be careful not to get into trouble.

I always get into trouble.

Avi Weiss and Miranda Weiss.
Tomer Appelbaum

Avi Weiss, 29, and Miranda Weiss, 31, from Kfar Tavor; flying to Tbilisi, Georgia

Hello, where are you off to?

Avi: To Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. It’s a baby-moon trip. Like a honeymoon, only before the baby is born.

Miranda: I’m in my seventh month. Grandma is looking after our kids and we’re taking a break before the chaos.

How did you meet?

Avi: I’m Australian, Miranda is American. We met in a post-army course for lone soldiers. You learn to write a résumé, rent an apartment, pay taxes

Did they teach you how to haggle?

Miranda: You learn that in the army.

You made aliyah and immediately were drafted?

Avi: The Second Lebanon War [in 2006] was happening, and instead of studying law, I read the news from Israel. When a soldier was killed, I felt as though it was a relative. I went to arrange aliyah and thought I’d fly out in a week. It took a few months, and then it was ulpan [intensive Hebrew course] and the army.

Miranda: It’s hard to be abroad. I feel I have to be here, with everyone.

How did your parents react to your aliyah?

Avi: My mother was very scared.

Miranda: My parents are very Zionist and also made aliyah. But they’re brainwashed. (Laughs) And so am I But in a good sense. We were very happy.What are you doing now?

Miranda: Living in Kfar Tavor, it’s good for the children.

Avi: After our wedding we went to Australia for four years. I worked in finance; Miranda was a dog trainer. We have a productive property there, so we’re not working in the meantime. We’re both studying free via the internet at Australian universities. We waited until Miranda got citizenship there, and then we left two days later. Miranda gave me five years tops to live there.

Why? It’s nice there.

Miranda: Quiet, dull – unlike here.

Avi: There are no difficulties there.

Miranda: I thought I’d die from the way everything happens there the way it’s supposed to. Everything is open at the right time, and here there are problems to resolve all the time – but it’s good for your mind: That’s why people here are smart, because they’re always thinking how to overcome bureaucratic hurdles.

What are you studying?

Avi: I’m doing a master’s in astronomy; in the meantime Miranda is studying family therapy, specializing in women’s health.

Miranda: Afterwards, I’ll be a doula, but first I just wanted to learn what it’s like for women in families, what the dynamics are.

Why do you want to be a doula?

Miranda: The first time I gave birth it was with a doula, because I wanted it to be natural. I met with her before giving birth. She did it for free, in Melbourne.

Would you give birth at home?

Miranda: No, in the hospital, but I wanted it to be as natural as possible. Still, I like the idea of giving birth at home.

Do you use what you learn in family therapy?

Miranda: I do, but it hasn’t really worked with the kids. I’m studying about couples’ relationships now.

Give me a quick lesson.

Avi: The Gottman method, of two American psychologists who wrote a book about the subject.

Miranda: The theory was formulated after 40 years of research. It’s scientific.

Avi: He can predict within seconds whether a couple will stay together.

Miranda: You can predict divorce if you see loathing between the couple. Not anger or a lack of something in common, but loathing. Defensiveness, criticism and insularity. But the main one is loathing. If you can see your partner as having positive qualities, that is effective for strengthening the bond.

I’ll remember that. Now tell me something romantic.

Avi: I’m very shy. When I proposed to Miranda, I knew she wanted it to be special. We were in Times Square.

Miranda: You sang me a song “Michelle,” I think, some Beatles song. I don’t remember.

Avi: I knelt down in front of everyone and proposed.

That’s straight out of the movies.

Miranda: We were inseparable from early on. Avi joined me on kibbutz.

Avi: Miranda was on and off with someone for two years.

Miranda: A month before, I said it was the last time I’d go back to him. I met Avi, and gave the other guy the boot

Avi: I’ll tell it. I’m hitchhiking to Miranda, and someone picks me up. He says he’s going to get his girlfriend back. I realized who it was, and said, “I don’t know how to tell you this, bro, but I’m the new boyfriend.” He didn’t believe it. We sat for 40 minutes in the car.

Miranda: I’d just started with Avi; the other guy thought it was just a rebound.

Avi: After we arrived, Miranda and the guy went for a walk, I waited.

What did you feel?

Avi: I was certain of our love.

Miranda: Awwww.