Cavs' Casspi balances life in NBA against fear for his family's safety

Israel native was granted rare "outstanding athlete" status that kept him out of conflict during his time in the military.
Wire
Nov 27, 2012

There is a new picture on Omri Casspi's phone this week, the latest and most vivid reminder of the turmoil gripping his family and nation. The building across the street from his brother, Eitan, was struck by a missile last week, tearing out the guts and twisting the structure's exterior into knots. Rattled that the missile struck fewer than 100 yards from him, Eitan snapped a photo and sent it to his famous younger brother.

Living with war and dodging missiles has become a way of life in Yavne, Israel, where Casspi grew up and where his entire family remains. Israel has endured random missile attacks from Palestinians for more than a decade. The Israelis recently began firing back, sparking another chapter in a long, complicated history of war that concluded -- at least temporarily -- with Wednesday's cease-fire.

"Nobody is really safe right now from Tel Aviv and south," Casspi said. "People don't realize there are certain cities in southern Israel that have been under attack for the last 12 years. Now it's just crazy because they're throwing rockets all over the place. Their only purpose is to hit civilians and to kill."

Yavne is located about 15 miles south of Tel Aviv and 40 miles north of the Gaza Strip, the origin of the missile launches. The Gaza Strip is only about 140 square miles (a little more than twice the size of Akron) and is nestled along the Mediterranean Sea between Israel and Egypt. Hamas, the Islamist group governing Gaza, is recognized by the United States as a terrorist group. While disputes over the land date back more than 60 years, Hamas was formed in 1987 with the goal of destroying Israel.

From Casspi's perspective, Israelis simply grew tired of living in fear of death and random missile launches and began fighting back. The damage has been great, with civilians and children killed on both sides.

"It got to a certain point that the Israeli government and people said: 'That's enough. We can't keep living like this. We can't have a normal life when there is a missile every 10 days that might kill your kids,' " Casspi said. "It's a tough situation. You're dealing with a terrorist organization that doesn't really care about its own people. They hate us more than they love their kids."

Order has been restored -- at least temporarily -- with last week's cease-fire. Casspi doesn't believe it will last simply because there is too much hatred and history on both sides. The United Nations estimated more than 1,400 missiles were launched from Gaza into Israel during the conflict. Similarly, CNN reported Israeli forces struck more than 1,450 targets in Gaza, ranging from rocket-launching sites to military bases, police stations and tunnels along the Egyptian border.

The truce was tested Friday when a Palestinian ambassador to the U.N. claimed Israeli forces violated the cease-fire, killing a Palestinian man and injuring 19 others.

While Casspi certainly has the means to remove his family from the strife and bring them to safety here, it's not that simple. His sister, Aviv, is a member of the Israel Defense Forces. His brother, Eitan, could be recalled to IDF at anytime.

In Israel, it is custom for all healthy 18-year-olds to serve for three years in the military. Omri served his time, too, but he spent most of it with the Maccabi basketball team. He went through basic training, but was granted a rare "outstanding athlete" status that kept him out of conflict. It's also why he is in no danger of being recalled.

Casspi hasn't seen his mother or sister since the summer when he returned to Israel after the season. His father, Shimon, was in Cleveland for the Cavs' first two games. He returned just as tensions with Gaza were escalating.

"He was here for Sandy, when the storm was here," Casspi said. "Then he went back home to a different type of storm."

Despite the distractions and fear for his family's safety, Casspi is playing perhaps his best basketball since joining the Cavaliers. He struggled miserably last season, but is slowly piecing together quality minutes and is back in coach Byron Scott's rotation.

He had 11 points, including a pair of 3-pointers, and added two steals in Friday's loss at Orlando. He does his best not to dwell on the situation because there isn't much he can do from 6,000 miles away.

"This isn't the first time. This is a way of life for us," Casspi said. "You grow up during wars and missiles and knowing you have to go to the army and serve. We all wish for peace, but it's hard to have peace with people who really hate you. They don't want you to live. They'd rather kill their kids and kill you, too. They're crazy people."

On Monday, the Cavs lost 84-78 to Memphis, dropping to 3-11 on the season. Memphis is now 10-2.

Casspi shot 1 for 3, scoring two points and grabbing one rebound.

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By Jason Lloyd - Akron Beacon Journal (MCT)

(c)2012 Akron Beacon Journal (Akron, Ohio)

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