Newsletter : 6fax1224.txt
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>PD Dec. 24, 1996, Vol. 4, No. 233
Mid-East War Risk Can No Longer be Termed Low
Israel's air force intelligence chief has said the probability
of war with the Arabs could no longer be characterized as low, and
Syria remains "Israel's number one confrontation state." He also
said if Iran possessed nuclear weapons, Israel would consider it
"an intolerable situation."
Bethlehem Christmas is Sparse
By Al Pessin (VOA-Bethlehem)
Bad economic times and uncertainty about the Israeli-Palestinian
peace process are putting something of a damper on Christmas
celebrations in Bethlehem, the town where Christians believe Jesus
was born. But local officials, clergy, and business people
are doing their best to put on Christmas-as-usual.
The Muslim call to prayer mingles with church bells and traffic
noise on Bethlehem's Manger Square, where Christmas decorations
set the theme. But a bad local economy and concerns about possible
renewed conflict with Israel compete to set the tone. Farid Azizeh
is the owner of a restaurant on Manger Square and a member of the
Bethlehem City Council.
"The people they didn't work. They can't go to Jerusalem. They
can't go to Israel. And the West Bank here without Israel,
nothing. We don't know, as I told you, what may happen -- the end
of the peace process -- nobody knows 'til now."
Just outside Azizeh's restaurant, Manger Square is ready. Lights
are strung, stores are bulging with souvenirs, and in the Church of
the Nativity there is a special attraction.
The church is built over the grotto where Christians believe Jesus
was born. And six weeks ago some people believe there was another
miracle at the site. Church worker Sadiqa Hamida explains that a
portrait of Jesus at the top of one of the church's pillars has
been blinking its eyes, and actually cried one day.
Hamida says she believes it was a miracle, and a sign from God.
She speculates that the event was a sign of Jesus' sorrow at
Bethlehem's problems, or a call to faith, or perhaps a sign of some
event to come -- but she is not sure what.
Other church officials caution against declaring that a miracle
happened until the reports can be confirmed through religious
procedures. But the few tourists in Bethlehem this week craned
their necks to get a look at the icon, and marveled at how its
right eye sometimes appears to be open, sometimes closed. Believers
point out streaks on the column, which they say are the portrait's
dried tears. Skeptics say light from the church's many candles is
playing tricks, and the streaks are from a leak in the roof.
But with or without a fresh miracle, Christmas will come to
Bethlehem tonight. And the city's mayor, Elias Freij, plans
full-fledged celebrations, and hopes for large crowds in a show
of support for the Palestinian people.
Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat will attend Christmas celebrations
in Bethlehem for the second time, and there will be choirs and
visitors from around the world. But the city will be hard put to
top, or even match last year's Christmas celebration, which came
just a few days after the end of Israel's 28-year occupation.
Bethlehem has faced Christmas in times of trouble before --
occupation, uprising, various economic crises. This year, the
religious and celebratory requirements of Christmas will be
fulfilled. But if the days leading up to the holiday are any
indication, this christmas in Bethlehem may lack the luster it has
had in some years.
Immigration is Down
Jewish Agency Chairman Avraham Burg spoke against the trend of
decreasing immigration to Israel from Western countries, at
yesterday's meeting of the Jewish Agency Executive. A drop by over
10% in the number of immigrants from the United States and Canada
has been reported in the first 11 months of 1996, in comparison
with the previous year.
Similar figures are seen regarding immigration from Great Britain,
Uruguay, Brazil, Italy and Spain. On the other hand, immigration
from France has increased by more than 20 percent as compared to
last year. Burg reported that the Jewish Agency is now switching
to long-term planning for immigration, in which five-year plans
will be formulated for the immigration of Jews from Western
Regarding immigration from the former Soviet Union, Burg quoted
statistics showing that the percentage of immigrants from the CIS
this year stands at about 5 percent of the total Jewish population
there, similar to 1994 and 1995. By the end of the moth, some
58,600 immigrants will have arrived in Israel from among the
estimated 1.1 million people eligible to immigrate.
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