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Sharansky to Visit Pollard


Minister Natan Sharansky, who will visit the United States next week on an official government mission, plans to stop off in North Carolina to visit Jonathan Pollard, who is in his 19th year of a life sentence in prison. MK Yuli Edelstein, Sharansky's political ally, praised Sharansky's visit, and called upon all government ministers who travel to the U.S. to visit Pollard. This coming Sunday, a forest will be planted in honor of Pollard, with the approval of the Knesset Symbols and Ceremonies Committee. The grove will be officially named, at an Israeli Government ceremony, the Freedom for Jonathan Pollard Forest.

Israeli Envoy Explains Gaza Settlement Removal Plans

By David Gollust (VOA-State Department)

An Israeli envoy met senior Bush administration officials to explain Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plans to remove Jewish settlements from the Gaza strip. Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert acknowledged the Gaza pullout would be unilateral action, but said it would be consistent with Bush's vision of a two-state solution to the Middle East conflict. Olmert met with Secretary of State Colin Powell and later at the White House with Vice President Dick Cheney on a hastily arranged Washington mission, aimed at easing U.S. misgivings about Sharon's plans for Gaza.

The Bush administration has been wary about the Sharon initiative, on the one hand supporting the removal of Gaza settlements, but at the same time expressing concern about any effort to circumvent the international "Roadmap" to peace by imposing a settlement. In a talk with reporters here, Olmert conceded that the intended action in Gaza was unilateral, but insisted that it was "within the framework" of the vision for peace outlined by Bush in his Middle East policy statement of June 2002.

The Israeli official said there was no sign the Palestinians are ready to engage in a peace dialogue or crack down on terrorism. He said, under the circumstances, the Sharon government feels there is "no need to wait" on action in Gaza.

"What we are interested in is to reduce the level of collision and confrontation, which is a daily event that creates difficulties - that is a source for bitterness and for sometimes unnecessary confrontations - to the inevitable minimum," he said. "And since, at the end of the day, according to the president's vision, according to the agreement of most of the Israelis, Israelis will not remain in Gaza anyway, then we are ready to pull out now when we will be ready for it soon, not as a concession for the Palestinians, but as an improvement of the living conditions of many Israelis."

Olmert said plans for leaving Gaza, which would include relocating and compensating thousands of settlers, would be ready by the second half of this year, but he gave no indication when actual dismantling of settlements might occur. He said disengagement from Gaza would put Israel into what he termed a "more comfortable parking position" as it awaited Palestinian readiness to negotiate.

Palestinian Arabs Less Attached To Land Than Was Thought


A public opinion survey taken in the Palestinian Authority shows that fully 37% of the population would agree to leave their "homeland" in exchange for material benefits.

The 705 respondents of the Palestinian Center for Public Opinion (PCPO) poll were asked, "If you were to receive a job offer, a home, and $250,000, would you be willing to emigrate to a foreign country?" Just a tad over half said no, while 37% said yes, they would be willing to leave under such circumstances.

Of those who would leave, not even a quarter would choose an Arab nation, while 60% would choose Europe or an English-speaking country.

Report: Gibson to Cut Controversial Scene in 'Passion'

By Reuters

The New York Times, citing an unnamed "close associate" of actor-director Mel Gibson, has reported that he has decided to delete one of the most controversial scenes in his upcoming film about Jesus' final hours, before it is released in North American theaters on Feb. 25.

But Gibson is keeping mum about whether he intends to cut or keep the scene from the film "The Passion of the Christ," which depicts a Jewish high priest declaring a blood curse on Jews for the death of Jesus.

A spokesman for the Hollywood star, who directed, co-wrote, produced and put $25 million of his own money into the film, declined to comment on the report. "It would be irresponsible of me to talk about a work in progress," publicist Alan Nierob told Reuters. Nierob said the scene in question was absent from an early cut he saw.

A version of the film screened last month in Orlando, Florida, for 4,500 evangelical Christian pastors, included the scene, in which a Jewish mob demands Christ's crucifixion and the Jewish high priest Caiaphas declares, "His blood be on us and be on our children" when the Roman governor, Pontius Pilot, condemns Jesus to death.

Jewish leaders have warned that this passage, taken from the Gospel of Matthew 27:25, was often highlighted in the Passion Plays that flourished in the Middle Ages and helped spark centuries of anti-Semitism. The Catholic Church repudiated the anti-Semitic reading of the Gospels at the Second Vatican Council in 1965, stressing the Christian messiah's death was part of his divine mission and absolving Jews of responsibility for it.

The Anti-Defamation League has said it was especially concerned over that scene, urging Gibson to remove it from the film and to add a postscript imploring audiences "not to let the film turn some toward the passion of hate."

Gibson has said his film is meant to inspire "faith, hope, love and forgiveness" rather than to incite hatred. Responding in writing to a letter last month from ADL director Abraham Foxman, Gibson did not specifically address appeals for changes in the film. Instead he wrote, "It is my deepest belief ... that all who ever breathe life on this Earth are children of God and my most binding obligation to them, as a brother in this waking world, is to love them."

Rabbi Gary Bretton-Granatoor, interfaith consultant for the ADL, said he was concerned about the impression the film will make, not on devout Christians, but on "all those people on the periphery of faith... or who may carry some level of hatred or xenophobia against the Jews and use this film about the Passion to harden their hearts." Even without the scene of the blood curse, Bretton-Granatoor said there was ample material he saw in the movie to reinforce a negative image of Jews.

The R-rated film, with dialogue in Hebrew, Latin and the ancient language of Aramaic, depicts Jesus being savagely beaten by Jewish authorities and Roman guards. The Jewish high priest strikes Jesus and spits on him, and the figure of Satan appears alongside Jewish authorities rather than Pilate, who actually sentences Jesus to death, according to those who saw the Orlando screening.

Bretton-Granatoor said many of the gory details of the crucifixion depicted in the film do not come from the four Gospels on which Gibson has the film is based. Instead, they appear to be drawn from the writings of a 19th-century Catholic nun by the name of Anne Catherine Emmerich. He said that whenever the camera pans away from "the unremitting, unrelenting brutality" that dominates the film, "it cuts away to a group of Jews who look like they're enjoying an afternoon's entertainment.

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