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Security Barrier Presents Sabbath Problems


In addition to all the problems surrounding the controversial counter-terrorism security barrier, the IDF Chief Rabbinate has announced another concern. The over 200 gates that run the length of the barrier are connected to electronic sensors and activate computers and receptors when the gates are opened. This poses a most serious problem on the Sabbath since desecration of the Sabbath for non-security purposes will result. At present, officials at the Zomet Institute are addressing the problem, seeking a solution that would conform to IDF needs and prevent the desecration of the holy day.

Israel Raids 4 Palestinian Bank Branches

By Larry James (VOA-Jerusalem)

Israeli forces raided four Palestinian bank branches Wednesday, seizing millions of dollars during a hunt for militant groups' money. Israeli troops sealed off the four Arab-owned banks in the West Bank city of Ramallah and imposed a curfew on the area. An aide to Palestinian chieftain Yasir Arafat said the raid was an "unjustified provocation" that would force a Palestinian reaction.

Israel said the raids were intended to freeze accounts that contain money linked to Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Lebanese-based Hizbullah, as well as those of individual terrorists. Israel said investigators were also looking for evidence that Arafat was involved in funding terrorist activities.

Dozens of stone-throwing Palestinians clashed with the soldiers, who responded with tear gas and rubber-coated bullets. Soldiers denied Palestinian claims that they also used live ammunition. Local medical officials said more than a dozen Palestinians were injured, at least three critically. Israeli troops also raided the office of an Islamic charity in the West Bank city of Tulkarem.

Meanwhile, at The Hague, World Court hearings concluded Wednesday on the legality of the barrier Israel is building in the West Bank. Israel boycotted the proceedings, calling them an "international circus." Israel said the barrier is meant to stop Palestinian suicide attacks. Palestinians called it a land grab and an attempt to impose a boundary on a future Palestinian state. A ruling is not expected for several months, and it will not be binding.

Controversy Surrounds Plan to Evacuate Israel's Settlements in Gaza

By Meredith Buel (VOA-Washington)

The Bush administration is currently examining a proposal by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to evacuate Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip. Some Middle East analysts are calling the idea unprecedented and revolutionary for an Israeli leader.

Palestinians are expressing concern that Sharon's proposal for unilateral action may signal an effort to consolidate Israel's hold on Palestinian territory in the West Bank and bring an end to hopes for a peaceful solution to the conflict. Sharon stunned his supporters in Israel's Likud party in early February when he ordered the government to begin plans for the evacuation of Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip.

Sharon said if peace talks with the Palestinians fail, he will remove as many as 17 of the 21 settlements in Gaza, as well as a few others in the West Bank. The Israeli prime minister said the evacuation in Gaza is only the first stage of a broader plan to relocate all 7,500 Jews from Gaza.

Former Middle East envoy Dennis Ross, now director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said Sharon's decision was a major development in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. "It is a revolutionary proposal by Israel. No Israeli prime minister has publicly said anything like this up until now. The mere fact of saying it creates a new political baseline in Israel. What, after all, is the ideology of Likud if in fact leaving Gaza, getting out of settlements in the West Bank, is now established by the prime minister of Israel who was also the architect of the settler movement? So it is a revolutionary development."

Recent public opinion surveys say a majority of Israelis support giving up the settlements as a move toward peace, but there is strong opposition from right-wing groups and the settlers themselves.

Former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres, who is the chairman of the opposition Labor Party, supports the evacuation of the Gaza settlements. Peres, who shared the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize with the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat, said removal of the settlers has numerous benefits for Israel.

"If there is a cost for the withdrawal from Gaza, there is also a prize," said Peres. "I mean people say, what are we going to get in return? We are getting rid of a terrible burden in human terms, in money. We are going to enable our economy to breathe again, many things like investment and tourism. I would describe the move, not as a retreat, but as a new vision for Israel."

Bush administration officials said any withdrawal from Gaza needs to have safeguards to reduce the chances that Hamas or other Palestinian groups would fill a power vacuum left when the Israeli army, which guards the Jewish settlements, pulls out.

Sharon has given assurances that if the settlements are dismantled, he would still support the "road map" peace plan put forward by the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations. That plan appeared to hit a dead end months ago. The Israelis and the Palestinians accuse each other of not living up to their commitments on the road map, and the current bloodshed, which began in September 2000, is continuing. He is expected to visit Washington soon to discuss his plan with Bush.

Yishai: Ban Gibson's Jesus film in Israel

By Ha'aretz & Alan Silverman (VOA-Hollywood)

Shas chairman MK Eli Yishai on Wednesday called for Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" movie to be banned from Israeli cinemas, calling it a blood libel.

In the U.S., the Anti-Defamation League issued a statement saying that the film "repeats all of the stereotypes and myths surrounding the death of Jesus that have accompanied anti-Semitism for the last 2,000 years. Regretfully, Gibson refused all of our attempts for a dialogue aimed at preventing this harm to Jews."

ADL National Director Abraham Foxman said he was troubled by Gibson's claim of historical accuracy. "He made his choice," Foxman told a news conference after viewing the film. "And it's to blame the Jews."

"The Passion," which depicts in gruesome detail the final hours of the life of Jesus, premiered in the U.S. and other countries Wednesday, but not in Israel. "The whole thing is a blood libel," said Yishai, from the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, using a term that refers to a medieval slur that Jews used the blood of Christians to make unleavened bread for the Passover festival.

Much of the controversy stems from the film's depiction of the Jewish high priest and Jewish mob angrily demanding that the Roman governor Pilate put Jesus to death by crucifixion: a characterization that, in centuries of so-called "Passion Plays," has been blamed for accusations of deicide - murder of God - which has historically sparked anti-Semitism. Romanian actress Maia Morganstern, who plays Mary, the mother of Jesus, is Jewish and she said Gibson made changes because of her concerns.

"Mr. Mel Gibson knew exactly what he wanted and he is very much aware of the history; but at the same time it is his view as an artist and I brought him my experience," she said, "Only I could bring my emotional experience. It's not that I gave lessons or something like that - not at all - but he trusted me and [the rest of] us so much: a sign of respect. He asked for our opinion and at the same time he explained how he thinks and what he feels like. It helped us very much."

However, it appeared unlikely that the film would be banned. Few films have been barred in recent years, and the ones to be forbidden are usually pornographic. The Israeli film board, which makes these decisions, could not be reached for comment.

Yishai said the belief that the Jews had killed Jesus had led to "millions" of Jews being killed and persecuted in the last two millennia. "This libel used to spread by word of mouth. Now the media are spreading it. We should not accept this."

Jewish leaders have said that the movie gives a harsh portrayal of Jews and blames them for death of Jesus. They have warned it could lead to a rise in anti-Semitism. Gibson, who also funded and co-scripted the film, denies that charge.

New York Cardinal Edward Egan, meanwhile, wrote to parishes to stress Jews were not responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus. "He gave His Life for us," Egan wrote in a column to appear in next month's issue of Catholic New York. "No one took it from Him. This is, and has always been, Catholic doctrine."

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