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Revolution On The Kibbutz


An Israeli institution from the heyday of modern-day socialist Zionism, the kibbutz (agricultural commune), is about to undergo a revolutionary transformation. Following a government decision on the matter, kibbutz members will henceforth be allowed to register their homes as private property. The decision represents the most symbolic and significant challenge to the communist principles upon which the kibbutz movement was based.

Palestinian PM Cautiously Welcomes Plans for Israeli Gaza Withdrawal

By Sonja Pace (VOA-Jerusalem)

Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia has cautiously welcomed a possible Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank, but only as part of a broader peace effort. The words were carefully chosen and with lots of conditions, but it was the closest thing to a direct endorsement yet by Qureia of Israel's disengagement plan.

Qureia told Palestinian lawmakers in the West Bank city of Ramallah, that while an Israeli withdrawal from Palestinian land is welcome, it should be done in coordination with the Palestinian Authority and as part of broader peace negotiations.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is promoting his go-it-alone disengagement plan, which he says is necessary because peace talks with the Palestinians have gone nowhere. Sharon is proposing that Israel withdraw its troops and settlements from most, if not all, of Gaza and disband some settlements in the West Bank. Final details of such a withdrawal have yet to be disclosed.

Palestinians fear that by disengaging unilaterally, Israel will create new facts on the ground that will effectively preclude the establishment of a Palestinian state in Gaza and the West Bank, with East Jerusalem as its capital. Qureia said if Israel goes ahead with its disengagement plan, it should withdraw from all of the Gaza Strip and give up control of international border crossings, airports, and ports there as well. He added that Jewish settlers removed from Gaza should not be relocated to West Bank settlements. He also stressed that an Israeli withdrawal should be the first step toward resuming peace talks and should be followed by an Israeli pullout from the entire West Bank.

The Palestinian Prime Minister also spoke out strongly against suicide bomb attacks by Palestinian militants against Israeli civilians. He said such attacks only foster more hatred and are an obstacle to peace. Commenting on unilateral Gaza disengagement plan, Abu Ala stated it is a good first step towards a total Israeli withdrawal from Judea and Samaria, adding that a failure to remove the Jewish presence from those areas would result in additional "obstacles towards a peace agreement" between the PA and Israel.

EU report sees anti-Semitism on rise

By Reuters

Attacks on Jews have increased in several European Union states, especially in France, with the main perpetrators young, white males, an EU report said. The report by the European Monitoring Center on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC) contrasted with controversial findings of a Berlin study last year, which blamed young Arabs and Muslims predominantly for rising anti-Semitism.

"There has been an increase in anti-Semitic incidents in five EU countries," the EUMC said, citing Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Britain and Germany. "Although it is not easy to generalize, the largest group of perpetrators...appears to be young, disaffected white Europeans. A further source of anti-Semitism in some countries was young Muslims of North African or Asian extraction. Traditionally anti-Semitic groups on the extreme right played a part in stirring opinion."

.By far the biggest rise in anti-Semitic violence was reported in France, where the number of incidents rose six fold in 2002 over the previous year. Jewish organizations accused the European Commission of anti-Semitism after the EUMC, an independent EU agency, at first refused to issue the Berlin study amid accusations it was loath to single out Muslim immigrants and pro-Palestinian groups.

The new report, based on research by EUMC units in member states on anti-Semitic incidents for the years 2002 and 2003, recorded in France 313 racist, xenophobic or anti-Semitic incidents in 2002, of which 193 were directed at the Jewish community - six times more than in 2001.

The number of incidents in Belgium doubled, including the firebombing of Jewish property and serious physical assaults. In Germany, the number of anti-Semitic acts fell in 2002, but those involving violence rose from 18 in 2001 to 28 in 2002. In Sweden, anti-Semitic crimes remained at constant levels over the last few years. Several countries, including Ireland and Portugal, had few incidents. Acts of anti-Semitism were rare in Greece, Austria, Italy and Spain, but the EUMC said anti-Semitic discourse in these countries was "particularly virulent" in daily life.

Poll: Most Palestinians Support Attacks on Israeli Civilians

By Ha'aretz

The Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, the leading Palestinian polling institute, has disclosed that a majority of Palestinians, 53 percent, support terror attacks against Israeli civilians. This represents a rise in support for terror - last December, 48 percent of respondents in a poll articulated support for terror attacks. In the latest poll, 87 percent of respondents said they favor attacks on Israeli soldiers; 86 percent supported attacks on settlers in the territories.

Just before the assassination of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin last week, 27 percent of Palestinians on the Gaza Strip supported Hamas, as opposed to just 23 percent who supported Fatah. By combining survey results from the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, the Ramallah-based Policy and Survey center found that 27 percent of Palestinians in the territories support Fatah, as compared to 20 percent who favor Hamas. A large number of respondents, 40 percent, refused to state a preference between the two movements.

In December 2003, the Center asked the same questions, and found that 26 percent of respondents on the Gaza Strip supported Hamas, as opposed to 24 percent who supported Fatah.

The new survey found that all the Islamic organizations - Hamas, Islamic Jihad and smaller groups - enjoy support of 29 percent of respondents. Once left-wing opposition groups are added to this figure, 35 percent of residents in the territories support forces that oppose the dominant Fatah organization.

For the first time, a public opinion poll in the territories asked respondents the question: "Are you in favor of Hamas conducting diplomatic negotiations with Israel?" This question relates to one of the most pressing issues in Palestinian politics: who is most empowered to represent the Palestinians, the PLO or Hamas? In the new survey, 41 percent of respondents said that they support Hamas conducting negotiations with Israel. A majority, 54 percent, said they oppose such a scenario of Hamas-Israel negotiations.

$16 Million Paid to Holocaust Insurance Claimants

By Insurance Journal & Globes

New York Superintendent of Insurance Gregory V. Serio and officials from the International Commission on Holocaust Era Insurance Claims (ICHEIC) announced that approximately $16 million in humanitarian payments are going out to 15,890 ICHEIC claimants in 63 countries who are Holocaust survivors or their heirs.

The $16 million will be paid to approximately 4,867 recipients in the U.S., 5,061 recipients in Israel and thousands of additional recipients around the globe. The vast majority of these recipients are Holocaust survivors and will receive humanitarian payments of $1,000 on a per claimant basis. Of the 16,000 receiving payments, 1,069 recipients reside in New York State. With this payment, the ICHEIC has paid out $82 million altogether of the $500 million allocated for compensation.

The ICHEIC, chaired by former U.S. Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger, was established in 1998 by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC), in conjunction with European insurance companies. Eagleburger said, " These payments are a symbolic acknowledgement of the fact that many insurance policy proceeds were never paid to victims of the Holocaust." The reference is to Holocaust survivors and the heirs of victims, mainly from Central and Eastern Europe, who attempted to redeem insurance polices.

ICHEIC senior counselor Samuel Berger, former National Security Advisor to President Clinton, explained that the claims procedure was exceptionally complex, because many claimants had only anecdotal information, did not name a specific insurance company, and had no additional documentation.

American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors chairman Roman Kent said, "Before the Holocaust, insurance policies were a means for poor and middle-class people to save money to safeguard their families' futures. The Nazis destroyed the future for these families and the insurance companies turned their backs on the victims' families after the war. This program provides some acknowledgement of this theft and restores what is possible to those survivors and their family members who are still alive."

The sole note of criticism came from World Jewish Congress chairman and Claims Conference president Israel Singer, who said, " The agreement by the insurance companies to pay for stolen policies is some 60 years too late in coming. We persevered in negotiating because we cannot reward theft with silence."

Spain's Crypto-Jews Seek to Return to Israel


More than 50 descendants of Spanish and Portuguese crypto-Jews attended an intensive three-day seminar held in Madrid this past weekend by the Jerusalem-based Amishav organization, which reaches out and assists "lost Jews" seeking to return to the Jewish people.

The participants, who hailed from over a dozen communities across the Iberian Peninsula, were B'nei Anousim, whose ancestors were compelled to convert to Catholicism during the Spanish Inquisition (historians have often referred to them by the disparaging term "Marranos").

"The turnout was great - it exceeded our expectations," said Amishav Director Michael Freund. "We studied Jewish texts together, learned about the travails of their ancestors, and examined issues of identity and return currently faced by the B'nei Anousim."

The seminar was entitled "The Meaning of Liberty: Individual and Collective Freedom in the Life of the B'nei Anousim." Sessions were held at Madrid's main synagogue, and included traditional Sabbath services as well as festive meals. "There is a real awakening taking place among the B'nei Anousim, who long to reconnect with the Jewish people and their heritage," Freund said. "It was quite moving to look around the room and see these people, who have clung to their Jewish roots despite centuries of persecution, singing Sabbath hymns and discussing their desire to return to Judaism. We simply have to do more to help them."

"I waited 500 years for this seminar," said one participant from northern Portugal. "And now at last I feel that I have taken a first step on my way back home, to rejoin my people - the Jewish people."

The B'nei Menashe and Pesach


Efforts continue to be made on behalf of the B'nei Menashe - a group claiming descent from a lost tribe of Israel - even as Interior Minister Avraham Poraz continues to refuse to allow them to make Aliyah [immigration] to Israel.

Poraz, of the extreme-secularist Shinui party, has issued instructions to freeze further immigration to Israel from Ethiopia, India and Peru - because immigrants from those countries undergo only Orthodox conversions and many choose to live in Judea and Samaria. Poraz gave this explanation to leaders of Amishav, a group founded to reach out to people claiming Jewish ancestry and who are interested in returning to the Jewish fold. Actually, however, the reason why most of the B'nei Menashe live in Yesha is because it is these localities that have actively welcomed them. Poraz's decision has left many families broken and unable to reunite.

The Amishav organization has arranged for the dispatch of hundreds of kilograms of matzo and dozens of bottles of kosher-for-Passover wine to the B'nei Menashe, who reside in the northeastern Indian states of Mizoram and Manipur. "Passover is full of symbolic and religious meaning for the B'nei Menashe," said Amishav Director Michael Freund. "They are anxious to observe its rituals to the fullest extent possible, so we have sent them the supplies they need in order to do so."

Freund noted that up until a century ago, the B'nei Menashe celebrated an annual springtime festival known as Chapchar Khut, corresponding to Passover. "As part of the ritual," he explained, "a village priest would sacrifice an animal and spread it on the doorposts of his home, just as the Jewish people did in Egypt at the time of the Exodus. The priest would then separate the meat from the bones of the animal's carcass, taking care not to break any bones - mirroring the Biblical law of the Paschal lamb. While offering the animal on an altar, the priest would recite a series of chants, including, 'We had to cross the Red Sea, our enemies were coming after us with chariots, the Sea swallowed them all as if they were meat. We were led by the cloud during the day, and by fire at night. Take those birds for the food, and drink water coming out from the rock.'"

The B'nei Menashe claim descent from the tribe of Manasseh, one of the 10 tribes exiled from the Land of Israel by the Assyrians more than 2,700 years ago.

Over 800 B'nei Menashe have arrived in Israel in the past decade, and have converted or are in the process of converting to Judaism under the auspices of Israel's Chief Rabbinate. Most of them live in Gush Katif, Kiryat Arba, Shavei Shomron, and Beit El. The vast majority, roughly 98%, remain religious and serve in the army, Freund says. Approximately 6,000 B'nei Menashe remain in India, almost all of who wish to make aliyah.

Is Your Airport Secure?

By ISRAEL21c Staff

Rafi Sela doesn't believe that a safe trip means a more expensive trip. And he is on a mission to make airline travel in the U.S. more secure, relaxed and leisurely - and less expensive. Sound impossible? Don't put it past the Israeli Army veteran with decades of experience handling security-related issues in Israel and the U.S. According to Sela, the elements of security, comfort and cost are interrelated. This is a concept that major American airports miss, he says.

Sitting in a Jerusalem café, the striking, 58-year-old resident of Kfar Vradim in the north, points to an example close to home. "The Ben-Gurion Airport in Israel is arguably the airport with the highest level of threat in the world and, at the same time, one of the safest in the world. Remarkably, it accomplishes this while allowing retail operations to rank sixth in the world in terms of retail revenue per passenger."

His company, AR Challenges, includes some of Israel's heavyweight security experts including a former managing director of the Israeli Airport Authority and Chief of Operations of the Israeli Security Agency, and a former major general in the Israeli Police and commander of the Jerusalem Region. "Our personal involvement at a senior level at Ben Gurion allows us to offer a unique expertise that can be brought to bear similar benefits to American airports."

The natural question, though, is why do American airports need Sela and team's advice. Aren't American airports safe? Sela's pleasant demeanor turns serious. "Definitely not. There is no airport security per se in the U.S. What they have in the U.S. is aviation security - trying to prevent the bad guys from boarding a plane. But in American airports today, you can enter the terminals with any kind of weapon or device on you. Following September 11, the airports panicked. Instead of working the way security operations are supposed to - from A to Z - they jumped in the middle somewhere around S."

According to Sela, the Israeli method of security involves threat analysis. Before conducting a thorough analysis, one can't assess what an airport's vulnerabilities are, so the decisions made as a reaction to something that either doesn't exist or is erroneous. They are actually "fighting the previous war" - not the next one.

"Until today, no official aviation body in the U.S. has done a serious and comprehensive threat analysis. Perhaps one reason is that if they do produce such a plan, they think that the cost of installing the required airport security system will be prohibitive," said Sela.

Sela, who has worked with the U.S. Navy Seals, Swat teams and large U.S. organizations on security related matters - in addition to running his own security company in Washington D.C. before returning to Israel in 1995 - sees the solution with a holistic approach. "Our plan says that the cost of security does not have to be an obstacle. If you do it right, then people can move more flexibly and in a relaxed manner toward the gate areas and the retail sections. You can enhance the retail operation and use the higher income to offset the cost of the more complex security."

The problem with implementing his plan, says Sela, is a conceptual one. "Most airports don't see themselves as a business. They're a budgeted service provider. They have fixed budget and a mandate to give service to airlines and passengers. If they can't do that within their budget, it's not problem for them - they simply raise the airport taxes, which the passenger ultimately pays for. As long as they can hike up feels for airlines and passengers, their budget is squared, but the airline industry and passengers suffer as a result."

"We're saying the airports need to look at it as a business. The expenses created by security needs should be offset by income. The whole mode of operation has to change. Now most airports have a security division and the retail division is part of Operations. There's absolutely no contact or cross-referencing between the two departments. The first thing that has to happen is that the management structure has to change, and they have to start talking and working together. Then you'll see some interesting, innovative ideas."

One example Sela offers is the issue of retail placement. Most retail outlets in American airports - including new ones - are situated before the major security checks. Most passengers, fearing long lines and wanting to be on time, go through the security checks earlier leaving little time for shopping, thus cutting into potential revenue for the retailer and the airport.

Sela's presented outlines of his AR Challenges airport reform plan to the AAAE (American Association of Airport Executives) at two of their conferences. He's also met with officials at the Baltimore-Washington International Airport and the aviation department at George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston.

His presentation offers the following benefits and considerations: Thorough identification and ranking of specific global security threats; Alternate ways to deal with current and potential threats; Provision of real time world-wide counter terrorism targeted information; Security Circles for 'total' airport security; Maximize security and streamline passenger flow; Minimizing wait time, maximizing commercial retail operations and providing higher security levels without operation disruption.

Sela said that it will take time to convince American airlines to change their long-held system of operation and adopt his plan for an integrated security/retail unit, but he is unwavering in his belief that it will work. "It's only a matter of time until airports realize that they'll have to deal with this issue. And then the winner will be the airlines, and most importantly, the passengers."

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