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Pesach Begins Monday Evening


The seven-day Passover (Pesach) holiday - eight days outside of Israel - begins at sunset Monday night, and will end at sunset on Monday, April 12 (Tuesday, April 13, outside of Israel). Passover marks the exodus of the Jewish people from Egyptian bondage, and the beginning of their national identity. Jews are commanded to tell the story as if it had happened to them personally and not as a mere historical event, in order to emphasize the importance of our hard-won and precious freedom. The major event of the holiday is the Seder meal of Monday night (and Tuesday night, abroad), at which the story of the Redemption and the Divine miracles is retold. Obligatory foods include matzah, maror (Romaine lettuce or bitter herbs), and four cups of wine (grape juice, according to some). Israel Faxx will not be published on Tuesday, April 6.

Israel on High Alert Ahead of Passover Holiday

By Ross Dunn (VOA-Jerusalem), & Ha'aretz

Israeli security forces have gone on high alert for possible terror attacks before the weeklong sacred Jewish Passover holiday, which begins at sunset on Monday. Israel says a closure imposed on the West Bank and Gaza Strip last month is to remain in force for weeks to come.

Israel's secret police, the Shin Bet, said it had received about 60 warnings of planned terror attacks during the Passover holiday. Security officials said the warnings include efforts to launch a large-scale attack to avenge Israel's assassination of Hamas spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin last month.

Hamas and the Islamic Jihad claimed joint responsibility for the killing on Saturday of an Israeli man in a Jewish settlement in the West Bank, saying it was in revenge for the sheikh's death. Both groups are listed by the State Department as terrorist organizations and have carried out frequent suicide bombings and other attacks that have killed hundreds of Israelis.

The Palestinian responsible for Saturday's attack on the Jewish settlement was identified as a member of Hamas. He was shot and killed by Israeli forces, which then demolished his family home in the Palestinian refugee camp in the West Bank town of Tulkarem. Israel often demolishes the homes of Palestinians responsible for the killing of Israelis, saying it is meant to deter others from carrying out such attacks. The Palestinian leadership condemns the policy as a form of collective punishment.

Meanwhile, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said a closure imposed on the Palestinian territories last month would remain in force until after the country celebrates its Independence Day in late April. He said this was necessary for Israel's security. The decision means that thousands of Palestinians whose livelihood depends on entering Israel for work would be prevented from doing so until the closure has been lifted.

Israel Police officials called on synagogues to arrange for a minimum of a person at each building entrance armed with a weapon and cellular telephone on Monday night and Tuesday, during services on the first day of the Passover holiday due to mounting security warnings. Officials added that terrorists were "highly motivated" at this time to successfully perpetrate an attack during the holiday week. Thousands of Hamas terrorists on Saturday demonstrated in the Jabalya area of Gaza, burning a model of the Knesset and vowing to bring the parliament to the ground following Israel's elimination of Hamas leader Yassin.

The Fatah movement of Yasir Arafat issued a warning Saturday saying Israel would pay a heavy price if it made any attempt to kill the Palestinian leader. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon made his most explicit threat yet against Arafat in an interview published in Ha'aretz on Friday, calling him a poor insurance risk. "I wouldn't suggest either one of them should feel secure. I wouldn't propose that any insurance company give them coverage," the prime minister said. "Anyone who kills a Jew or harms an Israeli citizen, or sends someone to kill Jews, is a marked man. Period."

"An attack would plunge the region into a huge war and would undermine any chance of reviving the peace process," according to a Fatah statement issued in Gaza City. Assassinating Arafat would be a political stupidity for which Israel would pay a heavy price, said the statement.

Meanwhile, the Palestinian leader Saturday brushed aside threats that he might become a target for assassination. "I don't care for it. I am caring for my people, for our children, for our women, for our students," Arafat speaking in English, told reporters at his headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

Jordan warned Saturday that any Israeli attempt to harm Arafat would be a crime with unpredictable consequences. "Killing Yasir Arafat would be an escalation with hard to predict consequences," government spokeswoman Asma Khader told Reuters. Khader said of Israel's assassinations of Palestinian militant leaders: "We condemn these actions that are against all laws and we warn against any attempt to target President Arafat." She said killing Arafat would harm the peace process in the region and would be "a new deliberate crime."

The United States reiterated Friday its opposition to the assassination of Arafat. "Our position on such questions - the exile or assassination of Yasir Arafat - is very well known. We are opposed and we have made that very clear to the government of Israel," Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage told reporters. It was not clear whether Washington had repeated its view to the Israeli government after Sharon's latest comments.

Sharon Clashes with Ministers Over Gaza

By Reuters

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has clashed with hard-line ministers over his plan to withdraw from most of the Gaza Strip and some of the West Bank. Sharon plans to meet President George W. Bush on April 14, after the Passover holiday, to seek his endorsement for the withdrawal that Palestinians welcome but want to see carried out through negotiations.

In Gaza, former Palestinian security chief Mohammad Dahlan, widely seen as a possible successor to Yasir Arafat, said chaos could ensue in Gaza if the Palestinian Authority failed to prepare for an Israeli pullout.

Dahlan said he welcomed Sharon's plan to withdraw settlers and soldiers from most of Gaza as "a first step", alluding to a Palestinian demand that any such withdrawal be followed by a significant West Bank pullback. But he added that the Palestinian Authority had failed so far to make any preparations for an Israeli pullout from Gaza. "We have to avoid the nightmare scenario whereby there will be chaos and the public would go and destroy evacuated settlements," he said.

Israeli Housing Minister Effie Eitam and Tourism Minister Benjamin Elon sharply criticized Sharon during the weekly cabinet meeting for taking the plan to Washington before bringing it before ministers. "I called on the prime minister not to go to Washington immediately following the holiday," Eitam said on Channel 2 on Sunday, referring both to the failure to present the plan to the cabinet and a bribery probe against Sharon.

Elon and Eitam, whose parties represent the Jewish settlement lobby, have spoken against the pullout in recent trips abroad and Sharon responded to their criticism on Sunday with some of his own, the sources said. "Anyone who feels ill at ease can get up and leave," Sharon said, according to the sources.

In an attempt to rally support for the Gaza plan, Sharon agreed last week to put the pullout to a binding vote by his right-wing Likud party. Olmert warned that if the Likud failed to approve the plan, Israel would face a deep crisis.

Dahlan said he welcomed Sharon's plan to withdraw settlers and soldiers from most of Gaza as "a first step", alluding to a Palestinian demand that any such withdrawal be followed by a significant West Bank pullback. But he added that the Palestinian Authority had failed so far to make any preparations for an Israeli pullout from Gaza. "We have to avoid the nightmare scenario whereby there will be chaos and the public would go and destroy evacuated settlements," he said.

Petition to the Supreme Court to Enforce Passover Laws


An appeal has been filed with the Israeli Supreme Court seeking to compel Interior Minister Avraham Poraz to enforce Passover laws following hid declaration that he does not intend to do so.

Poraz, of the ultra-secular Shinui Party, had announced for the second year in a row that he would not authorize inspectors to fine storekeepers who violate the law against the sale of hametz - bread, cakes, and the like - on the Passover holiday.

The Matzot Holiday Law of 1986 states that stores in predominantly Jewish towns may not publicly display hametz for sale during the seven-day Passover holiday. Poraz, however, who claims to champion democracy and the rule of law - especially over the Jewish character of the State of Israel - stated that this particular law is "on the bottom of my priorities as Interior Minister," and that he would therefore not authorize the inspectors. Referring to the fact that Passover commemorates, among other things, Jewish freedom from Egyptian bondage, Poraz stated, "My freedom is to eat bread on Passover."

Poraz, whose party platform is largely an anti-religious one, also added that he decided not to authorize the inspectors because "not one local council submitted the required list of inspectors it wishes to authorize." Shinui Party aides added that the towns did not do so "after having learned from last year that Poraz will not authorize them."

Chief Rabbi David Lau of Modiin told Arutz-7 about the decision not to enforce the hametz laws. "First of all, it pains me. The Russian Jews who came here 10-15 years ago, even if they only knew one thing about Judaism, it was the concepts of 'hametz' and 'Pesach' [Passover]. This is one of those time-honored customs that every Jew knows everywhere.

"Yesterday, I went into a school and told the children about a prayer composed in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp one Passover, which stated, 'Master of the Universe, we are commanded not to eat hametz, but You have also commanded us to do what we must to remain alive. To our great sorrow, we can only fulfill one of these commandments this year, and we must therefore eat hametz in order to fulfill the other commandment and remain alive so that hopefully we will merit to get out of here and fulfill both commandments in future years.' It is therefore very painful to see the devaluation of this Torah value."

Number of Returning Israelis Continues to Drop

By Ha'aretz

Colette Avital, chairperson of the Knesset Immigration Absorption Committee, is protesting the Finance Ministry's intent to cancel financial benefits to Israelis returning from abroad after a stay of two years or longer.

Nadia Prigat, in charge of returning Israelis at the Immigrant Absorption Ministry, told the committee that, based on estimates by the Central Bureau of Statistics, 760,000 Israelis are living abroad - 600,000 adults and 160,000 children. According to Prigat, some 60 percent of them live in North America, 25 percent in Europe, and 15 percent elsewhere.

Prigat had no statistics as to the number of Israelis who had left during the three years of the intifada, but she noted that an estimated 550,000 Israelis (400,000 adults and 150,000 children) were living abroad in 2000.

With regard to the numbers of Israelis who have returned to Israel over the past 13 years, the numbers are clearer. Fifty percent of the Israelis who returned during that period did so after a stay abroad of between two and five years. "These people came back because they were unable to sink roots abroad and missed home," Prigat explained.

Most of those who leave Israel, and the 50 per cent who returned, are between 25 and 44 years old. A large number of them are academics. The first generation of those who leave Israel maintain a strong Jewish identity, said Prigat, "however, the second and third generation disengages itself from Israeli and Jewish identity."

Statistics show the return rate of Israelis is influenced by the economic and security situation in Israel. From 1993 to 1999, a relatively high number of Israelis returned each year (between 4,700 and 6,500). But in 2000, apparently as a result of the intifada and the economic downswing, the number of returning Israelis declined. In 2000, 3,956 Israelis returned; in 2001, 3,546 Israelis returned; and, until October of this year, the number of returning Israelis stood at 2,771, Prigat reported.

The Immigrant Absorption Ministry's department for returning residents works hard to bring Israelis back. It maintains contact with 60 Israeli consulates, and finances activities in 13 of them. The department runs various programs to encourage Israelis to return home, such as job, information, and housing fairs. The department invests special efforts in the return of the children of Israelis living abroad, bringing them to Israel for summer programs.

The government's economic plan, still awaiting final Knesset ratification, would cut NIS 50 million annually from benefits for returning Israelis, as well as requiring them to pay National Insurance for the period of their stay abroad.

Boaz Sofer, deputy director of government income, told the committee that the treasury decided to cut back the benefits because it estimates that 75 percent of the funds are used by returning emissaries and students, which is not their real purpose.

Prigat said the benefits amount to approximately 2,000 per family. "I am afraid that the cancellation of benefits will discourage Israelis from returning," Prigat told the committee.

Gov't to Spend Millions to Bring Young Jews to Israel

By Ha'aretz

The government plans to invest tens of millions of dollars to bring 20,000 young Diaspora Jews to Israel for up to 12 months, starting next year, according to an outline of the project approved recently by a joint governmental and Jewish Agency committee. But they do not expect to reach this goal until 2010 at the earliest.

During their time in Israel, the teenagers would study at academic institutions and be introduced to various aspects of Israeli society. The project's ultimate objective is to bring 20 percent of all Diaspora Jews aged 18 to 19 to Israel.

Last June, the government approved funding for the Jewish Agency to use to reinforce the Jewish identity of Diaspora Jews. Since then, a joint task force, composed of representatives from the Jewish Agency, the Israel Defense Forces and the government, have been formulating the principles that will guide the project. While the outline of the project has been finalized, full details of the funding have yet to be worked out.

According to Alan Hoffman, director-general of the Jewish Agency's education department, the decision to funnel all of the approved funding into this one project is based on various surveys that show that the most effective way of reinforcing Jewish identity and Zionist feelings in the Diaspora is to bring young Jews here for several months.

"Scholars such as Stephen M. Cohen have found that visiting Israel has a highly significant influence on intermarriage rates, on the desire to donate money to the Jewish community and, in the long run, on the will to make aliyah [immigration to Israel]," said Hoffman. As an example, he cited an overseas leadership program that the Jewish Agency has been running since 1946. Over 30 percent of the graduates of this course subsequently immigrated to Israel.

The new project will target non-Orthodox youth aged 18 to 26. Similar projects already exist for members of Orthodox communities, which often send young people to study at Israeli yeshivas. During the first stage of the project, the Jewish Agency will use the funds to bolster its existing infrastructure.

Some 3,200 young Jews visited Israel last year as part of ongoing projects operated by the agency, youth groups and various streams of Judaism. Sources in the agency hope that by offering financial incentives to organizations that bring more youngsters here, the number of visitors can be increased to 5,000 a year. During the later stages of the project, the goal is to focus efforts on the 18- to 19-year-old age group.

The government's decision to invest sizable amounts of money in projects aimed at reinforcing the Jewish-Zionist identity of Diaspora Jewry is considered revolutionary. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Jewish Agency Chairman Sallai Meridor both believe that this is most effective way of increasing immigration from more affluent countries. According to last June's agreement, some $10 million would be allocated in 2004, with the sum increasing by a further $10 million for each of the next five years.

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