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New Law Grants Citizenship to Non-Jews who Serve in IDF

By Ha'aretz

The Knesset on Wednesday approved the second and third readings of a bill entitling soldiers who are not considered Jewish according to the Law of Return, and who have completed 18 months of military service, to receive Israeli citizenship. The new law also applies to soldiers who have been released from military service before completing 18 months of service due to an illness or an injury that occurred during their service.

Mideast Israel Accelerates Gaza, West Bank Settler Evacuation

By Ross Dunn (VOA-Jerusalem)

Israel announced Wednesday it would speed up its planned withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank. The decision came even as troops widened operations in Gaza to prevent the firing of more rockets into Israel. The head of Israel's National Security Council, Giora Eiland, said a unilateral disengagement from Gaza and some areas of the West Bank would be completed by September 2005.

He said all Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip and four in the West Bank would be evacuated by that date and that efforts would be made to enable families who wish to leave the settlements voluntarily to do so earlier.

At the same time, Israeli troops expanded their operations in the northern Gaza Strip, taking up positions outside the Jabaliya Palestinian refugee camp. An Israeli military helicopter providing cover for the troops fired a missile as a warning to Palestinian militants in the camp to keep their distance. The missile wounded at least three residents.

The move toward the camp marked a widening of an operation that began in the Palestinian town of Beit Hanoun, also in northern Gaza. The Israeli army said the operation was in response to the continued firing of homemade rockets from northern Gaza into Israel.

Surviving Slave Laborers to Receive $3,000 Each in Reparations

By Ha'aretz

Checks totaling $401 million will be mailed this week to 130,681 Holocaust survivors recognized as slave laborers used by the Nazis in concentration camps or German-owned factories during World War II.

The checks, of about $3,000 each, make up the largest reparations sum disbursed simultaneously to Holocaust survivors since the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany began overseeing disbursement operations in the 1950s. The current payment brings to $1.3 billion the total disbursed by the Claims Conference to slave laborers since 2001.

The majority of eligible recipients - 61,901 - live in Israel, and the checks they will receive total $191.4 million. The U.S. has 33,510 recipients, who will split a total of $103.6 million. The rest will be disbursed to recipients in 62 countries around the world.

"The present payment reflects the fact that the entire industrial sector in Germany is acknowledging for the first time responsibility for the role that sector played during the Holocaust," Claims Conference Chairman Israel Singer said at a news conference in New York. "This breakthrough is hopefully the beginning of the end of bringing recompense to people who have grown very old waiting for justice."

This payment completes disbursement of the share allocated to Jewish slave laborers within the $5 billion global agreement on slave laborers signed in 2000. Under that agreement, Germany deposited half the amount, and German factories and business owners deposited the other half. The first disbursement to Jews, totaling $703 million, was transferred to recipients between June 2001 and July 2004. Payments to non-Jewish slave laborers were largely covered by humanitarian organizations.

In addition to reparations from the German fund, the Claims Conference disbursed a special payment to slave laborers out of funds received in the arrangement reached with Swiss banks. The banks agreed to donate $217 million to compensate slave laborers, following evidence that during WWII they raked in profits on deals and financial services for German factories that used slave laborers.

Senior Claims Conference officials stated that locating Jewish slave laborers worldwide was a complicated operation. Registering them and documenting their past in order to prove their eligibility for the payment involved painstaking effort.

"The present program has brought historic justice as much as it has monetary compensation," said Gideon Taylor, executive vice-president of the Claims Conference. "We know there are 131,000 Jews who survived ghettos and concentration camps, and it is impossible to forget them or suppress their stories."

Meanwhile, it has been reported that the Claims Conference intends to step up efforts to expedite implementation of a bill passed in Germany that would make Holocaust survivors who were salaried employees in ghettos eligible for German social security benefits.

Background: What if Israel Won the War and No One Knew?

By Ha'aretz

It is the nature of undeclared wars that victory and defeat may be largely a matter of opinion. Over the nearly four years of undeclared warfare in the Holy Land, victory has been claimed often, and by both sides.

This may explain, in part, why "Israel's Intifada Victory," an opinion piece by Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer and much-discussed abroad, made few waves in the land it analyzes. Could it be that the Jewish state has won the war without Israelis - or Palestinians - having realized it?

Krauthammer believes it has. "While no one was looking, something historic happened in the Middle East," he wrote earlier this month. "The Palestinian intifada is over, and the Palestinians have lost."

In an opinion piece published recently, Krauthammer said that Israel has scored a strategic victory, and that the intifada was, in fact, over. "The end of the intifada does not mean the end of terrorism," the Post columnist wrote. "There was terrorism before the intifada and there will be terrorism to come. What has happened, however, is an end to systematic, regular, debilitating, unstoppable terror -- terror as a reliable weapon."

And a growing number of the Arabs of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip have voiced disenchantment with the intifada, stating that it has little aided Palestinians in achieving their national aims. One recent poll of Palestinian public opinion showed that more than 50 percent of the respondents agreed.

Does that mean that Israel has won, or that the intifada is over? The answer may be contained within the apparent contradiction of a separate finding in the same poll of Palestinians. Despite doubts over the intifada, more than 70 percent of respondents voiced continued and unqualified support for suicide bombings.

According to Ha'aretz Arab Affairs Editor Danny Rubinstein, "The moment that the Palestinians shifted the battlefield to our buses, shopping malls, and coffee shops, they lost their support across the world, in Washington, in Europe, and, especially, they lost all Israeli understanding for their cause," an element which had long underpinned Israeli sentiment in favor of the peace process, and had acted to restrain the limits of Israeli military power.

As a consequence, Palestinians have come to recognize that "Israel today can do almost anything it wants militarily in the territories. As Israelis see it, while it's true that Palestinians are suffering, they've lost their jobs, they're unable to go school, the fence damages their economy and their daily lives, however, we, the Israelis, will not be put to death, bombed in our buses and streets."

According to Krauthammer, Israel has won a strategic victory because the intifada failed in its intent "to demoralize Israel, destroy its economy, bring it to its knees, and thus force it to withdraw and surrender to Palestinian demands, just as Israel withdrew in defeat from southern Lebanon in May 2000."

But Rubinstein suggests that the reality is more complex. While many Palestinians have come to view attacks on Israeli civilians as having done great damage to their cause, large numbers also perceived suicide bombings as "quite a success," particularly because intensified use of force by Israel has fueled a backlash of anger in the West Bank and Gaza, and a concurrent thirst for revenge.

In the suicide bomber, Palestinians believed that they had found the ultimate weapon, calling it the "nuclear bomb of the disadvantaged." Palestinians who supported the bombings knew that the attacks would not destroy the state of Israel, he said. "But they knew that they could do great harm to our daily lives, and it did."

Rubinstein maintains that the true infrastructure of terrorism does not lie in the stores or manufacture of arms and explosives, rather "in the motivation of the people, in their wish to get back at us. And the wish still exists." Therefore, although Israel can reasonably claim victories in the war against terror, Rubinstein argues, "Israel has yet to find a way to end the intifada."

The current period of relative success based on hugely intensive military and intelligence efforts may continue on a temporary basis, but force alone will not make the Palestinian struggle and the desire for an independent state simply go away, he said.

If there is to be a real end to the conflict, Rubinstein concluded, "The government must find a way to reach a just agreement between the peoples. I believe that it is still possible. If it is not possible, then we are all doomed to die in this area.

"This entire conception, of fighting the intifada by launching operations, building walls, and making the Palestinians suffer more and more, is not an answer. In the long run, it will damage us even more."

Israel's Scud Killer: A Shot Heard Round the World

By Ha'aretz

This time, the shot heard round the world was fired in California. In an area better known for surfing than for strategic impact, last week's test-firing of an Arrow anti-missile off sleepy Point Magu barely made wave one in the States, coinciding as it did with the prime-time, straw hat and Chuck Berry hullabaloo coronation of a Democratic presidential candidate.

The demonstration, in which the U.S.-financed, Israeli developed Arrow for the first time successfully intercepted a Scud missile in flight, may well have made more noise halfway around the globe, in places like Tehran and Damascus.

To be sure, some of the claims made at home for the anti-ballistic missile system reflected a blend of wishful thinking, chamber of commerce chest thumping, and just plain fear - a vestige of the memory of the 1991 Gulf war, in which American Patriot anti-missiles may have only deepened the destruction caused by the dozens of Saddam-fired Scuds they were deployed to block.

Analysts have uniformly dismissed as unfounded such assessments as that of an unnamed Pentagon official, quoted by an Israeli television channel as having said that with one shot, "Israel has changed the strategic balance in the Middle East."

Nonetheless, the test was not without significance. In a region where smoke and mirrors are boundlessly potent elements of the decision-making arsenal, deterrence, no less than politics itself, is perception. In the eyes of Israeli defense experts, the Arrow-Scud match-up proved that the Israeli system was capable of tracking and striking a missile even smaller than the Scud, noted Ha'aretz defense commentator Ze'ev Schiff.

From a strictly practical standpoint, that fact alone cannot give Israelis cause for calm. Enhancements in the speed and range of Iranian and other versions of the Scud - itself a Russian re-invention of the Nazi V-2 rockets that thundered into Britain during the World War II blitz - mean that further development will be needed to effectively counter current regional threats.

At the same time, Schiff said the test sent "a very significant signal, saying that the United States and Israel are standing together on an issue of great importance." The signal is of paramount importance from the standpoint of deterrence, Schiff continued.

"The fact of the technology was known, in large part, by both sides. However, if the Americans invite the Israel Air Force and take the entire system, including an Israeli, not American radar system, this rare step signifies that the U.S. is working with Israel on a key issue, and this strengthens Israel's deterrent capability."

Deterrence, never far from the minds of Israeli leaders, was a central talking point of a speech by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon delivered just hours before the Arrow test. Edging closer than ever to discussing Israel's much-rumored, never-acknowledged nuclear weapons program, Sharon said, "America recognizes Israel's right to defend itself using its own means, anywhere, and to preserve its deterrent capability against all threats."

Sharon conceded that, "The current international atmosphere is against countries having deterrent weapons" adding that "possibly someday, when we achieve peace and all countries disarm, we will also be willing to consider taking a similar step." That day was clearly not in sight, however. "We have been given clear support from the United States, and it has been made clear that Israel's deterrent capability must not be harmed," he declared.

Although the Arrow may not be ready for the challenges of state-of-the-art ballistic missiles, the test represented a formidable technical achievement, one once likened by former U.S. president and general Dwight Eisenhower as "hitting a bullet with another bullet."

"In particular, the Arrow test was a signal in particular to nations like Syria, which has many Scuds, and also to Iran, at a time when Iran is developing a weapon larger than the Scud, with greater range, different angles of flight, a different rate of speed, all of these presenting different problems for the Arrow," Schiff said. "But when an Iranian reads of the test, he understands that Israel is not alone in this. When a Syrian reads of it, he understands that America is aiding Israel to defend itself against a missile system."

Syrians also privately worry about another element, Schiff added. "If Israel can intercept a Scud at this range, a Syrian missile with a chemical warhead could explode over the heads of the Syrians themselves."

In Schiff's view, the central importance of the Arrow exercise remains this: "A small state and a superpower, on a sensitive subject on which the small state is vulnerable, are sending a message to Syria and Iran, precisely when Iran is threatening and may be embarking on new [weaponry] developments."

Famed Second Temple Model Moving to Israel Museum

By Ha'aretz

A famous model of Jerusalem and the Second Temple, which stood at the Holyland Hotel in the capital for close to 40 years, is slated to be moved to the grounds of the Israel Museum within a year. The model was visited by millions, who came to get a feel of what life was like in Jerusalem at the time of Herod, however the site fell from popularity in the past four years as tourism dwindled, and only recently have the tourists started returning.

But now a new problem has arisen: the property's owners want to build a complex of towers at the site, and "the apartment dwellers will not feel comfortable to constantly have tour buses driving around here," said Hillel Charney, grandson of the hotel's original owner.

The model is due to be moved to the museum within a year, and a number of kindergartens would be built in its place. The Holyland owners would be responsible for moving the model and will continue to receive entrance fees when it is in its new home. The model would stand close to the Shrine of the Book, where the Dead Sea Scrolls from the Second Temple period are located. That shrine was reopened to visitors Tuesday after a lengthy restoration.

The Temple model was the brainchild of the hotel's owner, Hans Kroch, in the early 1960s. "That was the time that Israelis could only dream about the Western Wall and the Temple Mount, but could not approach them," said Charney. "Grandpa decided to bring the Temple to them."

The model was soon one of the capital's main attractions. In its heyday, from the 1980s until the second intifada, 300,000 visitors a year saw it. It was not only a tourist attraction. It inspired different publics: students of architecture, photographers, and - according to one legend - the IDF commanders who prepared for the conquest of the Old City. It was also used for political purposes: the Temple Mount Faithful superimposed the model on a picture of present-day Jerusalem in one of their posters.

The model, built on a scale of 50:1, shows the topography of the area as seen in that period, which was much more imposing than today. The Temple Mount was built according to exact biblical references, and the surrounding buildings according to the understanding of its planner, archaeology professor Michael Avi-Yonah. The model was adjusted only once, following a dig in the 1970s by Prof. Binyamin Mazar that revealed that Robinson's Arch and the southern approaches to the mount looked different than the model.

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