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Israeli Film Success


An Israeli film - Walk on Water - which was screened in at least 10 U.S. movie theaters in March, entered a recent weekend list of top grossing films at no. 29. Eytan Fox's film earned $63,000 over the March 3-5th weekend. Starring Lior Ashkenazi, the movie depicts the relationship between a Mossad agent - son of Holocaust survivors - and the two grandchildren of a notorious Nazi, whom the agent is trying to track down. Walk on Water premiered at the Berlin Film Festival in 2004, and was also a big hit in Israel. The film opened in more U.S. cities on March 18.

Knesset Committee Approves Referendum Bill


The Knesset Law Committee voted Wednesday to approve a proposed bill for a national referendum on Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's expulsion/withdrawal plan. The bill will be voted on in the Knesset next Monday.

At present, its supporters in the Knesset do not enjoy a majority. They number 6 National Union MKs, 6 current and former MKs of the NRP, 2-5 from United Torah Judaism, and at least 26 from the Likud. If the Likud employs party discipline to vote for the plebiscite, in accordance with a recent Central Committee decision, and if Shas decides to vote in favor as well, the referendum bill will pass - over Sharon's strong objections.

This does not appear likely at present. Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef, the spiritual leader of the Shas Party, decided that his representative in the Law Committee, Nissim Ze'ev, would vote against the bill. Though Shas opposes the disengagement, and opposes the government in general, Yosef fears that this bill could be used to hold a referendum on issues such as yeshiva students' army deferrals. Shas political leader Eli Yishai said, without enthusiasm, that this appears to be Rabbi Yosef's final ruling on the matter.

Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, on the other hand, who is the religious authority for the other Hareidi party, United Torah Judaism, ruled differently. He instructed Avraham Ravitz, UTJ's representative on the Law Committee, to vote in favor. The five MKs of UTJ, however, are divided into two factions, and it is not clear how they would all vote in the Knesset next week.

With Ze'ev and Ravitz canceling each other out, Likud MK Roni Bar'on placed the deciding vote. Bar'on opposes a referendum, but voted in favor - in accordance with a controversial compromise reached in the Likud two days ago. The compromise also stipulated that the disengagement opponents must vote in favor of the budget in the Finance Committee Tuesday, which they did, as did a majority of the Committee members.

Likud MK Michael Eitan, who chairs the Law Committee, supports the disengagement, but has waged a long struggle for over a year on behalf of a referendum on the issue. In the debate preceding the vote, MK Michael Ratzon (Likud) said that those who oppose a referendum would lead to a civil war, while MK Yuli Tamir (Labor) said that a referendum would be a "mega-terror attack" against the disengagement.

Arab League Adopts Revamped Arab Peace Initiative

By Greg LaMotte (VOA-Cairo)

The Arab League concluded its two-day summit in Algiers Wednesday agreeing, again, to a 2002 Arab peace initiative put forth by Saudi Arabia. And, just like in 2002, Israel has rejected the proposal. Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa concluded the two-day summit in Algeria saying the Arab world was ready for peace with Israel, but with familiar demands. Moussa said there couldn't be a comprehensive peace agreement unless there is a complete Israeli withdrawal from all occupied Arab territories. He said there must be the establishment of a Palestinian state and there must be a solution to the issue of Palestinian refugees.

In return, Arab states agreed to normalize relations with Israel. It is the same initiative put forth by Saudi Arabia during the 2002 summit in Beirut, which Israel rejected. Tel Aviv has also rejected the latest Arab peace initiative. Many Arab League members said they did not have high expectations for the summit in Algiers. Eight of the 22 eligible heads of state failed to attend the meeting, opting to instead send representatives.

Germany Plans to Bury Ashes of Thousands of Jews


Germany plans to bury the ashes of thousands of Jews who were killed and cremated at the Sachsenhausen concentration camp during the Holocaust 60 years ago. The ashes, up to five feet thick, were discovered last year under a concrete memorial put up at the site of the camp's crematorium, by East German authorities. A German official, Guenter Morsch, told reporters that towards the end of the war, the SS tried to cover up the crimes committed at Sachsenhausen, and to do that they plowed the ashes of the dead into the ground over a wide area.

The ashes will be buried on March 29, in 150 urns at the Sachsenhausen site. Each urn holds up to 66 pounds of ashes, all that remains of tens of thousands of Jews who were imprisoned at the camp. The Soviet Army found only 3,000 sick and starving survivors when they liberated the camp in 1945. Thousands of Jews were also murdered on death marches carried out by the SS in an effort to evacuate the camp in advance of the Russian troops.

IDF Distributes 600,000 Hamentaschen to Soldiers


In honor of the upcoming celebration of Purim, the IDF's food authority distributed 600,000 hamentaschen or oznei Haman, a traditional Purim cookie, to soldiers of every stripe.

The Israel Defense Forces has placed a general closure over the entire West Bank and Gaza Strip that will last for the duration of Purim. The holiday begins Thursday evening and lasts until Sunday. Police have also increased their level of alert in the lead-up to Purim and thousands of officers reinforced by Civil Guard volunteers and IDF soldiers were deployed as of Wednesday in crowded locations and vacations sites across the country.

In related news, militants detonated a bomb adjacent to an IDF patrol in Nablus before dawn Wednesday, damaging a vehicle but causing no injuries. Overnight Wednesday, Israeli security forces arrested four wanted Palestinian militants in the West Bank. Troops arrested three Hamas activists in Qalqilyah and a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine was arrested east of Abu Dis.

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