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Israel Expands Definition of Jew

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    Israel s Supreme Court rules on who s a Jew Monday, May 31, 2004 - AP via Globe and Mail
    Message 1 of 1 , May 31, 2004
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      Israel's Supreme Court rules on who's a Jew

      Monday, May 31, 2004 - AP via Globe and Mail


      Jerusalem — Israel's Supreme Court ruled Monday that foreigners who
      convert to Judaism in Israel could be eligible for citizenship, but
      sidestepped the key issue of whether the decision applies to
      conversions by non-Orthodox rabbis.

      The case, under deliberation for nearly five years, has been closely
      watched by the Reform and Conservative movements of Judaism, which
      are the two largest in the United States but have been battling for
      recognition in Israel for years.

      Under current practice, only those converted by the Orthodox religious
      establishment in Israel or those converted abroad, including by non-
      Orthodox rabbis, are eligible for citizenship under Israel's "Law of

      The case heard by the Supreme Court was brought by 15 foreigners who
      studied for Reform or Conservative conversions in Israel, but had the
      ceremonies performed abroad, in the hope of getting around the
      limitations on local conversions.

      Israeli authorities objected to the conversions of the 15, saying the
      Law of Return does not apply to foreigners already living in Israel.

      The judges, voting 7-4, said the government could not discriminate
      between conversions performed in Israel or abroad and said the
      appellants, several of them foreign workers, could be considered for

      "It's hard to understand why a person who visited legally and even
      studied for a conversion in Israel and then converted abroad would
      not be seen as an immigrant according to the Law of Return after he
      converted and requested to live in Israel permanently," a summary of
      the ruling said.

      However, the judges did not directly address the question of whether
      non-Orthodox conversions should be accepted. Instead, they ordered
      Interior Minister Avraham Poraz, who oversees immigration rules, to
      decide within 45 days.

      Mr. Poraz, a member of the centrist Shinui Party, said he would
      handle the cases with an open mind. "I will be happy to deal with
      this in a way that allows a large population in Israel to convert to
      Judaism," he told Israel Army Radio.

      Nicole Maor, the lawyer for the converts, said the decision was a
      boost for the non-Orthodox streams of Judaism.

      "We hope that today the excuses are finished and that in 45 days, the
      Interior Ministry will rule that it recognizes non-Orthodox
      conversions in Israel," she said.

      Even if the conversions are ultimately recognized, the converts could
      run into trouble with Israel's ultra-Orthodox religious establishment
      when dealing with religious affairs. The Orthodox rabbis have a
      monopoly on marriages, divorces and burials.

      Israeli soldier killed near Nablus

      Aljazeera + Agencies - May 29, 2004


      An Israeli occupation army captain has died of serious injuries
      sustained during clashes with Palestinian resistance fighters in the
      Balata refugee camp near the West Bank town of Nablus.

      Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades claimed responsibility for the attack on
      Saturday, reported Aljazeer's correspondent in Palestine.

      The Israeli army had no immediate comment.

      The death was Israel's first in the Palestinian territories since a
      string of ambushes in mid-May killed 13 troops in the Gaza Strip,
      triggering a six-day raid in Rafah in which 42 Palestinians were
      killed and dozens of homes were destroyed.

      Witnesses saw medics treating a soldier lying in a pool of blood,
      after he was shot in an exchange of fire with resistance fighters
      during an early morning raid.

      Palestinians killed

      Meanwhile, in a separate incident, a Palestinian man's body was found
      near the Gaza border fence with Israel. "He was shot on suspicion of
      trying to plant a bomb," an Israeli military source said.

      The source said Palestinians had recovered the man's body lying near
      the border fence with Israel east of the northern Gaza town of Bait
      Hanun. Two bombs were found nearby.

      Elsewhere in the West Bank, soldiers arrested four suspected
      Palestinian fighters early on Saturday in villages near the town of
      Ram Allah.


      Also on Saturday, an Israeli man was stabbed in the back by a
      Palestinian in Jerusalem's Old City, according to the police.

      The attack took place on a major street that runs through the Muslim
      Quarter of the walled Old City. The man arrived under his own power
      at the Western Wall, where he was treated and then evacuated to the
      hospital in light to moderate condition, police said.

      The Old City, which contains shrines holy to Muslims, Jews and
      Christians, is an emotional flashpoint in the conflict between
      Israelis and Palestinians.

      Israel gets away with hell, again

      The Jordan Times
      24 May 2004


      As the world sat and watched last week, Israel entered Rafah
      ostensibly to root out armed Palestinians and destroy smuggling
      tunnels. In the process, 43 people were killed, among them,
      Saturday, a three-year-old girl, who died of a bullet wound to
      the neck. Several other children were killed, including a
      sister and brother who were shot on the roof of their house in
      the Tal Al Sultan neighbourhood of the town, almost certainly by
      Israeli sniper fire. Add to the killing of children and the
      unarmed, the destruction of dozens of homes. The Israeli army
      assertion that only five homes were destroyed is laughable to
      anyone who has been on the scene, including UNRWA's Director
      Peter Hansen.

      Hansen told reporters that his organisation was helpless since
      the pace of destruction outdid the pace of reconstruction -- the
      destruction of greenhouses and a zoo, and the curfew imposed on a
      civilian population which had its electricity and water
      supplies cut off for three days, amounts to not one, but several
      war crimes. Add to that, Israeli military forces on Thursday
      broke into and occupied UNRWA's Jenin Camp Reconstruction Project
      Office, and handcuffed, blindfolded, and detained for three
      hours the senior project manager, Paul Wolstenholme.

      Let there be no doubt about it: Israel did not enter Rafah to
      protect itself; it entered Rafah to exact revenge for the
      killings of 13 of its soldiers two weeks ago. It entered Rafah
      to demonstrate to Gazans, who had revelled in the success of
      their resistance, that such resistance was futile. It entered
      Rafah to collectively punish Gazans for daring to stand up, in
      one way or another, to the Israeli occupation. It entered Rafah
      to tell the world that they can criticise until their faces
      turn as blue as the UN flag: Israel can and will do what it
      wants to Palestinians. And what did the world do? A UN Security
      Council resolution was passed that, for once, the US did not
      veto. Europeans complained. Arabs remonstrated. Even Israelis
      protested. The response from Israel? The Israeli army denied
      there was a humanitarian disaster in Rafah and said the number
      of houses demolished were inflated by "Palestinian propaganda."
      Israeli Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz, meanwhile, said while
      troops are being redeployed, "Operation Rainbow" would continue
      for a couple of days. In other words, Israel simply responded to
      international criticism by ignoring it. The country is proof
      conclusive that words alone are not enough. It was not enough in
      apartheid-era South Africa and it is not enough with Israel. It
      is time the EU and the UN, as well as the Arab world, started
      pushing seriously and with determination for sanctions to be
      imposed on Israel. While the US will resist, as Washington
      resisted when sanctions were imposed on South Africa, the
      sanctions eventually worked there. They may eventually work
      against Israel. They will certainly have more of an effect than
      the international community's current efforts.

      Palestinian charity to sue Israel for bombing office


      GAZA, May 17 (Xinhuanet) -- The Palestinian charity association
      Anssar said on Monday that it will file a suit against the Israeli
      government to seek reimbursement for the damage to its office in Gaza
      by Israeli bombings.

      The association's office was bombed and destroyed completely
      recently by Israeli military Apache helicopters amid Israeli reports
      about its links with a number of resistance organizations, a charge
      refuted by the charity.

      The Israeli government had ordered the Israeli Army to bomb the
      association's office, alleging that the association had links with
      the Lebanese Shiite Hizbullah organization and the Islamic Jihad

      Nafez Al-A'raj, director of the association, told reporters on
      Monday that "the Israeli claims are untrue and mocking."

      "The shelling that targeted the association is Israeli premier
      Ariel Sharon's reaction to his failure in the latest referendum"
      onhis unilateral disengagement plan, Al-A'raj said.

      He said that Sharon's failure to convince his right-wing Likud
      party about his unilateral evacuation plan and the Palestinian
      resistance have embarrassed him, particularly since he had no
      otherpolitical alternative.

      Al-A'raj asserted that Anssar abides by the rules and regulations
      of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) and is licensed by the
      interior and social affairs ministries as a charity association.

      History prolongs Palestinian family's grief

      by George E. Bisharat May. 16, 2004 - Arizona Republic

      This month, the 56th anniversary of the Palestinian "Nakba"
      (Catastrophe), when one people gained a homeland and another lost
      theirs, I was thinking of a home in Jerusalem.

      It was the residence occupied by former Israeli Prime Minister Golda
      Meir - author of the famous quip that "the Palestinian people did not
      exist" - when she was Israel's labor minister. It was also the family
      home built in 1926 by my grandfather, Hanna Ibrahim Bisharat, "Papa"
      to all of us.

      I went to visit our home for the first time in 1977. Although he was a
      Christian, Papa named the home "Villa Harun ar-Rashid," in honor of
      the Muslim Abbasid Caliph renowned for his eloquence, passion for
      learning and generosity. Painted tiles with this name were inset
      above the second floor balcony and over a side entrance.

      When Papa first built the home in what became known as the Talbiyya
      quarter of Jerusalem, few other residences existed nearby. As I grew
      up, my father regaled me with tales of his boyhood exploits in the
      surrounding fields and orchards. Two of my uncles were born while the
      family lived there; one uncle succumbed to pneumonia in Villa Harun
      ar-Rashid. The young boys went to school up the road at the Catholic-
      run Terra Sancta College. My uncle Emile told me of a wager he made
      with his younger brother, George (for whom I am named), that he could
      not stand on a swing on the front porch and swing with no hands -
      with predictable, but fortunately mild, consequences.

      The wall enclosing the front yard was a fledgling design effort by my
      father's twin, Victor, later a successful architect in the United
      States, whose buildings helped galvanize the urban renewal of
      Stamford, Conn.

      Beginning of the end

      My grandparents eventually suffered a reversal of fortunes, and in
      the early '30s, leased the house to officers of the British Royal Air
      Force, expecting to return in better times. Frescoes on the interior
      walls were plastered over to accommodate the tastes of the British
      officers. My family moved a short distance to a more modest house.
      Little did anyone appreciate at the time that the move signified the
      family's final departure from Villa Harun ar-Rashid.

      A sense of foreboding gripped many Palestinians in the years leading
      up to the wars in the region. Under the gathering clouds of unrest,
      my father and uncles came to the United States to study, while Papa
      shifted his business activities to Cairo. Thus, the family was
      outside Palestine on May 14, 1948, when Israel declared independence
      and war with the Arab states commenced. Our fortunes were better than
      most of the 750,000 other Palestinians who were driven out or fled
      their homes in terror during the fighting.

      Villa Harun ar-Rashid was picked by armed Zionist groups for the
      commanding view it offered from its roof. No blood was shed in taking
      it, as the British officers simply handed over the keys to the
      underground Israeli militia Haganah.

      Like most Palestinian families, we were subsequently stripped of the
      title to our home through a law passed by the new state of Israel
      called the Absentee Property Law.

      Villa Harun ar-Rashid was divided into several flats. During the
      1960s, Golda Meir occupied the upper flat. Anticipating a visit from
      U.N. Secretary-General Dag Hammerskjold, some claim, she ordered the
      sandblasting of tiles on front of the house to obliterate the "Villa
      Harun ar-Rashid" and conceal the fact that she was living in an Arab

      When I went to Jerusalem in 1977, I had only a photograph of the home
      and a general description of its location from my grandmother. It was
      summer, hot and dusty, and I paced back and forth through the
      neighborhood, inspecting each of the houses, occasionally asking for
      directions. All the street names had been changed to those of Zionist
      leaders and figures from Jewish history, and the hospital that my
      grandmother had described as a landmark apparently no longer existed.

      As I was resting against a wall in the shade, I saw a home that
      resembled Papa's. As I hurried across the street, I could just make
      out the name in the tile: Villa Harun ar-Rashid. I guess Golda's
      sandblasters had been a little rushed.

      That haunting feeling

      I was immediately flooded with emotion - anger, sadness and most of
      all tension, tinged with fear. I walked through the garden toward the
      front staircase, putting my hand on the stone banister, as I knew
      Papa and my father must have done countless times. I rang the bell.

      After a long wait, an elderly woman opened the door. I explained my
      visit by saying that my grandfather had built the home, displayed my
      American passport, and asked if I could briefly see the interior.
      Virtually her first words were: "The family [meaning my family] never
      lived here." Later I would understand this as part of a way of
      rationalizing the seizure of our property - easier to swallow, in
      moral terms, the expropriation of a speculative business investment
      by some rich absentee landlord than to contemplate the taking of a
      family's home.

      At the time, I was speechless, as I had never confronted this claim.
      As I recovered my wits I was tempted to apprise her of the truth. But
      I feared she would deny me entry. The humiliation of having to plead
      to enter my family's home with this woman from I know not where -
      Eastern Europe, perhaps - burned inside me.

      We were soon joined by her husband, a retired justice of the Israeli
      Supreme Court. He permitted me to enter the foyer - but no further,
      saying there was no need to see any more of the house, as it had all
      been changed anyway. The couple insisted that the house had been in
      terrible repair, and that they had done much to fix it up, a claim I
      had no reason to doubt. Some 10,000 Arab homes in West Jerusalem were
      looted and seized in the months preceding the war between Israel
      and the Arab states in 1948.

      The house was cool inside, and as I stood there, I tried to imagine
      the sounds of my father's and his siblings' voices, and the smells of
      my grandmother's cooking. I left after five minutes. Walking back out
      into the blazing sun, I felt no specific hostility toward the old man
      and woman living in Papa's home. But hospitality, such a strongly
      held value in the Arab world, is hard to uphold when guests become

      In 2000, we made this same pilgrimage as a family. As we stood across
      the street, I recounted the story of Meir's alleged defacement of the
      tiles to my son and daughter. I was overcome.

      Instantly my little son embraced my leg, then my daughter hugged my
      waist, and finally my wife my upper body, and briefly, we stood there
      huddled together, tears streaking all our faces. Shortly, we composed
      ourselves, crossed the street and wound through the garden to the
      front steps.

      The front door swung open and a man smilingly offered: "May I help
      you?" Somewhat startled, I thanked him for his kindness, and he
      explained, "Many tourists come to see this house. It's included in
      walking tours of the city." The man, an American from New York,
      permitted us to enter, and venture through more of the first floor
      than I had seen before. But when I said that my father's family had
      lived in the home, he was incredulous. This time, I was not surprised
      as he protested, still congenially: "But the family never lived
      here." He had gleaned this from a newspaper article, he maintained.
      Repeatedly, he insisted, it seemed a half-dozen times: "The family
      never lived here."

      Can't hide from truth

      Of course, the family did live there, notwithstanding the denials,
      justifications, and obfuscations we have faced - denials now
      seemingly echoed by President Bush. So did hundreds of thousands of
      other Palestinians "live there." The keys to their homes there still
      adorn the walls of apartments, houses, rooms and refugee hovels
      throughout the world. We have not disappeared, nor have we forgotten,
      our existence a reminder that one people's liberation was founded on
      another's dispossession.

      At home in California I have a thick file that is the documentary
      record of my family's efforts to regain Villa Harun ar-Rashid. We
      have not prevailed, of course, nor have we ever received any
      acknowledgment of the injustice we, and countless others, have

      Recently I found my daughter lingering over photos of my father as a
      boy in his Jerusalem home. I know now that she and my son both are
      heirs to the truth about Villa Harun ar-Rashid.

      George E. Bisharat is a professor of law at Hastings College of the
      Law in San Francisco, and frequently writes on law and politics in
      the Middle East.



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