Israel Expands Definition of Jew
- 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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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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