September 15, 2005
Nation and World Briefs
Israel Exits Gaza Strip
A blazing orange sun set over the Mediterranean as Israeli soldiers lowered the country's flag at the army's Gaza headquarters, signifying the end of an era in this sandy strip of land.
Sunday's brief ceremony, attended by top military officials and the parents of soldiers killed defending Israeli settlements in Gaza, marked the end of 38 years of Israeli presence in the Gaza Strip, a period that saw the creation -- and most recently the destruction -- of Jewish settlements and some of the bloodiest fighting between Israel and the Palestinians.
The three highest-ranking army commanders overseeing Gaza -- the army's chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz; the head of the Southern Command, Maj. Gen. Dan Harel; and the head of the Gaza Command, Brig. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, faced an honor guard of soldiers and saluted them.
Together they sang Israel's national anthem, "Hatikvah," and spoke of their hopes for a better future.
"Thirty-eight years are coming to a close. The army is leaving the Gaza Strip," Kochavi said. "We leave with our heads held high. The gate that is closing after us is also a gate that is opening. We hope it will be a gate of peace and quiet, a gate of hope and goodwill."
But there were reminders of the difficulties ahead.
A ceremony scheduled for earlier Sunday was canceled after the Palestinian Authority boycotted the event. That came after the Israeli Cabinet reversed a decision and voted 14-2 not to raze 25 abandoned synagogues in Gaza. Palestinian officials reportedly were upset that the decision put them in the position of having to destroy the synagogues or protect them.
On Monday, Palestinian rioters torched several of the synagogues. The Palestinian Authority said it was powerless to stop the desecration by mobs that rushed into the settlements after Israeli forces left.
P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas tried to play down the sight, televised internationally, by noting that Israel had removed all ritual items from the synagogues before withdrawing. But Israeli officials suggest the violence and vandalism do not bode well for future relations.
Settlement Building to Continue
Ariel Sharon said Israel will continue to build in West Bank settlement blocs despite any U.S. objections.
"The major blocs will stay as part of Israel," the Israeli prime minister told The Washington Post in an interview published Sunday. "Yes, we have small-scale construction within the lines."
While President Bush has said Israel can expect to keep West Bank settlement blocs under a final peace accord with the Palestinians, the U.S.-led peace "road map" calls for their expansion to be halted.
Asked about potential American reaction to the construction, Sharon said: "I don't think they will be too happy, but they are the major blocs, and we must build. We don't have an agreement with the United States about this, but these areas are going to be part of Israel."
Egypt Takes Over Gaza Border
Egyptian troops began deploying along the Gaza Strip's southern border. Around 200 border police fanned out along the Egyptian side of the frontier last Friday, with another 550 expected to be posted there this week. Israel is handing over security control of the Gaza-Egypt border to Cairo as part of its pullout from the Gaza Strip. Egypt has pledged to fight arms smuggling from the Sinai to Palestinian terrorists in Gaza.
New Orleans Synagogue OK
A historic synagogue in New Orleans suffered internal damage due to Hurricane Katrina, but its exterior is unscathed. Rabbi Andrew Busch of the Touro Synagogue said that a local police officer with ties to congregants was able to verify the building's condition. Synagogue leaders hope to return soon to the shul to safeguard Torahs and other items; much of the staff is using temporary space in Congregation Beth Israel in Houston. The synagogue may be the oldest Jewish house of worship in America outside of the 13 original colonies.
Rabbi and Storm Shelter Nixed
A synagogue in Louisiana is shutting down its shelter for victims of Hurricane Katrina and has put its rabbi on administrative leave, JTA has learned. Rabbi Barry Weinstein was asked to take paid leave from Congregation B'nai Israel in Baton Rouge for an unspecified period. He had led the effort to house dozens of evacuees who fled their Gulf Coast homes in the wake of Katrina.
Synagogue officials say the decision about the rabbi was related to a private matter, not directly to the shelter issue. They said even though the shelter would close, the synagogue would continue to house medical personnel helping with rescue efforts.
Some of the rabbi's supporters charged that a few influential members of the community who are opposed to using the synagogue as a shelter had pressured the temple's officers to act. The supporters expressed outrage that the shelter was closing down and that the rabbi has been barred from the synagogue.
Russian City Gets New JCC
Jews in St. Petersburg, Russia, marked the dedication of a new Jewish community center. Yesod, a modern stone-and-glass building situated in downtown St. Petersburg, is a project of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. The center, dedicated last Friday, will house Jewish organizations that until now have rented office space in various parts of the city. The center will house the offices of the Hesed Avraham welfare center, the Adain Lo educational network, Hillel and the Petersburg Institute of Jewish Studies. It also will contain a large auditorium for conferences and cultural performances, a Jewish library, a winter garden and a fitness center. The entire space will be wheelchair accessible.
General in the Sights
A retired Israeli army general narrowly avoided facing war-crimes charges in Britain. Doron Almog, a former commander of Israeli forces in the Gaza Strip, flew to London to vacation with his wife Sunday but, after receiving a warning from the Israel Embassy, decided not to leave the El Al plane and flew back home within hours.
According to Israeli officials, British authorities let it be known that a pro-Palestinian lobby in Birmingham planned to seek Almog's detention and trial on charges of war crimes in Gaza. "This is reason for concern, as the Palestinian community can put out arrest warrants for any Israeli officer who served in the fight against terror," Almog told Israel Army Radio on Monday. In 2002, Shaul Mofaz, then Israel's military chief of staff, cut short a trip to Britain after being threatened with similar charges.
Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
Jewish Terrorist Suspect Dies
An alleged Jewish terrorist died after hanging himself in Israeli police custody. Eliran Golan, who was facing charges of trying to bomb Israeli Arab targets in the northern city of Haifa, hanged himself in his jail cell last month and succumbed to his injuries in a hospital late last week. A former Israeli soldier who prosecutors said supplied Golan with explosives for a series of racist attacks in Haifa has been jailed for four years.
Brits May Change Holocaust Day
Britain may reportedly change its Holocaust remembrance day to a broader event commemorating other genocides. The Sunday Times of London reported that advisers to Prime Minister Tony Blair were recommending that the Jan. 27 annual remembrance be replaced by a day that would include recognition of Muslim deaths in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Chechnya and Bosnia, so that Muslim extremists couldn't exploit an impression that Jewish lives are considered more valuable than Muslim lives.
"The message of the Holocaust was 'Never again,' and for that message to have practical effect on the world community it has to be inclusive. We can never have double standards in terms of human life," said Sir Iqbal Sacranie, the secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain.
Jewish leaders are opposing the proposal.
Arafat Death Mystery
The cause of Yasser Arafat's death is still unclear, despite the release of his hospital reports. Having obtained records from the French hospital where the Palestinian leader died last November, Ha'aretz quoted Israeli experts on Thursday as saying Arafat's symptoms were consistent with advanced AIDS or the effects of a poison such as ricin. French and Palestinian Authority officials have said there was no evidence of either cause in Arafat's death. The New York Times, which also had access to the hospital records, quoted its own independent experts as saying Arafat died of internal bleeding caused by an unknown ailment, and called AIDS or poison highly unlikely.
Google to Open in Israel
Google is planning to open up an office in Israel. The Internet search engine will open the office in Tel Aviv as part of its global expansion program, the Jerusalem Post reported. It is not known when the office will open, but presumably the curious will soon be able to find out by Googling.