High Court has been wrongly besmirched

High Court has been wrongly besmirched

By Amira Hass

As a war of petitions rages between supporters of the Supreme Court and supporters of the justice minister, it should not be forgotten that on the really important issues, Supreme Court justices demonstrate national responsibility and are synchronized with the prevailing mood. They proved this once again last week when they accepted the state’s position that 10 students from the Gaza Strip should not be permitted to travel to the West Bank for two months in order to complete a clinical internship, without which they will not be able to work as occupational therapists in Gaza. There is currently only one certified occupational therapist working in the strip.

With respect to their age, the petitioning students “belong to the risk group of those who seek to destroy Israel”; Hamas will attempt to export the war “from the Gaza Strip to Judea and Samaria” [the West Bank]; and relations between Gaza and Israel have only degenerated since the disengagement. These are the main arguments that were submitted by the state and accepted by the Supreme Court justices, who are being wrongly besmirched.

The patriotic ruling by their honors Justices Elyakim Rubinstein, Esther Hayut and Joseph Elon put an end to a saga that had gone on for three years and to the attempts by seven young men and three young women to attend a special course at Bethlehem University, which is funded by the Norwegian government and taught by experts from abroad. The course was designed to meet the needs of Palestinian society with regard to caring for people with disabilities.


Since 2004, the students have been trying to leave Gaza in order to participate in the course, but the state made it clear that there is a sweeping prohibition on people aged 16 to 35 leaving Gaza, including students. These 10 young people, who have had to make do with studying by video conferencing and correspondence, had hoped that they would be allowed to do the clinical internship, which can be done only at rehabilitation centers in the West Bank.

The petition by the nonprofit association Gisha, the Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, asked that the court relate specifically to the 10 and did not confront the sweeping prohibition head-on. Yet even so, the justices accepted the state’s position that a ruling “that singles out the petitioners would not suit the current difficult situation,” although the court did recommend establishing an “exceptions committee” in the future.

The three justices affixed their signatures to the ruling. Therefore, it is possible to commend them for having mobilized to save the state from a palpable security threat. We will not, however, be able to name and commend those anonymous Shin Bet security service officers who are protecting the state’s security by preventing the outstanding master’s student Luay Kfafi from traveling from Ramallah to Hamburg, Germany, via Jordan, thereby also preventing him from using the German scholarship that he was awarded. Kfafi, 24, was born in the Al-Bureij refugee camp in Gaza. In September 2000, he began studying mechanical engineering at Bir Zeit University in the West Bank. In the meantime, Israel decided to declare all the Gazans living in the West Bank “illegal sojourners,” yet at the same time, it also refused to change the address listed on their identity cards, in violation of the Oslo accords.

Beyond the fact that he was present “in Judea and Samaria illegally,” according to the Shin Bet, “there is information about him that indicates a suspected connection between him and terrorist operatives. Under these circumstances, it appears that his departure abroad could endanger the security of the state.” Kfafi, who is already working as a teaching and research assistant at the university and aspires to an academic career, has not been arrested in the West Bank even though his place of residence is known; he was not arrested at the Allenby Bridge when he tried, in vain, to cross it; he has not been declared a wanted man and he has not even been summoned for questioning by the Shin Bet.

How fortunate the state of Israel is to be protected in this way: to have a security service that understood that Kfafi’s academic progress abroad was liable to endanger the state’s security more than his presence in Ramallah does, and to have Supreme Court Justices who never let down their vigilance and who thwarted a plan for destroying the state by 10 students of occupational therapy.

Ref: Haaretz, By Amira Hass

U.S. court rules that evidence seized in IDF raid is inadmissible

Lawyers for Muslim charity leaders accused of aiding Hamas terrorists scored a rare victory in court Tuesday when a federal judge blocked some evidence seized by Israel Defense Forces soldiers during raids of Palestinian organizations.

Defense lawyers had objected that some of the documents were not signed or dated, and they cast doubt on Israel’s handling of the evidence.

Five former leaders of the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development are charged with funneling millions of dollars to Hamas, which the U.S. government designated a terrorist organization in 1995. The trial is in its fourth week of testimony.


Federal District Judge A. Joe Fish has ruled in the prosecution’s favor on a wide range of issues, from allowing the government to call Israeli secret agents as witnesses to denying defense requests for a mistrial.

On Tuesday however, Fish ruled against prosecutors and blocked the jury from seeing 12 documents seized from Palestinian charities allegedly linked to Hamas and funded partly by the Holy Land Foundation.

The precise significance of the judge’s ruling was difficult to gauge. The judge did not explain his ruling, and lawyers have been barred from talking to reporters about the case.

Also, the judge allowed some evidence from the Israeli raids, including pro-Hamas posters that could bolster in jurors’ minds the prosecution’s charge that the groups financed by Holy Land Foundation were controlled by Hamas.

Holy Land was the largest U.S. Muslim charity when government agents shut it down in December 2001. Leaders of the group said they provided humanitarian aid to Palestinian children, victims of the Oklahoma City bombing and others.

But prosecutors have portrayed the charity as part of a broader campaign to support suicide bombings and other attacks by Hamas in Israel.

The five defendants have mostly presented a united front against the charges, although that wall began to crack yesterday.

A lawyer for one of the men got an FBI agent to admit that the man’s name did not appear on a list of Muslim Brotherhood activists or in a Hamas official’s phone book. Some of the other defendants’ names did appear.

The defendants are charged with aiding a terrorist group, conspiracy and money laundering. They could be sentenced to life in prison if found guilty and if deaths resulted from their actions.

Ref: Haaretz

Superfluous Israeli advice

It is obvious to everyone today – that is, apart from the policy wonks at the White House – that the United States has failed in its policy in Iraq and that the chances of stabilizing the situation there are close to zero. This also has to be admitted by those who justified the war against the tyrant, who used poison gas on the Kurdish population and in the war with Iran, and who for years played cat-and-mouse games with United Nations mechanisms over the disarming of his regime’s non-conventional weapons.

There are two reasons for the American failure: The first has to do with the creation of Iraq as a state by British imperial planners after World War I; the second stems from the belief of U.S. President George W. Bush’s associates that it is possible to export democracy to a country like Iraq by means of occupation and force.

Of all the Arab countries, Iraq has been exceptionally oppressive since its establishment. The background to this was provided by the British decision in 1918 to combine three provinces of the Ottoman Empire into one state. This union did not have historical or demographic roots that reflected the population’s consciousness. While the Mosul province had a Kurdish majority, Sunni Arabs dominated in Baghdad and the center, and there was a Shi’ite Arab majority in the south. The British installed a prince from the Sunni Hashemite dynasty to rule over this hybrid structure.


The result was that the entire history of Iraq has consisted of a series of revolts against the Sunni hegemony by Kurds, Shi’ites and even the small Assyrian Christian minority. Saddam Hussein’s regime was just the cruelest and most brutal of all the Sunni hegemonic regimes the British forced on Mesopotamia. The Americans’ mistake lay in adopting the neo-conservative belief that the moment oppressive regimes fall, the democratic alternative arises by itself, in what was assumed to be an automatic historical development. As the example of Eastern Europe shows, this is not a deterministic inevitability.

The transition to democracy has been relatively easy in Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary, where a strong civil society with an extensive tradition of representation and strong institutions had once existed. In other places – with Russia being the outstanding example – which have no tradition of civil society, the transition to democracy has in fact created disorder and chaos; and President Vladimir Putin’s neo-authoritarian regime has seemed like the only alternative to the total disintegration of the state.

The neo-conservatives in Washington have learned nothing from the lessons of the past 15 years in Eastern Europe. In a combination of arrogance and ignorance they believed that Saddam’s fall would herald the rise of a democracy by its own accord, of course with the help of American spears. What they did not take into account is the fact that the sudden introduction of democratic procedures into a society that lacks the most basic infrastructures will inevitably lead to chaos. What the ideologues in Washington forgot is that even if democracy is a recipe for stability, the processes of democratization can in fact lead to prolonged instability.

Six elections in three years, a referendum on a constitution, constantly evolving and unstable governments – all of these have given rise to instability and even a certain sense of nostalgia for the stability under Saddam. What the United States has ignored entirely is the fact that in a fractured society like the one in Iraq, the effect of making elections a means for determining control is liable to create serious distortions. The Shi’ite majority, which suffered from oppression not just during Saddam’s reign but ever since Iraq became a state, considers elections a means for ensuring its hegemony. The government of the Shi’ite majority does not see democracy as majority rule that ensures the rights of the minority, but rather as granting unbounded legitimacy to the rule of the majority.

For their part, the Sunnis consider the democratic process to be a tool for turning them from the ruling class into an oppressed minority. They are doing all they can to thwart those chances of stabilization that are based on the principle of majority-rule. Only the Kurds, who have in any case established a quasi-state in their autonomous region in the North, are prepared to hoe the row that has allowed them to obtain, in the meantime, what they want: a more or less secure place under the sun.

Another matter beyond the field of vision of Washington’s democracy engineers is the fact that in the absence of an existing framework of democratic political and party activity, every entity that wants to participate in elections has to establish an armed militia that can impose its interests. Thus, democratization without a democratic infrastructure gives rise to armed militias that serve as the power base for entities competing for power. The ability to forge a coalition and the recognition that real compromisesare needed are alien to a political culture that emerges in circumstances like these.

In such a reality, the United States has no chance of bringing about stability in Iraq, in part because Iraq no longer exists as a state. The illusion that sending another 10,000 or 20,000 soldiers to the region will reap any results is fading with each passing day. America’s problem in Iraq is no longer Iraq itself but rather the international standing of the United States. Sooner or later the U.S. will withdraw from Iraq, without having succeeded in stabilizing the situation there. The question is how to realize such a withdrawal without causing further deterioration in America’s international status.

This is where the Israeli aspect comes in. It is clear that Israel is worried, and rightly so, about the rise of Sunni fundamentalism in Iraq, which is linked to Al-Qaida, as well as about the increase in Iran’s power. It is obvious that Tehran’s nuclear program, alongside its support for Hezbollah and Hamas, are only deepening Israel’s concerns. Because they worry about what will happen if the United States pulls out of Iraq, quite a few strategic and diplomatic experts in Israel have encouraged the U.S. to continue on its current path. It is no coincidence that some of these Israeli advocates are close to the American neo-conservatives. But, much like the latter, these spokesmen do not have an answer to the question of how a stable democracy can be established in Iraq when there aren’t any democrats there.

However, Israel must be extremely cautious about being seen as the spearhead of an attempt to find a solution through bullying. The same caution applies to what may be thought of Israel’s Jewish friends in the U.S. Israel has already suffered significant damage from the accusation that the U.S. went to war in Iraq in order to protect Israel. It is important that the view not gain ground that the bloody and useless U.S. presence in Iraq derives from Israeli interests.

Israel must be interested in the United States withdrawing from the battle right now, when its standing has not suffered any more damage than it already has: America’s global status is without a doubt one of the foundations of Israel’s strategic power. It will not be built up by Israeli advice that will not change the American position and will only exacerbate the hostility to Israel in the Arab countries and in Western public opinion.

Even if right now it is difficult for Israel to progress toward peace with the Palestinians, it must not come across as the driving force behind Washington’s bullying obduracy that is unaware that it has reached the end of the road in Iraq.

Ref: Haaretz, By Shlomo Avineri

Princeton in the West Bank

An embarrassed smile crossed the face of Prof. Ester Fride as the conversation moved from her study on using cannabis in food supplements for infants, who are poor eaters, to the part-political, part-academic furor over the self-upgrading of the college in Ariel to a “university center” – where she teaches. As proof of the institution’s high academic level, the Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) professor in the fashionable cap, who heads the department of behavioral sciences, introduces me to two doctoral students who are interning in her laboratory. One of them, who was in the direct-doctorate track at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, recently moved to the West Bank town of Ariel.

The second student, a Ph.D. candidate in the behavioral sciences from Tel Aviv University, related that his fellow students expressed their discomfort over being matched up with the Ariel institution. Academically there is no problem, he says, but some of them object to the fact that it’s in the territories. It’s noteworthy that the new name, as provided to the Registrar of Associations, is no longer the “College of Judea and Samaria in Ariel,” but “Ariel University Center of Samaria.”

It is obvious that Prof. Fride would prefer to leave the dispute with Education Minister Yuli Tamir over the school’s decision to upgrade itself to the politicians. That, after all, is why Yigal Cohen-Orgad, a former Likud Knesset member and finance minister, was appointed chairman of the university center’s executive committee. Cohen-Orgad, sporting an orange plastic bracelet on his arm proclaiming “A Jew does not expel another Jew,” recalls that it was the Council for Higher Education (CHE) that confirmed Fride’s title as associate professor and then full professor at the college: not the CHE-JS (Judea and Samaria), but the CHE-Israel, which is chaired by the minister of education.


“The obvious question,” Cohen-Orgad says, “is if Ariel’s lecturers are good enough to supervise 38 doctoral students and 95 M.A. students from other universities in Israel, why doesn’t the institution merit the university title?”

Neither the August heat nor his agee, 70, daunt Cohen-Orgad as he takes two stairs at a time and races down trails, leading the tour. From Fride’s lab we move to the center for robotics research and applications. A large group of young people from the North to Sderot in the Negev – only one of whom lives in a settlement in the area – presents a new robot that they are developing for the army, to detect smugglers’ tunnels. The students in the biochemistry lab say that they are scientists and have no interest in the debate the politicians are waging over the status of the institution.

One of the students, Ephraim, who comes from a single-parent family in Petah Tikva, will leave here next year with the title of electrical and electronics engineer and will be drafted into the Israel Air Force. He is part of the Israel Defense Forces’ (IDF) Atidim program, a kind of officer-candidate academic studies program geared to industry. Of the 404 participants in the program throughout the country, 57, or 13.8 percent, are students at Ariel. Ephraim is one of 178 students from Ethiopia who studied at Ariel last year – more than at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv University and the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology combined (according to figures from the Immigrant Absorption Ministry).

Of Ariel’s 9,500 students, 5 percent are Arabs from Israel. Cohen-Orgad does not deny that it’s easier to be admitted to Ariel than to the Technion, but the curriculum and the examinations are no different than those at other public colleges that are recognized by the CHE.

For Einat Dayan, the university center’s marketing director, who lives in a settlement in the northern West Bank, a key issue involves assisting Arab graduates to find employment. It’s clear that people here prefer to focus the dispute over the college’s conversion into a university on subjects such as the academic level, the quality of the teaching, the available facilities and the number of publications. The yield of the past three years – 68 books, 693 articles and 24 patents – is definitely impressive.

The vision of Ron Nachman, mayor of this town for the past 22 years, is that one day Ariel will be a university town like Princeton, New Jersey, in which life revolves around the campus and blossoms along with it. It’s no accident that Nachman draws on the United States for his vision: He is a frequent participant in gatherings of the Christian right wing there and is known for his ability to raise funds from the Christian Zionists. In the meantime, he is realizing his vision in the form of welcoming posters that line the street from the entrance of the town to the commercial center. According to data of the university center, only 2,000 students and a few hundred more faculty and maintenance staff live in Ariel, constituting 15 percent of its population.

Even though it is located almost in the center of the country, Ariel evokes a drowsy, faded town from the American Midwest rather than the suburbs of the prestigious Princeton University. A wide highway less than 20 kilometers long separates Ariel from the Green Line (the pre-1967 border), near Rosh Ha’ayin and the Trans-Israel Highway. Despite its proximity to the center of Israel and its high governmental budgets, however, the biggest settlement in the depths of the northern West Bank is not taking off.

Bilingual town

To judge by the bookstore in the commercial center, Ariel is a bilingual town. The books, the saleswomen, the posters announcing specials – all speak two languages, Hebrew and Russian. According to the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS), 42.5 percent of Ariel’s 16,500 residents immigrated there from the former Soviet Union in the 1990s. Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu party received 34.6 percent of the votes there in the last elections, 10.5 percent more than the Likud (Kadima, the party of Ehud Olmert, received 12.4 percent; the National Union-National Religious Party, 8.5 percent; and Labor, 3.9 percent).

Despite mayor Nachman’s success in luring thousands of new immigrants to Ariel, the town has for years suffered from negative migration (more people moving out than moving in) and from the aging of the population. According to the CBS, from 2003-2005 the number of residents grew by only 200. Given that the natural birthrate is 8.4 per 1,000 residents, it follows that the balance of migration is negative. The rate of population growth in 2005 as compared with the previous year stood at 0.6 percent, a third of the rate in Israel overall. By comparison, the population of Ma’aleh Adumim, the largest West Bank settlement, grew by 4.3 percent that year.

The percentage of 12th-grade students in Ariel who were eligible for a matriculation certificate in 2005 was 50.7, slightly below the national average of 53.8 percent, and well below the average for Ma’aleh Adumim (63.7 percent). That same year, 42.6 percent of the high-school graduates in Ariel met the threshold requirements for entering university, equal to the national average but less than Ma’aleh Adumim (59.1 percent). Strikingly, though, the government’s participation in the budget for the Ariel Municipality was NIS 3,200 per capita, as compared to NIS 1,800 for Ma’aleh Adumim, and the national average of NIS 1,750.

Nachman blames Yitzhak Rabin, who declared Ariel a “political settlement” (as opposed to what he called “security settlements”), thus bringing about the annulment of tax benefits, grants for home purchasers and enlarged mortgages, in favor of the development of the Negev and the Galilee. In a letter Nachman sent to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert a month ago, he wrote that because of the uncertainty about the town’s future and the non-completion of the separation fence (Ariel is completely surrounded by a fence): “There is no marketing [of homes] in Ariel and we are stuck on a dead-end road … Ariel is aging, as seen by the fact that we were compelled to close down eight of 30 kindergartens.” Nachman says that for the town to become economically and socially viable, its population must grow to 24,000 within five years.

The mayor, once a member of the Likud Knesset faction along with Olmert, complains that the number of high-school students decreased from 1,200 to 900. Probably one of his town’s four elementary schools will also close. Nachman attributes the departure of young people to the government’s decision to cancel incentives that made it possible for the settlements to offer high-level education at relatively low cost.

In his memoirs, the late prime minister Yitzhak Rabin wrote that the government adopted a well-defined security policy regarding where it was or was not right to settle. In the Golan Heights, the Jordan Rift Valley, the Jerusalem area and the Etzion Bloc, and in the Rafah Salient – yes; in the northern West Bank – no. Israel, he wrote, must not thrust Jewish settlers into the “heart of the West Bank,” which is densely populated by Arabs. That type of “dramatic” settlement would be akin to showing off and “provoking the Arabs and the United States,” and would be unjustified from a security point of view.

Speaking in the Knesset on October 5, 1995, ahead of the approval of the interim agreement with the Palestinians (called Oslo II), Rabin listed the settlements that would be part of Israel in a final agreement: unified Jerusalem, which would include Ma’aleh Adumim and Givat Ze’ev, along with the Etzion Bloc, Efrat and Beitar. He omitted the settlements in the northern West Bank on purpose.

President Shimon Peres, in contrast, has had a long love affair with Ariel. Peres’ name, as defense minister, is on the letter of March, 1977, authorizing the settlement’s establishment. On the eve of the last elections, Peres accompanied the leaders of Kadima, headed by Olmert, on a visit to Ariel. Kadima very much wanted Nachman to add his name to the group of Likud and Labor mayors who had joined the new party in order to “decorate” the list with a representative from the settlements.

Flight of the young

Nachman remained loyal to the Likud, but chose to spend Tuesday of this week, when the party’s primaries were held, on an outing with the municipality’s employees in the northern part of the country. The booth of Benjamin Netanyahu supporters in Ariel, situated next to the polling station, was headed by Motti Lantziano, the leader of the opposition to Nachman on the municipal council. Between filing reports to national headquarters and huddling with party members who couldn’t make up their minds between Netanyahu and Moshe Feiglin, his ultra-rightwing opponent, Lantziano suggested that the reasons for the flight of the young generation could be found in the office of the mayor. There we found the acting mayor , Emanuel Yaakov, a former Border Police officer and senior official of the Israel Prisons Service. He, too, is from the Likud.

Yaakov pins hopes on the new defense minister. “We feel that a new breeze is blowing from the bureau of [Ehud] Barak,” he says. “It’s not like in the period of Amir Peretz – neither he nor any of his aides visited here even once. [Barak’s] assistant for settlement affairs, Eitan Broshi, has already visited and promised that his door will always be open to us. We understood that it is possible to build the new neighborhood that we have been planning for a long time.”

Barak did not intervene in the matter of the Ariel college’s upgrade, even though as defense minister he is the definitive authority in regard to all matters pertaining to settlements, including this one. Only a handful of left-wing activists have come to the institution’s campus to demonstrate against the decision to change its status, holding posters that stated “Ariel University – enlightened occupation.” As in the case of the introduction of the Green Line into textbooks, here, too, the left wing is barking and the settlers continue to thumb their noses at everyone.

On the solemn occasion of the declaration of the existence of the first university in the territories, Ariel extracted from the prime minister an important political statement, a ringing blow to Peres’ current plan, according to which Ariel and its university center will become part of Palestine. After Education Minister Tamir told the media that “Olmert was led astray,” the Prime Minister’s Bureau sent a beeper message to journalists stating: “The prime minister views the upgrading of the college, as decided on by the CHE-JS, as an important reinforcement for the settlement blocs in the West Bank and for higher education as well.”

Ref: Haartez, by Akiva Eldar

Who is a Jew?

The question of “who is a Jew?” has been debated since Israel attained statehood. It is a fundamental question for matters of citizenship and marriage here. But as with many other issues, the emphasis is not always on the primary essence of the question: We deal with matters of quantity, rather than quality. Even if we manage to solve the issue of quantity, and we find a way to integrate hundreds of thousands of olim who are not Jewish according to halacha – and Jews abroad find a way to slow the rate of assimilation in their communities – we will still be left with the issue of quality.

What will be the nature of the State of Israel in another generation or two? Democracy is a necessary but insufficient condition. There are currently three main alternatives struggling to define the nature of Judaism here. Should no changes be forthcoming, each one will bring about the end of Israel as the home of the Jewish people.

The first alternative is the ultra-Orthodox (Haredi). Is this the flag that could or should unite us? On the one hand, it could be argued that their uncompromising traditions may be the only glue that can prevent widespread assimilation, as seen in Diaspora communities. On the other hand, this population has produced no significant uprising against its rampant shirking of the draft in a country facing clear and present existential threats. It also has produced no large-scale, organized dissension against a leadership that prevents its grade-school students from receiving a core curriculum necessary to survive and thrive in a modern economy and society. Is this the enlightened Judaism that continues the path of Maimonides, who was one of our greatest rabbis – and also a physician?


The second alternative, that of the Orthodox Jews who serve in the army and work for a living, could have been the bridge between the modern world and traditional Judaism. These are observant Jews who excel in furthering Israel’s society and economy. But where is the massive group organizing to save this population from a leadership with selective democratic principles when it comes to settling the whole of the Land of Israel, a leadership with no compunctions against encouraging its soldiers to rebel against orders not to its liking – even at the cost of fostering a behavioral cancer in the army that could rapidly spread to other parts of society that object to various policies of the elected government?

The third alternative trying to define Israel’s Jewish character is that of the secular Jews. This is the Israeli version of the modern secular world. However, what added value does secular Judaism offer future generations, so that they will choose to remain in the Jewish state, and risk their lives and those of their children to preserve this nation? What kind of thread could bind sabras, who are strangers to synagogues, with their brothers abroad – be they Orthodox, Conservative or Reform – who are unfamiliar with a Judaism unconnected to the temple?

These three alternatives in their current forms – individually and as a group – represent a dead end for the Jewish state. If this country does not learn to separate between religion and politics – which corrupts religion – we will find it extremely difficult to create another alternative, where pluralism, defining the future character of Judaism, could flourish.

Ref: Haaretz, By Dan Ben-David
The author teaches economics in the Department of Public Policy at Tel Aviv University.

U.S.: No strings attached to $30 billion defense hike

The new $30 billion American defense package for Israel is not conditioned on diplomatic progress or concessions to the Palestinians, a top U.S. aide said yesterday as representatives from both countries signed the memorandum of understanding in Jerusalem.

U.S. Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns said the aid to Israel was meant to counter “an axis of cooperation between Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad and Hamas that is responsible for the violence in the region.”

The hike in aid constitutes a 25-percent increase to the $2.4 billion Jerusalem currently receives from Washington in annual military grants. Under the new agreement, the U.S. will transfer $30 billion to Israel over the next 10 years.

U.S. officials have said the package – which was announced last month and must still be approved by Congress – is designed to reassure Israel and Sunni Muslim Gulf countries of Washington’s commitment to the Middle East despite its problems in Iraq. It would also strengthen the Gulf nations in the face of the growing clout of Shi’ite Iran and its nuclear program.

Under the plan, Israel would receive $2.55 billion in October 2008. This sum would increase by $150 million each year, until it reaches $3.1 billion in 2012. From that point, Israel would receive $3.1 billion a year, through 2017, for a total of $30 billion.

The agreement also permits Israel to convert into shekels 26.3 percent of the aid money, enabling it to procure defense equipment from Israeli companies. The rest of the aid must be used to buy equipment from U.S. arms manufacturers.

Burns signed the memorandum yesterday noon with Foreign Ministry Director General Aharon Abramovich. Burns met that morning with Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer, who headed the Israeli team in negotiations with the United States. Burns then met with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.

At a ceremony in Jerusalem, the American said that “one of the major priorities for our government … will be to help push forward a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians”. At a press conference following the signing, Burns said: “A strong and secure Israel is an American interest.

“There is no question that … the Middle East is a more dangerous region now even than it was 10 or 20 years ago and that Israel is facing a growing threat. It’s immediate and it’s also long-term,” Burns told reporters.

According to the memorandum, an annual review will be conducted into the manner in which Israel spends the military assistance.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert met Wednesday with Burns in preparation for yesterday’s signing. Olmert asked Burns to thank U.S. President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for their efforts in transforming into a binding agreement the understandings with Olmert that were reached during his last visit to Washington.

“The aid agreement with the U.S. is an important and significant component for Israel, and proves once again the depth of the relationship between the two countries and the United States’ commitment to Israel’s security, and to preserving its qualitative advantage over other countries in the Middle East,” Olmert said.

The United States is also proposing a large weapons package for Saudi Arabia, which has historically been an Israeli enemy but has indicated a willingness to attend a U.S.-backed peace conference with Israel in the fall.

Olmert has said he understands the U.S. need to bolster Saudi Arabia in facing Iran. “The increase in military aid to Israel would guarantee its strategic superiority,” Olmert has said, despite upgrades to other Arab countries in the region.

Ref: Haaretz

Germans protest sale of food from West Bank settlements

BERLIN – The opening of “Israel Week” at the Galeria Kaufhof department store in Berlin spurred a demonstration Saturday against Israeli food products originating in the territories.

Protesters held signs reading “No to settlement products” and “Stop the Israel-EU Association Agreement.”

Groups protesting included The Jewish Voice, a Jewish-German organization opposed to the occupation, and Solidarity with Palestine, German teenagers affiliated with the radical left.

A counter-group of pro-Israel radical leftists waved Israeli flags and ate Israeli food.

“We have to encourage the Germans to be more critical of the Israeli occupation,” said Ruth Fructman, a Berlin journalist who was demonstrating.

“Right now it’s still hard for them, especially because every time they criticize Israel, they’re accused of anti-Semitism,” she said.

Martin Vorberg, of the Middle Eastern Workgroup, said the demonstration was aimed at Osem Industries, which he said has a factory in the territories, and spices from Amnon and Tamar, a company located in Alfei Menashe.

Ref: Haaretz