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>Israel Faxx
>JN March 2, 2000, Vol. 8, No. 140

Knesset Places Golan Stumbling Block Before Barak

By Meredith Buel (VOA-Jerusalem)

The Israeli parliament has given preliminary approval to legislation that could set back Prime Minister Ehud Barak's efforts to make peace with Syria. The vote came as five pro-Israeli militiamen and at least one civilian were killed during Hizbullah terrorist attacks in southern Lebanon.

On a 60-53 vote, the Knesset gave preliminary approval to a bill that could harm efforts by Barak to reach a permanent peace agreement with Syria. The legislation requires a majority of all registered Israeli voters -- not just a simple majority of those voting -- to approve a peace treaty with Syria.

Analysts say the bill -- sponsored by a member of the opposition Likud Party -- would significantly increase the number of votes needed to approve a peace accord in a referendum.

The vote is considered a major defeat for Barak since some members of his governing coalition voted with the opposition. After the vote, Barak said he remains determined to negotiate peace agreements.

"One-point-eight-million people in this country gave me a mission and no parliamentary trick will stop the majority of the people to decide according to their position. I am determined to continue strengthening the state of Israel by the way of political agreements. An agreement, if reached, will be brought to a referendum in a way that the majority of the participants will decide the future of the country."

Peace talks between Israel and Syria resumed last December, but were indefinitely suspended in January. Syria is demanding the return of the Golan Heights, which were captured by Israel during the 1967 Middle East war. The return of the strategic plateau is expected to be the major focus of any future referendum.

Shortly before parliament began Wednesday's debate, a roadside bomb killed fighters of the Israeli-backed militia in south Lebanon.

Iranian-backed Hizbullah (Party of God) gunmen claimed responsibility for the attack against the outpost manned by the South Lebanon Army. Immediately after the assault, there was an exchange of mortar fire between Hizbullah and the militia that led to civilian casualties. The attacks were preceded by a series of hit-and-run terrorist strikes on militia positions in southern Lebanon. Barak has promised to pull all Israeli soldiers out of Lebanon by July of this year.

Revealing Chaza's AIDS Raises Ethical Dilemma

By Jenny Badner (VOA-Jerusalem)

Reports that a popular, internationally known, Israeli singer died from complications due to AIDS has sparked a public debate in Israel about the right to privacy and the stigma many still attach to people carrying the HIV virus.

Ofra Chaza was one of Israel's most popular singers. The daughter of immigrants from Yemen, she grew up in poverty in the slums of Tel Aviv, but she rose to international fame in the 1980s. Chaza died last week at the age of 41, after being hospitalized for about two-weeks.

Her fans kept an around-the-clock vigil at the hospital, and doctors respected a request from Chaza to keep details of her illness confidential. But, just a few days after her death, an Israeli newspaper (Ha'aretz) reported that Chaza died of complications from AIDS. Israeli health officials openly criticized the newspaper for disregarding Chaza's right to privacy.

Aviram Germanovich is HIV positive and heads the Committee for the War on AIDS in Israel. He says there has not been a public figure in Israel like the American basketball star, Magic Johnson, who admitted he is HIV positive and is participating in a public awareness campaign about the disease.

"I know that public figures have a certain price they have to pay, but it is also up to them to decide. So Magic Johnson decided to talk about it -- fair enough -- but in this case it was different and we all know that."

Some people say they believe that Chaza died -- at least in part -- of shame. They say that in a more tolerant environment, she may not have felt the need to hide her illness and she may have sought more extensive treatment.

Germanovich says the singer could have contributed to increasing awareness about AIDS and HIV in Israel and other countries had she decided to break her silence. He says there are nearly 10,000 people living with the HIV virus in Israel, although the Health Ministry estimates the number is closer to 3,000.

He says educating the public about AIDS in Israel is not easy and there is still a stigma against those living with the disease. Germanovich blames this on Israel's powerful religious establishment.

"We know the majority of people contract HIV through sexual intercourse and well, they do not want to talk about sex. We are living in a country that is too much influenced by people who are not willing to face the facts of life." While in life, Chaza guarded the details of her medical condition, in death she sparked a public debate that has the potential to change the perception of AIDS in Israel.

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