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>JN July 25, 2000, Vol. 8, No. 128
Israeli Orthodox Conversion Programs Discontinued
Israel Faxx Staff Report
The Ministry of Education has closed Orthodox-Jewish conversion
programs and has fired the program's teachers. The stated reason
for the move: budgetary constraints. The only conversion programs
to remain operative will be those shared by the Orthodox with the
Conservative and Reform movements. During 1999, 4,000 people -
mostly citizens of Ethiopian descent - underwent conversion in
Israel, 90% via the Orthodox conversion programs.
Palestinians, Israelis Down to the Wire at Camp David
By VOA's Nick Simeone (Thurmont, Md.) & Art Chimes (Jerusalem),
Around-the-clock negotiations have resumed at the Camp David Middle
East peace summit, where talks between Israeli and Palestinian
leaders enter a 15th day. President Clinton is still assessing
whether this summit is heading toward agreement or failure. The
president was up negotiating until nearly dawn Monday, and after
only a few hours' sleep, he was back in meetings with Israeli and
Israeli officials told reporters it should be clear within about 24
hours if Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasir
Arafat are going to be able to reach an agreement at Camp David. By
all accounts, the main sticking point seems to be the future of
Jerusalem, claimed by both sides as their capital.
Under the political dispute lies the religious nature of
Jerusalem's holy sites. The discussion at Camp David involves
issues of political status, and the language is one of
sovereignty and autonomy. Many analysts say of all the issues
dividing Israel and the Palestinians, the status of Jerusalem may
be the most difficult, because of the spiritual and emotional ties
the two sides have to the city's many holy sites.
For Christians, Jerusalem is the site of the resurrection of Jesus,
the central event of their faith. For Jews, it is the location of
their ancient Temples, and the place where God tested the patriarch
Abraham by asking him to sacrifice his son Isaac. And for Muslims,
Jerusalem is where the prophet Mohammed ascended to heaven on his
Sheikh Muhammad Hussein, director of Al-Aqsa Mosque, explains why
Jerusalem is the third-holiest city in Islam. In his office
opposite the Dome of the Rock, he explains the link between the
holy city of Mecca and Jerusalem.
The sheikh says God transported the prophet Mohammed from Jerusalem
to Mecca, creating a special relationship between the two cities.
He says it is an important part of Muslims' beliefs.
The massive limestone rock at the center of the Dome of the Rock
mosque also figures in Jewish tradition. David Rosen, the former
Chief Rabbi of Ireland, says it is known as the place from which
the universe itself was created.
"According to Jewish tradition, the temple that was built there by
Solomon and then subsequently the second temple reconstructed after
the Babylonians had destroyed the first, they were built there on
that site because God had uniquely caused His name to dwell in that
spot. And the stone there, according to Jewish tradition is known
as, in Hebrew, Even ha-Shetiyah, the Foundation Stone from which
the whole universe was created. In other words, that's where the
idea of the nexus between Heaven and Earth originates within the
Jerusalem is also the site of many of the most important events at
the dawn of Christianity. The Palestinian Authority's chief
official for Christian affairs, Ibrahim Kandlaft, says the city is
key for Christians.
"Jerusalem is the holiest place for Christians, he says. Jesus
lived here, made miracles here, suffered and was crucified here.
And he was buried and resurrected here."
Israelis say they have allowed Christians and Muslims free access
to their holy sites since they took control of all of Jerusalem in
1967. Palestinians disagree, and say the only way to guarantee
access is if they have full control. However the issue is decided
at Camp David, if it can be decided at all, the deep emotional and
spiritual connection both sides feel to Jerusalem makes this
perhaps the most sensitive issue on the table.
Barak has pledged that any peace deal reached at Camp David will be
put before Israeli voters in a referendum. But a new survey
indicates Barak may have to work hard to win support for a deal.
Israel's Ma'ariv newspaper published results of a new Gallup poll
in which those surveyed disapproved a deal -- 50-percent against,
42-percent in favor. The specific proposal in the survey included
Palestinian sovereignty over Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem,
and religious autonomy -- but not sovereignty -- over certain
Muslim holy sites in the Old City.
If there is a Camp David agreement, it may or may not resemble the
proposal in the survey. Arafat has been insisting he will settle
for nothing less than full sovereignty over all of East Jerusalem,
which Israel has not been willing to concede. The margin of error
in the survey is plus or minus 4.5 percent.
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