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Israel Launches Rebranding Campaign
Israel Faxx News Service

Israel's Foreign Ministry launched a drive to rebrand the country internationally. Senior Israeli diplomats and public relations executives held a two-day conference in Tel Aviv this week aimed at coming up with ways to offset the Jewish state's reputation abroad as country constantly at war. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said she wanted to replace Israel's "conflict" image with one of tourism and investment. The new campaign also appears to be in line with Livni's long-held view that, unless Israel manages to solve or at least play down its problems with the Palestinians, it could become a pariah state.

Israeli Forces Kill Palestinians in Gaza Gun Battle

By VOA News

Palestinian medics said Thursday that Israeli troops operating in the Gaza Strip have killed two Palestinians in separate incidents.

In southern Gaza, Palestinian gunmen opened fire on Israeli reservists near the town of Khan Younis, wounding one soldier. Palestinians say the Israeli troops returned fire, killing a local police officer and wounding several others.

In an incident in the northern town of Beit Hanoun, Palestinians say Israeli gunfire killed one Palestinian. Separately, Israeli media say Israeli troops have arrested 20 wanted Palestinian terrorists in overnight raids in the West Bank.

In another development, Israel's military said intelligence agents intercepted a shipment of high explosives being smuggled from Gaza to the West Bank. Israel said internal security forces, Shin Bet, seized six kilograms of TNT on Sunday after Palestinian militants smuggled it through the Karni border crossing between Gaza and Israel.

The military says the explosives were part of a shipment loaded onto several taxis bound for the West Bank town of Tulkarem. Israeli forces detained three Israeli Arab taxi drivers, but released the men after they said they were unaware of the nature of the cargo.

Israel said a Palestinian resident of Tulkarem who was to receive the explosives was arrested. The military said the TNT was destined to be used in a terrorist attack against Israelis.

Israel has frequently closed the Karni crossing, due to reports that Palestinians were planning attacks on the facility. The Karni terminal is a main conduit for goods entering and leaving Gaza, and Palestinians complain that its closure worsens their economic hardship.

Arab Interest in Emigration Soars


The percentage of Arabs in Judea, Samaria and Gaza (Yesha) willing to relocate abroad jumped to 32 percent, according to a Birzeit University survey last month. For many years, that figure hovered just below 20 percent, according to an October 24th report by the Christian Science Monitor's Middle East correspondent Joshua Mitnick.

Birzeit University pollster Nader Said, who has monitored emigration attitudes for 12 years, attributed the rise to dissatisfaction over the Hamas-led government. Because of the international aid boycott of the Palestinian Authority, some 165,000 civil servants have not been paid a regular salary since January when Hamas was elected. Those government employees and their families - one-third of the PA's population - have fallen into severe poverty. Compounding that hardship, the society has been disrupted by widespread strikes and armed clashes between Hamas and Fatah gunmen which threaten to explode into a full-blown civil war.

Even more telling, Said added, is that the percentage surges to 44 percent among Arabs in their 20s and 30s. Among younger men, it surges beyond 50 percent. Said called this the "most shocking result" of the survey.

Among the Arab residents of Yesha, the mere mention of hijra - Arabic for emigration - is enough to stir up painful memories of the 1948 Arab-Israeli war that left hundreds of thousands of Arabs stranded outside the newly independent Israeli state.

"Emigration means that you are escaping the occupation and that you don't want to liberate your land. It's a shame on you," says Abdel Nasser Najjar, a columnist for the Arab daily Al Ayyam. "Now it's different. There are many pressures: economic pressure and psychological pressure. Many people are speaking out."

While the interest in emigration is widespread, most Yesha Arabs do not qualify for permission to immigrate to Western countries because of limited professional experience or education.

The majority of Arabs, 62.3 percent, oppose the idea that Hamas must recognize Israel at this point of time, the poll shows. Yet, 67 percent support an immediate resumption of negotiations with Israel.

Olmert's Wife Implicated in Latest Scandal


Aliza Olmert, Prime Minister Olmert's wife, received a "salary" of 240,000 shekels in the year 2004 - though employees don't remember her, and the job doesn't appear on her resume.

The information was publicized by the Hebrew website NFC, whose frequent scoops regarding allegations of corruption by Ehud Olmert has earned it a hate-Olmert reputation.

In 2004, the year in which his wife received the pay, Ehud Olmert served as Minister of Industry, Trade and Employment, as well as Head of the Israel Lands Authority, and held the Communications portfolio. NFC reports that his wife Aliza received, over the course of 11 months, approximately 22,000 shekels each month from a private company owned by Avi Naor.

A frequent donor to public causes such as the Green Light anti-traffic accidents organization, Naor has frequent contact with government officials, NFC reports, and often requests budgetary allocations.

Aliza said that the money paid her was for services rendered; beginning shortly after Naor and others planned a public-social project set to cost two billion shekels. The project was designed to save children at risk currently living in poverty. A very small part of the project was ultimately carried out, in Afula and Kiryat Gat.

As Minister of Industry and Trade, Ehud Olmert was to be one of the central figures in the establishment of the project - including raising money. Senior ministry figures appeared at various committee sessions to promote the project, named Yaniv.

It was precisely at this time that Aliza Olmert was hired by Naor's company - though NFC says its investigation showed that people who worked there at the time did not know her and did not encounter her work. Moreover, the website of the Prime Minister's Office, which details Aliza Olmert's accomplishments, does not include her work at Naor's company.

Aliza's spokesman responded to the report as follows: "Mrs. Olmert, a social worker, worked in the RAMGA company as a full-time employee. She was hired by Avi Naor to be a partner in the establishment of the Yaniv Organization, and was responsible for the national service for treatment of young children at risk. She received a salary proportionate to her work."

Mrs. Olmert's job, according to her superior at RAMGA, was to study and then to prepare a comprehensive treatment program for young children at risk. "She studied the existing programs in Israel and around the world, and formulate a [new one]," he said. He said he did not have any of her papers, and Mrs. Olmert did not respond to NFC's request to supply a copy of one.

Iranian Theater Critic Embraces Israeli Actresses


A senior Iranian theater critic went behind the scenes of Plonter (in English, mess), a play performed by the Israeli Cameri Theater and staged at the international festival in Seoul, South Korea.

The Iranian critic, Kaslion Faver, warmly embraced the Jewish and Arab actresses, who performed both in Hebrew and Arabic. "I was very moved, this is the best play I have seen at the festival," she said.

The Iranian critic told Yael Ronen, who wrote and directed the play, that it touched on very sensitive issues, "Without being afraid and without censoring."

The actresses were very moved by the gesture and said that after the Iranian critic, Palestinian critics came behind the scenes as well. They all praised our acting, the content, and the cooperation between Jewish and Arab actors, Irit Altman said in a phone conversation from Seoul.

"She kept repeating that she had no idea that this is what goes on in our theater. We didn't think you were allowed to express yourselves so openly. In Tehran we get a completely different picture of what goes on between Jews and Palestinians and the freedom of speech," Faver said.

This is the first time an Israeli theater troupe has been invited to partake in the Korean festival, and it was due to the topic of the play: Jewish-Arab-Palestinian-settler relationships, it was shown in front of a full house.

Plonter is the talk of the town in Seoul, said Cameri director Noam Semel. And there's yet another surprise, a theater critic from Syria introduced himself to Semel and warmly shook his hand. "Such a topic wouldn't have been allowed in Syria," the Syrian critic said. When he saw the huge numbers of photographers he became alarmed and asked that his name not be published "so that Syrian authorities would not harass him."

Bonus for Israeli Youths Abroad: Studies Sans Army Service


Israeli youths living abroad will soon be able to come to Israel for academic studies without being drafted, upon completion of their studies they will be allowed to choose between leaving the country or enlisting.

The new initiative was drawn up by the IDF's Human Resources Department and has already been approved by the Ministry of Defense. "Our goal is to strengthen the connection of this public to Israel, so that they will eventually choose to stay in the country and also do their military service," say senior officials at the Human Resources Department, "it is a national undertaking."

The IDF is trying to bring Israeli youths living overseas back in touch with the country, and have them enlist in the army. The law says that youths born abroad to Israeli parents or who left Israel before the age of 16 are required to serve in the IDF but as long as they live in a foreign country the IDF doesn't forcibly draft them. They may also spend up to 120 days a year in Israel and still avoid being drafted. The IDF seeks to change that trend and convince children of Israelis living abroad or who have left the country to enlist in the IDF and, of course, stay in Israel after their service.

The IDF Human Resources Department has developed an innovative program aimed at tapping into this elusive resource, allowing the youths to come to Israel, study at the academic institution of their choosing for three years, until their BA is complete. Throughout this entire period they will not be obligated to serve in the army, but upon graduation those who decide to stay in Israel will serve.

A senior officer in the Human Resources Department spoke with Ynet and explained that bringing Israelis back was a national undertaking, with implications far more reaching than the simple question of military service – which is why the military has stepped up to the plate on this issue; hoping that by encouraging them to come to Israel, they may choose to stay, and by doing so also serve in the army.

Col. Amir Rogovsky who heads the draft administration in the army's Induction Center recently visited Jewish communities in France and the US, speaking to Israeli youths about the new program which drew a good deal of interest he says. The program has recently been approved by Defense Minister Amir Peretz.

Within the framework of the program, Israelis living abroad who come to Israel after their 20th birthday will study at the university for three years and if they choose to stay will only be required to serve in the army for two years. 18-20 year olds will be required to serve the full three years.

"Even if the program won't provide an increase in draftees, the fact that many people in this public spent time in Israel may contribute to their future return and we consider than an achievement, that is why we are championing this program," the senior Human Resources officer said.

Fish with a Face


The child Ayub Mahmoud Atwa abu Saaluk was surprised – really surprised. He was so surprised, that as soon as he saw the frightening site, he immediately dropped his fishing rod, got to his knees and began praying to Allah.

No, it wasn't the burning bush, nor was it the sight of frogs swarming the street. What Saaluk had seen on the Herzliya beach which caused him to break out in prayer was the face of a fish. Not just any fish - a fish which eerily resembled the face of a human being.

"As soon as I saw the face with the lips I dropped down to pray. I saw the fish had lips, eyes, and 33 vertebras. At that moment I took the fish and placed it in water so it won't die, and left back to our village with my friends. I wanted everyone to see it, but he died shortly after I got home," he told the NABA information agency.

What Saaluk had seen was the front side of a stingray which happened to get caught up in the fishing line while swimming off the coast of Herzliya. Dr. Dani Golany, a marine biologist from Hebrew University in Jerusalem, who inspected the photos of the humanlike face-fish, said it is a common guitarfish that is common to the eastern Mediterranean.

"This is not a rare fish in our area and the pictures indicate is a premature female." In reference to the humanlike expression on the fish's face, Golany said that the mouth has no teeth, and the lips are used to break open shells on the ocean floor. The large holes are the nostrils of the fish, and the eyes are placed on the top part of the fish. As to the culinary possibilities of the fish, Dr. Golany said it is eatable, but not very tasty and of course, not kosher either. "In Gaza this fish is a delicacy," he said.

But despite the present deceased condition of the humanlike specimen, Saaluk has some interesting plans for it. "I am keeping the fish because hundreds of people are coming to our house to see it. I have never seen anything like it before. Even the people are not used to seeing this type of fish and because of that we must respect Allah and obey him. If the management of the mosque near my house will allow, I will stuff him and place him on display so people can come and see it."

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