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Coke Cans to Light up Chanukah


A Chabad community in Florida has embarked on a campaign to clean the streets of empty cans of Cola-Cola and use them to make Menorahs for the eight-day Chanukah holiday, which begins the evening of December 4.

Chabad launched a competition for people to use metal wire and glue to make a Menorah out of the cans. The idea caught fire and spread to other Chabad communities, and the competition is being sponsored by a Swiss watch company that is offering its watch as a first prize.

Rice: Mideast Conference to Launch Drive for Palestinian Statehood

By David Gollust (VOA-Washington)

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Wednesday she sees next week's Annapolis conference as the launch of a drive to conclude a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict before the end of President Bush's term in early 2009. Nearly 50 countries and international organizations have been invited to the meeting next Tuesday near Washington.

Rice said it was decided in pre-conference diplomacy not to try to resolve major elements of a peace deal at the Annapolis meeting itself, but rather let it serve as the launch of final-status Israeli-Palestinian negotiations after a seven year freeze.

In a talk with State Department reporters following Tuesday's formal announcement of the long-awaited conference, Rice said she has cautious hopes a final agreement can be achieved by the time President Bush leaves office.

"The parties have said they are going to make efforts to conclude it in this president's term, and you know, it's no secret that means about a year. It's one thing about the American system: we know how long the President is going to be in office. So that's what we'll try and do. Nobody can guarantee that. All you can do is make your best effort," she said.

In contrast to previous U.S. diplomatic efforts that focused on the central parties to the Middle East dispute, the Bush administration has asked nearly 50 countries and international organizations to take part in the conference along with Israel and the Palestinians.

Key Arab countries that do not have diplomatic relations with Israel have been invited and are expected to attend, notably including Saudi Arabia and Syria. But the radical Palestinian movement Hamas, which controls the Gaza strip and rejects dialogue with Israel, will not be at the conference.

Rice stressed that in his dual role as Palestine Liberation Organization chief, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is empowered to negotiate for all Palestinians including Hamas and that the statehood process set in motion by the Annapolis meeting will strengthen Palestinian moderates.

"It isn't the first time in either international politics or human history that a government, a legitimate government has not controlled all its territory. But I think that the moderate forces, the forces that believe in a two-state solution - born of negotiation not violence - are going to be in a stronger position to stake that claim when it is clear that there really is the prospect of a Palestinian state," she said.

Rice said she is hoping for a big turnout of foreign ministers from Arab and key majority-Muslim countries at Annapolis -- both to strengthen the political standing of Abbas, and to reassure Israel that making peace with the Palestinians would open the way to an end to the broader conflict with the Arab world.

Decisions on Arab participation are expected to be made at a special meeting of the Arab League later this week in Cairo. Bush is personally leading the U.S. effort to generate support for the meeting, speaking by telephone Wednesday with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak as well as Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

Israel OKs Armored Vehicles for Palestinian Forces

By Reuters

Israel approved the transfer of a shipment of armored vehicles and ammunition to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' security forces ahead of a U.S.-led peace conference, Israeli officials said on Wednesday.

The shipment of ammunition and 25 lightly armored trucks will be used in Nablus, the restive West Bank city at the center of a Palestinian campaign to improve security ahead of the Nov. 27 conference on Palestinian statehood in Annapolis, Md. The vehicles have mounted machine guns and utilize four-man crews.

"Within the framework of the Israeli gestures intended to bolster the Palestinian security forces for the prevention of terror, Israel has agreed to allow the Palestinians to receive 25 armored vehicles for Nablus," an Israeli official said.

Officials said an additional 25 vehicles could be authorized if Abbas' forces make progress in Nablus, a frequent flashpoint between Israeli troops and Palestinians. Nablus is seen as a test case that could lead to wider Palestinian security deployments in the West Bank.

The lightly armored vehicles had initially been offered to the Palestinians by Russia several years ago but the transfer was put on hold after Hamas won elections in January 2006.

Israel has allowed earlier shipments of guns and ammunition to Abbas' forces from Arab states in coordination with the U.S. government in an attempt to bolster the president, who lost control of the Gaza Strip to Hamas Islamists in June.

Abbas plans to send up to 300 members of his elite Presidential Guard to Nablus as a back-up force, but Washington privately warned Israel earlier this month of a lack of vehicles to support the deployment. Washington also complained to Israel this month about the army's confiscation of nearly all of the Presidential Guard's body armor. It is unclear if the gear was returned.

Olmert has said he would not implement peace agreements with the Palestinians until they meet their commitments under a long-stalled "road map" peace plan to crack down on terrorists. The road map also demands a freeze on all Israeli settlement activity.

'Black Hebrews' to Establish Kibbutz


Dimona has solved the problem of the Black Hebrews in the Negev city by allotting them ground for a kibbutz.

The cult, made up of American blacks who claim to be descendants of the Lost Tribes, has been a thorn in the side of the Interior Ministry for years. However, the government in the past decade reversed its stand that they are in Israel illegally and instead allowed them to stay. The government still does not officially recognize them.

The Black Hebrew community, whose accent is distinctly southern American, has grown to nearly 3,000 people. Like neighboring Bedouin, it practices polygamy, which is prohibited by Israeli law but is condoned as a "religious right."

Is 17 Too Young to Marry?


A proposed Israeli law raising the legal marriage age from 17 to 18 has stirred up a serious controversy between those for and against the bill.

Opponents of the measure claim that there is no evidence that marriages between minors are doomed to failure, while proponents see such marriages as a cause of physical and psychological damage to young girls.

The bill's opponents claim that 17 is a mature age for marriages. The Shas party, whose members are in opposition, insists that "the current age answers the need for balance between a person's maturity and preparedness for marriage, and additional education will only strengthen a marriage's chances for success."

Marriages between minors are especially common in Israel among the Caucasian, Georgian, Breslaver and Arab communities.

Attorney Sonia Bulus from the Association for Civil Rights in Israel addressed a letter to the Knesset in which she wrote that "the phenomenon of young marriages is strongly tied to stereotypical perceptions by which the woman's natural place is in the home and her principal work is to give birth and raise children."

Bulus pointed out that "many of the marriages which began when the wife was a minor are subject to great difficulties and a large number of them end up on the rocks. Marriage at a young age causes physical and psychological damage to young women. In the vast majority of these cases, the young bride becomes pregnant directly after the wedding ceremony."

Contrary to this view, Shas holds the legal opinion that "the current order must be maintained. A legislated change is not the best way to bring about a different situation. Instead of wasting efforts searching for a solution in all the wrong places, we should be investing in education to prepare people for married life."

It is yet unclear just how many female minors are married in Israel every year. The Association for Civil Rights in Israel pointed out that "accurately measuring the phenomenon's dimensions is extremely difficult as many instances of underage marriage are initially carried out in an unofficial capacity, to be registered officially only later when the bride is 17."

Liron (not her real name), 22, from the center of the country, was married at the age of 17 and divorced half a year ago. Liron, who comes from a religious family and left the fold about a year ago, said that the marriage was the only way for her to gain independence. "I always wanted to get away without being restricted and that was the only path I saw. Now I understand that it solves nothing."

According to Liron, the mother of a two-year old child, she was happy with her newfound independence after being married, but soon understood that her chosen husband did not suit her and relations between the two deteriorated until they were divorced.

"I failed to take into account the possibility of being left alone with a child. There are many things I can no longer do. I would like to serve in the army and study, go out and travel, but those are no longer options," she said.

Husband Signs Divorce Papers 20 Years After Disappearing


Twenty years after disappearing and leaving his wife "agunah" (bound in marriage by a husband who is missing), a French Jewish man has been located in an Israeli jail and has agreed to give his wife a divorce.

The affair began about 20 years ago, when the man left his wife and children and disappeared. The family attempted to locate the husband for years, but to no avail. The man, apparently due to financial difficulties, disappeared without a trace.

But during all these years, the husband resided in Israel and in Europe. In Israel he even served six jail sentences, and is now serving his seventh after being convicted of property and violence offenses. The prisoner, 45, who is serving his sentence in a prison in the Sharon region, leads a secular life.

The man's son is studying in a yeshiva in Israel, and after the family received information that the missing husband was in jail, the yeshiva's rabbis turned to the Israel Prison Service's chief rabbi, Yehuda Yekutiel Vizner, and asked for his help in locating the father.

Vizner managed to locate the prisoner and tried to persuade him to give his wife a divorce. After the man eventually agreed, rabbinical judges arrived at the court, got the man declare that he was giving his wife a divorce and to sign the divorce papers, and the woman was finally released from marriage.

Sources in the IPS said that after signing the divorce papers, the prisoner was visited by his son. The two, who had not seen each other for 20 years, shed many tears during the visit.

Israelis are Nuts to Import Pistachios from Iran

By Reuters

Iranian pistachios are finding their way into the Israeli marketplace after a stopover in Turkey, despite sanctions against the Islamic Republic and a law that bans all Iranian imports into the Jewish State.

U.S. officials were disturbed to discover the surreptitious trade and demanded that Israel put a stop to the business. "This causes great anger," said Agriculture Minister Shalom Simchon on Voice of Israel government radio.

U.S. Under Secretary of Agriculture Mark Keenum urged Simchon to combat the problem. Simchon agreed, but asked for guidance on how Israel might proceed. "Israel doesn't have to be urged too much to do something that will deny Iran trade dollars," said Zvi Alon, an official in Israel's Agriculture Ministry.

Alon quoted Simchon as telling Keenum: "We will immediately do anything you suggest, any idea of cooperation for the prevention of Iranian pistachio imports."

Israel has tried to tackle the problem in the past but could not determine the origin of pistachio shipments, Alon said.

The issue is not only related to sanctions against the Islamic Republic in order to force a halt to its nuclear development activities, said Simchon, but also has to do with "the competition between U.S. farmers and Iranian farmers." The U.S. is urging Israel to use chemical testing to detect the origin of pistachios that come into the country.

Israel imports pistachios worth 100 million shekels ($26 million) annually, mostly from Turkey. But Washington says nuts from arch-foe Iran are mixed in with the shipments, undermining economic sanctions meant to force Tehran to stop developing its nuclear capabilities.

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