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40 Jews Make Secret Aliyah from Iran


Forty Jews made Aliyah to Israel from Iran Tuesday. This is the largest single group of Iranian Jewish immigrants ever brought to Israel by the Jewish Agency.

Each immigrant will receive a $10,000 gift from the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, as well as the benefits provided by the Immigrant Absorption ministry. All in all, in 2007 the Jewish agency has brought about 200 Iranian immigrants into Israel, three times more than in several recent years.

Some of the details regarding the way the Jews were brought to Israel cannot be revealed. "How they were brought to Israel and information about who they are is classified information," Jewish Agency spokesman Michael Jankelovitch said in an exclusive interview with Israel National News. The Jerusalem Post hinted that they were brought to Israel via a third country.

A total of 200 Iranian Jews made Aliyah (immigrated to Israel) this year, triple the number from just a year ago, when only 65 Jews made Aliyah to Israel from Iran. According to Jankelovitch, the majority of the Jews who left Iran permanently this year came to Israel.

In Iran they lived a silent nightmare --their lives at stake. "They come with nothing but the clothes on their backs and a small suitcase with almost no money at all," said Jankelovitch. "Their money is worthless because of the exchange rate. People live in a beautiful house, which they sell and it is not even worth $10,000."

In order to balance that hardship, each new immigrant from Iran, including the children, receives a grant of $10,000. A family of five thus receives a total of $50,000 with which to begin their new lives in addition to the usual basket of new immigrant benefits received by everyone else who comes to make Israel their home.

Although there is no problem leaving Iran permanently to live elsewhere, emigrants cannot travel directly to Israel, said Jankelovitch. Nor is America an option at this point due to the political situation. The U.S. has imposed strict sanctions against Iran in the hopes of forcing the Islamic Republic to abandon its headlong rush toward development of what both the U.S. and Israel suspect is a nuclear weapon which could be aimed at the Jewish State.

Despite the growing hardships, however, there are still 28,000 Iranian Jews who have remained in the Islamic Republic. "People are afraid of the unknown," Jankelovitch told Israel National News bluntly. "Leaving the town you know, friends and neighbors, takes guts." Every effort is being made to convince those left behind to leave while they still can.

"All the information for an Iranian Jew who wants to know about making Aliyah is available online, in Farsi," he said. (The website created for this purpose is at "There is a free flow of information," he added. "Iran is not a backward, third world country. There is word of mouth; people can go to internet cafes."

There is no fear of being "tracked down" for accessing information about moving to Israel, he said. "We hope more, many more will come next year. Israel wants Iranian Jews to come home."

Amid Diplomatic Row Israeli Defense Minister Heads to Egypt

By Robert Berger (VOA-Jerusalem)

Israel's defense minister is heading to Egypt amid a diplomatic row as Israel accuses Egypt of assisting Hamas fighters in the Palestinian-ruled Gaza Strip.

Weapons smuggling from Egypt to the Gaza Strip will top the agenda when Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak holds talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in a Red Sea resort on Wednesday.

Israel has long complained that Cairo is turning a blind eye to the smuggling of tons of weapons and explosives through tunnels under Egypt's border with Gaza. Israel sees the arming of the Islamic terrorist group Hamas, which rules Gaza, as a growing strategic threat, and it accuses Cairo of failing to honor a border security agreement after Israel pulled out of Gaza in 2005.

The dispute is straining relations after Israel said it delivered videotapes to American officials that show Egyptian police officers helping the weapons smugglers. Adding to the strain, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni told parliament's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that Egypt is doing a "terrible" job of patrolling the border.

Knesset member Yuval Steinitz said Egypt is playing a double game. "They cannot cooperate with Israel and [the] United States fighting terrorism and smuggling, and underground, actually cooperating with Hamas and Iran, enabling the smuggling into Gaza."

Cairo has rejected the charges in "both form and substance." Egypt's foreign ministry accused Israel of influencing the U.S. Congress, which has proposed legislation to withhold $200 million in military aid to Egypt, until it takes tougher steps to curb weapons smuggling on the Gaza border.

Egypt's foreign ministry also said Israel's Livni should concentrate on negotiations with the Palestinians. A foreign ministry statement said Livni is not fully informed about the situation at the Gaza border.

Was Jesus Really Born in Another Bethlehem?


As millions celebrate the birth of Jesus, a question has arisen about the actual location from which Christians believe the Son of God came into the world.

The Bible mentions Bethlehem in both the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, but an Israeli archaeologist believes another Bethlehem, one situated in the region of Galilee and not Judea, is the likely place Jesus was born.

"There is the fact that Jews were living here at the time of Jesus, that is absent in the other Bethlehem," archaeologist Aviram Oshri told Britain's Sky News. The lesser known Bethlehem is mentioned in the Old Testament Book of Joshua, situated among towns of the tribe of Zebulun.

"We have a Christian community, a very large Christian community, living here and defending itself by building a fortification wall, signifying that the spot was very important for them," said Oshri. "We have a large church with a cave underneath which is exactly the same as the other Bethlehem."

Oshri reportedly found the remains of the strong fortification walls among olive trees on the edges of Bethlehem of Galilee, and he suggests early Christians built it to protect the real site of Jesus' birth.

On his website, he writes, "It is possible that, because of the hostility the Jews had toward Christians in this period, the residents of Bethlehem of Galilee fortified the site which they held to be the birthplace of the Christian Messiah."

But at some point in history, all traces linking the Galilee site to the Nativity disappeared. "They did not die out; they were killed off, deliberately" Oshri told Sky News, suggesting a reason for the cover-up of sorts.

The Old Testament prophets had predicted the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem of Judea. That would preclude the Messiah from being born in Galilee.

Oshri has had trouble finding out for sure because the key piece of evidence has been destroyed. In the 1960s, a road was constructed through the ruins of the early Christian church in the heart of the Galilee Bethlehem. The cave underneath the church was only partially damaged, but Oshri has not been able to get permission or funding to excavate the site.

In the King James Version of the Bible, the Gospel of Matthew states, "Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem."

Grains of Sand: A Novel by 16-Year-old Gush Katif Historian

By (Book Review)

A new historical novel written by an Israeli teenager who was there vividly awakens dormant memories of the expulsion of 2005.

The nearly 2,000 families of Gush Katif were what Israelis call the "salt of the earth" - unpretentious, pioneering, and connected-to-the-Land Jews. They built Jewish towns where none had stood before; they brought forth vegetables and flowers from previously barren and sterile sandy earth, and raised their children on the Jewish values that govern meaningful and productive lives.

Most of this came to an end in August 2005. Black-uniformed Israeli soldiers marched in and scooped up men, women and children from their homes, deposited them in buses, and declared their houses 'clean' - so that bulldozers standing by could fell them, one by one, to the ground.

The buses did not take the dazed patriots to anywhere specific; the unwitting passengers merely knew that they were being taken away - away from their homes, from their communities, from their lives.

What type of people were they? How did they live? What did they think before the catastrophe befell them, and how did they react as it began to take shape?

Children are the best observers; children who have grown into youths and are aware of what they are observing, and are able to put what they see into sentences and paragraphs, are better yet.

Shifra Shomron, 16 - formerly of N'vei Dekalim, now of Nitzan, just north of Ashkelon - has done it. Having lived through the months leading up to the Disengagement of 2005, having experienced the highs and lows of strong faith, intense hope, energizing public action, and bitter disappointment, she was still able throughout to retain a sense of perspective - the fruits of which she has produced in the form of a book, Grains of Sand.

In fact, Grains of Sand is the only English book about Gush Katif written as a first-hand account by someone who lived in and was expelled from Gush Katif. It is a gripping, moving story that brings the reader right back to the months and weeks and days leading up to the tragic expulsion - and into the salon of a family living through it.

Of Grains of Sand's three parts, the first shows Gush Katif's largest town N'vei Dekalim in its 'Golden Era' before Arab terrorism even began - followed by a section on how the family deals with the day-to-day terrorism of mortar shelling and roadside attacks. This period was an intense and difficult time during which many residents were murdered - and many others miraculously survived.

Other books have been published chronicling the many miracles experienced by Gush Katif residents during this time; readers can only imagine the fears and agitation suffered by those who never knew whether they would be targeted next.

The third part of Grains of Sand, the most transfixing and emotional of all, leads up to and includes the actual expulsion itself.

Grains of Sand alternates between a narrative of events from the standpoint of Efrat Yefet, a young girl in a religious high school, and entries in her own diary. The main characters in her life are her parents and her younger brother - who, like the narrator, is sometimes fiercely idealistic, and sometimes downright resentful of having to share his personal struggle with strangers who have come to "help."

Efrat's father is a kashrut inspector for one of Gush Katif's many thriving vegetable greenhouses. The painful process of having to decide whether to plan for a future in Gush Katif or without Gush Katif ended with him on the latter side. "I don't want my family to end up in a tent or in a hotel for God knows how long," he tells his children with a twinge, explaining why he has agreed to look into the pre-fab homes the government is offering in Nitzan. "I'd have failed as head of the family."

Efrat, the book's heroine, tends to agree. Reacting to those who see entertaining the possibility that God might allow the expulsion to happen as a lack of faith, Efrat rails out, "But why should God stop it? If we are stupid and sinful enough to dream up such a plan and seek to carry it out, then why shouldn't God punish us by letting such a plan happen? ... I don't agree at all with what they think!"

Her brother Yair is somewhat more optimistic: "Sure I realize that it can happen," he told his father. "I see how the army is preparing and how the army is egging it on. But I'm hopeful" that road-blockings, or soldiers refusing orders, or people coming to Gush Katif, or some combination of the above and others will prevent it from happening.

When his father says, "As long as you realize that it can happen. I don't want you to be all shocked and broken up if it does happen," Yair responds that if it occurs, "We will all be shocked and broken up - even you, who expects it to happen."

A sneak at the book's last pages imply that Grains of Sand is named for what Gush Katif started out as, and what the book's heroes fear it will again revert to. In truth, however, a passage 20 pages earlier provides what is probably a more accurate explanation for the title - and an on-the-mark prediction of today's events to boot:

Efrat sighed. "It's hard to... be a Jew, and even harder to be a Jew in Gush Katif in the month of Sivan 5765 (June 2005)."... Efrat picked up a handful of sand and stared at it as she let the grains fall between her fingers and stream to the ground... "Sand," she mused to herself. "Tiny grains of sand. So light and so small, any breeze can uproot them and cause them to fly distances away." She paused. "Yet these same grains prevent a mighty sea from flooding the country."

She gazed at the darkening sky over [the Arab city of] Khan Yunis. "We too are grains of sand; small and weak - the government can move us, yet we prevent the Arabs from flooding the country with mortars and Kassam rockets. When we are out of here and the army is out too, the Arabs will bring explosives in from Egypt without anyone to hinder them. From our northern communities, they'll be able to hit the city of Ashkelon... We are sand," she murmured. "No more and no less. Just sand."

The failed march from Kfar Maimon is recounted in the book, and so are the rallies, and the short-lived campaign to wear orange stars, and the Shabak attempts to recruit Jewish youths, and the atmosphere in school, and much more - all through the eyes of a family in the thick of the events. But most poignant of all is the book's end - the beginning of Part II of the family's life - where Efrat describes to her diary how the soldiers are struggling with her brother, and helicopters are buzzing overhead, and - "now the soldiers are coming for me!"

Was this the end? The writer herself later did National Service in an elementary school with many children from Gush Katif, helping them with their studies - particularly English, unsurprisingly. She is now studying to be a teacher of English and Bible.

Her father has still not found work - though this may be about to change, he has just learned - but the family of seven children, on the whole, has adjusted well. They are considering either building a new permanent home in Nitzan, if they can afford it, or moving to a Yesha community in the Jerusalem area. "The State of Israel took a step backwards with the Disengagement," Shifra's father feels, "but we are still ideologically inclined, and we would like to help stake the Jewish People's claim to this land."

Grains of Sand, an innocently-told account of a suspended dream amidst continued hopes for Redemption, is published by Mazo Publishers and available at and Barnes & Noble.

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