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Bill Introduced Allocating Land to IDF Veterans


Moshe Matalon (Yisrael Beiteinu) introduced a bill that would allocate free land to IDF veterans in national priority areas. The bill comes on the wake of the Supreme Court decision blocking a similar initiative by the Israel Lands Administration.

According to the bill "The Israel Lands Administration will allocate land for veterans of military service in the IDF or national service for the construction of residential communities within the National Priority Areas A or B. Land will be given free of charge." Matalon explained that the goal is to reward those who served their country and to develop the peripheral areas like the Negev and the Galilee.

Report: Hamas Agrees to Deport 123 Prisoners in Shalit Deal


As part of the negotiations on a prisoner exchange with Israel, Hamas has agreed to the deportation of 123 Palestinian prisoners from the West Bank to a number of destinations, Lebanese daily Al-Mustaqbal quoted Palestinian sources as saying Wednesday.

According to the report, the Palestinian prisoners slated for deportation have given their consent to the Israeli demand. If carried out, the deal would see hundreds of Palestinian prisoners released by Israel in exchange for IDF soldier Gilad Shalit, who was kidnapped into Gaza on June 25, 2006.

The Palestinian sources said Israel is demanding to deport 97 of the prisoners to the Gaza Strip, more than 20 others to Qatar and the rest to a number of European countries that have expressed a willingness to receive them.

The sources said Israel's refusal to release nine prominent Palestinian prisoners, including former Fatah Secretary-General in the West Bank Marwan Barghouti and Popular Front Secretary-General Ahmad Saadat, remains an obstacle to the deal's completion.

Last week the London-based al-Sharq al-Awsat newspaper quoted a Palestinian source as saying, "The prominent Hamas prisoners jailed in Israel, with Abbas al-Sayyad, Ibrahim Hamed, Abdel Nasser Issa, and Abdallah Barghouti figuring most notably amongst them, believe that this deal is their only hope for release and that leaving their names out will devalue it."

A delegation of senior Hamas figures in Gaza is expected to travel to Damascus on Thursday for meetings with the Islamist group's exiled leadership, during which the group will apparently formulate a final response to the Israeli offer.

Vatican Responds to Jewish Fury on Move to Beatify Pius XII


The Vatican made an effort Wednesday to calm the fury of European Jewry over its declaration last Saturday to resume the process of moving a controversial World War II pontiff towards the status of sainthood. The statement emphasized that the efforts to advance the beatification of Pope Pius XII is not intended to block Catholic-Jewish dialogue and should not been seen as such.

European Jewry is furious at the Vatican over the announcement that Pius had been moved a step closer to being declared a saint in the Catholic Church. The beatification had been stopped in 2008, after Jewish groups protested that Pius XII had never made a clear statement denouncing the extermination of millions of Jews, and did not even do so after the war.

Pope Benedict XVI formally announced that Pius XII had showed "heroic virtues" throughout his life and called him a "Christian worthy of imitation." The statement is the final declaration that precedes beatification, the last step before canonization, or sainthood. Benedict was a teenager and then became a young priest during the time Pius XII reigned as pope, from 1939 to 1958.

The president of the European Jewish Congress, Moshe Kantor, called the statement a "major slap in the face of the memory of the Holocaust."

Kantor warned that the issue would raise the ire of Jewish communities around the world on many levels. "This is not just about Catholic-Jewish relations, but about the abuse of Holocaust memory and history," he said. He added that "many major scholars contend that Pius did little to save the Jews and ignored their plight during one of the darkest chapters in human history."

The Vatican responded to Kantor's statement with one of its own Wednesday, claiming that its move to declare Pius XII a saint was not a hostile act against the Jewish people.

The statement released by Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi argued that the decree should not be an obstacle to dialogue between Jews and the Catholic Church. The announcement was seen as an attempt to avoid a heated debate ahead of Pope Benedict's first visit to Rome's synagogue next month.

Lombardi added that Pius's intention was "to do the best possible" and that his "concern for the fate of Jews… was documented and recognized by many Jews" after the war.

European Jewish leaders have asked the Vatican to fulfill his own earlier call to research the archives and study Pius's background more deeply before proceeding with further moves towards sainthood for the controversial pontiff.

The Vatican claims the archives will show that Pius did much to help the Jews during World War II but worked quietly behind the scenes because direct intervention might have worsened the situation for both Jews and Catholics.

However, the archives have remained closed to scholars, with the Vatican claiming the massive number of documents as the reason for the delay in allowing entry to researchers, according to Reuters.

Captain of 'Exodus 1947' Dies


Yitzchak "Ike" Aharonovitch, captain of the SS Exodus 1947, passed away Wednesday. He was 86 years old. The Exodus was the most famous of the pre-state sea voyages bringing immigrants to the Land of Israel in defiance of the embargo placed on Jewish immigration by the British occupation at the time.

Aharonovitch, who died after an extended illness, will be buried on Friday in the cemetery of Kibbutz Givat Chaim, in northern Israel. He is survived by two daughters, seven grandchildren and a great-grandson.

The German-born Aharonovitch made Aliyah (immigrated) to pre-state Israel with his family in 1932. After getting caught trying to sneak into Turkey to join the Red Army in its fight against Nazi Germany, Aharonovitch became a professional sailor back in Haifa. He then joined the efforts by the pre-state underground to bring Jewish immigrants to the Land of Israel from Nazi-besieged Europe, despite strict British quotas on Jewish immigration to what was then the Palestine Mandate.

Even after the end of World War II, the British occupiers of the Land of Israel maintained a strict limitation on the numbers of Jews let into the country. To fight this ongoing embargo, Aharonovitch captained a ship obtained in Maryland, that was ultimately renamed the SS Exodus 1947 by its 4,500 passengers, most of whom were Holocaust survivors.

The ship was seized by the British Navy off the coast of Israel, a battle ensued in which three people were killed, and the vessel was returned to Europe. The dramatic confrontation between the British and Jewish Holocaust survivors attempting to set foot on their ancient homeland made headline news at the time. After Israel gained independence, the story of the Exodus eventually inspired a book by American writer Leon Uris and a film starring Paul Newman, both of which were named after the ship itself.

Within one year of the famed, and failed, attempt by the passengers of the Exodus to make Aliyah, over half of them continued their efforts to break the British embargo on immigrants and reach their homeland. Aharonovitch, too, went on to captain another large illegal immigration vessel dubbed Kibbutz Galuyot, "Ingathering of the Exiles".

After the War of Independence, Aharonovitch continued his pre-state vocation as a sailor. He eventually moved to Zichron Yaakov and built himself a house in the shape of ship.

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