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Hundreds of Palestinians Begin Hunger Strike in Israeli Prisons

By YnetNews.com

Hundreds of Palestinians in Israeli prisons launched a hunger strike Monday, in what their leader behind bars called a new step in the Palestinians' "long walk to freedom." The hunger strike was led by Marwan Barghouti, a prominent figure in Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah movement. Over the years, polls have indicated that Barghouti is the most popular choice among Palestinians to succeed the 82-year-old Abbas, who has failed to groom a political heir.

Activists said more than 1,500 of about 6,500 Palestinians held by Israel as security prisoners joined the open-ended protest and that it was the largest such strike in five years. The hunger strikers' immediate demands included better conditions, including more contact with relatives, an end to solitary confinement, and an end to Israel's practice of detentions without trial for some 500 Palestinians.

The strikers also want better medical treatment and that disabled inmates or those suffering chronic illness be freed, access to more television channels and more phone contact with relatives and more family visits.

Barghouti was arrested by Israel in 2002 for his role in a violent Palestinian uprising against Israel and is serving multiple life terms. He is one of the best-known among thousands of Palestinians jailed for charges ranging from stone-throwing and membership in groups outlawed by Israel, to attacks that wounded or killed Israelis.

In an op-ed published in The New York Times, Barghouti wrote that Israeli prisons have become the "cradle of a lasting movement for Palestinian self-determination. This new hunger strike will demonstrate once more that the prisoners' movement is the compass that guides our struggle, the struggle for Freedom and Dignity, the name we have chosen for this new step in our long walk to freedom," he wrote.

Israel denies Palestinian inmates are mistreated, and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said the Barghouti-led protest was "prompted by internal Palestinian politics and therefore includes unreasonable demands." The Israeli Foreign Ministry said in a statement, "The Palestinian prisoners are not political prisoners. They are convicted terrorists and murderers. They were brought to justice and are treated properly under international law."

The Israeli Prison Service said Monday morning that disciplinary measures had been taken against the strikers, most of them Fatah members, and some of them had been transferred to separate divisions. The IPS commented, "We have a lot of experience in dealing with hunger strikes, and have the capability and means to cope and contain them. We are not negotiating with the prisoners. We prepared in advance for the possibility of a strike, in coordination with other bodies, including the IDF, the Ministry of Health, COGAT, the Shin Bet, the police and others."

Abbas and his supporters seek a Palestinian state, roughly in the pre-1967 lines. The Islamic terrorist group Hamas, which seized Gaza from Abbas in 2007, has called for an Islamic state in a state that would include what is now Israel. Hamas recently suggested it would support a smaller Palestine state, without specifying if this would be a stepping stone to Israel's destruction.

In the West Bank town of Ramallah, Barghouti's wife, Fadwa, joined about 1,500 marchers. "This massive strike sends a strong message to the Israelis, after 50 years of occupation, suppression and oppression, that the prisoners … will lead their people from behind bars," she said.

Qadoura Fares, who runs the Prisoners' Club advocacy group, said over 1,500 prisoners joined the strike and that more were expected to follow. In 2012, hundreds participated in a large-scale strike that lasted 28 days, said Fares. In 2014, dozens of detainees who were being held without trial or charges staged a two-month-long hunger strike to demand their release.

Abbas released a Prisoners' Day greeting and called the prisoners in Israeli jails "heroes." He stressed that efforts would continue to ensure their release and end their suffering, and he made it clear that the issue of prisoners would always be central to the Palestinian people and its leadership.

The Palestinian leader called on the international community "to intervene quickly and save the lives of hunger-striking Palestinian prisoners." He warned of the worsening situation because of Israel's "stubbornness and its refusal to comply with the just humanitarian demands of the prisoners." However, he refrained from mentioning Marwan Barghouti by name.

Sinai Clashes Erupt Between Bedouin Tribes and ISIS Terrorists

By YnetNews.com

Three people were injured in clashes between ISIS terrorists and local tribes in the Sinai Peninsula in a fight that began when ISIS shot at a truck smuggling cigarettes, Egyptian security officials said Monday. The officials stated that ISIS launched RPG attacks on Sunday in their stronghold around the city of Rafah in response to the kidnapping of three ISIS fighters by local tribes.

The unrest started when the terrorists shot at a truck smuggling cigarettes into the area, where ISIS imposes a strict version of Islamic law that prohibits the sale of tobacco, tribal sources said. The government officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to brief the media. The tribal sources requested anonymity for fear of reprisal. The incident marks an escalation in tension between the two sides over the imposition of Islamic Law in northern Sinai.

Last month, female teachers commuting from the region's urban center, El-Arish, to Rafah reported being stopped by ISIS twice in one week and were asked not to take the road without a male relative in compliance with Islamic law. Locals said the militants had previously intercepted trucks carrying cigarettes and punished passengers with flogging.

Northern Sinai residents have been caught in a violent battle between militant ISIS groups that have expanded their activity in the Peninsula since the removal of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi in 2013 and security forces waging war against them. They have beheaded locals accused of collaboration with authorities and recently stepped up their attacks against the peninsula's Coptic Christian minority, forcing hundreds to flee following a string of killings in the city of Arish in February.

X-Men Artist Fired Over Anti-Semitic Messages Hiffen in Comic Book Art

By The Jerusalem Post

Former Marvel illustrator Ardian Syaf stated that his "career is over" after leaving secret messages embedded within the artwork of the first issue of the comic book X-Men: Gold, some of which readers are calling anti-Semitic, anti-Christian and pro-Islamist.

Syaf, a resident of Indonesia, referenced numerous political and religious messages in the comic book's artwork and was quoted as saying that "when Jews are offended, there is no mercy" by the Indonesian news site Coconuts Jakarta.

Within the first issue of X-Men: Gold, the artist emblazoned QS: 5:51, or Quranic Surah 5:51, on the shirt of X-Men character Colossus. This verse has been used by hardliner Islamists to discourage Muslims from voting for non-Muslims and is considered by many to be anti-Semitic.

The verse reads, according to the Sahih International translation: "O you who have believed, do not take the Jews and the Christians as allies. They are [in fact] allies of one another. And whoever is an ally to them among you - then indeed, he is [one] of them. Indeed, Allah guides not the wrongdoing people."

Syaf also referenced the November 2016 Jakarta protests (also known as "defending the Quran protests") against then Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama for alleged blasphemy of the Quran, by usage of the movement's code 212.

Within the same issue, the former comic book artist inserted the work "Jewelry" next to the Jewish character Kitty Pryde, though her head conspicuously cuts off part of the word. Marvel issued a statement announcing that Syaf's contract had been terminated.

"The mentioned artwork in X-Men Gold #1 was inserted without knowledge behind its reported meanings," Marvel said. "These implied references do not reflect the views of the writer, editors or anyone else at Marvel and are in direct opposition of the inclusiveness of Marvel Comics and what the X-Men have stood for since their creation. This artwork will be removed from subsequent printings, digital versions, and trade paperbacks."

The artist has taken to social media in attempt to defend his actions, stating that he wanted to insert the messages out of his love for the Quran and Allah while promoting "justice" and "love." Context for non-Indonesians on Ardian Syaf's Facebook post: The 212 movement is indeed peaceful, if you call the Nuremberg rally as peaceful

The Jews of Cuba

By The Jerusalem Post

On a quiet, tree-lined street of Havana's Vedado, residential neighborhood just steps away from the sea, one may come across a simple yet striking construction. A dozen yellow-brownish marble steps lead to a large blue gate, symmetrically decorated with tarnished gold symbols including two menorahs. The building is topped with a high arch, in the center of which is a Star of David.

Next door, behind a white wrought-iron gate is the Jewish community center, where in a narrow office, a few people have made it their mission to sustain Jewish life for a community estimated at only 1,400 in the Communist-ruled Caribbean island.

"It's a small but a vibrant community," center president Adela Dworin told The Jerusalem Post. Dworin, a short woman in her 80s with a big sense of humor and a distinct Yiddish accent, was born and raised in Havana. Her parents came to Cuba from Poland, like many Jews during the period between the world wars, as pogroms were taking place in Eastern Europe.

"They wanted to go to America, to the US," she explained, sitting behind her dark wooden desk, crammed with piles of paper and pictures. "But then, it was very difficult to get American citizenship and Cuba accepted immigrants, so they thought they would stay here a short time and then they would get to the US." However, what was supposed to have been a temporary home became a permanent one for Dworin's family, as was the case for many others, who eventually set up communal life on the island.

They enjoyed freedom of religion and were welcomed as immigrants. By the 1950s, there were some 15,000 to 25,000 Jews in Cuba. After the revolution in 1959, atheism was declared the official religion of the state and 90% of the Jews simply left to neighboring countries. The new law caused many to stay away from synagogues, especially if they wished to become members of the Communist Party.

Things changed again in the 1990s with the collapse of the Soviet Union. The Cuban government rewrote its constitution and decided to define Cuba as a country without religion. This allowed the Jewish community to resume their practices freely.

There is only one kosher butcher shop in all of Cuba, located in Old Havana. Jews are able to go to the shop and claim their monthly ration of meat there, as the food distribution system in Cuba requires.

"Well, it's a little difficult, but you don't starve," Dworin said with a smile, her eyes covered by lightly tinted glasses. "You have rice and beans and sometime you can get a live chicken from the farmer. I take it to the shohet, who performs the slaughter. "We have about two pounds of kosher meat a month," she explained.

The size of the community has also brought about a high rate of intermarriages, Dworin pointed out, and such couples are welcomed at the synagogue. "We accept children from non-Jewish mothers but Jewish fathers and we give seminars to those who are linked to a Jew," Dworin said.

But many of the struggles that the community faces are the struggles faced by Cubans in general and come down to money. Like the general population, Jews in Cuba live in poverty. Under Communist rule, there are two currencies in Cuba: the regular peso, used by locals, and the peso convertible, largely used by visitors, for which the exchange rate is one dollar per peso convertible.

Much of the supplies the Jewish community needs, Dworin explained, cannot be bought in regular pesos. This includes powdered milk or adult diapers for the seniors, who make up 20% of the community. Unless they have enough funds from donations, or they are sent from abroad, Beth Shalom does not have access to these items.

Recently, the synagogue was finally able to repair the hole in its roof, which had been leaking for a while, through a donation as well. But beyond these practical needs, the financial situation sometimes affects Jewish life itself in Cuba. "Because we are a very poor community, we cannot afford to maintain a rabbi," Dworin said. "A rabbi is not like a priest; he comes with his wife and children." Instead, the synagogue hosts a rabbi once every few months, who shows members of the community how to lead services, funerals and more.

Some Jewish federations and organizations from the US and Canada help sustain the community. One of them is the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, which has been actively and continuously involved since the early 1990s.

The process of making aliyah, however, may come with more difficulty for Cuban nationals than for others. Due to the lack of diplomatic relations, Israel does not have an embassy in Cuba. In order to start the aliyah process, Cuban Jews use the Canadian embassy, which serves as an intermediary.

David Prinstein, Dworin's right hand and vice president of the community, told the Post that Jews in Cuba would generally like to see the two countries interact. "I love Cuba because I am Cuban and because of the quality of life here, which deserves to be recognized, and I love Israel because it's my other half, the other land that we belong to," he explained in Spanish. "I feel like a son in a divorced family where the parents don't talk or understand each other enough and the son isn't sure where to look."

NASA Releases New Satellite Images of the Earth at Night

By YnetNews.com

This week, the US space agency released stunning new images of the Earth taken by satellite at night, showing artificial lighting clusters, which often called "night lights." Israel lives up to its moniker as a `light unto the nations,' shining brightly in an image that also shows an illuminated Nile river and Lebanese coast. The small Jewish state is nearly entirely illuminated, as are cities alongside the coast of the Nile in Egypt.


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