As the last of the Israeli troops in southern Lebanon hurriedly completed their withdrawal Tuesday night — just 48 hours after they began — Baruch Peretz and his four young daughters slept in their bomb shelter in Kiryat Shemona while their mother in Manhattan worried whether they were right to move to the northern Israeli town four months ago.
“I have horrible thoughts,” said Tami Peretz. “Is it correct to raise kids there? Just 10 minutes away from Kiryat Shemona kids are not suffering.”
As Ehud Barak flies to the U.S. this weekend for meetings with President Clinton and American Jewish leaders, the Israeli prime minister leaves behind a tumultuous series of events that underscore the surreal quality of the peace process.
As Israelis honored their war dead Tuesday and celebrated their independence the next day, the bitter divisions that have pitted Israelis against Arabs, and Israelis against each other, continued to surface.
As preparations were made for a new round of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks beginning Sunday in the Israeli southern port city of Eilat, upbeat statements from both sides did little to mask an undertone of pessimism.
“There is absolutely no delay in the deadlines,” Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat said Sunday, referring to the May deadline to hammer out a framework of a permanent peace treaty in September.
Northern Israel came under attack Wednesday from Hezbollah terrorists who fired several Katyusha rockets over the border from positions in southern Lebanon. It was an apparent attempt to avenge the deaths of a Lebanese soldier and civilian killed in three days of massive Israeli air attacks against Hezbollah positions and suspected armed Palestinian camps close to the Syrian border.
In another surprise that has come to symbolize Middle East peace talks, Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat met at midweek and announced another “breakthrough” — the restarting of talks that have been stalled for weeks. The move came after both Barak and Israeli Foreign Minister David Levy had expressed doubts about achieving peace with the Palestinians and Syrians this year.
Instead of having a messenger take an X-ray from one end of the hospital to the other earlier this month, technicians at Soroka University Medical Center of the Negev used an internal computer network to effect the transfer.
“We are one of the most advanced hospitals in Israel because of this,” said Dr. Shlomo Mor-Yosef, the hospital’s director general. “Our whole hospital is wired — 1,000 beds spread over 75 acres. Every departments is now connected.”
Sparked by fund-raising events nationwide, the State of Israel Bonds drive to attract individual buyers rather than institutional investors is paying dividends. Last year, 95,000 Jews purchased a total of $600 million in bonds, compared with about 55,000 in 1997. Banks, meanwhile, bought only $31 million last year — 3.4 percent of the $920 million sold — after purchasing $300 million two years earlier. Pension funds and city and state governments bought the rest last year.
With figures indicating that as many as one-fourth of immigrants to Israel from the former Soviet Union are not Jewish, the government of Israel is about to embark on a program to teach prospective immigrants Hebrew, Israeli culture and Judaism.
“These are courses in Judaism, they are not for conversion,” said Rabbi Michael Melchior, Israel’s minister for Israeli Society and Jewish Communities. “Of course, there may be some non-Jews who might wish to continue their studies for the purpose of conversion once they are in Israel.”
This was to have been the weekend Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak was to meet with Palestinian President Yasir Arafat to sign the framework of a peace treaty. Instead, it was a week that saw Palestinians break off further peace talks and that found Barak in northern Israeli bomb shelters, commiserating with Israelis ordered there for fear of a Hezbollah rocket attack from Lebanon.
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