Friday 30 November 2007

Israel's Latest Conflict: Paying for Higher Education

Universities are roiled by strikes as the government wrestles with how to finance a strapped system

From the issue dated November 30, 2007



The founders of the modern state of Israel considered higher education to be so important that they established the country's first two universities long before the country itself came into existence in 1948.

Today Israel's higher-education system is in crisis, brought to a standstill twice this year alone by student and faculty strikes over tuition, salaries, and controversial government reform programs.

In the past six years, the government has slashed its higher-education budget by 20 percent even as student numbers have soared. Consecutive governments, along with some heavyweight thinkers, have offered conflicting visions of the future: One group imagines an American-style system in which students shoulder a large proportion of their educational expenses, while another argues that the country's vitality rests on its intellectual capital and thus the government should support higher education generously. As the debate rages, many academics here fear that the People of the Book have lost the plot.

"When the university started in 1925 it was one of the crowns of the Zionist venture, a major event," says Menachem Magidor, president of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. "We're doing world-class research and we've created a world-class institution. But the running of the university is not fulfilling a national mission anymore. Now the feeling that I'm getting from the attitude of the government and the public is that it's in some sense my private business, my private ambition."

According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Israeli government spending on higher education in relation to the number of students, GDP, and population growth fell from one of the highest among developed nations to one of the lowest between 1998 and 2007. Today it ranks near the bottom; only Greece is lower.

Meanwhile, tuition, which is regulated by the government, was the sixth highest among the 23 nations reviewed by the OECD in 2005, despite a 25-percent cut in tuition five years earlier.

Mr. Magidor says his university has coped with shrinking government support by expanding class sizes and reducing staff. Some classes have grown from a maximum of 25 to a maximum of 40 students. Building maintenance has been deferred because that budget has shrunk by 30 percent. Student papers are no longer graded regularly each week because the university isn't able to hire enough graduate students to help with the task.

"Definitely, the students feel it," Mr. Magidor says. "The quality of the education is declining. There is less attention to the individual student."

Such belt-tightening has not yet had an effect on some key measures of academic quality. Gideon Czapski, a retired chemistry professor at the Hebrew University, publishes an annual report that shows Israeli scientists consistently at or near the top of world rankings of articles published and cited across a range of fields, including computer science and economics. He agrees that the budget cuts are affecting standards, but says it is too early for the problems to show up in statistical analyses.

"Let's assume that the crisis is due to a shortage of funds for equipment and for hiring young new people," says Mr. Czapski. "The majority of people in the universities are still there and the equipment is still operating, so there clearly will be a delay before it shows in the indices."

Immigration and Intifada

The roots of the current crisis can be traced back to the early 1990s, when the rapid immigration of more than one million Jews from the former Soviet Union fueled a sudden demand for higher education.

The government authorized the establishment of a network of colleges to absorb the new students. The number of undergraduates across Israel leaped from 92,530 in 1995 to 155,895 in 2004. Fifty percent of young Israelis now attend college, up from about 30 percent in the mid 1980s.

At first the government matched higher student enrollments with more money, but then new economic policies were introduced by the Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu, who served as prime minister from 1996 to 1999 and then as finance minister from 2003 to 2005.

Mr. Netanyahu encouraged the privatization of publicly owned companies and cut government spending, including spending on education.

The Labor government of Ehud Barak, prime minister from 1999 to 2001, appointed a commission to look at college tuition. That commission recommended cutting the fees in half. The government agreed in 2000 to cut tuition by 25 percent, planning to make up for that lost revenue by returning government support to earlier levels.

But the second intifada broke out in September 2000, freezing all new spending. Mr. Barak lost a general election, and Mr. Netanyahu refused to restore government financing, a decision he had the power to make when he became finance minister. Colleges and universities were thus hit by a double blow: shrinking tuition revenue and less government support.

Over the next few years, university leaders grew frustrated and lobbied for either a restoration of government support or permission to raise tuition.

Against that backdrop, a government-appointed committee was formed in 2006 to consider a wholesale reform of higher education. A report last July by that panel, led by the former finance minister Avraham Shochat, recommended raising tuition by 74 percent, from $2,125 to $3,700; introducing a student-loan system; and restoring the government support cut during Mr. Netanyahu's administration.

The report triggered widespread student protests and has lain on the shelf ever since.

Different Visions

Today, Israel's most influential thinkers on higher education are divided over how best to strengthen the system.

Gury Zilkha, an economist who served as a senior official in Israel's Council for Higher Education, was the main technical adviser to the Shochat Committee.

"Israel is more or less going toward the Anglo-Saxon model," he says, "which is not to depend totally on government funding, to give the students a reasonable increase in tuition fees and decide on compensation schemes for funding the students so those that are on a low socioeconomic background will be able to participate in the system. Then we plan on creating a multilayer higher-education system, which consists of elite universities, colleges, and community colleges."

But Rabbi Michael Melchior, chairman of the Knesset's Education Committee and a minister in the Barak government that approved the tuition cuts, says the Shochat proposals are unworkable and will deter, not encourage, students from low-income families who seek to enroll in college.

Most students, he notes, enter college after three years of army service, many already married and needing to work to support young families. These students won't want to take out loans because they won't want to burden themselves with debt at that stage in their lives, Rabbi Melchior argues. He says the government should simply put back the money it took out six years ago, instead of taking it from students.

"Israel is not a poor country," he says. "We have zero deficit in the state budget. We have a surplus. These are the years we could use it to really create an educational foundation for the next 10, 20, or 30 years. And we're just blowing it."

One prospective leader says he'll restore government contributions if he gets into office. Avishay Braverman served until last year as president of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, in Beersheba. During his 16-year tenure he saw enrollments double, to 17,000. A former division head at the World Bank and an internationally renowned economist, he was elected last year as a member of the Knesset with the avowed intention of becoming prime minister.

Mr. Braverman says it is time to reorder Israel's national priorities, with education at the top. "Israel is not America," he says. "This is the mistake of the officials in the Finance Ministry who don't understand. For small amounts of money, for a couple of hundred million shekels, they have diminished the honor and respect of the academics."

"The economic payback is clear," he adds. "For me what distinguishes Israel is not the physical survival of Jews in a troubled land surrounded by a billion Muslims. It's the creation of something unique. It's something to do with values of justice, of solidarity and the highest regard for education, for culture. This is what was the essence of the Jew ­ the People of the Book."

For now, the book remains firmly closed. The start of the academic year has been delayed for a month by a continuing strike by senior faculty members, and university officials are warning that the entire year might be lost. The attention of Ehud Olmert, the present prime minister, is focused on peace talks, the threat of an Iranian nuclear bomb, and a raft of personal corruption scandals.

University reform has slipped down the national agenda, and no one seems to know how this story will end.
Section: International
Volume 54, Issue 14, Page A27 In

Tuesday 27 November 2007

Palestinian Authority prepares for war - with Hamas

Officials fear Gaza-like takeover in land Fatah controls

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Matthew Kalman, Chronicle Foreign Service

Ramallah, West Bank -- Few Palestinian Authority officials are
expecting anything concrete to emerge from this week's Middle East
peace talks in Annapolis, Md. Instead, the talk is of war.

But the primary enemy for many Palestinians is no longer Israel - it
is Hamas. Since Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip by force in June,
supporters of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah
movement have been arrested, humiliated and tortured there by Hamas
security forces. Several have been killed, according to the
Palestinian Center for Human Rights and other agencies.

Many Palestinians fear that Hamas could stage a similar coup in the
West Bank, where Fatah retains control. The rival factions always have
disagreed over policy toward Israel, with Hamas refusing to recognize
the Jewish state's right to exist while Fatah favors peace talks. As
Fatah seeks to negotiate an end to decades of fighting, its supporters
fear that Hamas and its allies risk a civil war that will condemn the
Palestinian people to permanent conflict.

To combat the threat, the Palestinian Authority has created an elite
new counterterror unit. Officers from the unit are currently attending
a monthlong training course in Moscow hosted by counterterror experts
from Russian intelligence.

The new Al Himaya Wal Isnad (Protection and Reinforcement) unit is
commanded by Anwar Al Hilu, a senior commander in the Palestinian
General Intelligence service headed by Tawfiq Tirawi.

A group of 25 General Intelligence officers left for Moscow via Jordan
in the last week of October after several days of physical training
and medical tests at a facility in Jericho. In an interview, one of
the Palestinian officers said the 30-day course includes weapons
training with live fire and computer simulators, exercises in VIP
protection, rescuing hostages from terrorists and simulating the
arrest of armed suspects in buildings and in vehicles.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the officer said the course was
held at a snow-covered training facility next to Domodedovo Airport on
the southern outskirts of Moscow. He said the instructors were
attached to the elite Russian anti-terrorist Alpha commando unit which
has fought extremist Muslim Chechen rebels. An official from the
Palestinian Embassy in Moscow acted as translator.

"We were shown the video of the Moscow theater siege in October 2002
where Alpha pumped in gas to put everyone to sleep," said the officer.
"They admitted that it had been a mistake because so many of the
hostages died after swallowing their own tongues while unconscious."

Another officer in the new unit said on condition of anonymity that
similar courses are being held in France, Germany and Algeria, and
there are plans to send some 200 Palestinian security personnel abroad
for training each month.

"We are learning how to confront Hamas, they are the greatest threat
to the Palestinian Authority," this officer said.

"They are getting good training over there," said Dr. Ibrahim
Khraishi, an assistant minister at the Palestinian Ministry of Foreign
Affairs. "They will return with the knowledge they need, waiting to
start work. ... We have well-trained cadres. They are trained not just
in Russia but in different countries, Arab countries and European

The courses are being held outside the West Bank to distinguish them
from the unarmed civilian police training provided in Jericho by
European Union and American experts.

Colin Smith, a former British police official who now heads EUCOPPS,
the European Union support program for the Palestinian police in
Ramallah, said he is aware of the groups being sent to Moscow and
elsewhere, but his work is confined to the Palestinian civil police

"We don't touch that at all, we don't deal with firearms or weapons.
This is arranged by the Palestinians themselves through bilateral
contacts with Russia and others," Smith said.

Tensions between Fatah and Hamas have been simmering since the Islamic
movement took control of the Gaza Strip in June. Those tensions boiled
over two weeks ago when eight Fatah supporters were gunned down at a
rally in Gaza.

A cell phone video clip currently being passed among Palestinians
denounces "Hamas crimes" in Gaza. Warning viewers of explicit images,
it compares Hamas' execution of Fatah leaders to the treatment of
Palestinian suspects by the Israelis. "Forgive us, oh martyr, have we
descended to these depths?" the clip pleads of Samih El-Madhoun, a
Fatah leader lynched in Gaza in July by Hamas gunmen.

Two weeks ago, Abbas made his first explicit call for the overthrow of
Hamas, describing the group as "a criminal gang killing people in cold

"We have to bring down this bunch that took over Gaza with armed
force, and is abusing the sufferings and pains of our people," Abbas
said in a speech to mark Palestinian independence day.

Palestinian officials have not explained how Fatah might regain Gaza.
The accepted wisdom is that Abbas cannot be seen to retake Gaza by
relying on Israeli military support. But many Fatah supporters say
they cannot overcome Hamas without Israeli intervention and are coming
to see it as a lesser evil.

One of the Al Himaya Wal Isnad officers said there is endless
speculation among his colleagues that they might be sent to secure
control of the territory.

"We talk about an Israeli invasion of Gaza all the time," said the
officer. "Of course we are training for the day after Israel cuts
Hamas in half and then we can go in and clean up. We know this will
happen, but we haven't been told anything officially.

"We want to go in there and restore the authority of Abu Mazen," he
said, using Abbas' nom de guerre. "We're just waiting for the signal."

This article appeared on page A - 15 of the San Francisco Chronicle

Monday 19 November 2007

Ex-Brooklyn rabbi Avrohom Mondrowitz faces extradition to U.S. on kid-sex rap

Monday, November 19th 2007


JERUSALEM - A Jerusalem magistrate Sunday ordered a former Brooklyn rabbi accused of raping several boys 20 years ago to jail while American and Israeli officials finalize a U.S. request for his extradition.

Avrohom Mondrowitz, a father of seven, faces extradition to stand trial in New York to answer a 1985 indictment on four counts of sodomy and eight counts of sexual abuse in the first degree.

Mondrowitz, 60, once a popular child psychologist and youth counselor in Borough Park, allegedly sodomized the boys after befriending them or after taking them on trips to the movies and amusement parks.

The U.S. extradition request, resubmitted in September after a change in the treaty between the U.S. and Israel, was delayed after one of the five complainants withdrew from the case.

The U.S. Justice Department is expected to file an amended request this week.

Mondrowitz was arrested early Friday morning at his Jerusalem home and arraigned the same day.

Judge Shimon Feinberg, vice president of the Jerusalem Magistrates' Court, found that Mondrowitz was a possible candidate for extradition and rejected defense arguments that the statute of limitations applied to the offenses, even though they were allegedly committed more than 20 years ago.

Feinberg granted a prosecution request to extend Mondrowitz's imprisonment until Nov. 27 after the prosecution told the court that an Israeli police raid on Mondrowitz's home in May had netted four pedophile movies.

Mondrowitz is due to appear in court again Nov. 27, when Feinberg will decide whether to extend his jailing until the end of the extradition proceedings, which could take several months.

Mondrowitz's wife, Raizel, declared his innocence.

"People can come up 25 years later and say all kinds of things about anybody. No one's had any complaints about him for the last 25 years. This is all old stuff," she said.

Sunday 18 November 2007

Israel offers U.S. doctors training in emergency response


Dr. Raymond Rappaport of Redwood City participates in a drill during an emergency medicine course in Tel Hashomer, Israel. Photo by David Blumenfeld, special to the Chronicle

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Matthew Kalman, Chronicle Foreign Service

Tel Hashomer, Israel -- It wasn't a normal day for Raymond Rappaport, a veteran primary care doctor from Redwood City.

In the space of a few hours, he correctly diagnosed a postal worker suffering from anthrax poisoning and joined a team of emergency doctors to save the life of a young man with a gunshot wound to the chest. Then he entered a trauma room, covered from head to toe in a gas mask, biochemical suit and rubber gloves brandishing injectors filled with antidotes that counter nerve gas poisoning. He later worked on an unconscious patient who apparently had a seizure from a chemical attack.

Rappaport is one of 30 American doctors who recently participated in a grueling five-day course in emergency medicine hosted by Israeli civilian hospitals and military medics. On this day, the group visited the Israel Center for Medical Simulation, a state-of-the-art training center for emergency medicine at the Sheba Hospital in Tel Hashomer near Tel Aviv.

After each exercise, which was carried out using real equipment on electronic mannequins that breathed and spoke to them, the U.S. doctors watched a video playback and received feedback from Israel's top medical trainers.

"A lot of these things are not available in the United States. A lot of the medicine is different," said Rappaport. "They're up on the cutting edge of the latest technology."

As an example, he held a color-coded auto-injector that Israeli citizens use in case of a chemical weapons strike. Every Israeli is issued a gas mask and an auto-injector the size of a marker pen: white for age 10 and older, orange for age 2 to 10 and green for children under 2. The auto-injectors contain carefully calibrated doses of atropine and TMB4 that restimulate enzymes knocked out by nerve gas.

The U.S. doctors pointed out that the cocktail is not available in the United States because the Food and Drug Administration has not approved the combined dose and suggests victims of chemical weapons give themselves two separate injections.

"In Israel, we don't have the FDA so it's more useful for us to produce a combined auto-injector that has both atropine and TMB4," said instructor Arik Eisenkraft. "Why? Because we think that in case of attack it will be difficult for the casualty to understand and give himself several injections."

This no-nonsense approach impressed Rappaport.

"This is the way they get things done, the way they save lives without worrying about the bureaucracy," he said. "They go right to saving lives, making that the utmost No. 1 importance."

Rappaport, who was on his third professional trip to Israel, said he sees advances in emergency medicine with each visit.

"Americans have a lot to learn from the Israelis. Every American doctor should come on this course, so that they can be prepared and know what to do if these kind of attacks ever happen back home," he said.

Eisenkraft, a pediatrician, has been head of chemical and biological warfare medicine of the Israeli army medical corps for 10 years. He said Israelis take the threat of chemical warfare more seriously than Americans. During the 1991 Gulf War, Saddam Hussein pounded the Tel Aviv area with 39 Scud missiles. Many Israelis have prepared sealed rooms in case of a chemical or biological attack.

It's "more imminent and realistic, it's closer to us than to the United States. It's something we must know, practice and remember," said Eisenkraft. "America has great medical education, but only small groups in the Army know this stuff. Most physicians are not familiar with it."

The U.S. doctors also were introduced to Israeli strategies to deal with a sudden influx of people wounded in a mass-casualty disaster. Without planning, a rush of patients can paralyze a hospital, tying up vital equipment, Israeli doctors said. The Americans were shown how Israeli hospitals operate in groups coordinated with ambulance first-responders. Nonurgent cases are directed to other hospitals so trauma services are available for more serious cases.

Several American hospitals have adopted practices based on the Israeli model, according to Michael Frogel, chief of general pediatrics at Schneider Children's Hospital in New York.

But Israeli emergency medicine is not just about surgery.

Within minutes of a suicide bombing or another crisis, a central hot line handles inquiries from concerned families trying to locate their missing loved ones. The hot line provides updated information, including the cataloging of photographs and other details. Areas are allocated to those known as the walking wounded, victims who are suffering from shock, to keep the surgical staff and facilities free. Psychologists are called in to care for those with acute stress to prevent chronic post-traumatic stress disorder.

Solisis Lopez Deynes, a 31-year-old emergency physician at UC Irvine Medical Center, said the Israeli training had been an eye-opening experience.

"Emergency medicine here is very impressive," said Lopez Deynes, who plans to return to her native Puerto Rico to help develop emergency medical services there. "In Israel, they are dealing with emergency situations, war, explosions, suicide bombers that we don't have in the United States. So they know a lot about how to manage that, and they have to apply these techniques on a daily basis."

The Americans visited the headquarters of the Israeli army medical corps, where they joined medics training to treat serious battle injuries. They also met with emergency and disaster management experts and visited Sderot, a city of 22,000 residents that is within range of Palestinian homemade rockets. The city is under almost daily bombardment from Gaza militants.

This was the 10th training course organized by the American Physicians' Fellowship for Medicine in Israel. Frogel, who is vice president of the group, said more than 400 American doctors have acquired skills they can use back home, and some have volunteered to return to Israel during a state of emergency.

"Israel has the best system of dealing with mass casualty incidents. They have the world's finest expertise in these issues," Frogel said. "People are trying to achieve the same level of training that they have here."

This article appeared on page A - 17 of the San Francisco Chronicle

US and Israel 'face up to' Iran bomb

November 18, 2007

By Philip Sherwell in New York and Matthew Kalman in Jerusalem

America and Israel are secretly drawing up plans to deal with an Iran
that has acquired nuclear weapons, The Sunday Telegraph has learned.

Teheran's two arch-foes are preparing for what they have long declared
is an unacceptable scenario, as the prospects for air strikes to
cripple Iran's nuclear network fade, and China and Russia undermine
efforts to forge an international sanctions regime.

The United States and Israel are sticking publicly to their threats
not to allow the Islamic Republic to develop an atomic bomb. But
intelligence chiefs and military planners have given warning that Iran
has done better at hiding and dispersing its nuclear facilities than
previously assessed, this newspaper has been told.

The revelations come as the United Nations nuclear watchdog has
revealed that Iran has stepped up its production of enriched uranium,
and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad tightens his grip on Teheran's
nuclear programme by threatening domestic critics with treason

Pentagon strategists are updating US deterrence policies for a future
nuclear-armed Iran, even though ­ after the terrorist attack on New
York and Washington in 2001 ­ the Bush administration put a policy of
pre-emptive military action at the heart of national security policy.

"The more they looked at the intelligence and the information they
had, the more pessimistic they have become about what could be
achieved on the operational front by military action," said Dan Goure,
a Pentagon adviser. "Military strikes might only set the programme
back a couple of years, but the current thinking is that it is just
not worth the risks." A political rethink has also begun in Israel,
where security policy is linked to its status - never publicly
admitted - as the region's only nuclear state.

At a security cabinet meeting last weekend, Ehud Olmert, the prime
minister, told officials to draw up proposals for dealing with an Iran
that had built atomic weapons, according to leaks.

"First, we must make clear that this is a threat not just to Israel,
but to the wider world. Second, we must exhaustively consider all
preventive options. Third, we must anticipate the possibility of those
options not working," said Ami Ayalon, a security cabinet minister,
after the meeting.

Israel's air force trains for possible long-range raids, and bombed a
suspected nuclear site in Syria recently. But military chiefs face the
same intelligence problems as the US as well as refuelling
difficulties if they cannot fly over hostile Arab states to reach

Israel is believed to be equipping a fleet of German-made submarines
with atomic weapons ready to respond to any nuclear threat from
Teheran, and Ehud Barack, the defence minister, is keen to develop a
sophisticated ballistic anti-missile system.

Iran insists its nuclear programme is only for civilian energy
purposes, but the West and Israel say there is overwhelming
intelligence that it is pursuing an atomic bomb. Estimates of the
time-frame range from two to 10 years.

US hawks linked to Vice-President Dick Cheney have argued that a
co-ordinated aerial and submarine-launched bombardment could set
Iran's nuclear programme back by five to 10 years.

But Robert Gates, the US defence secretary, who has emerged as a White
House counterweight to Mr Cheney, has made concerns about possible
retaliation against US forces in Iraq a top priority.

Temple Mount discovery leads to dispute in Jerusalem

Workers dig out stones for repair on the plateau of the Temple Mount area, where ancient Israelite remains were reportedly found. Photo by David Blumenfeld, special to the Chronicle

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Matthew Kalman, Chronicle Foreign Service

Jerusalem -- Israeli archaeologists say that ancient remains from the era of Solomon's Temple were discovered last month for the first time on the holiest site for Judaism, reigniting a historical and political debate over an area that also is holy to Muslims.

While doing renovation at the famed Temple Mount, Israeli archaeologists discovered a sealed layer containing fragments of ceramic table vessels and animal bones. The items have been dated by Israeli scientists to the First Temple in the eighth century B.C. - roughly during the reign of the biblical King Hezekiah. The discovery includes fragments of bowl rims and bases, the base of a small jug used for ladling oil, the handle of a small jug and the rim of a storage jar. All are typical of Israelite vessels from that period, scientists say.

"These finds are important because it is the first time we have ever found a sealed archaeological level clearly dated to the First Temple period within the complex of the Temple Mount," said Jon Seligman, a senior archaeologist at the Israel Antiquities Authority. The group plans to present its findings to scientists in a series of seminars.

The Temple Mount is known not only for the First and Second temples, but also for the Western Wall, also known as the Wailing Wall, in reference to Jews mourning the destruction of the temple. Jews from all over the world come to pray by the wall.

But since the seventh century A.D., the Temple Mount has also been known to Muslims as the Haram Al-Sharif, or the Noble Sanctuary for the al-Aqsa Mosque and the golden-roofed Dome of the Rock, the latter where Muslim tradition says the prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven.

The discovery has met with skepticism from an archaeologist with Waqf, the Jordanian-controlled trust that manages the 36-acre compound. And it has not pleased some Muslim leaders, who regard the site as an exclusive Muslim preserve. Some have denied that the Jews ever built a temple there. Sheikh Ikrema Sabri, the former mufti of Jerusalem, recently told the Jerusalem Post that the temples of Solomon and Herod never existed.

"There was never a Jewish temple on al-Aqsa, and there is no proof that there was ever a temple," Sabri said. "Because Allah is fair, he would not agree to make al-Aqsa if there were a temple there for others beforehand."

Sabri also said the Western Wall, revered by Jews as the last remnant of a huge retaining barrier built by King Herod to support the vast plaza where the temple stood, has no historical significance for Jews.

"The wall is not part of the Jewish temple. It is just the western wall of the mosque," he said. "There is not a single stone with any relation at all to the history of the Hebrews."

Israel and the Palestinian Authority claim sovereignty over the site, which remains one of the most intractable problems delaying a settlement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, some analysts say. Waqf has religious, economic, administrative and some security control. But only Israeli police can enforce the law on the site.

A few months before he was elected prime minister in 2001, Ariel Sharon arrived with hundreds of police officers, declaring that the complex would remain under perpetual Israeli control. The following day, Palestinian demonstrators and Israeli police confronted each other at the site. The years of violence that followed became known as the al-Aqsa intifada.

The complex on the summit of Mount Moriah forms the southeast corner of the Old City of Jerusalem. The earliest reliable historical record by the Roman historian Josephus identified it as the location of King Herod's Temple. Jewish tradition says an earlier shrine planned by King David and built by his son, King Solomon, was the Temple Mount's first permanent structure.

But there had been no archaeological evidence to support the concept that ancient Israelites had been present - until now.

"We have many finds from the First Temple era from all over Jerusalem, but never from this site," Seligman said.

Last month, workers laying an electrical cable under the auspices of Waqf dug a trench about 300 yards long in the southeast corner of the site. When they checked the trench, inspectors from the Israel Antiquities Authority said they found the ancient fragments.

However, Yusif Natsheh, a Waqf archaeologist, disputed the findings.

"I was present throughout this work and neither I, nor any Waqf official, recall seeing these items in the trench," said Natsheh. "I only heard about them in the press, weeks after the work was finished. If they were found, then why were they taken outside the compound?"

Natsheh said the trench was less than 3 feet deep and wondered how the Israeli archaeologists could hit a layer dating back to the First Temple without first slicing through the Byzantine and Roman periods, which logically would be above them.

"All of this archaeology and science in Jerusalem is manipulated for different political attitudes," said Natsheh. "It is not archaeology, it is not history, it is just spoiled politics."

Seligman dismissed Natsheh's accusation as "outrageous. Categorically, 100 percent of these findings came from the Temple Mount, and we stake our reputation on that."

Professor Seymour Gittin, director of the W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research in East Jerusalem, said the discovery "definitely dates between the seventh and eighth centuries. They were pottery of the kind we normally associate with Israelite culture as distinct from the Moabite and other cultures close to Jerusalem at that time," he said.

Out of deference to Islamic shrines, very little archaeological research has been conducted on the mount. However, underground passageways beneath al-Aqsa show clear signs of Herodian decoration and link to a series of arched doorways in the southern wall that fit contemporary descriptions of the Roman-era entrance to Herod's Second Temple, most archaeologists agree.

Most archaeologists also agree that the Western Wall is typical of Herodian stonework, which can be seen at the shrine that Herod built over the Tombs of the Patriarchs in the West Bank town of Hebron - later transformed into the Al-Ibrahimi Mosque.

Meanwhile, the discovery has sparked anew the issue of who controls a site that is holy to Jews and Muslims.

Just this month, Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Avigdor Lieberman threatened to withdraw his right-wing Israel Beiteinu Party from the coalition government if the issue is even discussed at U.S.-sponsored peace talks planned by the end of the year between Israelis and Palestinians in Annapolis, Md.

This article appeared on page A - 17 of the San Francisco Chronicle

Saturday 17 November 2007

Ex-Brooklyn rabbi likely to be dragged back to Brooklyn to face kid-sex charges

Saturday, November 17th 2007


An Ex-Brooklyn rabbi accused of raping several boys more than 20 years
ago has been arrested in Israel and could finally face justice.

Avrohom Mondrowitz, 60, a married father of seven, could be headed
back to Brooklyn because a new agreement with the U.S. allows
extradition for the sodomy and sex abuse counts he faces from a 1985

"I don't see it as a moment for celebration," said Michael Lesher, who
represents six adult men who claim to have been abused by Mondrowitz.

"This is a moment of gratitude to victims who came forward, who were
willing to expose their pain."

Mondrowitz has a hearing in an Israeli court Sunday that could clear
the way for him to be returned to Brooklyn for trial.

The case was jump-started a few weeks ago after the U.S. and Israel
agreed to extradite suspects who face at least a year in prison.

Mondrowitz was once a popular child psychologist and youth counselor
in Borough Park, where he was especially well-known among
ultra-Orthodox Hasidic Jews.

He fled to Israel after several boys filed horrific complaints
claiming he sodomized them after befriending them or taking them to
amusement parks and movies.

Sometimes, he would rape them in his counseling office even as their
parents waited outside, the boys claimed.

"Finally, justice will prevail," said Rabbi Mark Dratch of J-SAFE, a
child-abuse prevention group.

Mondrowitz's wife insisted he would fight extradition.

"He's absolutely innocent," she said at their Jerusalem apartment.

Mondrowitz's case attracted controversy because critics claimed
District Attorney Joe Hynes put the explosive case on the back burner
under pressure from Hasidic community leaders. His office has
emphatically denied that charge and insisted it was pushing for a
legal way to try Mondrowitz.

Friday 16 November 2007

Israel Will Allow 6 Palestinian Students to Cross Border for Education

November 16, 2007

Jerusalem -- ­ Six Palestinian students denied permission to enter Israel in order to attend a higher-education institute have finally been granted entry permits on the orders of the Israeli Supreme Court. The students were victims of a blanket ban imposed by the Israeli army on all Palestinians applying for study at Israeli colleges.

After a yearlong delay, the Supreme Court this month rejected the army’s sweeping criteria and ordered the Israeli Government Coordinator of Activities in the occupied territories to review each Palestinian student’s application on an individual basis.

The six students had been admitted to the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, which is affiliated with Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, in the southern part of the country. The institute brings together Israeli, Palestinian, Jordanian, and other Arab students and academics to study regional environmental issues.

In the past, Israeli security officials have said that Palestinians wishing to enter that area of Israel require special permission because of various sensitive security installations nearby.

“We resubmitted our request for the permits immediately after the ruling, and reminded the coordinator of the Supreme Court decision,” said Michael Lehrer, the institute’s director. “I understand that they sent the names to Israeli security services to check that each person had no connection to any terrorist organizations. On Wednesday they called and told us all six permits had been granted.”

Mr. Lehrer said the students could decide whether they preferred to join the course now, with a third of the semester already passed, or to defer to the spring semester in the hope that permits for that period would be issued on time. ­ Matthew Kalman

Posted on Friday November 16, 2007 | Permalink |

Wednesday 14 November 2007

A Stem-Cell Prospect for Ailing Hearts

Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2007


Valentin Fulga dropped out of medicine twice to pursue more-challenging research, but now it looks as though his change of heart could result in saving the lives of thousands--perhaps millions--of cardiac patients. Dr. Fulga, 47, is the scientific brain behind a new treatment for heart disease that is exciting the medical world even though it has yet to undergo full clinical testing.

More than 60 people in need of heart transplants or major surgery have been treated using the new procedure. That's a small number, but the results are nonetheless stunning: all of them improved. That's why TheraVitae, the privately owned company set up by Fulga and his Thailand-based partner Robert Clark, is being hailed as a potential giant.

Fulga's treatment repairs damaged or inactive heart tissue using adult stem cells harvested from the patient's blood and processed outside the body by mimicking the body's environment. Unlike other stem-cell therapies, which make use of bone marrow or--more controversially in the U.S.--the blood of human embryos, Fulga believes the procedure patented by TheraVitae is simpler, safer and less invasive. "The patient is effectively treating himself with his own blood, so there is very little danger of rejection," says Fulga, an ophthalmologist. "It's the safest kind of stem cell you can get."

The procedure takes about a week, including the time needed to fly the blood to TheraVitae's laboratories in Israel. There, a small number of natural cells are exposed to conditions that normally occur inside the human body. The process causes the stem cells to multiply and differentiate into cells that restore damaged heart tissue. The final product, called VesCell, is then injected into the patient's heart, where it appears to trigger the body's natural healing mechanisms, helping the heart tissue recover some of its function.

"We don't actually know the basis of the science," Fulga cheerfully admits, but his research team knows it is on to something. Soon it plans to reveal other discoveries made during its research that Fulga believes will open the way for the use of stem-cell therapy in more areas.

The company treats patients in Bangkok, where medical standards are top-notch and interest in high-tech treatment and medical tourism is booming. The process costs about $30,000 per patient, plus physician's and travel expenses, but Fulga hopes the figure can be reduced to less than $10,000.

And it's good business. Fulga and his colleagues are tapping into the estimated $54 billion--a-year market of cardiac patients in need of treatment. The company projects that it will break even soon. "We want to be the Intel of cell therapy," says Fulga.

Monday 12 November 2007

Israel OKs extradition of Brooklyn pedophile suspect

Monday, November 12th 2007


JERUSALEM - A suspected Brooklyn pedophile hiding from sex abuse
charges in Israel will become the first American extradited to the
U.S. under a revamped treaty, a Jerusalem court ruled Sunday.

Stefan Colmer, 30, was indicted by a Brooklyn grand jury on charges he
sexually abused two 13-year-old boys from the ultra-orthodox Jewish
community in Brooklyn where he lived.

Hoping to avoid arrest, Colmer, a computer technician and salesman,
fled to Israel and changed his name to David Cohen.

Jerusalem police arrested Colmer in June and have held him pending
Sunday's extradition hearing, at which an Israeli judge ruled he must
be returned to face the charges in Brooklyn.

Before a January change to the treaty, Israel and the U.S. had agreed
to extradite suspected sex criminals only if they had been charged
with rape.

Colmer is suspected of performing oral sex on the two boys over
several months last year after luring them to his home from a nearby
yeshiva high school, according to the U.S. Justice Department's
extradition request.

The Brooklyn grand jury indicted Colmer on eight counts of criminal
sexual acts. If found guilty, he could face up to seven years in

The Justice Department also has requested the extradition of another
alleged Brooklyn child molester, Rabbi Avrohom Mondrowitz, who fled to
Jerusalem 23 years ago amid allegations the former counselor and
principal molested four boys.

Mondrowitz was arrested last month by Israeli police but was released.
The Israeli Justice Ministry has refused to comment on the case.
Attorney Michael Lesher, who represents six men who have accused
Mondrowitz of molesting them as children, said Mondrowitz must be
returned to face charges.

"I am certainly delighted to see that Colmer will be extradited to
face justice in Brooklyn," Lesher said. "But we certainly will not
rest until the same is done with Avrohom Mondrowitz."