Tuesday 19 October 2010

New Fund Will Try to Revive Humanities Departments in Israel

close New Fund Will Try to Revive Humanities Departments in Israel 1

David Blumenfeld for The Chronicle

In the Hebrew U. of Jerusalem's humanities department, only 14 freshmen enrolled this year in the once-prestigious Hebrew-literature program.

As part of an overhaul of higher-education financing in Israel, a newly created $9-million fund for the humanities will try to attract more students and top faculty members to the field and encourage cooperation among humanities departments at Israeli universities.

(Full article)

Monday 18 October 2010

Repair of War-Scarred Palestinian Landmark Yields Hope

AOL News October 18th, 2010

Matthew Kalman

Matthew Kalman Contributor

AOL News
JERUSALEM (Oct. 18) -- Even before it was finished, Albert Abu Zgheibreh's majestic new home in Beit Jala earned a special name in the neighborhood: Al Qasr -- The Palace.

With its fine stone carvings, sweeping balconies and soaring arches, the three-story, 16,000-square-foot house stood on a promontory with commanding views across the valley from Bethlehem to the southern Jerusalem suburb of Gilo.

But in 2000, before its owner had even moved in, the opulent building was used as a snipers' nest by Palestinian gunmen and shelled to pieces by Israeli tanks. For nearly a decade, the ravaged beauty has stood abandoned in silent testimony to the brutal violence that engulfed this lazy town for years on end.

Now Palestinian and Israeli security chiefs are helping the millionaire owner rebuild the building. Some find grounds for optimism in the fact that a site that epitomizes the intifada is being restored with the quiet blessing of the gunmen and soldiers who brought about its destruction.

The Palestinian Authority is providing an armed guard of a dozen policemen every night to guard the site until a sophisticated electronic security system can be installed. And the commander of Israeli army's local Etzion Brigade, Col. Eran Markov, made a rare entrance into Palestinian-controlled territory to visit the site one recent morning and see how work was proceeding.

"It is a symbol of hope," said Fakhri Ghneim, a friend and business partner of Abu Zgheibreh who is supervising the 40 workers on the five-month, million-dollar repair program on behalf of the absent landlord. "We ask for peace. We pray for peace. We want to live in peace. We have had enough of living in terror. It will be good for both Palestinians and Israelis."

When the intifada uprising erupted in the autumn of 2000, the house was still bare on the inside and Abu Zgheibreh was away in Panama tending to his business interests. Taking advantage of its strategic position, Fatah gunmen sneaked inside and began shooting at the houses in Gilo, just half a mile away. At first they used their Palestinian police-issue Kalashnikov AK-47 semi-automatics and stolen Israeli army M-16s, but they caught the Israelis unawares when one night they began firing with two heavy machine-guns -- a belt-fed Browning M2 .50-caliber and a Russian-made BKC.

It was the first time that Jerusalem had come under sustained attack since the 1967 war. The Israeli army responded with tank shells and heavy machine-gun fire from three directions. The Israeli fire smashed in the roof, punched holes in the walls, destroyed many of the second-floor balconies and shattered most of the hand-carved stonework around the windows. An anti-sniper wall was hastily erected across the southern edge of Gilo to keep the residents safe. It was only taken down a few weeks ago.

For the residents of Beit Jala, the intifada was a catastrophe. Though Muslims had become a majority in Beit Jala and neighboring Bethlehem, the town's original Christian inhabitants generally wanted no part in the uprising and its suicide bombings. Many of the town's residents had close personal and business ties in Jerusalem, which the intifada brought to an end.

One of those who lost his business as a result was Fakhri Ghneim. "I have a quarry in Gilo, just over there," he told AOL News, pointing at the nearby Israeli neighborhood. "Now it's forbidden for me to enter Jerusalem. I haven't seen it for 10 years."

Abu Atef, a leader of the Fatah shabab ("youth") gunmen who later joined the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, told AOL News that they actually stopped shooting from the house itself after a few days because it was too dangerous, but they managed to draw the returning Israeli fire back to the palace again and again. As a result, none of the gunmen were killed inside the house, although several were hit nearby. He said it became a rite of passage for the most daring gunmen to take their turn behind the M2. Among those who gained their spurs in the nightly gun battles were at least three members of the Abayat family, the shabab leaders. Two were later killed in attacks by the Israeli army. Another is serving several life sentences in an Israeli prison.

Several residents of Beit Jala were killed in the firefights sparked by the gunmen, but the neighbors always divided the blame between the Israeli army and the Fatah fighters who had invaded their quiet neighborhood.

"The first time we came to shoot, the neighbors were OK, but after their houses began to be damaged from the Israeli tanks, people became very angry and tried to push us to another area to shoot," Abu Atef admits. "They didn't give us any help, not even a drink of water when the guys were thirsty. Even now they don't like us."

He said he welcomed Abu Zgheibreh's imminent return to the newly renovated palace as a natural development, but saw it as a sign that the sacrifices made by him and his friends had passed into history.

"They forgot the shabab," said Abu Atef. "They forgot the intifada, everything. Now the Palestinian Authority and Israel have cleaned everything out. All the weapons are gone. Does it mean there'll be peace? Maybe."

Sunday 17 October 2010

Program in Israel Pays Single Moms to Go to College


By Matthew Kalman


A college in Israel has been swamped with applications after it advertised a special deal that is aimed specifically at new students who are single moms: free babysitting, free tuition, special study hours, and an annual stipend. As a result, 48 mothers, most of them over 30, will begin studying this semester at Tel Hai Academic College for their bachelor's degrees in human resources, with an optional elective of interdisciplinary studies.

The course work is spread over four years instead of three, and classes are concentrated into a single day so the moms need be away from jobs, homes, and children for only one day each week. Students who volunteer at a community child-care program will provide free babysitting, and an organization that helps underprivileged people, the Rashi Foundation, is covering the tuition and providing each student with a cash grant of about $1,600 per year.

Yona Chen, president of the college, says the program arose from community-outreach projects that involve two-thirds of Tel Hai's 3,200 students.

"Our social workers identified the population of single mothers as a group in the society facing more economic difficulties and challenges in allocating time to study," he says. "It seems to be a great success."

The college is situated in a low-income region near Lebanon that came under extensive rocket fire in the 2006 war with Hezbollah.

In Israel, Mr. Chen notes, salaries for government jobs are tied to level of education, and private employers are more willing to give management roles to college graduates.

"There's a big jump in salary between a high-school graduate and a university graduate," he says.

Inbal Arad, a 37-year-old holistic therapist and the single mother of a 5-year-old girl, says she had not been able to consider pursuing a degree until she saw the Tel Hai advertisements.

"Financially and practically, it's not been possible," she says. "For me it's an opportunity to study and get a B.A., but in a way that actually fits into my life. Otherwise I can't afford it. I can't be a full-time student."

Thursday 14 October 2010

Israel Gets Close Look at Archenemy Ahmadinejad

AOL News Thursday, October 14th

Matthew Kalman

Matthew Kalman Contributor

AOL News
JERUSALEM (Oct. 14) -- "Like a landlord visiting his domain," according to the Israeli Foreign Ministry, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made his flower-strewn progress through southern Lebanon today to deliver a triumphant, tub-thumping speech at the Hezbollah stronghold of Bint Jbeil, just two miles from the Israeli border.

"The world should know that eventually the Zionists will be forced to go and will not last long. They are enemies of humanity and will have no choice but to surrender. Occupied Palestine will be liberated from the yoke of the occupation with the help of resistance and faith in resistance," Ahmadinejad told an ecstatic crowd at the same soccer stadium where Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah gave his victory speech after the war of 2006, which saw the town largely reduced to rubble.

"The Zionists will have to leave and return to the countries they came from," he said, taking a moment to inform his audience that "the Zionists are responsible for the economic crisis and air pollution in the world."

In Maroun al-Ras, a village that saw heavy fighting in 2006 just a few hundred yards from the Israeli border, Hezbollah had erected a large viewing platform decorated with flags and a huge portrait of the Iranian leader gazing toward Israel. But Ahmadinejad failed to show up there, much to the disappointment of Israeli villagers across the fence, who had waited patiently with binoculars on the opposite hilltops.

Nasrallah himself apparently remained in the bunker where he is said to have been hiding for most of the past four years in fear of Israeli assassination. He failed to emerge even for Ahmadinejad's rally in Beirut on Wednesday, which he addressed by video. But his remote-control influence over the fate of Lebanon in partnership with Ahmadinejad's Iran is in no doubt.

Hezbollah forces, armed and financed by Iran, control large swathes of the country, with their headquarters in the southern Beirut suburbs and missile batteries and underground command posts scattered throughout the south of the country. Nasrallah's party lost the 2009 Lebanese elections but was the most powerful voice in the makeup of the government headed by Prime Minister Saad Hariri.

Nasrallah and Ahmadinejad have both raised alarms over the pending conclusions of a U.N.-appointed investigation into the 2005 assassination of Hariri's father, Rafik, the former prime minister. If it finds that Hezbollah agents were involved, as many observers suggest it will, the two warn that Lebanon will be plunged back into civil war.

Israeli leaders have no doubts about the intentions of the man who has hoped aloud on many occasions that their country will disappear from the world's maps. One right-wing opposition Israeli MP said Ahmadinejad should be assassinated, comparing the opportunity should it arise to killing Adolf Hitler before World War II. Israelis view the Iranian president's military support for Hezbollah and blood-curdling rhetoric as clear signals that he intends to continue using southern Lebanon as a launchpad for his ongoing battle against Israel.

"The Iranian president invested a fortune in Lebanon. However, his millions were not invested in education or welfare for the residents of Lebanon, but in arming Hezbollah and bolstering Nasrallah's rule in Lebanon," Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai said.

"Make no mistake. Most of the residents we see on TV did not come to greet Ahmadinejad out of love; they were forced to do so, because those are the rules of Ahmadinejad's game; he came to promote his interests at the expense of the Lebanese citizens," he said.

That view was echoed by Diana Nemeh, a Beirut-based commentator who has sharply criticized the visit.

"He's not interested in Lebanon's interests. He's just interested in Hezbollah and being against Israel and the U.S.," Nemeh told AOL News. "It's a bit shocking to me the way it's being portrayed on TV. It makes it look as though all of Lebanon, all the Lebanese people are welcoming his visit, which is not true at all. The other people that welcomed him, that really wanted him here, the Hezbollah and the Shia, he basically paid his way into their lives. He gave money in 2006 to rebuild after the war. Nothing's for free. He bought the right to say the south of Lebanon is Iran's border with Israel."

Iranian analyst Meir Javedanfar, director of Meepas analysts and co-author of "The Nuclear Sphinx of Tehran," said Ahmadinejad's aim was to reverse his increasing unpopularity at home and send a signal to his enemies abroad.

"By going to a country where the Islamic Republic is genuinely popular, Ahmadinejad 's main goal from this visit is to boost his flagging image and influence," Javedanfar told AOL News. "He also wants to send a message of warning to anyone who is thinking of taking Hezbollah on, if the organization is found guilty of killing Hariri, and finally to send a message to Israel that Iran is on its border. Should Israel attack Iran's nuclear facilities, Iran could retaliate from much closer by."

Tuesday 12 October 2010

Google Earth Photos Reveal Syrian Scuds

AOL News Tuesday, October 12th

Matthew Kalman

Matthew Kalman Contributor

AOL News
JERUSALEM (Oct. 12) -- Israeli defense experts were still sounding alarms this week over Google Earth images made public Friday by the Israeli daily Haaretz. The satellite photos, taken March 22, show Scud missiles ready for deployment at a Syrian base at Adra, where earlier reports suggest Syria is training Hezbollah militants in the use of missiles that threaten large parts of Israel.

The photos show five 11-meter-long Scuds at the Adra base. Three are on trucks in a car park. Two others are in a training area where 20 to 25 people can be made out along with about 20 vehicles. One of the two missiles appears to be mounted on a mobile launcher; another is on the ground.

Earlier reports have suggested that the Adra base, located in a deep valley surrounded by 400-meter mountains, has concrete tunnels leading deep underground where the missiles are apparently stored in protected silos.

View Larger Map

In 2006, Hezbollah rocket fire into Israel precipitated Israeli air strikes and a ground invasion of Lebanon. Hezbollah's month-long barrage of rockets deeply unsettled Israel; with Scud missiles, Hezbollah can strike all the major cities in Israel.

In April, the Kuwaiti newspaper Al Rai reported that Syrian President Bashar Assad was arming Hezbollah with Scuds, a report Assad denied but both the U.S. and Israel later confirmed. Hezbollah sources told Al Rai that the group had the capability to launch 15 tons of explosives at Israel every day in the case of another war between the two sides, and went on to claim that Hezbollah possesses a wide range of missiles with a heavy payload, including the 1-ton Zilzal missile and half-ton Fateh 110 and M600 missiles.

In May, the Sunday Times reported that shipments of weapons from the Adra base were going to Hezbollah, and that Iran was sending missiles and other weapons to that base via Damascus airport nearby. The paper also said Hezbollah had been given a section of the base for barracks, warehouses and a fleet of trucks to transport weapons to the Lebanese border, which is just 25 miles away.

Assad has entered a close strategic partnership with Iran, Hezbollah's primary political and financial master. According to the Pentagon, Hezbollah receives up to $200 million from Iran each year, in addition to arms.

Jeffrey White, former head of the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency's Office for Middle East/Africa Regional Military Assessments and now defense fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said last month that Hezbollah is "preparing for war."

"It has built up its rocket and missile forces and air defenses, and now has four times as many rockets and more accurate missiles than in 2006," White said.

The Google Earth photos also show extensive construction at military bases throughout Syria.

Testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Subcommittee on Near Eastern and South and Central Asian Affairs in June, Danielle Pletka, vice president of foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, said "Hezbollah is effectively a state within a state in Lebanon, with an ever growing and ever more sophisticated long-range arsenal. It is untrammeled by the Lebanese government to which it belongs and answerable to no one in that nation, but rather to the dictatorships in Damascus and Tehran."

Energetic efforts by the Obama administration to engage Syria and pry Assad away from his relationship with Tehran have so far proved fruitless. In an interview in The Wall Street Journal in September, published as he was meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem downplayed the prospects of renewed talks with Israel and voiced opposition to many of Washington's regional initiatives.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad plans soon to visit Lebanon, where Hezbollah has seized power over large swaths of the country. On his itinerary: a visit to the Lebanon-Israel border so he can throw rocks at Israeli soldiers.

Wednesday 6 October 2010

Israeli Icon Moshe Dayan Exposed as Bumbler

AOL News Wednesday, October 6th

Matthew Kalman

Matthew Kalman Contributor

AOL News
JERUSALEM (Oct. 6) -- Newly declassified documents from the Israel State Archives have shattered the image of Moshe Dayan, Israel's legendary one-eyed war hero, and portray him as panic-strickened and responsible for a string of errors that nearly lost his country the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

Minutes of War Cabinet meetings published to coincide with today's 37th anniversary of the outbreak of the war show that Dayan and his Cabinet colleagues ignored vital intelligence warning them of an impending Egyptian attack and completely misread the Egyptian military capability and the war aims of President Anwar Sadat.

Israel's Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan
Max Nash, AP
Israeli Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan is shown during a press conference following the opening of Egypt-Israel peace talks in 1978. Newly declassified documents blame him for a series of strategic errors during the Yom Kippur War in 1973.

Israel lost 2,569 soldiers during the three-week conflict, together with strategic outposts on the Suez Canal and one-sixth of the Sinai Peninsula that Israel had seized from Egypt in the lightning victory masterminded by Dayan in the 1967 Six-Day War. Egypt and Syria lost 10,000 and 4,000 troops, respectively. Dayan died in 1981.

Israeli leaders meeting at 8 a.m. on Oct. 6, 1973, just six hours before the Egyptian attack, dismissed a dramatic message relayed by Chief of Staff David Elazar from Ashraf Marwan, an Egyptian billionaire who spied for Israel, that war was imminent.

Despite strong signs to the contrary, Dayan rejected Elazar's warning that war was about to break out and strongly opposed a vital call-up of 200,000 Israeli reserves, which Elazar said -- correctly -- would give Israel "a huge advantage and save many lives."

"I believe we can complete the call-up tomorrow," Dayan retorted. He was overruled by Prime Minister Golda Meir. The war broke out at 2 p.m. later that same day.

The minutes show the chief of military intelligence, Eli Zeira, foundering around in the dark.

"Despite the fact that they are prepared, I believe that they know they will lose. Sadat is not in a position whereby he has to go to war," Zeira advised the fateful gathering. Military intelligence had also failed to discover that Egypt and Syria had both been supplied with new, Soviet-made infrared sights for their tanks, giving them a substantial tactical advantage in the first two days of the war.

Meeting the following afternoon, 25 hours after the outbreak of fighting, the Cabinet heard that Israeli forces were being overrun in Sinai and advised them to flee, leaving the wounded to be captured by the Egyptians.

Dayan is quoted in the minutes as already acknowledging his mistakes.

"I didn't sufficiently appreciate the strength of the enemy and his fighting force," Dayan said. "I also exaggerated in assessing our forces and their ability to cope. The Arabs are much better fighters than before. They have many arms at their disposal. The missiles are a difficult umbrella that is hard for our air force to pierce."

He also said, "Our moral advantage cannot withstand this mass" and proposed bombing civilian targets in Damascus, Syria -- a suggestion rejected by the Cabinet.

The picture that emerges is of a defense minister in panic. But after the war, Dayan did not take responsibility for the strategic errors that almost led to Israel's defeat -- a scenario that was turned around by brilliant tactics from Elazar and his generals and an extraordinary counterattack into Egypt led by Brig. Gen. Ariel Sharon, the future prime minister.

The war was launched on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year, with most reservists at home or in synagogue, and so easy to contact in the era before mobile phones. The introduction of the reserve units reversed the course of the battle, and the tide turned in Israel's favor. When a U.N.-sponsored cease-fire was declared on Oct. 25, Israel was back in control of the Golan Heights and within artillery range of Damascus. In the south, Sharon's division had crossed the Suez Canal, encircled the Egyptian army and was 100 miles from Cairo.

The Agranat Commission found that Elazar and Zeira were responsible for the intelligence and military failures, and they retired in disgrace. But the minutes of the War Cabinet show that Elazar's prophetic warnings were repeatedly shot down by Dayan.

Dayan also encouraged the prime minister to misinterpret Sadat's intentions, stoking her fears of a doomsday scenario in which Egypt was about "to conquer Israel, finish off the Jews." Ministers even considered using nuclear weapons.

But after the war, it became clear that Sadat, who actually wanted a peace deal with Israel, had despaired of ever retrieving the Sinai through diplomacy and decided he would have to fight a limited war first.

In the aftermath of the war, Meir's ruling Labor Party lost power for the first time in Israel's 30-year history to the right-wing Likud Party of Menachem Begin, who went on to make peace with Sadat and return Sinai to Egypt.

Dayan's shortcomings have been hinted at before. Chaim Herzog, the former general and president, wrote a book after 1973 that heaped criticism on the Agranat Commission and accused Dayan of ceasing to function while the fighting was still going on.

Moti Ashkenazi, commander of the northernmost Israeli outpost on the Suez Canal in 1967, opposite Port Said, began campaigning for the resignation of the Cabinet the day he arrived home from the war.

"Dayan's admission is new to me -- in public he hid and avoided any admission of these mistakes," said Ashkenazi. "At the head of the whole system we had a man who was an ignoramus about his own military forces and even more of an ignoramus in his assessment of the other side -- but he was regarded as Mr. Security."

Avigail Goldschmidt, who was a secretary in the prime minister's office, said she remembers the day that Elazar was forced to resign.

"He came into the secretariat and said Moshe Dayan had hung him out to dry. I was heartbroken for him. Then Dayan came out smiling from ear to ear. I said to Moshe Dayan, 'Comfort him. Say something,' but he treated him like a piece of trash and said nothing. At that moment, I didn't care if they fired me. I said to Dayan, 'Not only are you missing an eye, you're missing a heart.'"

The Haaretz Hebrew daily said the minutes laid bare the "shortsightedness, complacence and misguided intelligence that preceded the war," and hoped the soldiers in that confrontation, now members of today's Israeli Cabinet, had learned the appropriate lessons. "They bear responsibility for pursuing peace and compromise over stagnation and the threat of renewed war," the paper said.

Tuesday 5 October 2010

Judge Considers Verdict in 5-Year-Long Jesus Forgery Trial

AOL News, October 5th

Matthew Kalman

Matthew Kalman Contributor

AOL News
JERUSALEM (Oct. 5) -- The discovery in 2002 of a limestone burial box with the Hebrew inscription "James son of Joseph brother of Jesus" electrified the world of archaeology. If genuine, the burial box, or ossuary, would be the only archaeological artifact yet found with a possible direct link to Jesus of Nazareth.

Amid international fanfare, the ossuary went on display at Toronto's Royal Ontario Museum and swiftly spawned numerous articles, scholarly studies, several documentary movies and at least four books.

But experts at the Israel Antiquities Authority declared it a modern-day forgery. Israeli police seized the burial box and arrested its owner, Tel Aviv collector Oded Golan. In December 2004 he was charged with faking the ossuary and dozens of other items, including an inscribed tablet linked to King Joash, which, if authentic, would be the only physical evidence from the Temple of Solomon.

Oded Golan points to an inscription on an ossuary believed to have held the bones of Jesus' brother James
AFP / Getty Images
Oded Golan points to the Hebrew inscription "James son of Joseph brother of Jesus" on the burial box at the center of a five-year forgery trial in Israel.

The indictment leveled 44 charges of forgery, fraud and deception against Golan and 13 lesser counts against a co-defendant, antiquities dealer Robert Deutsch. The trial of Golan, Deutsch and three other defendants opened at the Jerusalem District Court in September 2005.

Last Sunday, the defense ended its summing up with just two men left in the dock, bringing to an end five years of court proceedings that spanned 116 sessions, 133 witnesses, 200 exhibits and nearly 12,000 pages of witness testimony. The prosecution summation alone ran to 653 pages.

Yet despite the flood of strong scientific testimony, the feeling in the tiny courtroom, where fewer than a dozen people (including only one reporter) have followed the proceedings, was that the prosecution had failed to prove the items were forgeries or that Golan and Deutsch had faked them.

Judge Aharon Farkash, the wheelchair-bound polymath who has overseen the marathon trial, wondered aloud on several occasions how he could be expected to deliver a legal ruling on what was essentially a scientific question that the experts themselves could not resolve.

In October 2008, just three years into the proceedings, Farkash pointedly asked whether the trial should continue after the prosecution and Golan had presented their evidence.

"Have you really proved beyond a reasonable doubt that these artifacts are fakes as charged in the indictment? The experts disagreed among themselves," Farkash told the prosecutor.

Summing up last March, lead prosecutor Dan Bahat made a startling admission. "If the ossuary had been the only thing on trial, we probably would not have carried on with the process," he said.

Bahat was not even in court to hear the judge wrap up the trial and retire to consider his verdict.

Scientists and lawyers have spent months arguing over the patina -- a thin crust of material formed by micro-organisms that covers all ancient objects. The prosecution accuse Golan of creating a fake patina, which he applied to new inscriptions on ancient objects. Defense experts say there is patina inside the grooves of the inscriptions that could not have been formed in the past two centuries.

Golan said he had never faked anything.

"I feel that I succeeded to prove that the most important items should be at least 200 years old. They could not be forged because there is ancient, authentic, natural patina which has been developed gradually over at least 200 years in both the James ossuary and the Joash tablet," Golan told AOL News.

"They lost the case, there's no question. On the main issues they were completely wrong. They are not forgeries. It's not only that they could not prove there was a forgery. With the James ossuary and the Joash tablet, I believe that we proved their authenticity with experts in patina, in geology, in stone, in engraving," he said.

At times, the courtroom has seemed more like a doctoral seminar than a legal proceeding. The world's leading experts on archaeology, biblical history, Semitic languages, ancient stones and inscriptions, geology, isotopes (both stable and carbon-14), biology, chemistry, microscopy and glue have participated in an often fascinating and sometimes embarrassing collision of scholarship and criminal law.

The court has heard from grave robbers, dealers in the shady antiquities market, billionaire collectors and tireless investigators who spend freezing nights in the desert waiting to catch tomb raiders. There have been stories of mysterious Egyptian forgers, cash payments of thousands of dollars in parked cars on West Bank back roads, sting operations at airport customs and warehouses crammed full of priceless ancient artifacts.

Judge Farkash said Sunday he would try to plow through all that material and deliver a verdict as soon as possible. It could take several months.

The criminal, scholarly and scientific implications of his verdict are immense. If genuine, the artifacts are of historic importance and worth millions. An acquittal would be a severe setback for the Israel Antiquities Authority and its special investigators, who accused Golan and his co-defendants of making millions of dollars as part of an international chain of forgers planting sophisticated fakes in the world's museums. It would also be an acute embarrassment for the isotope experts at the Israel Geological Survey and professor Yuval Goren of Tel Aviv University, who spent many days on the stand defending scientific tests they said showed the items must be fakes.

A guilty verdict, on the other hand, would destroy the reputation of one of the world's leading collectors of biblical antiquities and drive the entire Israeli market underground. The Israel Antiquities Authority has made no secret of its desire to shut down the trade in Bible-era artifacts, which they believe encourages grave robbers, who spirit the choicest finds out of the country.

Government officials and many scholars say the market is riddled with forgeries, and they are skeptical of any item that does not come from a licensed, supervised excavation where its provenance can be proved. But Golan said he had never seen a forgery that wasn't immediately obvious and pointed out that some of Israel's greatest archaeological treasures came from dealers. Indeed, the most striking example is one of the most important biblical finds ever: the Dead Sea Scrolls, which a Bedouin shepherd sold to an Israeli professor half a century ago.