Family says code enforcement is targeting Orthodox Jews with Middle Eastern surnames
HOLLYWOOD - On one side of the battle in upscale Emerald Hills is a Middle Eastern Jewish family who claims code enforcement is targeting their community for harassment. On the other, there's a city still reeling from an expensive religious discrimination lawsuit.
In the middle, is Onyx the hen and her gaggle.
The Orthodox Jewish Kohn family, citing the city code, calls them legal "small domestic" kosher pets; the city calls them illegal "fowl or poultry."
"The real issue here is a government telling us what type of animals we can or cannot have," said the family's patriarch, Steve Kohn. "Our neighbor across the street can have a parrot, but we can't have a chicken. Obviously there is no scientific research that shows that a pet chicken is more of a hazard than a pit bull or more of a nuisance than a screeching macaw."
The city's response is simple: You can't have chickens within city limits, so chuck them or face the possibility of stiff fines.
A city-hired special magistrate, who can set the fines, is tentatively scheduled to referee the chicken fight on May 19.
U.S. officials said Tuesday they may abandon the term swine flu, for fear it's confusing people into thinking they could catch it from pork — which is flat-out wrong.
"We're discussing, is there a better way to describe this that would not lead to inappropriate actions on people's part?" said Dr. Richard Besser, acting director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "In the public, we've been seeing a fair amount of misconception ... and that's not helpful."
CDC scientists discovered the never-before-seen strain of influenza, a mix of pig, human and bird viruses — and while scientifically it's part of the Type A/H1N1 family of influenza, they shortened the name to new swine flu.
Immediately, U.S. officials rushed to assure people that it's impossible to get pig strains of influenza from food. But by last weekend, China, Russia and Ukraine were banning imports of pork from Mexico and certain U.S. states, and other governments were increasing screening of pork imports.
Then came name complaints from abroad. Israeli officials on Monday suggested renaming it Mexican flu, saying the reference to pigs is offensive to Muslim and Jewish sensitivities over pork. While the biggest outbreak and most serious illness so far is in Mexico, scientists don't yet have proof that's where the new virus originated.
Naming flu, in fact, has a problematic history. The infamous 1918 pandemic was first called the Spanish flu, although scientists today all agree it didn't start there. It may have started in Kansas.
Palestinian Hamas policemen stand near an effigy of Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit, who was captured by Hamas-allied militants in 2006, during a festival marking the 61st anniversary of the "Nakba" (catastrophe) on April 26, 2009 in Gaza City. Palestinians inaugurated a symbolic "camp of return" to mark refugees' ties to lands lost when the Jewish state was created during the 1948 war.
Gaza again on brink of disaster, says Scots aid chief
By SHÂN ROSS AND BEN LYNFIELD IN JERUSALEM
TENS of thousands of people struggling to rebuild their lives in the Gaza Strip after Israel's 22-day military offensive this year will face a second humanitarian disaster within weeks, because aid is not getting through, the Scot heading the British Red Cross international relief effort has warned.
Moira Reddick, the charity's head of disaster management, said blockages at the Israeli border meant civilians were facing spending the summer with its soaring temperatures sheltering under rotting plastic and tents with little or no sanitation, increasing the threat of disease and risk of infection.
Ms Reddick, who visited Gaza last month, said: "We will be looking at a new humanitarian crisis. Right now we have assistance which we are trying to get in. The situation is that aid is not getting through. It is piling up on the other side of the border.
"As summer comes on, the risk to health increases. It is difficult enough in winter, but it will be impossible in the heat and the risk to health increases."
Chief negotiator Erekat says written plan for long-term peace was also submitted to President Bush in late December
Palestinian Authority representatives accused former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of blocking the peace process between Israel and the PA, despite the latter's claims that he had put an offer to the Palestinians on the table that was too good to refuse.
According to chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, and as reported by the Palestinian journal al-Ayyam, not only had the prime minister avoided responding to an excellent peace offer, but shortly afterward had bombed Gaza.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had given Olmert a written plan for a long-term peace, a copy of which was handed to former US President George W. Bush during Abbas' December 18 visit to Washington, Erekat said, speaking to foreign journalists who had arrived at Al-Quds University in Jerusalem
Erekat claimed that Olmert refrained from answering the offer and instead chose to launch Operation Cast Lead against Hamas a few days later.
Prague, Czech Republic - A controversial Prague exhibition by Polish artist Peter Fuss showing large pictures of Nazi soldiers with stars of David instead of swastikas on their sleeves lasted only several minutes before being dismantled by visitors from the Prague Jewish Community.
"This is no censorship. If somebody offends you, you must react," Prague Jewish Community head Frantisek Banyai said.
Banyai said that the exhibition was "clearly a provocation degrading Holocaust victims" because it opened on Yom Hashoah, the Holocaust Remembrance Day that commemorates the beginning of the uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto in 1943 when Polish Jews were fighting against the Nazis.
The photomontages had a strongly anti-Semitic character, Banyai pointed out.
Members of the Foreign Press Association in Israel are complaining of harassment and discrimination.
At the FPA's Annual General Meeting in Jerusalem on Monday, several journalists from different countries complained they had been harassed when they entered Israel via Ben-Gurion Airport or Eilat. Some said that they had been taken aside into a separate room for questioning and that the process sometimes took hours.
They also cited difficulties in having work visas renewed, and one journalist, in Israel for several years, said she had almost been expelled but was fortunate enough to have the phone number of an interior ministry official who could help her.
Another journalist who has lived in Israel for even longer said that every time he returned to Israel from abroad he was questioned as if he were an enemy alien.
He also contended that the foreign press was treated as hostile.
RAMALLAH, West Bank – Palestinians won't be pressured into resuming peace talks with Israel as long as construction in Jewish settlements continues, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Monday.
Abbas said a complete construction freeze is a prerequisite for resuming talks. Israel's new prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, supports settlement construction and has not committed to the idea of Palestinian statehood.
In his speech Monday, Abbas said he would not give in to possible Israeli or international pressure on the Palestinians to resume negotiations even if settlement construction continues.
"For sure, we won't submit to pressures. For example, if they say `come and then we'll see, come.' No, we won't accept. Regarding the peace talks, this is our position, even if someone, if anyone in the world, says `you're wrong,'" he said.
Abbas also rejected previous Israeli demands that Palestinians not only recognize the state of Israel — as Abbas and others have — but recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
KHARIF, Yemen – In this village in northern Yemen, where a kosher butcher slaughters chickens and the school bus carries young boys in side curls along a dirt track to their Hebrew studies, one of the oldest Jewish communities in the Arab world is fighting for its survival.
Yemen's Jews, here and elsewhere in the country, are thought to have roots dating back nearly 3,000 years to King Solomon. The community used to number 60,000 but shrank dramatically when most left for the newborn state of Israel.
Those remaining, variously estimated to number 250 to 400, are feeling new and sometimes violent pressure from Yemeni Muslims, lately inflamed by Israel's fierce offensive against Hamas militants in Gaza that cost over 1,000 Palestinian lives.
They face a Yemeni government that is ambivalent — publicly supportive but also lax in keeping its promises — in an Arab world where Islamic extremism and hostility to minorities are generally on the rise.
"There is hardly a mosque sermon that's free of bigotry. The government's own political rhetoric marginalizes the Jews, and civil society is too weak to protect them," says Mansour Hayel, a Muslim Yemeni and human rights activist who is an expert on Yemen's Jewry.
"The government's policies are to blame for the suffering of the Jews," he says.
The pressures have long existed. But an Associated Press reporter who traveled recently to the rarely visited north and interviewed Jews, Muslim tribal sheiks, rights activists and lawyers in Yemen's capital of San'a, heard complaints that the frequency of harassment — including a murder and the pelting of homes with rocks — has markedly increased.
The testimony was particularly striking because Jews in Arab lands often refrain from airing grievances, lest they antagonize the government and provoke Muslim militants.
Yemen's government says it is trying to stop the harassment. President Ali Abdullah Saleh has proposed that the 45 Jewish families in the farming communities of Kharif and the nearby town of Raydah in Omran province be moved 50 miles southeast to San'a, where they can be better protected. He has offered them free plots of land to build homes.
But the government has taken no concrete steps since presidential aides first spoke of the offer late last year.
For 18 Jewish families who moved to San'a in 2007 from Saada, another northern province, things have not gone well. They fled fighting between troops and rebels, during which some Jewish homes were ransacked and ancient books destroyed. Now they live in cramped apartments under tight guard, entirely dependent on small government handouts.
The families in Kharif and Raydah say they too would like to leave, but only if compensated for property they leave behind.
Migrating to Israel or the U.S. is a possibility, and the government says it will not stop anyone from leaving. But Jews here don't discuss that option publicly, because in Yemen, Israel is anathema and America is deeply distrusted.
At least one outside group has tried to bring the Yemeni Jews out, said an Israeli official in Jerusalem, speaking on condition of anonymity because the subject is highly sensitive. But many are loath to become refugees and lose all they have, the official said.
"It is in the interest of the government for the Jews to stay," said Sheik Mohammed Nagi al-Shayef, a wealthy tribal leader and the Yemeni president's point man on Jewish affairs. "It will be a disgrace for the government if they leave."
But that view appears far from universal.
In Kharif, Yahya Yaish Al-Qedeimi has a long list of complaints about how he and his fellow Jews are treated: harassment in the market, stones thrown at the school bus, insults from villagers walking past his house.
When Saddam Hussein was executed, "they pelted our house with rocks," he said.
Al-Qedeimi is a rabbi's son in a village that no longer has a rabbi. He is uncertain about the future but fears that if the community moves to the capital it will be grouped in one place and become a tempting target for militants.
He says younger members of the community are pressuring the elders to leave Yemen altogether.
Tensions rise each time Israel conducts military operations in Gaza or the West Bank, he says.
"We complain to the police about the more serious incidents, but they never investigate," Al-Qedeimi said. "Our fears have grown after Moshe's killing. The lenient sentence against his killer will encourage others to do the same."
By "Moshe" he means Moshe Yaish Youssef Nahari, who was gunned down on a December day near his home in Raydah. Compounding the Jews' shock and dread, the self-confessed killer was spared the death penalty, though it's usually mandatory in such cases.
Nahari, a father of nine in his early 30s, taught Hebrew to the children, and was also in charge of slaughtering sheep and poultry according to kosher laws.
He had Jewish and Muslim friends and occasionally invited them to his home to chew qat, the mildly narcotic leaf that is a Yemeni staple and symbol of social togetherness. He also was an active campaigner for Yemen's president.
The killer was Abdul-Aziz Yehia Hamoud al-Abdi, a former air force pilot. He was convicted of murder in the first degree, but the judge ruled him mentally unfit, sent him to a mental institution and ordered his clan to pay the victim's family 5.5 million riyals ($27,500).
Nahari's family has refused to accept the money and is appealing the March 2 sentence.
It was al-Abdi's second murder. The 38-year-old Muslim had killed his wife five years earlier but the case never reached a court because tribal leaders protected him, saying he suffered from depression.
According to witnesses cited by Khaled al-Anasi, the Nahari family's Muslim lawyer, al-Abdi confronted Nahari shouting, "You, Jew, convert to Islam so your life is safe." Nahari said something to the effect of "mind your own business" and al-Abdi pumped 11 bullets from a Kalashnikov assault rifle into the victim, killing him, the witness statements said.
Al-Anasi said the judge, having convicted al-Abdi of first-degree murder, was obliged to sentence him to life imprisonment or death. He also complained that the trial was held in Omran province, with hundreds of al-Abdi's fellow tribesmen frequently disrupting the proceedings and intimidating the judge and Nahari's family.
"I used to like living in Raydah, now I just want to leave," said 12-year-old Sasson, the oldest of the murdered man's four boys.
Sasson was taught Hebrew and religion by his late father. He says his education has been disrupted by his father's death and that he may travel abroad to study. Four of his aunts are married and settled in Israel, the family says.
"I will be back when I finish my studies," said Sasson, a soft-spoken boy who wore a dark suit, it being the day before Passover, the holiday that celebrates the Jews' exodus from slavery in ancient Egypt.
The history of Jews in the Arab world is a narrative of discrimination and persecution, but also some prosperity. The hundreds of thousands who arrived after their expulsion from 15th century Spain mostly lived in ghettos with limited rights, although some professionals prospered.
Most migrated to Israel in the 1950s. The small numbers who stayed behind lived at the mercy of nationalist governments in places like Iraq and Egypt.
For Jews, Yemen has more symbolic significance than almost any place in the Arab world. Historians believe the first Jews arrived here in around 900 B.C. as part of King Solomon's trading network. Evidence of a Jewish presence in Yemen can be traced back to the 3rd century A.D.
The Jews of today's Yemen zealously guard their customs. Men wear skull caps, women black robes and veils. Children must learn Hebrew and Torah. Holy days are celebrated in bare makeshift synagogues attached to the homes of community elders. On a recent day, two men bumped along a dirt track on a motorcycle near Kharif, side curls blowing horizontal in the wind.
In the dusty courtyard of al-Qedeimi's mud-brick home, Jewish men stood chatting, while a man murmured prayers as he slaughtered a chicken.
Al-Qedeimi is a car repairman and traditional healer who says he made lifelong Muslim friends at the government school he attended.
Because of the harassment, young Jews no longer can go to that school and make such friends, he said.
Receiving visitors in a room with Hebrew writings on the wall, he comes back to his friend Nahari's murder.
"If the sentence had been appropriately strong, the Jews would have stayed quiet and dropped any plans to leave for San'a. Most of us want to stay, but we are worried about our lives," he said.
In the capital, the 18 families evacuated by the government from Saada in 2007 celebrated Passover. In the apartment block assigned to them by the government, the boys were wearing suits so new they still showed the designer labels on the sleeves. Girls with dark hair and eyes wore new white dresses.
The government, eager to show benevolence toward the uprooted Jews, let Yemeni reporters and TV crews record the celebrations. Plainclothes security men listened to every word spoken by Yahya Youssef Moussa, the families' rabbi.
Moussa, while the cameras are on, lavishly praised the president as a "loving father" and a leader. "We are ready to sacrifice our lives for him," he said.
Compared with the fighting they fled, "This is a place where we feel completely safe," said Moussa. "We can never return."
When the cameras were off, however, Moussa had grievances to air: The government wasn't giving the community money to rent stores and buy craftsmen's tools; the evacuees hadn't been compensated for property they left behind in Saada; they were crammed into six small apartments, sometimes 18 to an apartment.
Many want their young men to travel to the U.S. or Europe for study, but insist they should return after graduation.
Physical safety is their overriding concern.
"If we are ever to move from here," the rabbi said, "we want homes with high walls and armed guards."
King Abdullah of Jordan warned Israel's new government Friday that focusing on Palestinian economic growth rather than statehood was a recipe for disaster and urged US President Barack Obama to push Israel on creating a Palestinian state.
"Any Israeli effort to substitute Palestinian development for Palestinian independence cannot bring peace and stability to the region," he said during an address at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "Israel must know that attempting to delay this solution will be serious and disastrous for its own future as well as for the future of the Palestinians."
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has spoken about the importance of improving the economic situation of Palestinians and backed exploring possibilities for autonomy but has so far not explicitly backed a Palestinian state.