NEWS BRIEFS:

Six million Israelis in 1998

Israel's population at the start of 1998 stands at 5,9 million, and is expected to reach six million during the 50th year of the reborn Jewish state. Eighty per cent of the citizens are Jewish, and the remainder Muslims, Christians and Druse. The rate of population increase for last year was 2,5 per cent, higher than the global average of 1,4 per cent. Israel's Jewish population grew by 91,000 in 1997. Some 60 per cent of this figure was through natural increase, while around 66,500 people immigrated to Israel -- a decline of about six per cent from 1996's figure of 70,600 immigrants (itself a decline from 76,400 in 1995.) Since the establishment of the state, more than 2,6 million people have immigrated to Israel: about 59 per cent from Europe, about 18 per cent from Africa, about 15 per cent from Asia, and about eight per cent from the Western Hemisphere and Oceania. Since 1948, the former Soviet Union (900,000), Poland (340,000) and Morocco (270,000) have been the largest sources of immigrants.

Was PA involved in shooting?

The fiancee of a young lawyer who died after an early January roadside shooting in Samaria believes the gunmen may have been linked to the Palestinian Authority. Yoram Doktori said it was noteworthy that no terror group had taken responsibility for attack on Yael Meivar, who was shot when the car they were driving came under fire. Also, the shooting had been very professional--accurate, intensive and rapid single-fire. He noted that the attack took place on January 1, the anniversary of the founding of Fatah, Yasser Arafat's faction of the PLO. Doktori observed the attackers had fled from the shooting scene to PA-controlled Ram'Allah, via a road built recently by the PA, which bypasses Israeli checkpoints. Israel has frequently accused Arafat of employing suspected terrorists in his bloated security forces.

British journal dismisses health-rights violation claims

Repeated Palestinian claims of Israeli health-care violations against inhabitants of Judea-Samaria and Gaza have been challenged by the reputable British medical journal, The Lancet. The publication said "a flood of accusations, many about Israeli medical malfeasance and health-rights violations" was unleashed after Israel imposed security closures on PA areas following terror attacks. "One by one, these charges of medical mistreatment have been found untrue. But this has not stopped allegations being repeated around the world" (Nov 22, 1997). According to one such libel, made by the Union of Palestinian Medical Relief Committees, "vaccination activities have stopped completely" and "the primary health-care system has become inoperable". But the allegations were flatly denied by PA Health Minister Riyad Zaanoun, who said a joint Israel-PA health committee established in 1994 "meets regularly to ensure that preventive and emergency procedures are undisturbed by politics". "A picture that appeared worldwide of a Palestinian woman who 'had to give birth in a car because of the long wait to pass through a check point to reach a Jerusalem hospital' shows how a telephoto lens can deceive. Shlomo Dror, spokesman for the Coordinator of Activities in the Territories, noted that the photo shows the car on the Israeli side of the border facing back towards Ram'Allah. He explained that the soldiers had hurried the woman through and offered an ambulance, but the birth proceeded so quickly that the couple decided to go back home with their newborn infant." The Lancet also noted that, after 1997 bombings in Jerusalem, Hadassah Hospital stood accused in the world media of "expelling" all Palestinian patients. "It was not published that the hospital unequivocally demonstrated, by careful review of each record, that this slur was simply not true."

Har Homa to go ahead

The government intends to go ahead with construction of a controversial Jewish housing project in south-eastern Jerusalem, despite opposition from the world community, a spokesman for PM Binyamin Netanyahu said in January. The process of bidding for tenders for the 6000-home project would be completed in a few days, he said. Netanyahu has dismissed criticism, arguing that the Oslo accords make no reference to a freeze of Israeli construction in disputed areas. Israel officially maintains the position that Jerusalem will remain its united capital, always.

Left-wing navel-gazing

Israel's left-wing media was in a spin in January, after one of their own, Ari Shavit, wrote a breathtaking essay in Ha'aretz arguing that PM Netanyahu had been demonised unfairly by the left. Shavit tried to establish what had led to what he called "this lynch atmosphere". "Why do we hate Binyamin Netanyahu so much? After all [he] has not made a single move that might be interpreted as improper use of force. [He] has not taken a single action that might be considered a war crime. [He] bears responsibility for less bloodshed and less harm to human rights than the two patrons of peace who occupied the prime minister's chair before him." Shavit linked the extreme anti-Netanyahu sentiment to the left's fall from the dizzy heights of Yitzhak Rabin's embracing of the Oslo accords, to his assassination and the subsequent electoral defeat of Shimon Peres. Shavit set off a storm. Within days, half a dozen prominent columnists attacked him and his article. Although his piece was far from pro-Netanyahu, he was written off as a traitor to the cause of the left. Wrote The Jerusalem Post: "Of all Israelis, the left should be leading post-assassination Israel toward a new hate-less form of debate, for the sake of both democracy and of peace."


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