January 2010

The Israeli government is reported to have quietly approved the fast-track immigration of 7,000 members of a supposedly “lost Jewish” tribe, known as the Bnei Menashe, currently living in a remote area of India. Under the plan, the “lost Jews” would be brought to Israel over the next two years by right-wing and religious organisations who, critics are concerned, will seek to place them in West Bank settlements in a bid to foil Israel’s partial agreement to a temporary freeze of settlement growth.

An Arab member of the Israeli parliament has sparked controversy among Jews and Arabs in Israel over his decision to join an official Israeli delegation commemorating International Holocaust Day tomorrow at a Nazi death camp in Poland. Mohammed Barakeh will be the only Arab in a contingent of Israeli parliamentarians and government ministers, including Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister, at Auschwitz to commemorate the 65th anniversary of the camp’s liberation.

Ehud Barak, Israel’s defence minister, approved last week the upgrading to university status of a college in a settlement located deep inside the West Bank, a move certain to further undermine Palestinian confidence in the peace process. The decision, authorising the first Israeli university in Palestinian territory, is expected to entitle the college to significant extra funding, allowing it to expand its student population. About 11,000 students, most from inside Israel, already attend the college in Ariel.

Israel unveiled “Iron Dome” last week, a missile-defence system that is designed to strike a knock-out blow against short-range rockets of the variety fired into Israel by Hamas and Hizbullah. In the short term, Iron Dome is supposed to herald the demise of the rocket threat to Israeli communities near Gaza four years after Hamas won the Palestinian elections. The period in-between has been marked by a series of inconclusive moves by both sides.

Health officials in Israel are subjecting many female Ethiopian immigrants to a controversial long-term birth control drug in what Israeli women’s groups allege is a racist policy to reduce the number of black babies. The contraceptive, known as Depo Provera, which is given by injection every three months, is considered by many doctors as a birth control method of last resort because of problems treating its side effects. However, according to a report published last week, use of the contraceptive by Israeli doctors has risen threefold over the past few years.

A year on from Operation Cast Lead, Israel’s offensive in Gaza, the threads of a possible Middle East peace are so knotted that they look impossible to disentangle. A right-wing government in Tel Aviv has dared to snub the US administration by barely enforcing what has become a partial and very temporary freeze on the expansion of its settlement programme in the West Bank. Israeli generals, meanwhile, proclaim that they are gearing up for an even fiercer repeat of the attack on Gaza last winter that killed around 1,400 Palestinians.