Olmert offers civilian service plan as military draft alternative; U.S. to train Palestinian troops

Olmert Promotes Civilian National Service

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s office announced this week that it had formed an administration to accommodate Israelis who, upon reaching draft age, prefer a civilian version of national service to the standard military conscription. The administration, which begins operations next year, will mostly cater to Israeli Arabs, ultra-Orthodox Jews and draft-age youths who cite personal or political reasons for not wanting to wear a uniform. It is expected to offer them options such as community service or medical posts, with similar commitment periods and benefits as conscripted soldiers. Israelis who do national service enjoy later perks such as tax breaks and student stipends.

State Dept. to Train P.A. troops

U.S. State Department officials will train Palestinian troops assigned to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

“The course work and practical exercises will enhance the abilities of the Presidential Guard to carry out their primary function — VIP protection,” a department statement said Sunday. “This training is part of a series of courses that will be offered this fall through early 2008.”

The training will be carried out by the department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security, which trains security details around the world. It is part of an agreement signed this month by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and P.A. Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, the statement said. The statement said that both sides have “worked closely” to design the program. Gen. Keith Dayton, the top U.S. security envoy to the region, had been ready to train pro-Abbas troops in June, when forces loyal to Hamas, a terrorist group, drove Abbas loyalists out of the Gaza Strip.

The U.S. focus is now on bolstering Abbas in the West Bank and is part of a wider effort that includes the European Union, Egypt and Jordan.

“The rule of law and security must be the foundation of any successful Palestinian government,” the statement said. “The training and assistance that is being provided will help improve the Palestinian Authority’s capacity to deliver security for the Palestinian people and fight terrorism, build confidence between the parties, and ultimately help to meet the security needs of Palestinians and Israelis alike.”

Hezbollah Computer Game Based on War

“Special Force 2” — a computer game based on its war last summer with Israel and launched last week in Beirut in Arabic, Persian and English-language editions — awards points for killing Israeli soldiers. It retails for about $10.

“This game presents the culture of the resistance to children: that occupation must be resisted and that land and the nation must be guarded,” Hezbollah media official Sheikh Ali Daher told Reuters. “The features which are the secret of resistance’s victory in the south have moved to this game so that the child can understand that fighting the enemy does not only require the gun. It requires readiness, supplies, armament, attentiveness, tactics.”

Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed terrorist group based in Lebanon, launched the war on July 12, 2006 with a surprise raid into Israel, killing eight Israeli soldiers and capturing two. Its leaders later said they were surprised by the ferocity of the Israeli response. About 160 Israelis and 1,200 Lebanese died in the war.

Israel Drafts Interim Deal for Survivors

Israeli survivors of Nazi concentration camps and wartime ghettoes are to receive increased state subsidies under an interim deal forged by Ehud Olmert. Sunday marked the deadline set by the prime minister for settling the demands of Holocaust survivors who had protested a government plan to grant them just $20 a month in subsidies. Under a draft deal, those survivors who were in concentration camps or ghettoes will now receive between $200 and $300 a month in addition to standard welfare payouts for the elderly.

Israeli Welfare Ministry Director General Nahum Itzkowitz, speaking on Army Radio, said the deal “could change someone’s life and give him a feeling of stability and security, in comparison with the present situation.”

But a resolution is still pending for the majority of Israel’s 250,000 survivors who were dispossessed by Nazi Germany’s onslaught but never incarcerated. Israeli officials suggested they might attempt a compromise whereby state funding for a central trust catering to the needs of Holocaust survivors would be significantly raised.

Sen. Obama Praises Israel Aid Hike

Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) welcomed a raise in defense assistance to Israel. The Bush administration this week signed an agreement with Israel increasing its assistance from $2.4 billion a year to $3 billion a year over 10 years. The assistance is part of a package that uses incentives to encourage multiple parties — the Palestinians, Egypt and Saudi Arabia as well as Israel — to move forward on Israeli-Palestinian peace. Obama, a front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, said the assistance was necessary because Bush administration policies had endangered Israel.

“The Administration’s failed policies in Iraq, in a war that never should have been authorized, have strengthened Iran and emboldened Hamas and Hezbollah,” he said in a statement Thursday. “That makes it more important than ever that the United States live up to its commitment to ensure Israel’s qualitative military edge in a dangerous region. For that reason, I support the agreement on military assistance reached today.”

Shul Can Help You Live Longer, Study Suggests

A Hebrew University of Jerusalem study suggests that people who attend synagogue regularly live longer than those who do not.

Professor Howard Litwin of the university’s Israel Gerontological Data Center studied 5,000 Israelis aged 60 or older over a seven-year period, according to an article in Ha’aretz. He compared various factors influencing their longevity. His findings, published in The European Journal of Aging, showed a death rate 75 percent higher among those who did not attend synagogue regularly.

Litwin suggested several reasons: Faith may help people survive psychological pressure better; observant Jews walk to shul on Shabbat, thus maintaining an exercise routine; and a supportive community helps people live longer.