Louis Bohté, onze vorige voorzitter, schrijft ons vanuit Bethlehem
 

Beste mensen,

Vrede en alle Goeds.

Bethlehem, 25 juli 2010

 foto's

Volgende week zondagavond vertrek ik naar het vliegveld van Tel Aviv om maandagmorgen bij Luik aan te komen. Dat is de goedkoopste verbinding tot verbazing van mijn reisbureau, waar ik dinsdag mijn ticket ophaalde. In Nederland ben ik telefonisch bereikbaar onder nummer 06 21410759. Mijn verblijfsadres is Deken Roesstraat 13 in Utrecht dat als telefoonnummer heeft: 030 – 2324090.

Ik ben van de week een paar mooie verhalen tegengekomen. Het eerst was van John van de souvenirwinkel. Ik kwam bij hem langs, waar hij in gezelschap was van een Deense vrouw en een Deense man, beiden in de twintig. Hij vertelde het verhaal van een Israëlisch stel met wie hij bevriend was. Op een keer had de man teveel gedronken en was met een andere vrouw naar bed gegaan. Omdat hij van zijn vriendin hield, biechtte hij zijn misstap op. Hierop gaf zij hem de bons. Hij vertelde John dit verhaal en die wist een oplossing. Hij nodigde beiden los van elkaar uit voor een etentje in Bethlehem. Dat kon toen nog. De man moest wachten tot zijn (ex)vriendin bij hem aan tafel zat. Toen hij verscheen, wilde de vrouw opstappen, want zij wilde niet met hem eten. John vroeg haar wie haar voor het etentje had uitgenodigd. Er was dus geen reden om op te stappen.
Vervolgens vroeg John haar wat de kwestie was. Hij gaf tot verbazing van de man haar volkomen gelijk. Vervolgens vroeg John haar of zij van hem gehouden had. Dat moest zij bekennen. Hierna vroeg John haar of liefde ook betekent, dat je elkaar kunt vergeven. Hier kon zij uiteindelijk niet omheen en werd de relatie toen hersteld. Hoe het nu is, weet John niet, want de muur maakt verder contact onmogelijk.

Het thema vergeven hoorde ik onlangs ook van Jack, die vond, dat je na een misstap moet kunnen vergeven. Ik bezocht hem donderdag om te horen of zijn zoon Shoekri geslaagd was voor zijn eindexamen. Helaas heeft hij twee herexamens: wiskunde en techniek. Jack vertelde verhalen uit zijn jeugd. Hij was bij de scouts, maar ging zijn eigen weg. Hij heeft eens met twee vrienden, toen hij een jaar of 19 was, een overlevingstocht in de woestijn gemaakt. Hij vertelde hoe hij aan water kwam en aan voedsel. Water is uiteraard het belangrijkste. Deels wist hij water uit cactussen te krijgen en deels door te graven in de grond tot hij een vochtig deel tegenkwam. Hij liet het water door de zon verdampen, maar ving het op met nylon, waar het verdampte water als dauw tegenaan kwam te zitten dank zij het temperatuurverschil.

Achteraf bleek dat de man van scouts op een afstand met een verrekijker hen in de gaten heeft gehouden. Met de scouts heeft hij een keer problemen met Israëlische soldaten gehad, maar ook opgelost.

Vorige week zondag was het voor het eerst Mandela dag. Hiervoor is een filmpje op youtube geplaatst, zie: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KVeMK0-BZH4

Maandag gebeurde weer genoeg. Eerst sprak ik Eyad, een knul van 16 uit Hebron, die een schoenenwinkel runt samen met andere jongelui, vermoedelijk allemaal familieleden. Eyad vertelde meer over vragen, die hij heeft rond zijn leven; vragen naar de zin ervan.

Hierna bezocht ik mijn ‘nicht’ Majd, met wie gezellig heb zitten kletsen. Terug naar huis kwam ik op het Kribbeplein een jonge vriend tegen, die er vaak zit met een laptop. Hij heet Alaa. Hij stelde vragen bij de Holocaust. Het blijkt wel vaker voor jonge mensen moeilijk zich voor te stellen, dat zoveel Joden systematisch gedood zijn.

Later op de avond ging ik nog een keer het plein op en kwam ik Hajj tegen, die met een jonge Amerikaan uit Chicago daar rondliep. De jongeman, Roberto, was in zijn gezelschap. Hij bleek een hiphopper te zijn, die Hajj leerde kennen bij een concert in het internationaal centrum van de Lutherse kerk. Later hoorde ik dat hij uit een gemengd huwelijk komt: Moslim – Christen (Anglicaanse kerk). Hij organiseert concerten in de zogeheten Mid West van de VS. Vandaag zullen we verder met elkaar praten. Ik kreeg van hem een CD met christelijke hiphop.

Van het Israëlisch Comité tegen het verwoesten van huizen kreeg ik een email, dat dit jaar zij opnieuw een huis voor de familie Hamdan gaan herbouwen als politiek verzet tegen de bezetting. Zie bijlage.

Donderdag hoorde ik rond tien uur ’s morgens luid toeterende auto’s rondrijden. Dit betekende, dat de uitslagen van de eindexamens bekend waren gemaakt. Voor geslaagden een reden tot feest vieren door luid toeterend rond te rijden.

Naast Shoekri kreeg ook Hajj zijn uitslag te horen. Hij was tevreden, want ondanks de problemen had hij slechts drie herexamens. Die wil hij komend jaar overdoen samen met nog een vierde vak, waarvan hij het cijfer op wil halen.

In de stad kwam ik een meisje tegen van een jaar of negen, die ik al herhaaldelijk heb laten rondzwieren. Dit keer wilde ze weer, maar eerst keek ze goed om zich heen, of niet iemand haar zag, die haar hiervoor op haar donder kon geven. Dat was niet het geval, maar ze wilde snel stoppen, want je weet maar nooit.

Vrijdag vierden de zusters Brigidinessen het feest van hun stichteres. Vlak bij hun communiteit werd ik aangesproken met het verzoek of ik Khader, de oudste broer van Mohammed en Gibriel, Engelse les wilde geven. Ik heb het uitgesteld tot na de Ramadan vanwege mijn vakantie.

Gisteren bezocht ik de toenmalige huiseigenaar en zijn vrouw, van wie ik de ruimte gehuurd had voor het jongerencentrum. Hij liet mij een foto van hun jongste zoon zien, die voor reclamedoeleinden was gebruikt zonder dat er toestemming voor gevraagd was. Ik heb hen in contact gebracht met Wisam, die begin volgend jaar klaar is met zijn stage bij een advocatenkantoor en dan als advocaat aan de slag kan. Hier gebuikte ik mijn mobiele telefoon voor, die ik vervolgens vergat mee te nemen. Toen ik dit ontdekte, keerde ik naar hen terug om dan verzeild te raken in de opbouw van een feest voor kennelijk een bruiloft. De vrouwen waren op het dak. Ik moest van hen mee dansen, wat ik even gedaan heb.

Sinds een paar weken is een jonge medebroeder in huis uit Calabrië, zuid Italië. Hij heeft een opleiding tot operazanger achter de rug en heeft dat een paar keer laten horen. Hij wil hier verder theologie studeren. Er is ook een jonge Peruviaanse medebroeder hier gekomen.

Komende week zal bekend worden wie van de broeders in de custodie waarheen zal gaan. Sommige broeders zijn er nerveus van.

Als bijlage voeg ik toe een kritisch artikel van Uri Avnery over het huidige Israëlische parlement, een artikel over een nieuwe wet over erkenning van bekering tot het Joodse geloof en een artikel over het VN onderzoek naar de aanval op de vloot met hulpgoederen eind mei.

Gezien op een T-shirt: Only God can judge me.

Groeten uit Bethlehem,

Louis Bohté


De foto's van deze week

UN chief stalls on Israeli probe
By Thalif Deen  /  
Jul 23, 2010

NEW York - When the United Nations Security Council condemned the killings by Israeli military forces of nine Turkish civilians on a flotilla of ships carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza last May, it also released a presidential statement "taking note" of secretary general Ban Ki-moon's proposal for an international investigation of the incident.

But nearly two months later there are no signs of the proposed "prompt, impartial, credible and transparent investigation".

After an earlier devastating three-week Israeli military offensive against Gaza in late 2008 - which left more than 1,400 people dead and over 5,000 injured - the Human Rights Council in Geneva appointed a three member fact-finding mission, led by Judge Richard Goldstone. That panel submitted a blistering report accusing both Israel and Hamas of committing war crimes.

Norman Finkelstein, a scholar and political scientist, told Inter Press Service (IPS) that after publication of the Goldstone report, Israeli leaders complained that the report was making it difficult for Israel to launch another war.

"Unfortunately, Ban Ki-moon did not implement the recommendations of the Goldstone report [to pursue war crimes charges], but instead has prolonged the proceedings," he added. "Now he is procrastinating on the formation of a committee to investigate Israeli crimes on the Mavi Marmara [the Turkish ship attacked by Israeli military forces]."

The outcome is easily foreseeable, said Finkelstein, author of several books, including This Time We Went Too Far: Truth and Consequences of the Gaza Invasion.

Israel was now preparing for an attack on Lebanon, he warned. "It will be an assault next to which previous ones pale by comparison. And it is because Ban Ki-moon has been delinquent in his responsibilities that Israel will be able to launch this monstrous attack," he predicted. When the death and destruction come in Lebanon, Ban should be held culpable, said Finkelstein.

"The secretary general is obviously under pressure from the United States and other Western states not to conduct an international probe unless he has the concurrence of Israel," says one diplomatic source.

"If the Israelis do agree," he told IPS, "which I very much doubt, it will be a watered down investigation, not a 'full investigation' as the Security Council agreed on."

Last month an Israeli-appointed self-investigating panel absolved the military forces of any criminality in the flotilla attack.

Richard Falk, professor of international law emeritus at Princeton University, told IPS: "It seems abundantly clear the government of Israel is hostile to international criticisms, or to any effort to assess contested Israeli behavior by way of a UN initiative."

Falk said Israel refused to cooperate with the Goldstone fact-finding mission, and then defamed Goldstone and repudiated the report once released - despite scrupulous efforts to produce a balanced assessment of alleged violations of humanitarian law by both Israelis and Palestinians.

"The failure so far by Ban Ki-moon to appoint forthwith such an investigative panel contrasts with the response to a similar call in relation to investigate allegations of Sri Lanka's criminality in suppressing the Tamil insurgency," said Falk, currently UN special rapporteur for the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

"It should be obvious that only an international panel has any prospect of achieving a comprehensive, objective, and credible assessment of the flotilla incident, which directly involves a highly contested use of Israeli state power to attack a humanitarian mission on international waters," he added.

Asked if the secretary general was still awaiting "permission" from Israel before naming the panel of inquiry, UN spokesperson Martin Nesirky told reporters on Monday that Ban was very actively pursuing his proposal. "As you know, he has met [Israeli] Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu and has spoken to him on the telephone." He has also spoken to the Foreign Minister of Turkey, [Ahmet] Davutoglu, about this matter.

"So he is pursuing this very vigorously, and clearly, he does want to push ahead with it. But, as we've also mentioned on a number of occasions, you do need those key elements in place before you can actually make it happen," said Nesirky.

Asked who was responsible for the foot-dragging, Turkey or Israel, he said: "Look, it's not a question of foot-dragging; it is a question of making sure that everybody is on the same page, to mix a metaphor."

"It's not for me to characterize the positions of other countries, or of member states; they can do that themselves," Nesirky said. "All I would say is that the secretary general is in frequent contact with the parties concerned, and would hope to have a positive response so that he can then push ahead with this commission sooner rather than later."

Naseer H Aruri, chancellor professor (Emeritus) at the University of Massachusetts in Dartmouth, told IPS the proposed international commission "may never see the light of day if recent experience is to prove valid".

In October last year, Israel, the US and Western allies succeeded in "postponing" indefinitely the referral of the Goldstone report on the Israeli onslaught on Gaza to the UN Human Rights Council for discussion, he said.

The Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz reported that, behind the scenes, Palestinian officials had faced threats that Israel would retaliate by inflicting enormous damage on the beleaguered Palestinian economy.

The same accusations would have been launched against the Palestinian Authority had it not agreed to postpone the discussion of the Goldstone report in the UN Human Rights Council.

The flagrant violations of international law by Israel's armed forces against civilians resulted in similar policy responses from US president George W Bush and President Barack Obama. "Both excused Israel, shielded Israel from international scrutiny, and permitted Israel to once again get away with impunity," said Aruri.

(Inter Press Service)

                                                A Parliamentary Mob

                                          by former MK (member of Knesset) Uri Avnery  /  17.7.10

WHEN I was first elected to the Knesset, I was appalled at what I found. I discovered that, with rare exceptions, the intellectual level of the debates was close to zero. They consisted mainly of strings of clichés of the most commonplace variety. During most of the debates, the plenum was almost empty. Most participants spoke vulgar Hebrew. When voting, many members had no idea what they were voting for or against, they just followed the party whip.

That was 1967, when the Knesset included members like Levy Eshkol and Pinchas Sapir, David Ben-Gurion and Moshe Dayan, Menachem Begin and Yohanan Bader,  Meir Yaari and Yaakov Chazan, for whom today streets, highroads and neighborhoods are named.

In comparison to the present Knesset, that Knesset now looks like Plato's Academy.

WHAT FRIGHTENED me more than anything else was the readiness of members to enact irresponsible laws for the sake of fleeting popularity, especially at times of mass hysteria. One of my first Knesset initiatives was to submit a bill which would have created a second chamber, a kind of Senate, composed of outstanding personalities, with the power to hold up the enactment of new laws and compel the Knesset to reconsider them after an interval. This, I hoped, would prevent laws being hastily adopted in an atmosphere of excitement.

The bill was not considered seriously, neither by the Knesset nor by the general public. The Knesset almost unanimously voted it down. (After some years, several of the members told me that they regretted their vote.)  The newspapers nicknamed the proposed chamber "the House of Lords" and ridiculed it. Haaretz devoted a whole page of cartoons to the proposal, depicting me in the garb of a British peer.

So there is no brake. The production of irresponsible laws, most of them racist and anti-democratic, is booming. The more the government itself is turning into an assembly of political hacks, the more the likelihood of its preventing such legislation is diminishing. The present government, the largest, basest and most despised in Israel's history, is cooperating with the Knesset members who submit such bills, and even initiating them itself.

The only remaining obstacle to this recklessness is the Supreme Court. In the absence of a written constitution, it has taken upon itself the power to annul scandalous laws that violate democracy and human rights. But the Supreme Court itself is beleaguered by rightists who want to destroy it, and is moving with great caution. It intervenes only in the most extreme cases.

Thus a paradoxical situation has arisen: parliament, the highest expression of democracy, is itself now posing a dire threat to Israeli democracy.

THE MAN who personifies this phenomenon more than anyone else is MK Michael Ben-Ari of the "National Union" faction, the heir of Meir Kahane, whose organization "Kach" ("Thus") was outlawed many years ago because of its openly fascist character.

Kahane himself was elected to the Knesset only once. The reaction of the other members was unequivocal: whenever he rose to speak, almost all the other members left the hall. The rabbi had to make his speeches before a handful of ultra-right colleagues.

A few weeks ago I visited the present Knesset for the first time since its election. I went there to listen to a debate about a subject that concerns me too: the decision of the Palestinian Authority to boycott the products of the settlements, a dozen years after Gush Shalom started this boycott. I spent some hours in the building, and from hour to hour my revulsion deepened.

The main cause was a circumstance I had not been aware of: MK Ben-Ari, the disciple and admirer of Kahane, holds sway there. Not only is he not an isolated outsider on the fringe of parliamentary life, as his mentor had been, but on the contrary, he is at the center. I saw the members of almost all other factions crowding around him in the members' cafeteria and listening to his perorations with rapt attention in the plenum. No doubt can remain that Kahanism - the Israeli version of fascism - has moved from the margin to center stage.

Recently, the country witnessed a scene that looked like something from the parliament of South Korea or Japan.

On the Knesset speaker's rostrum stood MK Haneen Zoabi of the Arab nationalist Balad faction and tried to explain why she had joined the Gaza aid flotilla that had been attacked by the Israeli navy. MK Anastasia Michaeli, a member of the Lieberman party, jumped from her seat and rushed to the rostrum, letting out blood-curdling shrieks, waving her arms, in order to remove Haneen Zoabi by force. Other members rose from their seats to help Michaeli. Near the speaker, a threatening crowd of Knesset members gathered. Only with great difficulty did the ushers succeed in saving Zoabi from bodily harm. One of the male members shouted at her, in a typical mixture of racism and sexism: "Go to Gaza and see what they will do to a 41 year old unmarried woman!"

One could not imagine a greater contrast than that between the two MKs. While Haneen Zoabi belongs to a family whose roots in the Nazareth area go back centuries, perhaps to the time of Jesus, Anastasia Michaeli was born in (then) Leningrad. She was elected "Miss St. Petersburg" and then became a fashion model, married an Israeli, converted to Judaism, immigrated to Israel at age 24 but sticks to her very Russian first name. She has given birth to eight children. She may be a candidate for the Israeli Sarah Palin, who, after all, was also once a beauty queen..

As far as I could make out, not a single Jewish member raised a finger to defend Zoabi during the tumult. Nothing but some half-hearted protest from the Speaker, Reuven Rivlin, and a Meretz member, Chaim Oron.

In all the 61 years of its existence, the Knesset had not seen such a sight. Within a minute the sovereign assembly turned into a parliamentary lynch mob.

One does not have to support the ideology of Balad to respect the impressive personality of Haneen Zoabi. She speaks fluently and persuasively, has degrees from two Israeli universities, fights for the rights of women within the Israeli-Arab community and is the first female member of an Arab party in the Knesset. Israeli democracy could be proud of her. She belongs to a large Arab extended family. The brother of her grandfather was the mayor of Nazareth, one uncle was a deputy minister and another a Supreme Court judge. (Indeed, on my first day in the Knesset I proposed that another member of the Zoabi family be elected as Speaker.)

This week, the Knesset decided by a large majority to adopt a proposal by Michael Ben-Ari, supported by Likud and Kadima members, to strip Haneen Zoabi of her parliamentary privileges. Even before, Interior Minister Eli Yishai had asked the Legal Advisor to the Government for approval of his plan to strip Zoabi of her Israeli citizenship on the grounds of treason. One of the Knesset members shouted at her: "You have no place in the Israeli Knesset! You have no right to hold an Israeli identity card!"

On the very same day, the Knesset took action against the founder of Zoabi's party, Azmi Bishara. In a preliminary hearing, it approved a bill - this one, too, supported by both Likud and Kadima members - aimed at denying Bishara his pension, which is due after his resignation from the Knesset. (He is staying abroad, after being threatened with an indictment for espionage.)

The proud parents of these initiatives, which enjoy massive support from Likud, Kadima, Lieberman's party and all the religious factions, do not hide their intention to expel all the Arabs from parliament and establish at long last a pure Jewish Knesset. The latest decisions of the Knesset are but parts of a prolonged campaign, which gives birth almost every week to new initiatives from publicity-hungry members, who know that the more racist and anti-democratic their bills are, the more popular they will be with their electorate.

Such was this weeks Knesset decision to condition the acquisition of citizenship on the candidate's swearing allegiance to Israel as a "Jewish and democratic state", thus demanding that Arabs (especially foreign Arab spouses of Arab citizens) subscribe to the Zionist ideology. The equivalent would be the demand that new American citizens swear allegiance to the USA as a "white Anglo-Saxon protestant state".

There seems to be no limit to this parliamentary irresponsibility. All red lines have been crossed long ago. This does not concern only the parliamentary representation of more than 20% of Israel's citizens, but there is a growing tendency towards depriving all Arab citizens of their citizenship altogether.

THIS TENDENCY is connected with the ongoing attack on the status of the Arabs in East Jerusalem.

This week I was present at the hearing in Jerusalem's magistrates court on the detention of Muhammed Abu Ter, one of the four Hamas members of the Palestinian parliament from Jerusalem. The hearing was held in a tiny room, which can seat only about a dozen spectators. I succeeded only with great difficulty in getting in.

After they were elected in democratic elections, in conformity with Israel's explicit obligation under the Oslo agreement to allow the Arabs in East Jerusalem to take part, the government announced that their "permanent resident" status had been revoked.

What does that mean? When Israel "annexed" East Jerusalem in 1967, the government did not dream of conferring citizenship on the inhabitants, which would have significantly increased the percentage of Arab voters in Israel. Neither did they invent a new status for them. Lacking other alternatives, the inhabitants became "permanent residents", a status devised for foreigners who wish to stay in Israel. The Minister of the Interior has the right to revoke this status and deport such people to their countries of origin.

Clearly, this definition of "permanent residents" should not apply to the inhabitants of East Jerusalem. They and their forefathers were born there, they have no other citizenship and no other place of residence. The revoking of their status turns them into politically homeless people without protection of any kind.

The state lawyers argued in court that with the cancellation of his "permanent resident" status, Abu Ter has become an "illegal person" whose refusal to leave the city warrants unlimited detention.

(A few hours earlier, the Supreme Court dealt with our petition concerning the investigation of the Gaza flotilla incident. We won a partial, but significant, victory: for the first time in its history, the Supreme Court agreed to interfere in a matter concerning a commission of inquiry. The court decided that if the commission requires the testimony of military officers and the government tries to prevent this, the court will intervene.)

IF SOME people are trying to delude themselves into believing that the parliamentary mob will harm "only Arabs", they are vastly mistaken. The only question is: who is next in line?

This week, the Knesset gave the first reading to a bill to impose heavy penalties on any Israeli who advocates a boycott on Israel, in general, and on economic enterprises, universities and other Israeli institutions, including settlements, in particular. Any such institution will be entitled to an indemnity of 5000 dollars from every supporter of the boycott.

A call for boycott is a democratic means of expression. I object very much to a general boycott on Israel, but (following Voltaire) am ready to fight for everybody's right to call for such a boycott. The real aim of the bill is, of course, to protect the settlements: it is designed to deter those who call for a boycott of the products of the settlements which exist on occupied land outside the borders of the state. This includes me and my friends.

Since the foundation of Israel, it has never stopped boasting of being the "Only Democracy in the Middle East". This is the jewel in the crown of Israeli propaganda. The Knesset is the symbol of this democracy.

It seems that the parliamentary mob, which has taken over the Knesset, is determined to destroy this image once and for all, so that Israel will find its proper place somewhere between Libya, Yemen and Saudi Arabia.

REBUILDING FOR THE HAMDAN FAMILY, 2010

This year we, the participants of ICAHD`s 2010 work camp, will be rebuilding the home of the Hamdan family: the parents Youssef and Ouda and their four children, Mohamed, Kassem, Saja and Hasma. The Hamdan home, located in the Jerusalem section of Anata, was first demolished in 2005 for lack of a building permit (which is virtually impossible for Palestinians to acquire). ICAHD began rebuilding the home in its 2007 work camp, but because the Wall was being built just in front of their home at the time, conflicts between the residents and the police and army reached such a pitch that we were forced to suspend the construction and move to another house. In 2008 we returned to the Hamdan home and rebuilt it, only to have it demolished once again. Now we are back to rebuild the home for the third time.

The vast majority of homes built by ICAHD have remained, but we do lose some, occasionally twice, three or even four times. ICAHD rebuilds homes with our Palestinian, Israeli and international partners as acts of political resistance to the Occupation, not as humanitarian acts. In that context rebuilding makes sense, even if it means repeated confrontations with the Israeli authorities.

We seek demolition – the demolition of the Occupation and oppression – and so we engage in construction, constructing a just peace.

The conversion bill demystified

All you need to know about controversial legislation proposed by Yisrael Beiteinu, angering Jews across the globe.

By Yair Ettinger

What is the conversion bill?

It's a bill that Yisrael Beiteinu promised its voters, intended to jump-start the stalled conversion system.

To whom is this law important?

Some 320,000 people who are not Jewish according to halakha (Jewish law ) live in Israel, most of them from the former Soviet Union. Though they are Israeli citizens, they cannot marry in Israel, and after their death, they cannot have a Jewish funeral. Yet many converts who invested many years and large sums of money in converting, including some who made personal sacrifices for their choice to be Jewish, have either discovered that their conversion is not recognized by the Haredim (ultra-Orthodox ) who dominat

Hasn't the state found a solution?

After the Chief Rabbinate started refusing to perform conversions due to Haredi rabbis' objections, former prime minister Ariel Sharon set up special conversion courts under the auspices of the Prime Minister's Office. Dozens of rabbinical judges were recruited for the project, most from the religious Zionism movement. The system was headed by Rabbi Haim Druckman, and Chief Sephardi Rabbi Shlomo Amar had supreme authority over it.

Many of the converts were soldiers, who complete the process during their military service via the army's Nativ project. And last week, Beit Morasha, a Jerusalem center for Jewish studies, inaugurated the Israel Institute for Conversion Policy, which will focus on converting teens.

So it seems everyone is happy. Where's the problem?

The ultra-Orthodox rabbis may no longer be part of the conversion process, but they have found a way to impact converts' lives. Some marriage registrars refuse to register converts if they think they are not observant enough, and rabbinical court judges have revoked the conversions of converts who sought a divorce. The worst incident occurred in 2008, when the Rabbinical Court of Appeals retroactively annulled every conversion ever performed by Druckman's courts. Since then, conversion in Israel has been stuck in a rut.

What difference will the new bill make?

Since the government's conversion courts are weak, the bill offers a user-friendly process for those who want to undergo an Orthodox conversion. Its sponsor, MK David Rotem, proposes that municipal rabbis, who are part of the Chief Rabbinate, be allowed to set up conversion courts and carry out conversions even for those who do not live in their cities.

The bill increases the Chief Rabbinate's authority over conversions and requires the rabbinate to approve the appointment of conversion judges. But Rotem's assumption is that the Chief Rabbinate is not entirely Haredi; it also contains religious Zionist and modern Orthodox rabbis - and it is they who will perform the conversions. The bill also makes it harder to revoke conversions, saying rabbinical courts may do so only if the chief rabbis approve.

The Haredim, in contrast, hope the Chief Rabbinate will pressure municipal rabbis to adhere to their more rigorous conversion standards.

What are Reform and Conservative rabbis afraid of?

They are concerned that for the first time, Israeli law is giving the Chief Rabbinate authority over conversion. The rabbinate does not have that power today. They are also concerned by the bill's statement that conversion will be recognized only if the convert "accepted the Torah and the commandments in accordance with halakha." This unprecedented stipulation excludes the Conservative and Reform communities.

Finally, they fear it would effectively overturn a 2002 High Court of Justice ruling that required the Interior Ministry to recognize converts of all denominations, whether performed in Israel or overseas.

The Jewish Agency also objects vehemently to the bill.