Mideast Report

Brahms, Beethoven up hens' productivity

JERUSALEM (JTA) — A little classical music goes a long way.

That might be the advice of an Israeli couple who saw their hens begin laying more after they began playing classical music in the coop.

Esther and Yossi Dubir of Kfar Hess said egg production shot up by 6 percent after they began piping in such classical composers as Beethoven, Mozart, Brahms and Vivaldi for their 7,000 chickens.

The couple said a psychologist had suggested putting on the music after other attempts to raise production levels failed.

Major labor strike scheduled for Sunday

JERUSALEM (JPS) — The Histadrut, Israel's quasi-governmental labor union, has postponed the general strike called for this week until Sunday.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appealed to Histadrut Secretary-General Amir Peretz Tuesday night to open a dialogue about economic policy.

Netanyahu wrote Peretz that the government's economic plan was intended to aid the disadvantaged and add tens of thousands of jobs.

Still, the labor federation went ahead with job actions throughout the week, which were to culminate with the full strike Sunday.

The strike is to cover both the public and business sectors. Teachers' unions also have notified that they would join the strike, since Israeli schools are open on Sundays.

Alleged ringleader to stay in Israeli jail

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israel's Supreme Court has ordered that an alleged member of a Russian organized crime ring remain in jail until the end of his trial.

The court's decision this week overturned a lower court ruling allowing Gregory Lerner to be placed under house arrest. The court made its decision because it believes that Lerner might try to flee the country.

Lerner, in custody since his arrest in May, faces charges of attempting to bribe senior Israeli political figures, including former Prime Minister Shimon Peres.

He also has been charged with defrauding banks and corporations in Israel, Russia and Europe of some $100 million.

Lerner, who is also known as Zvi Ben-Ari and who immigrated to Israel in 1989, also was investigated on suspicion of being involved in two murders committed in Russia. But he was not charged.

10 homeless families return from Jericho

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Ten homeless families have returned to Israel after spending nearly a month in Jericho, where they had sought — and received — asylum from the Palestinian Authority.

The families sought refuge in the Palestinian self-rule area after being evicted from the Jewish Agency for Israel's absorption center in Mevasseret Zion, where they illegally moved in with others.

Palestinian Preventive Security Service head Jibril Rajoub had welcomed them, and set the families up in a Jericho hotel.

However, the arrangement seemed unsuitable to Gesher Knesset member Maxim Levy, who, in the reconciliatory spirit of the upcoming holidays, urged the families to return to Israel.

"As someone who witnessed their eviction, there were certain mistakes made, and now we want to work to bring them home and give them a house in Mevasseret," he said.

Ben-Gurion Univ. lauds Nelson Mandela

CAPE TOWN, South Africa (JTA) — South African President Nelson Mandela was awarded an honorary doctorate from Ben-Gurion University this week.

But the ceremony was held here rather than in Israel because Mandela has indicated he will not visit the Middle East until he is able to make a meaningful contribution to the peace process.

Avishay Braverman, president of Ben-Gurion University, said at the ceremony that Mandela is "a master in bringing people together." Braverman said he hoped the spirit of Mandela would "prevail upon all the leaders of the Middle East" in their quest for peace.

Mandela said the honorary doctorate, in philosophy, was "a triumph of the whole South African nation" who transformed conflict into "a society where all can work together to make the people of the rainbow nation blossom."

Czech's president visits Ben Yehuda

JERUSALEM (JPS) — In an act of solidarity with the people of Jerusalem, Czech Republic President Vaclav Havel chose to begin his official visit to Israel Monday evening at the Ben Yehuda pedestrian mall.

Havel and his wife, Dagmar, accompanied by President Ezer Weizman and his wife, Reuma, sat down for an after-dinner coffee and beer at the very spot where three weeks ago one of three suicide bombers brought havoc and death to the city center. They were joined by Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert and a large contingent of bodyguards and journalists.

Havel told reporters, "The people and government of the Czech Republic are in favor of the peace process and know that the terrorists are a minority who cannot prevent peace."