Shorts: Mideast

Potter fans flock to Shabbat launch

Hundreds of Israelis flocked to the controversial Shabbat launch of the new “Harry Potter” book. Two Israeli bookstores held launches for “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” in Tel Aviv and Ga’ash at 2:01 a.m. Saturday, in sync with the global release of the seventh and last tale of the boy wizard invented by British author J.K. Rowling. The launches were held despite threats by Industry and Trade Minister Eli Yishai, head of the religious Shas Party, to fine bookstores for doing business on the Sabbath.

Hundreds of avid readers, most of them children and many of them dressed as characters from the Harry Potter series, lined up for hours in anticipation of what is expected to be the fastest-selling book in history. “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” is currently available only in English. The Hebrew translation is due out in December. — jta

Israel edges toward civil weddings

A bill approved by Israel’s Chief Rabbinate would allow civil weddings for non-Jews.

Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann and Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar announced new legislation this week that would recognize civil weddings performed in Israel for couples in which neither bride nor groom is Jewish under Orthodox law.

The bill, which is expected to win Knesset ratification, could address the needs of some 300,000 Israelis — most of them immigrants from the former Soviet Union — who are barred from marrying in the Jewish state because they are considered non-Jews by the rabbinate. It would not, however, be applicable for unions between a Jew and a non-Jew.

Friedmann voiced hope that civil weddings eventually will become an option for mainstream Israelis who do not want to go the Orthodox route, currently the only legally recognized one. “I hope that with time it will be possible to persuade the political bodies that broadening this is warranted, and that it will be broadened,” he said. — jta

Jerusalem soldiers’ memorial desecrated

A Jerusalem memorial for Israeli soldiers was desecrated with swastikas on Tisha B’Av. The memorial in the Katamonim neighborhood commemorates some 270 local Israelis killed in Israel’s wars. Community center members discovered on Tuesday, July 24 that the memorial had been defaced with swastikas and threats to Israel’s Supreme Court. Police are investigating the incident. — jta

Textbook ignites controversy

A new textbook for Israeli-Arab third-graders approved by Israeli Education Minister Yuli Tamir is drawing criticism. The book, called “Living Together in Israel” and approved by Israeli Education Minister Yuli Tamir, says thousands of Arabs were deported by Jewish soldiers during Israel’s 1948 War of Independence and that Israel confiscated abandoned Arab property.

Some initial media reports claimed that the book follows the lead of the Palestinians in using the word “nakba,” Arabic for catastrophe, to describe Israel’s creation. But, in an editorial on Tuesday, July 24 defending the curriculum, The Jerusalem Post reported that the controversial line in question simply notes that “the Arabs call the war ‘nakba,’ a war of disaster and loss, while the Jews call it ‘The War of Independence.'”

Knesset members from Kadima, Likud, the National Religious Party and Yisrael Beiteinu, among others, denounced the new curriculum as anti-Zionist. Arab members of Knesset lauded the new books and suggested Jewish-Israelis learn from the same curriculum. — jta

Dancing to a record

A record 2,743 Israeli Arabs danced their way into the Guinness Book of World Records with the largest and longest group performance of the Debka.

Arabs from dozens of Debka clubs all over Israel came to the old city of Akko for the Sunday, July 22 event, where they danced for seven minutes in a 2,743-person human chain. They broke the previous record set in Toronto several years ago by some 1,700 people. The Debka, a six-step dance performed while holding hands in a line, is a mainstay of communal celebrations in the Arab world. The record-setting event was broadcast live on Al-Jazeera. — jta

Report: Hezbollah has completely rearmed

Hezbollah has restored its military capabilities to their prewar levels.

In an assessment to Israel Radio, a senior Israeli defense official said that Syria is transferring weapons to Hezbollah with the full awareness of Lebanon’s army but behind the back of UNIFIL, the U.N. force in Lebanon.

The official said Hezbollah prefers things to remain calm for now, so it can continue to build its military capabilities and restore the sites from which rockets were fired at Israel during last summer’s war. A preliminary report issued in April by the Israeli commission investigating the government’s performance during the war pointed out that the government’s main wartime goals were not prosecuted successfully, including delivering a crippling blow to Hezbollah and recovering the two Israeli soldiers abducted by the Lebanese militia. — jta