I seem to be making a habit of speaking at US Congressional briefings, and then rushing home to be in Israel with my family to celebrate holidays. I am grateful to J Street, J Street U and the J Street Rabbinic Cabinet for their campaign opposing the demolition of threatened Palestinian villages, and the opportunity to speak at a congressional briefing about the crucial role the US has historically played, and must again play, in preventing home demolitions, dispossession and displacement. I was joined by Susya spokesperson Nasser Nawajeh, whom I have known since he was 15. I wish we hadn’t had to do this, but it was important to have this opportunity to speak, along with Betty Herschman from “Ir Amim” and Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky. Congressperson Schakowsky has co-authored a dear colleagues sign on letter on behalf of endangered Palestinian villages.
Throughout the briefing (and the preceding J Street conference), the word “crisis” was frequently heard. “Crisis” is a word easily overused. However, although most know me as the eternal optimist, I believe that we are truly in a dangerous crisis.
It took me a while myself to realize this. Running from event to event, and task to task, the full import of several recent setbacks I will explain below hadn’t hit me. However, the challenge and the blessing both of Shabbat and 11 hours on a plane was that I had time to think. This past Shabbat, as much as I tried to find some Shabbat peace of mind, the unease that had begun on the plane only grew. In the morning, when we were invited to speak the names of those who were in need of a prayer for healing, I did something that I have occasionally thought about in the past, but I don’t recall ever having actually done, I whispered, “Medinat Yisrael,” (The State of Israel). On the plane home to be with my family for the last hours of Memorial day, and to celebrate Independence Day with my family, I completed the Prayer for Healing for the State and People of Israel that appears below. I included it in my prayers this morning, along with Hallel –-The joyous recitation of psalms we recite on holidays.
There will be those who will say that I have crossed a line by writing a prayer like this, just as there are those who are incapable of hearing the love in David Grossman’s words at this year’s joint Israeli Palestinian Memorial Day ceremony. The love is there in every line of Grossman’s words, and one generally prays for the healing of those one cares about. As I wrote on my Times of Israel blog last Friday for the double Torah portion of Tazria-Metzorah (Israel is temporarily a week ahead of the Diaspora, which read Tazria-Metzorah this week, and we read Akharei Mot-Kedoshim), what the Torah teaches us about rot in the walls of one’s home can teach us what must be done when there is rot in the walls of our national home. The goal is not to condemn the house and tear it down, but rather to heal it. If one ignores the rot, or is unwilling to acknowledge the rot for what it is because of what either the anti-Semites or the “Israel right or wrongers” will say, or refrains from doing everything possible to take care of the infected stones, there will truly be a danger that the house will get to the point that it is can’t be healed. Those who reject the house from the outset will say that it cannot be repaired. If we wish to save the house, we heal it. As painful as it may be, we need to say that we have gone beyond what is simply a matter of legitimate political disagreement. The State of Israel is ill. Because, like it or not, the People of Israel are so intimately connected to the State Of Israel, we are all affected.
It was also driven home to me on this past trip that the gap between Israeli and non-Israeli Jews is greater than it has ever been in my lifetime. For the first time I could imagine us becoming two separate peoples. We are thankfully still far from that, but that means that we are all still affected.
The illness can be summarized in the fact that our current leadership believes that they have the right to do anything they have the ability to do. They are carrying out the agenda they claim they were elected to implement. Neither the Israeli public nor the international community will be allowed to stand in their way. Dissent is opposing the will of the voters, traitorous and to be silenced. Those with very different views than ours have control of the educational system and most other key institutions. They are lessening press scrutiny and are closing in on the judicial system.
There are many symptoms of our illness, including the heightened attempts pass laws changing our courts, hampering the work of human rights organizations, the increasing general intolerance of dissent, the recent flip flop when we had the opportunity for a win-win solution regarding African asylum seekers, etc. In my “Passover Thoughts” I addressed the difference between how a military court addressed the killing of civilians in Kfar Kassemin 1956, and how the current government is reacting to criticism of the open fire orders leading to the deaths of Palestinians on the Gaza border who for the most part posed no threat to Israeli lives. (To the best of our ability to know. The army says it is investigating, but there is no independent and transparent investigation.)
However, I have been mostly thinking about two devastating setbacks that Torat Tzedek was directly involved with. In each case the setbacks reflect a significant institutional change.
In neither case are we giving up.
The first was the main topic in my commentary on Tazria-Metzorah. Last week the Jewish State brutally twisted the arms of her non-Jewish Bedouin citizens residing in Umm Al Hiran to force them to “agree” to give up their way of life, and move into a Bedouin township. After years of struggle, they did so because the State was now threatening the use of crushing force, the fact that the High Court had declined to intervene because of a technicality and was not processing a new appeal in time to prevent forced eviction, the fact that the State had reneged on a previous decent agreement allocating them land for a new agricultural community, the trauma from the previous use of force in January 2017, the unwillingness of the international community to apply any meaningful pressure, the ineffectiveness of the concern of some MKs, and the feeling that they were alone. I would like to believe that if the residents of Umm Al Hiran had been able to hang on, one of several avenues we were pursuing would have succeeded, but they did not feel they could rely on that. Not only was there nothing that could stand in the way of those in power today, but they no longer observe any of the self imposed restrictions that in the past would have provided some protection.
The second setback is that we have not yet come up with an answer to heightened collusion between settlers and Israeli security forces keeping shepherds out of lands necessary for their livelihood. Ultimately this could lead to massive additional tracts of land coming under full settler control and becoming Palestinian free. Some of this was explained in my Passover Thoughts, but the situation has become worse. In the Jordan Valley and elsewhere, the army simply imposes repeated 24 hour closure orders on areas that it doesn’t want shepherds to graze in.
In the case of the Jordan Valley, this is a retreat from understandings that had been achieved, and had led to quiet for a number of months. One officer openly acknowledged that the regression was due to settler pressure. The last time we were in one location the officer intimidated the shepherds by almost arresting one of them. They haven’t gone back.
Next to the Mevuot Yerikho settlement and in the South Hebron Hills the settlers go even further. Where the army doesn’t do the job for them by issuing closure orders, they simply scare the sheep away. In the South Hebron Hills, a settler even set his pit bull on sheep. Near Mevuot Yerikho, where we are most involved, the army at first made a grudging effort to restrain the settlers where the army allowed the shepherds to graze. However, they began to look the other way. One day, after settlers had tried to drive their vehicles up close to the sheep while honking, an officer said that the only thing he saw wrong was me blocking the freedom of movement of the vehicle.
A police officer not present said he would have to come and see, because it could be that even a vehicle driving through a flock of sheep was just trying to get to the other side. Other settlers bang pans or “jog” in the midst of the sheep while shouting.
We have tried making human circles around settlers, standing in front of vehicles, etc. However, ultimately we were not able to prevent the flocks from being scared away. When the security forces so totally collude with the settlers who are already emboldened by a supportive and protective government, we must ask who will be left, even if there will be an eventual change at the political or international levels.
We have faced challenges before, and It is true that in any one of a number of factors could alter the balance almost overnight. However, it is also true that we are simply not playing a game. The stakes are much higher, and “lo somkhim al ha-nes.,” we don’t count on miracles. We pray for God’s assistance, but God expects us to do our part. We can’t wait for some dramatic change. We must be the change. We must make that extraordinary effort needed at this time.
Every day we explore new options. Let us pray that we are all up to the tasks at hand, and let us pray for healing. Our efforts can determine how close the real Israel and Yerushalayim shel mata will be to the Israel we believe in, united with the Yerushalayim shel ma’alah. Here in Israel, our Torah portion, often read on the week of Independence Day, includes “You shall Be holy, “You shall love the one essentially like you as yourself, You shall love the non-Jew living among you, and any additional ethical commands. And as I told those assembled for the briefing in Congress, they will determine whether or not Nasser has a home.
Khag HaAtzmaut Sameakh – Happy Independence Day
A “Misheberakh” Prayer of Healing for the State and People of Israel
The Hebrew is followed by a transliteration, and then a translation.
מי שברך קדמונינו אברהם ושרה, יצחק ורבקה, יעקב לאה ורחל, הוא יברך וירפא את החולים, מדינת ישראל ועם ישראל. הקדוש ברוך הוא ימלא רחמים עלינו להחלימנו ולרפואתנו מכל מחלה המקשה עלינו להגשים את הטוב ואת השאיפות לצדק שבליבנו – ביניהן: העיוורון לנוכחותך בכל אדם והעיוורון למציאות; החירשות לקול הדממה הדקה בתוך רעש הפחד וההפחדה, קולות הענות והמלחמה במחנה; והפקודות; האטימות לסבל של האחר/ת; הרשימו שנשאר מכל מה שסבלנו אנו, השיכרון מכוח ומשלטון; השנאה לחושב/ת אחרת מאתנו; והאהבה היתרה לארץ ישראל ולמדינת ישראל ולעם ישראל ולכל דבר קדוש המסנוור אותנו לקדושתך ולרצונך. אנא, החזק בנו את היצר הטוב והחיות את אמונתנו בעולם מתוקן במלכותך וביכולתנו לקרבו. שלח לנו במהרה רפואה שלמה, רפואת הנפש ורפואת הגוף, בתוך שאר החולים/ות, השתא בעגלא ובזמן קרים, ונאמר אמן.
Mi sh’beirakh kadmoneinu Avraham v’Sarah, Yitzhak v’Rivkah, Ya’akov, Leah v’Rakhek, hu yivarekh v’yirapeih et ha’kholim, Medinat Yisrael v’Am Yisrael. HaKadosh Borukh Hu yimaleh rakhamim aleinu l’hakhlamatanu v’l’rfuatanu mi’kol makhalah ha’makshah aleinu l’hagshim et ha’tov v’et ha’sheifah la’tzedek sh’b’libeinu-beiniehen: ha’ivaraon l’nokhakhutkha b’kholadam v’ha’ivaron l’mitziut; ha’khershut l’kol ha’demamah ha’dakah b’tokh ra’ash ha’pakhad v’ha’hafkhadah, kolot ha’onot v’kolot ha’milkhamah b’makhaneh v’hapekudot; ha’atimut l’sevel shelha’akher/et; ha’rashimu sh’nishar mi’kol mah sh’avalnu anu; ha’shikaron mi’koakh u’mi’shilton; ha’sinah l’khoshev’et akheret m’itanu; v’ha’ahavah ha’yiterah l’Eretz Yisrael v’l’Medinat Yisrael, v’l’Am Yisrael, v’lkhol d’var kadosh ha’misanveir otanu l’kedushatkhah v’l’ratzonkhah. Anah, he’khezeik banu et ha’yetzer ha’tov v’ha’khayot et emunateinu b’olam mitukan b’malkhutkha u’v’yekholteinu l’karvo. Shlakh lanu b’meheirah refuah shleimah, refuat ha’nefesh v’refuat ha’guf, b’tokh sh’ar he’kholim, hashta b’agalah’ u’v’zman Kariv, v’nomar amein.
May the One who blessed our ancestors Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob, Leah and Rachel, bless and heal the ill: the State and People of Israel. May the Holy One of Blessing be full of mercy and us to heal us from every illness that keeps us from fulfilling the good and the aspiration for justice that is within us – Among them: Blindness to Your Presence in every human being and blindness to reality; deafness to the Still Small Voice within the thundering fear and fearmongering, the sounds of war and singing in the camp, and orders; hatred of those who think differently than us, disproportional love for the Land of Israel, the State of Israel, the People of Israel and every holy thing that blinds us to Your Holiness and Your Will. Please strengthen within us our good inclination and revive our faith in the possibility of a repaired world under Your Sovereignty and our ability to bring that world closer to reality. Send us complete and speedy healing of body and soul, along with all who are ill, speedily and in our day. And let us say, Amen.