Arik Ascherman
Arik Ascherman

Being Brutally Attacked Again Is Not The Story – Rededicating To The Israeli Dream

In 1998, the Israeli army came to demolish the Shawamreh family home in Anata for the first of seven times, for lack of a permit that Israel was determined not to give them.  While I was in another location getting ready for a planned demonstration against home demolitions, a bus on the way diverted to Anata.  Two board members of Rabbis For Human Rights, the NGO I directed at the time, were on the bus: Rabbis Ben Hollander z”l and Max Warschawski z”l It was a violent day. Bullets were flying. One young Palestinian lost a kidney. Rabbi Warschawski, the former chief rabbi of Strasberg, and former partisan who fought against the Nazis, was already an elderly man.  His worried family begged him to move back, out of danger.  He replied “No. This is where I need to be.”

There are places where rabbis, and indeed all human beings, need to be.

Those who observe the tradition of reading Pirkei Avot on the Sabbaths between Passover and Shavuot, read this past Shabbat, “B’mkom sh’eyn anashim, hishtadel l’hiot ish” Where nobody is acting with menschlekeit (basic human decency), try to be a mensch (the one who does)  (Pirkei Avot 2:5).

Some have questioned why I have been constantly endangering myself over the last few months. I have lost track, but the multiple attacks have included having my ear ripped up on March 21st, and the vicious attack  a week ago that was covered by TOI. Last week my phone was also stolen.

This is what we call " nice jewish boy"I can guarantee to you all that #israel_police once again won't do nothing about it.One day they will murder one of us, I'm just wondering what the law life in uniform will tell themselves when it will happen.#ICCThey attacked Arik Ascherman once again today.וכל התקיפות האלו מבוצעות ממאחזים שסובבים את #כוכב_השחר ו #רימונים

Posted by Guy Hirschfeld on Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Of course I have been reflecting and consulting about where to draw the line between necessary and unnecessary risk.  Clearly there was a tense situation because the Civil Administration had evacuated the illegal even according to Israel Ma’aleh Ahuvia outpost just the day before, but had then allowed the settlers to begin to rebuild the same day.  I have asked myself whether we should have moved away as more and more stick wielding settlers arrived (including two wearing HaShomer Yehudah V’Shomoron shirts).  I and those who were with me, and the members of Torat Tzedek, are drawing conclusions. However, ultimately I stand with Rabbi Warschawski, and Pirkei Avot. I have continued to be in the field every day since, and we continue to demand that security forces both stop and prosecute the settlers engaging in agricultural theft on a daily basis. If they can’t, the outposts that have become bases for theft, violence, vandalism and terror must become first priority for evacuation.

Today, on Khag HaAtzmaut (Israeli Independence Day), we must acknowledge that we must be the ones who act with basic human decency because the people who simply aren’t showing up are the Israeli army and police.  The real story is not the admittedly horrific images from the attack.  It is about the evil and injustice that must be opposed, sometimes physically.  After all the sensationalism, what I ask you to remember is that for over three years we have been trying, with very little progress, to get the Israeli security forces to defend shepherds who lose tens of thousands of shekels per family when they need to buy feed to replace what settler flocks. At the recent Amana conference on February 20th, General Secretary Zeev Hever (Zambish) was very clear that the goal in setting up illegal even according to Israel “shepherding outposts” is to use “seize” and “guard” lands. He claimed that this is more cost effective than settlements because each such outpost requiring a few people and minimal infrastructure “seize” and “guards” some 1,000 dunam. What these laundered words actually mean is that they intentionally use flocks to force Palestinians to give up and leave even those lands that the State of Israel recognizes as privately owned by Palestinians.  I would not have to put my body on the line, if our security forces were not employing the various excuses I have written about previously to avoid fulfilling their responsibility to stop this intentional theft and dispossession stealing the meager resources of families already living on the edge.  I would not have arrived last week to report to the police and the army that the flock of Ma’aleh Ahuvia was again stealing what Palestinians were growing on their lands, in hope against hope that after having just evacuated Ma’aleh Ahuvia they might this time do something, had our security forces not allowed Ma’aleh Ahuvia to rebuild. My colleagues and I will do therefore do everything we can on the ground, legally, and in the public sphere, to stop this desecration of God’s Name.

As a result of the attack, the police are sometimes now arriving more quickly when we report that settler flocks continue to steal what is growing in the cultivated fields of Dir Jarir and Taibe. The army has even showed up once or twice.  However, if I take yesterday as an example, they didn’t even get out of their cars and identify the settler shepherds stealing from elderly Haj Mahmud , let alone order them out of the fields.

I want the security forces to come quickly not just because they are concerned about a 61 year old rabbi getting beaten, but because they are determined to defend the well over 61 year old Palestinian shepherd or farmer who stands to lose his family’s source of income. That is the Israel I believe in, and the as yet unfulfilled dream I rededicate myself to on Khag HaAtzmaut.

As a human rights organization, we say that settlements are a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, and we believe that convention does apply in the Occupied Territories. However, we generally leave the question of what to do with those illegal settlements to the politicians. That changes when a settlement or outpost becomes a base for terror, violence and crime, even more than a typical settlement. During the wave of violence in 2005, Ariel Sharon made it clear that where there was a great deal of violence, he would evacuate the nearby outpost. The violence stopped very quickly.  Today, we need a similar policy.

The end of this last week’s Torah, Shimini, portion deals with kashrut. God tells us to clearly divide between what is pure and what is defiled. Our sages taught that a pig is even more problematic than other non-kosher animals because it tries to deceive. It lies down with its cleft hooves forward, and hides the fact that it doesn’t chew its cud.  This is a lesson that should extend beyond kosher and treif animals. The portion uses the words “tamei” and “tahor” (sacred and profane, or clean and unclean) both after Nadav and Avihu offer strange fire God did not command, and in reference to kashrut.   There were right wing media outlets who that wrote last week of how we were harassing wonderful youth, without even mentioning the attack. Some have tried to create an illusion of sweet youth who are dedicated to the Land of Israel, and only use violence to protect themselves. I very much want to believe that there is good in these youth, and we can get them to change their ways and actualize it. But, we cannot let them deceive us as to their current actions.  These behaviors must be seen clearly for what they are, and declared treif.

Yesterday, as dusk approached, I demanded that the two young settler thieves from Neria Ben Pazi’s outpost take their flock out of Haj Mahmud’s field, so that I could go home and celebrate Khag HaAtzmaut.  One of them said, “But, you hate the country.” I replied “I love my country.” He asked, “Then, why do you act against the country.” I answered, “The State and the People of Israel do not want your theft.:.My Zionism is about an exemplary country that is “light onto the nations,” and lives up to the ethical values of the Torah and God of the Jewish People. What you are doing is contrary to the Israel I believe in.” Stealing from hard pressed families simply because they are not Jewish is not the vision laid out in our Megilat Atzmaut (Israel’s Declaration of Independence) I do not believe it reflects the will of most Israelis 73 years later. I will continue to work for the Israel I aspire to. As I have written before. In our divided society, we must learn to manage our arguments without violence.

May we all learn to be the ones who is act with real human decency, even when it entails danger. May we all rededicate ourselves on this Khag HaAtzmaut to the dream we once believed in.

About the Author
Rabbi Arik Ascherman is the founder and director of the Israeli human rights organization "Torat Tzedek-Torah of Justice." Previously, he led "Rabbis For Human Rights" for 21 years. Rabbi Ascherman is a sought after lecturer, has received numerous prizes for his human rights work and has been featured in several documentary films, including the 2010 "Israel vs Israel." He and "Torat Tzedek" received the Rabbi David J. Forman Memorial Fund's Human Rights Prize fore 5779. Rabbi Ascherman is recognized as a role model for faith based human rights activism.
Related Topics
Related Posts