Building A New Illegal Outpost Is “Essential Work” Documenting It Isn’t

Yes, this is a rant. Perhaps the words of the prophet Malakhi in this week’s Shabbat HaGadol (the Sabbath preceding Passover) haftarah were a rant, “I will step forward to contend against you, and I will act as a relentless accuser against those who have no fear of Me : who practice sorcery, who commit adultery, who swear falsely, who cheat laborers of their hire, and who subvert (the cause of) the widow, orphan and non-Jew living among us-said Adonai of Hosts” (3:5) …“And so we account the arrogant happy: they have indeed done evil and endured; they have indeed dared God and escaped.” (3:15). But, Malakhi also prophesies that one day we will wake up, “And you shall come to see the difference between the righteous and the wicked, between one who has served Adonai and one who has not served God.” (3:18) I also believe that the Jewish people, who are better than what I saw today, are decent people aspiring to be just. We will wake up to our true selves.

Approximately two months ago the settlers of “Malakhei HaShalom” built a road inside an army live fire zone, until our persistence caused the army’s Civil Administration finally stopped the work and impounded one of the tractors. A week ago the settlers resumed working. Again, we fought. Finally, as the last tractor was on the main road on the way home, the army detained it. This week the local Bedouin reported to us that work continued, and that the settlers even cut the fence of the local army base (Mavo Shilo). The road starts near them and the Ein Rashash nature preserve and Bedouin encampment, and goes down to the Jordan valley. Yesterday we spoke time and again to the army and police, as the Bedouin (who are the being forced out of their grazing lands of over thirty years) reported that vehicles with building materials were heading down the road, and sent pictures. The border police met me on my way to document, and told me that everything was under control. There were police and army at the site, and I should leave. I did, but the Bedouin told us that there were absolutely no security forces at the site. The officer didn’t even know how to get to where the work was taking place. It turns out that the settlers set up tents, sheep pens and a fence-a new outpost in the making.

Torat Tzedek’s Bedouin protection coordinator Guy Hirschfeld and I came to document. One of the troubled youth who lives at the Malakhei HaShalom outpost blocked my car. We called the police, and the settler also called, claiming we were trying to run over the sheep. The army came. The border police came. The regular police came. More settlers came. We were forbidden to proceed, but one of the settlers went down the new illegal road towards the new outpost. (one of several new outposts that have been created in recent weeks). Finally, the army went down the illegal road after them. The police officer said that we would need to go to the station to complain about the settler blocking my car. However, he was going to give Guy and myself fines for violating the Corona emergency regulations. The fact is that we have a permit and that we are VERY careful and responsible, as everybody must be. We even came in two separate cars. The officer said that the recorded permit from the army’s home front office, whom the police told me were responsible, was of no interest to him. He said that only a written permit would do, and the home front office that the police told me to speak with was not responsible. He said that our work was not “essential.” Apparently, defending human rights is not essential, but building an new unauthorized outpost forcing the Bedouin off their grazing lands is. I showed him the letter from the police saying that if they stopped somebody on the way to work they were not to request a permit. If the work didn’t seem reasonable, they were to issue a warning. He said the letter was “out of date.” I then had to go to the police station because the printer malfunctioned after printing Guy’s fine. At the station, more senior officers repeated the same false arguments. I was first told that I could submit a complaint about the settler blocking my car. However, an investigator started screaming at me that I was a Corona carrier and that he wouldn’t take my complaint because I might infect the entire station. I was told to submit a complaint on-line. This was the same investigator that shouted down and refused to take the complaint of a Bedouin shepherd, humiliated him, and threatened to arrest him. Ever since that time, the Bedouin tell me that there is no point in lodging complaints.

The army that followed the settler down the illegal road to the unauthorized outpost told the Bedouin shepherds to leave the area. Later, officers who the Bedouin thought were from the army’s Civil Administration, came to the encampment, and then headed toward the new outpost. If our fines (that we will appeal) were necessary to finally get the army and police to do their job and take care of this outpost that is part of the plan to drive out the Bedouin, then so be it.
Incidentally, on the way to the station I photographed the flock of the settler Neriya ben Pazi in private cultivated Palestinian land, eating what was being grown there. Almost every day we report, and we submitted legal decisions that it is the responsibility of the police to remove trespassers, even if the landowner has not submitted a complaint. However, the police are ignoring this. And yes, Neryiyah’s outpost also began setting up a new branch this week.

Way before Corona, the Binyamin police have been increasingly upset with us for demanding that they do their job, and uphold the law. rather than let settlers get away with almost anything. However, there is a much better way for them to get rid of us-do their job.
The arrogant were not doubt happy with today’s results. Those violating the law and oppressing the non-Jews living among us seem to have endured. It seems that those desecrating God’s Name have escaped. I don’t relish Malakhi’s apocalyptic vision. I do aspire to Malakhi’s vision of reconciliation. “God shall reconcile parents with children, and children with their parents” (3:24) It is time to wake up.

Shabbat Shalom

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.
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