Arik Ascherman
Arik Ascherman

Happy Human Rights Day? Can we celebrate a dream deferred?

I “celebrated” International Human Rights Day yesterday meeting with Bethlehem area farmers being kept from their lands. Each story was different, but similar. Access denied to lands inside settlements, or blocked by settlement expansion. Refuse being dumped on their lands, with nobody being held responsible. Court orders not being honored. Army liaison officers promising to help, and then not doing anything. Once productive lands now barren…. Creeping dispossession.

I couldn’t make any promises, but in each case we made a plan of action. In many of the cases we have a fighting chance. Even Occupation law is on the side of the farmers, to the extent that authorities honor the law. We will certainly try, although I couldn’t help but reflect on the fact that additional staff could help us cope with the huge amount of work that was just added to our plate.

My “celebration” yesterday included meeting with shepherds who asked if we could help them financially with grain to plant in the next few weeks. We can’t, but we will stand with them to protect them.

I also took one of our volunteers to the police. After she was pushed to the ground last week, and filed a complaint, the assailant lodged a counter complaint. Not only was she accused of allegedly pushing him, but of the crime of standing between him and the flocks we were trying to protect — she was blocking his freedom of movement. She was finger printed and ordered not to enter the “Binyamin” region of the Occupied Territories for 15 days. I want to find out if her assailant, whose attack we have on video, was treated similarly. They peppered her with questions about me, and my grabbing the reigns of the horse whose rider was using him to frighten the Bedouin flocks. I really hope they will put me on trial for that. I naively thought that the Jewish injunction “When nobody is acting with basic human decency, you must try to be that person” (Pirkei Avot) translates into a legal obligation to intervene to prevent a crime when has the ability to do so, and law enforcement officers aren’t present or won’t help. Perhaps not, but I will make that argument in court.

Happy International Human Rights Day? Recalling Langston Hughes’ “A Dream Deferred,” I can only pray that by next year we will not just be celebrating humanity’s incredible dream, but the dream realized (or, at least closer to realization).

AND, when one of the Bethlehem area Palestinians asked me how I became a human rights defender, and wasn’t the government preventing us from engaging in human rights work, I was able to answer, “we still can.” Despite the de-legitimization and incitement emanating from our politicians, we are still able to fight. We still have tools to do so. Sometimes we succeed.

Yesterday we celebrated the dream, the undying spirit of the dreamers and doers, and every day God blesses us with the ability to pursue the dream.

It occurred to me later that I should have also told my questioner about those in Israel and around the world who inspire us, and share our commitment.

Still dreaming, and still with work to do.

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.