Honoring agreements with Umm Al Hiran would be a true apology: Rosh Hashanah

מאות שוטרים נכנסים לאום אל חיראן 18.1.17Hundreds of police officers invade Umm Al Hiran 18.1.17

Posted by Arik Ascherman on Friday, September 18, 2020

Seared in my memory is that awful day when hundreds of police officers with drawn automatic weapons invaded the Israeli Bedouin village of Umm Al Hiran in a military style operation (See opening video clip.)  While I did not see the actual moment when Ya’akub Abu Al Qian z”l was shot, lost control of his car, and struck officer Erez Levy z”l, I did witness an officer with his foot on the head of a young man saying he could shoot him as well , and heard the foam covered bullets whizzing  past my ears, striking MK Ayman Oudeh in the back. Below I provide video clips from these incidents.

I have much more I could say about what actually happened, and submitted testimony to the police investigatory committee (Makhash). . Click here for my recollections  that I published on this blog a few days after the tragedy.

However, on the eve of Rosh HaShanah, this is not what I want to focus on. After all of the apologies, it is high time for the residents of Umm Al Hiran to be treated justly. They are currently “neither here nor there” and saddled with heavy debts because the State has serially reneged on every agreement it has signed with them.  In this penitential season, we should heed the words of Maimonides, “Interpersonal transgressions, such as injuring or cursing or stealing, are never forgiven (by God A.A.) until the transgressor gives his/her fellow that s/he owes him/her and appeases him/her. (Mishna Torah: Hilkhot Teshuvah 2:9)

Working closely with the residents of Umm Al HIran both before and after the tragedy, I know that the clearing of Yakub’s name removes a huge burden and affront from the hearts of the residents. However, apologies alone do not address their true problems. Some of those who have apologized profusely are in fact those who continue to support policies dispossessing Israel’s Negev Bedouin citizens in general, and Umm Al Hiran in particular. We must not forget that the invasion of Umm Al HIran, and the tragic deaths, took place because the State of Israel wanted to evict the villages from where they placed them in 1956, in order to build a Jewish community named “Hiran” on the rubble of non-Jewish Umm Al Hiran.  After negotiations over the future of the village were cut off at midnight, the invasion took place a few hours later.

The true way honor Ya’akub’s memory, and perhaps earn forgiveness, is to end the policies that led to his death.

U’Netaneh Tokef is one of the most dramatic moments in our High Holy Day prayers. After recalling that God is judging us, and determining who will live and who will die, we recite “U’teshuvah, u’tefillah, u’tzedakah ma’avirin et roah ha’gzeirah. Teshuvah,  prayer and tzedakah avert the stern decree.  I usually translate “teshuvah” as a threefold process of answering God’s call of conscience, turning, and returning to our truest and highest selves.  Here, teshuvah is the first component of a restatement of that same three-fold process, followed by prayer and tzedakah.  We hear God’s call, and then take the time to seriously contemplate our actions and what we must do to truly change and make amends. Finally, we take concrete action to repair the damage we have done, and to create justice.

What must we contemplate? As mentioned above, Umm Al HIran is located where the State moved the Abu Al Qian tribe in 1956, uprooting them from where they had been living before the creation of the State on lands they say they owned. The elders recall that an officer named Haim Tzuri showed them where the State was requiring them to live, and delineated which lands would be for agriculture, pasture and for building homes. He promised that here they would be able to rebuild their lives. They did so, with little help from the State of Israel.

However, since 2002 Umm Al HIran has been fighting plans to evict them, and build a Jewish community on the rubble of the non-Jewish one.  They were open to being a neighborhood in the new community, to moving back to their traditional lands, or to creating a new agricultural community. The one thing they didn’t want was to be herded into a township, and forced to give up their way of life.  The courts did not offer them relief. In an article by professors Mordechai Kreminitzer and Hanoch Dagan published by the Israeli Democracy Institute they argue that the Israeli Supreme Court decision acknowledged the justice of their claims.  They recognized that the State was evicting them even though the State  placed them there and that there were alternative ways to build the proposed Jewish community. However, the Court refused to intervene because procedurally they appealed too late.  Kremnitzer and Dagan conclude by asking whether the State would treat citizens considered to be equal in this way. Clearly the answer is “no.” Since the founding of the State, successive governments have sought to dispossess our Bedouin citizens of their lands, and concentrate them in townships.

In 2016 there were negotiations attempting to find a solution, but in December the State turned to threats and eviction orders. Ahmed Abu Al Qian and 30 members of his family “voluntarily” moved to Hura, after being threatened with fines of tens of thousands of shekels if they didn’t “self-demolish” their homes, and move. They had to sell most of their flock, and now live in substandard tin shacks, flooded by the winter rains penetrating their roofs. The tragic deaths of Yakub Abu Al Qian z”l and Erez Levy z’l took place in the context of the States efforts to force the “next batch” of residents to leave, when they refused to submit to threats.

Despite the anger and mistrust, the residents resumed negotiations with the Bedouin Authority and police. They agreed in July 2017 to create a new village on the outskirts of the Hura township, but Authority director Yair Ma’ayan cancelled the agreement in December 2017.

In April 2018 the residents were forced to sign a new agreement moving them to the township, some of them dragged to the police station until they “agreed.” Until this day, the Authority has not fulfilled many of its obligations according to that agreement. Most seriously, the residents incurred huge debts when they hurried to begin building because they were told that they would be evicted by force if they didn’t move by August 2018, but never received the funds promised in the agreement.  The Authority didn’t secure the required building permits. In addition, the agreement didn’t provide enough new housing for the all of the residents. Some families lack plots. This has led to internal conflicts among family members, as well as with the veteran residents of Hura who wanted these plots for their children. Three family members even went to court against the agreement.

Responding to one of the appeals, Deputy Attorney General Erez Kaminitz wrote to the High Court that Yair Ma’ayan had no authority to sign the agreement. In June 2019 the State unilaterally imposed a third arrangement leaving the residents with 30 fewer plots. Needless to say, Um Al Hiran is opposed.

What must we do?

Adonai, who may dwell in Your Tent….One…who stands by his/her oath even to his/her detriment.”(Psalm 15: 1,2, 4) We have not stood by our word.  In the name of Israel’s war against her citizens, we uprooted the Abu Al Qian tribe from their lands, moved them to Umm Al HIran, decided to violate our commitments by expelling them again, reneged on agreements time and again, and have left them destitute and with no clear future. Will we continue to wage this war against the Bedouin community, or do teshuvah? Maimonides teaches “What is complete teshuvah? When we have the opportunity and ability to commit the same transgression, and refrain from doing so.” (Mishna Torah: Hilkhot Teshuvah 2:1)

The time has come to honor Ya’akub’s memory by not merely apologizing, but by ensuring justice for his living family members, the threatened residents of Umm Al Hiran. If we are not willing to cancel the stern decree building a Jewish community on the rubble of their homes, we can at least honor one of the alternatives they have agreed to. This week Amir Peretz (the minister holding the Bedouin portfolio) and Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn did in fact announce the creation of a panel to reevaluate what has been decreed for Umm Al HIran, and formulate recommendations within three months.  This leaves me cautiously hopeful, although we all know that committees can be a way of burying an issue.

In all aspects of our lives, may inchoate pangs of conscience and apologetic feelings be translated through focused prayer and contemplation into true acts of tikun and tzedakah, repair and justice.

Wishing you, and all the world, a sweet new year as full of human rights as a pomegranate is full of seeds.

In these first two clips from Umm Al Hiran on January 18th 2017 you hear me demand that the officers lower their weapons and consider the 100 year old resident whose house they intend to destroy. In one clip you can hear shots being fired.

פורסם על ידי ‏‎Arik Ascherman‎‏ ב- יום שישי, 18 בספטמבר 2020

פורסם על ידי ‏‎Arik Ascherman‎‏ ב- יום שישי, 18 בספטמבר 2020

This clip from Umm Al HIran on January 18th 2017 is a second after I saw an officer with his foot an a resident. In this clip, you hear me say that I heard the officer say that he would be happy to shoot him (He didn’t)

פורסם על ידי ‏‎Arik Ascherman‎‏ ב- יום שישי, 18 בספטמבר 2020

clip officers rough up MK Ayman Oudeh. Seconds later one swings a rifle, others pepper spray us, and then shoot foam tipped bullets that whiz past my ears, and hit Oudeh in the back.

פורסם על ידי ‏‎Arik Ascherman‎‏ ב- יום שישי, 18 בספטמבר 2020


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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