Arik Ascherman

I Was In Turmus Ayya During The Pogrom: Hukat

Posters Throughout Occupied Territories Calling For Revenge For Murdered Israelis

Shavua Tov, or at least hoping for a better week than last. I was present at the pogrom in Turmus Ayya, and not only. There were also some inspiring moments.

Where to start?

I already wrote several weeks ago on Shabbat Parah about dead cows the red cows in the Torah portion we read last week in Israel and is read abroad this week. Last week we slept in the fields with the cow herders of Eyn El Hilweh after a settler rampaging in an all-terrain vehicle attacked multiple times over several days, killing another four cows and injuring a calf.

Posted by Arik Ascherman on Friday, June 23, 2023

On Friday we went to see two new illegal even according to Israel outposts set up this week, and heard about a third. This week about a fourth. The media has mentioned another seven. Dedicated to using their cows and sheep to intimidate and displace Palestinians, every attempt to document new outposts is outdated before the ink is dry.  The army’s civil administration arrived at one a few minutes after us. However, does anybody believe that a Civil Administration controlled by Bezalel Smotrich will take action against them? The Civil Administration has visited the outpost set up in February in Wadi Siq multiple times, and even once seemed to send forces to dismantle it. But the bulldozers turned around and left the outpost standing.

Omar Qateen z”l died in the arms of two fellow activists with me in Turmus Ayya on Wednesday. This was the most deadly and destructive pogrom they have suffered, but the settler attacks and vandalism have been many over the last month. Since the murders of four Israelis, there were also attacks in Luban, Hawara, Urif and elsewhere. I will write separately just about the Turmus Ayya pogrom. For now, just that Palestinian terror is a dark stain on the legitimate Palestinian national movement and violent acts of revenge desecrate the memory of the murdered Israelis. Their names will be forever associated with despicable acts of violence.

Second, Turmus Ayya was yet another manifestation of the army doctrine that even when Israelis attack Palestinians, the proper response is to use crowd dispersal tactics or worse against the Palestinians because the army’s first responsibility is to protect Israelis. Among the burning homes and fields and smoking ruins of cars in Turmus Ayya were huge quantities of tear gas canisters.  I wish there had only been tear gas and not bullets. As I have also written previously, the fact that nobody is brought to justice encourages the violent to continue to be violent.

And yet another pogrom on Shabbat. Settlers entered the Eyn Rashash Bedouin encampment. While soldiers watched, they beat up an 87-year-old man, and wreaked destruction. Finally, the police arrived and put a stop to the pogrom. They didn’t arrest anybody, but the army arrested three Palestinians suspected of being part of the mutual rock throwing as the Bedouin tried to repel the pogromists.

In our Torah portion, God commands us to use the ashes of the red cow to prepare the “waters of lustration that can clean us after touching a corpse or otherwise come in contact with death.  Afterwards, there are the “waters of conflict” when Moses strikes the rock to bring forth water rather than speak to it as God commanded. For this, he is punished and told he will not enter the Land of Israel. Afterwards, Miriam dies and the Israelites again complain about a lack of water.  The midrash teaches that this was because a water well or spring had followed the Israelites in the desert because of Miriam’s merit, and disappeared after she died. Moses is punished because God tells him to speak to a rock to bring forth water, and he strikes it.

We no longer have the waters of lustration and are all ritually impure. However, we must not be morally impure.  We need to cleanse ourselves of murder and violence and the passions of revenge that murder evokes in us.  And our sages tell us that Miriam’s well still exists, if we know how to see it. We must evoke these life-giving waters through speech, and not by striking out.

One final thought. One explanation of the seemingly extreme punishment meted out to Moses for a seemingly small infraction is that the wrongdoings of a leader are magnified because they influence many others.  However, the power of one can also be the power to influence for good. This week the Public Housing Forum held a moving awards ceremony in the name of Yuval Frankel z”l, the late director of the Amigur public housing corporation. Unlike so many others responsible for public housing, he truly cared. It was suggested that it was his dedication to working day and night for those in need that took a toll on his health and led to his early death. Many told stories of how he not only personally helped them, but inspired them to help others. Unlike other public housing corporations such as Amidar, to this day the Amigur staff tries to carry out what Yuval taught them, including the directive to act from the heart, and not always according to regulations.

May we all find the power of one within us, and unite our individual capabilities to form a collective dedicated to a better and morally sanctified world.

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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