Arik Ascherman

Innocent West Bank Palestinians are like Japanese Americans after Pearl Harbor

Before this week’s Parashat Noakh, two thoughts about Bereshit:

`1.   The first is the obvious.  Chapter 1:27 teaches us that ALL human beings are created in God’s Image.

  1. When Cain answers God “Am I my brother’s keeper?”  Rabbi Shimshon Rafael Hirsch teaches, “The cold egoism in this answer serves us as a warning: Somebody who does not care about/carry the burden of his/her fellow and is accustomed to saying “Everybody for themselves” and sees his fellow as somebody who hates and is destructive towards him, is not far from the hatred that pushes a person to murder even those close to him/her when s/he feels that that person stands in his/her way. (Not reading German, I have combined two translations into Hebrew).

The situation today is not exactly analogous to Cain and Abel after the barbaric slaughter of Israelis two weeks ago, and the ongoing terror. I liken it more to the situation of Japanese Americans after Pearl Harbor. But, the fact that when there is no Israeli that doesn’t know somebody who was murdered or kidnapped or is missing, has led to the situation that almost no Israeli is capable of distinguishing between Palestinian terrorists and terrorized Palestinians. Just as Rabbi Hirsch teaches, we justify violence and even murder of almost any Palestinian because they are all enemies out to get us. Below find the cry for help from West Bank Palestinians given voice by Israel Prize Winner and Torat Tzedek and Ta’ayush member Professor David Shulman and veteran activist Dr. Yigal Bronner.

The terrorized Palestinians are not just those being bombed in Gaza, where there is a conflict between steps taken arguably to defend ourselves and not harming civilians. In the West Bank, settlers heeded for a day or two the request of the army not to inflame the West Bank and make their work all the more difficult. Since then, settlers have been invading villages and murdering Palestinians in situations where there is no possible claim of self defense unless it is self defense when you enter a Palestinian village without any justification and then feel threatened. They have been expelling shepherding community after shepherding community, intimidating and threatening. Because of TOI length limitations, I can’t share here a google translation from Arabic of the affidavit to the NGO Al Haq of Abu-Hassan, beaten within an inch of his life not only by settlers, but by long haired settler soldiers as they rampaged from house to house in Wadi Seeq a week ago Thursday until all the residents had fled.  The incident was covered in TOI.  We called the police countless times, but they refused to come. Our activists breathed a sigh of relief when normal looking soldiers arrived, but they also cursed them, handcuffed and detained them for hours, finally releasing them with a warning never to come back.  The commander of the settler soldiers has now been relieved of his position by the army, but that won’t bring the Bedouin back to their homes.

As all this was happening, I was in jail on a water only hunger strike after the settler soldiers and police conspired to get me out of the way, saying I had attacked them on Tuesday when I documented the settler soldiers blocking the access road to Wadi Seeq and tried to ask them whether residents could come in and out. The previous evening they had beaten residents at the same point. We arrived on Tuesday after a Bedouin pointed at their car from afar and indicated that this was the car of those who earlier in the day had fired in the air when he was grazing his sheep 100 meters from his tent, and then taken his cell phone.   I tried to appeal the 15 day ban from being in the West Bank. However, after being pushed around and cursed by the police and told that I was a fifth column doing what I do for money, and after the appeals from jail to the courts which usually cancel such bans but this time wanted nothing of it, I was forced to agree as a condition of release.  I decided that since I couldn’t be physically present in the Territories whether I stayed in jail or not, at least outside I could help in other ways.  I constantly ask myself whether it was a mistake to not sign immediately. Could I have prevented this violent expulsion had I been on the outside? I also understand that because these communities trust me, it was terribly demoralizing to see me arrested in front of their eyes. Should I have done more to help them feel equal confidence in all of our amazing volunteers?

Rashash has subsequently evacuated their families, while trying to maintain a presence in their homes. We are trying to defend Marajat East and Farasia. South of Seir a family had their home burned and sheep stolen…. I could continue.

This brings me to Noach. In the Zohar we are taught that Noah is devastated when he leaves the Ark and sees the extent of the destruction,

What did the Master of the Universe respond to Noakh when he came out of the ark and saw the destroyed world and began to cry before Him, saying, “Master of the Universe, you are called Merciful. You were supposed to have mercy upon your creations!” The Master of the Universe responded to him saying, “Stupid shepherd! Now you say this to me?! Why did you not say this to me at the time that I said to you, ‘You are a righteous man before me” and after that I said to you, “I’ am bringing a flood of water” and after that I said to you, “Make an ark for yourself of gopher wood” — all this I said and I held off in order that you would make a claim for mercy on the world, and from the moment that you heard that you would be saved in the ark, it never occurred to you to ask for mercy for the occupants of the world and you entered into the ark and were saved. And now that the world is lost, you open your mouth to speak before me about petitions for mercy?

Some midrashim indicate that the purpose of taking some 60 years to build the ark was to get people to notice, understand what was going to happen, and change their ways.  But this midrash highlights how, unlike Abraham or Moses, Noakh did not have the character to argue with God.

Clearly it is in Gaza where the most civilians have been killed and had their homes destroyed.  The death and destruction on both sides in the south are way beyond anything happening in the West Bank and it is understandable that the international community has been working harder to pressure Israel to allow in humanitarian aid and create a safe escape corridor. We learn in Tractate Sanhedrin that we must use minimum necessary force, even when trying to save lives. If we kill when we could have saved others in another way, we ourselves are murderers. We are then taught that we can’t harm innocent civilians even to save our own lives. I realize that few human beings are capable of upholidng these stantards, especially after the slaughter and when our lives are at stake. There is an understandable argument, even if I don’t accept it,  that we have a right to defend ourselves even if it means killing innocents. However I also understand that ultimately, no matter how much force we use, and even if we wipe out Hamas physically, we cannot wipe out the anger of an oppressed people.  While nothing can justify the brutal slaughter of Israelis,  Martin Luther King Jr. taught that “The bombs in Vietman explode at home.” Our oppression of Palestinians has exploded at home.

If I have some understanding of the other side in the argument over harming civilians in Gaza there is no such possible argument regarding the State backed or permitted settler violence and terror in the West Bank.  In that sense, it is more evil, even if fewer people are being killed.

Like with the Japanese Americans, there is simply nobody to talk to. Not only in Israel, but also in the international community. As much as I am grateful for the support for Israel in the face the slaughter inflicted on us, I am dismayed at the unwillingness of the international community to pressure Israel to stop the serial use of State backed settler violence to cause shepherding communities to flee that started before the war, with Eyn Samia in May.  Since the war, the violence has been worse, and international or Israeli concern even less.

In 1944 the incarcerated Japanese Americans were released the day before a Supreme Court decision was released that upheld the incarcerations of Japanese Americans but determining that a loyal citizen could not be detained. In 1988 the United States finally officially apologized to its citizens and awarded reparations, admitting that the way they had been treated was a function of “race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.”[

Slowly, with so many shepherding communities already gone, there is some press attention here and abroad. Someday the international community may look at the totally altered map and maybe even the human suffering, and express outrage.  There may even be a day when Israelis will be furious with the settlers and perhaps the government that carried out or allowed ethnic cleansing.

But God’s rebuke to Noakh teaches us that we will have little right to point fingers at others. Along with our anger at the perpetrators, I hope that we will be ashamed and do our best to make amends.

The police officer who bullied, shouted and detained me, told me when he had calmed down at the station how he had helped Bedouin access water earlier in the day. It seemed important to him that I understand that he did see his job to protect all.  That doesn’t erase the fact that he was party to believing outright lies and preventing me from doing my job to protect unprotected innocents.  However, I said to him that I wanted to believe him. Knowing that he would not believe me, I asked him to look for himself into what was really happening in Wadi Seeq. I doubt that he did, and the refusal of the police to help two days later was total.  However, I do derive hope from the fact that somewhere inside he did know what his professional and Jewish and human responsibility was.

And with that, along with all the repentance and repair we will need to do after our collective failure to protest, there is hope that we will one day understand what God really wants of us, and that the dove with the olive branch will find a home.

I can’t say “Shabbat Shalom,” but may there be Shalom

A cry for help given a voice by Israel Prize winner and Torat Tzedeknand Ta’ayush member Prof..David Shulman, and veteran activist Dr. Yigal Bronner/ Please share:

Dear friends and whoever else is listening!

We are writing this with very heavy hearts and an acute sense of mourning and loss, exactly a week since the terrible terrorist attack perpetrated by the Hamas started on October 7. So many innocent lives lost, wounded, still missing, or held hostages. We know some of them personally. This violence must stop, as must the brutal and indiscriminate killing of civilians in Gaza, where millions innocents are bombed and trapped without shelter and basic needs. Please write, shout, and raise your voices to help bring this nightmare to an end before it gets much worse.

Indeed, there is more bad news from elsewhere that you must also know.

There is now a wave of desperate calls for help from many Palestinian communities all over the West Bank. These communities have for the past years suffered increased harassment from armed gangs, based in the settler outposts, who with violence, threats, and constant acts of theft, especially of land, have made life for Palestinians unbearable. A few communities have already been forced to abandon their homes and escape to safety. Since October 7, the settlers, with the complete support of the army and police, have been on a violent rampage, shooting innocent Palestinians point blank (as in the village of a-Tuwani and Qusra), invading their homes, beating up men, women, and children, destroying property, and so on. The trickle of evacuations is becoming a flood (Al Qanoob, Wad-i-Sik, families from Al-Mhabas and Samra, are just a few examples from the last 4 days). We are facing an acute danger of vast proportions—an irreversible disaster. Once the Palestinian families leave, the settlers are quick to arrive and raze the village to the ground. The eyes of the world are turned elsewhere–perhaps understandably so, given the unbelievable civilian death toll on both sides of the Gaza border–but by the time the world turns its gaze back to what is happening in Area C, it may well be too late.

So when you call upon your leaders to stop the attacks on civilians and immediately release the hostages, please tell them to also heed these calls for help and demand that the Israeli government stop settler attacks in the West Bank immediately. Only strong international intervention can possibly halt the tide of violent expulsion.

With hope for better times,

David Shulman and Yigal Bronner

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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