Judaism, Christianity and Islam on Dispelling the Darkness of Injustice

I am really tempted to write a blog about the U.N Security Council resolution, and may do so later.  However, today is Christmas and the first day of Hanukkah. As a co-founder of the new interfaith human rights organization, “Haqel-Jews and Arabs in Defense of Human Rights,” I want to write about our obligation to be bearers of light dispelling the darkness of injustice in Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

Regarding the resolution, I will simply say, “Read it.”  It can be found on the U.N. website, on my facebook page (Arik Ascherman), and elsewhere.  To hear our prime minister, and many of the opposition parties as well, one wouldn’t know that the decision several times repeats the demand that the Palestinian Authority prevent terror, and condemns violence against civilians perpetrated by any party. We would think that this was another UNESCO resolution denying the connection between the Jewish people and Jerusalem, or that it aims at taking the Kotel from us. It does say that all changes to the 1967 borders need to be agreed upon. One would not know that the resolution primarily focuses on building and populating settlements and outposts, with some attention to demolitions and displacement. From the cries that this is one sided and unilateral, one would think that Israel consults with Palestinians before expanding settlements….

And now to darkness and light.

There is much darkness in my country, and we must collectively respond with light. Judaism, Christianity and Islam each command us to be a beacon in dark times.

Recently, Prime Minister Netanyahu assured setters that untold numbers of Palestinian and Israeli Arab homes would be demolished along with the settlement homes the Israeli High Court has demanded that the State demolish because they were built on private Palestinian land

“The law must be equal. The same law demanding that we evacuate Amona demands evacuations of illegal building in other parts of our land.  So I have issued orders to speed up the demolitions of illegal building in the Negev,  Wadi Ara, the Galilee (all centers of the Israeli Arab population. A.A.), in the center, throughout the land.  We will do that in the coming days.”(My emphasis)

It was reported in the pro settlement movement Makor Rishon newspaper on Friday that in last week’s Likud meeting, the Prime Minister further assured settlers that this will also include the Occupied Territories.

In these dark times, “the law” equates settler homes built on lands belonging to others, and Arab homes built on their own lands with no fair chance to build legally due to systematic discrimination. We must dispel this darkness with the light of truth.

There are many signs that it may get still darker, and we must do everything in our power to keep the darkness at bay The Knesset is poised legalize the theft of lands the government acknowledges as belonging to Palestinians.  A return to legislation taking Israeli Bedouin land and destroying entire “unrecognized” villages is in the offing.  Meanwhile, the latest statistics show that poverty is again on the rise among Israelis. Twenty two percent of Israelis live under the poverty line, thirty one percent of children.  I shudder to think what Donald Trump’s choice of David Friedman as the next ambassador signals about coming changes in U.S. policy.

In the Quran, the words for “darkness” and “injustice” share the same root,  and we are taught “God blesses you, as do God’s messengers(angels) in order to lead you out of the depths of darkness into light.”  (Al-Ahzab: 43). We need to be human messengers leading the way into the light of justice and compassion.

Christmas and Hanukkah are very different holidays, just as our faith traditions are distinct.  But, they each bring a message of light at this same dark time of the year.  We, too, must come together to challenge the darkness of injustice with the light of faith.

Haqel member Father Raed Abu Sahlia writes, “In the Christmas midnight mass Catholics read: ‘The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned’ (Isaiah 9:2). Thus we are invited to be the sons and daughters of the light and even be the light in the darkness of this world.”

The Hanukkah liturgy reminds us that the light of God’s Spirit and of justice symbolized by a golden menorah can and must dispel the darkness of the abuse of power, “Not by might and not by power, but by My Spirit says Adonai of hosts” (Zechariah 4:6).

In summary, our different traditions come together to tell us that the light of faith must dispel the darkness of injustice, and that the abuse of power is a defining characteristic injustice. Whatever our faith, whether we consider ourselves religious or secular, whatever our nationality, we must create and be light by working together to ensure that Palestinian farmers can safely pick their olives, to prevent land theft and unjust demolitions of homes and of entire villages. Together we must work to lift our fellow Israelis out of poverty, and stop violence and terror. Whatever the issues may be where each one of us resides, we must spread the light of the shared principles of justice at the roots of our different faiths. On a visit to Chicago earlier this month, I was privileged and moved to be one of hundreds of participants and tens of Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Bhuddists and Sikh clergy at an interfaith event focusing on raising hate crimes and the threats to immigrants.

For some, speaking of common messages may seem improper to blur the distinctions between faiths.  As Jews struggle in Christian countries to avoid making Hanukkah simply our answer to Christmas, it may appear that making a big deal of the fact that the holidays falling on the same date is undoing years of effort. However, one understanding of “Let the seven lights give light at the front of the menorah (Numbers 8:2) is that the separate branches of the menorah cast a unified glow. I believe that the one God worshiped by Jews, Christians and Muslims can instill in our different traditions a common core message, and that the different ways we project that message can and must come together.

On this day, when Christians embrace their particular tradition by celebrating Christmas and Jews embrace their particular tradition by celebrating Hanukkah, I pray that people of all faiths will be inspired to be the light that dispels the darkness of injustice.

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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