Arik Ascherman

Khan Al Akhmar, Crazy Musa and Parashat Naso

Yesterday our High Court again chose undemocratic law over justice and decency by punishing helpless people for violating laws unfairly imposed upon them. I totally reject the current attempts to cripple our court system, but that does not mean that the Court cannot be criticized when it acts unjustly. A basic truth has again been driven home. Palestinians are not part of our democracy. They cannot vote for the Knesset, they are not represented on the planning committee that almost always prevents them from having a chance to build legally, and there are no Palestinian judges on the courts when they appeal to build legally.  Yet, we do not honor the protections that international law created for just this situation.  In Area C, they are unprotected, and totally at our mercy.

Yes, theoretically we could voluntarily limit our use and abuse of the prerogatives that our power gives us. We do not need to mold reality in the Occupied Territories for our well being only.  But, as much as most Israelis truly wish to be fair and just, yesterday’s decision shows just how far our aspirations are from reality.  The message delivered by a decision such as this, and the backing given by the government and the army leads to the lawless violence exemplified by “Crazy Musa” and others I encounter in places like the Khavat Omer outpost in the Jordan valley.  Not only do we betray our own values, and act very differently than who we would like to be, but we endanger ourselves by creating an ever escalating circle of action and reaction. The hatred and anger we engender lead us to believe that we must use ever more power to protect ourselves. The use of that power….

The rabbinic view of our Torah portion and Haftarah was that we are sometimes better off not using everything that our power allows us to do.

Advocate Shlomo Lecker, who has attempted to keep the State and settlers at bay for many years did not mince words yesterday:

“The verdict on the Al Khan al Ahmar cases was published today. (A community of the Jahalin Bedouin, who lived inside Israel until intimidated into leaving in the 1950’s. Khan Al Ahmar contains the mud and tires school built because children were being hit and killed by cars when they were being bused to Jericho.  At the request of the local settlers and “Regavim, although opposed by some of the local settlers, the school is to be forcibly demolished and perhaps relocated. A.A.)

Written by Judge Noam Sohlberg and approved by Judges Anat Baron and Yael Willner, the names are important because by any standard of IHL, the verdict is
an approval by the Israeli High Court of a crime against humanity.

Judge Sohlberg is sophisticated and cunning; he states that he “means to correct a precedent” that will now enable the State to demolish the Bedouin
residences without offering any alternative. After describing all the arguments… raised in the petitions against demolition of the village and the school, he states that the hearing is not about the question as to whether the alternative the State is offering is adequate or not, the question the Court has to answer is whether the structures were built with building permits or not, and if so, the State is allowed to demolish them at any time commencing on 1st June, 2018.

To sum up, the State does not allow the Bedouins to receive building permits, the Israeli High Court of Justice approves demolition of every shack, pen,
fence or school built without a building permit, and this verdict takes away the absolutely minimal protection that the Bedouin communities have received until recently from the court.”

Some of the army officers sent to enforce orders preventing Palestinian shepherds in the Uja area of the Jordan Valley from access to grazing lands have acknowledged to us that they are told what to do by Omer, the founder of the “Khavat Omer” outpost. Never mind that the outpost is illegal even according to Israel.  For over 10 years, despite demolition orders against his structures, Omer had been allowed to instill fear to keep Palestinians out of the huge area he considers to be “his.” He does not appreciate it that “Torat Tzedek-Torah of Justice” and Ta’ayush human rights defenders having been making this more difficult. Outpost residents are more reluctant to drive their atv’s into the herds when we are present.  However, last week we arrived one day after the settler who calls himself “Musa-Majnun – Crazy Musa” had already paid a visit to the grazing flocks. The shepherd managed to capture on film Musa disturbing the flocks, and even throwing stones at them. When he visits, he tells the shepherds, “I am crazy. Get off my land.”  The shepherds managed to hang on. However, just as we arrived, the army arrived to expel them.

This week’s Torah portion is “Naso.” When jealousy overcomes a husband, he can subject his wife to a degrading ceremony forcing her to drink water that will determine whether or not she has committed adultery.  In the Talmudic tractate “Sotah,” dedicated to this ceremony, some of our rabbis believe that the spirit of jealousy that enters the husband is actually a spirit of stupidity.  They debate whether or not a husband must employ the prerogative the law gives him to force his wife to undergo the ceremony. (3a) Ultimately, we are told that the ceremony was cancelled because there were so many adulterers that the ceremony was rendered meaningless. (Mishna Sotah 9:9)

We also are given the rules of nazirite vows in which a man or a woman commits to not drinking alcohol, or cutting his/her hair, etc., for a period of time. (Our Haftarah tells how Samson’s parents are told that Samson will be a Nazirite from birth.)  Trying to understand why a Nazarite must bring a sin offering when his/her vows are ended, the rabbis ask whether God truly desires of us to engage in self abnegation. Another Samson, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, argues that there is a problem with this “holier than thou” separating one’s self from the community.

Although we love to tell the tales of Samson’s physical feats, he ultimately comes to bad end because of his own shortcomings. Even at the height of his success, he basically succeeds in perpetuating senseless cycles of violence and conflict that are far from our ideal of only using force when necessary for our defense. Also in Tractate Sotah we are told that Samson went after the desires of his eyes, which is why the Philistines put his eyes out. (9b)

We have Samson’s power to easily overcome our real and perceived enemies, and those who simply are not “us.” Like Samson, what can undo us is using our power to fulfill our unrestrained desires at the expense of others.

Near the end of Mishna Sotah we are told of another ceremony.  Rather than exercise our not necessarily wise prerogatives when we are not required to do so, we are told that we must assume responsibility for others, even where we could absolve ourselves.  Our rabbis ask about the strange ceremony of taking responsibility by breaking the neck of a calf when a dead and apparently murdered person is found outside a city, and it is not known who committed the crime  (Deuteronomy 21:1-9).  Because the elders of  the nearest town must wash their hands over the calf, we derive the saying “To wash one’s hands of responsibility.”However, our sages drew the exact opposite conclusion. Asking how it could be that the pious elders could possibly be suspect, they conclude that if the stranger had come through their town and not been assisted, they were responsible.

According to the system of law we have built for ourselves and imposed on others, we have the prerogative to legally take away the school of  Khan Al Akhmar’s children. We can turn a blind eye to settler violence. We can tell ourselves that the Israeli citizens of Umm Al Hiran “signed” the agreement forced down their throats, and we can therefore hold them to it. We can absolve ourselves of responsibility for where the children will learn or where the shepherds will feed their goats, or what will be after we set up conflict between Umm Al Hiran residents, and the Hura residents who need those plots for their own children. We can tell ourselves that national sovereignty trumps allows us to ignore the requirements of international law. Or, we can insist on taking responsibility for all those we could treat with concern and care and human decency and the solidarity stemming from the fact that we are all created in God’s Image. If we were to do so, we might even discover that we were honoring ourselves, our own self image, and our most cherished values. We might also discover that we are more secure.

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.