My Dispossession Diary — Alien Fire

The systematic dispossession of non-Jews in the Land of Israel is today’s “alien fire” — Aish Zara.

In this week’s Torah portion we learn that two of Aaron’s sons, Nadav and Avihu, are consumed by God after they offer aish zara, that God did not command. (Leviticus 10:1-2) There are some midrashim (ancient rabbinic commentaries) that paint Nadav and Avihu as arrogant and despicable. However, other commentators maintain they were filled with holy fervor. Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch writes in his Torah commentary, “Without a doubt, their intentions were good. For, they are called “those who are close to me,” even after they sinned…This is the difference between Judaism and idolatry. Idolatry seeks to control God via sacrifices-to get God to do the will of the person offering the sacrifice. However, Judaism seeks to get the person to do the serve God…”

I have written more than once that those seeking to dispossess non-Jews from the Occupied Territories and inside Israel’s borders commit idolatry because they are so blinded by the holiness of the Land of Israel that they do not see or honor God’s Image in non-Jews. Like Nadav and Avihu, many may think they are serving God, what Hirsch terms “adding love to love,” but are actually attempting to bend God’s Will to theirs. In the process, they do great evil toward’s God’s Image.

What follows is my diary of some of the details. As we head towards elections, we should be asking ourselves which parties are most likely to put a stop to this evil. In January, I began keeping this diary because I was dismayed by the conversation on a list serve I am part of. Abroad, many are focused on defending Israel against the anti-Semites. In North America, they are particularly upset with the fastest growing Jewish organizations—young Jews—many of who are deeply connected to Judaism and to Israel—who say “Occupation is not my Judaism.” While fighting anti-Semitism is incredibly important, and while I do not always agree with the tone or tactics of some of these organizations, I asked, “Where is the outrage? Where is the pain?” If we wish to be a part of the conversation about tone and tactics, we must cease sticking our heads in the sand about the actions that are causing pain and outrage among many committed young Jews. We must prove that we too are doing something to stop the evils they see, and many of us find excuses to ignore.

I began posting a “Dispossession Diary,” a diary of some of the daily events that I personally witness, or am in some way connected to. It is by no means a comprehensive list of what takes place on a daily basis. Many of the entries seem banal, and even trivial. However, when added together, they form a picture of a relentless and never ending effort to dispossess non-Jews by those who think they are serving God and/or the Jewish people. Over the next week or so, I will share this diary in a series of blog posts.

I should also add that the point of sharing this information is not to delegitimize Israel or induce you to disassociate from Israel. I assume that many of you would be as upset as I am if you experienced these evils on a daily basis, and hope that you will be outraged enough to actively work for an Israel living up to our highest Jewish values.

10.1 Army imposes all night curfew in Awarta to allow Jews to pray at tombs believed to be those of Itamar, Elazar, Pinkhas and his son. In morning, villagers discovered desecrated Muslim graves. This happens here and in Kif Al Hares every year.

Demolitions in the Negev. Al-Araqib is demolished for 137th time since 2010. Residents are currently in court to prove their ownership of the land, despite a 1953 expropriation order. They have purchase documents starting around 1908, and there was a polling booth there for the elections for the first Knesset.

11.1 Army waiting for shepherds on both sides of the Omer’s Farm outpost in the Jordan Valley. Soldiers often don’t believe us when we tell them that the farm is illegal according to Israel, and this is not Omer’s land. They present closure order extending into Area A, under full Palestinian control. Settlers show up and harass. Army and police do nothing. Shepherds go to area outside order. Although he is outside closed area, police arrest my key partner Guy. He is given a restraining order, severely impairing our protection work.

12.1 (Shabbat, I wasn’t there). Settlers from Otniel released dogs on a Palestinian human rights defender, who is a good friend. He required medical care.

13.1 Omer throws stones thrown at shepherd ____ before we arrive.

High Court refuses request to examine documents from Turkish archives which might prevent imminent eviction of 40 members of Sabagh family in Silwan, East Jerusalem, citing statue of limitations. Jews claim this was their property before 1948. Palestinians point to buildings where Jews lived, but here there were no buildings before 28 refugee families built in 1956. We Jews would end up on the short end of the stick, were everybody be allowed to return to where they lived before 1948. Therefore, Israeli law allows Jews to reclaim property, but not Palestinians. The Sabagh family knows where their homes in Jaffa and lands in Yavneh are.

15.1 ___ beat up on grazing areas far from Omer’s Farm by Omer’s brother, and additional thugs. Police and army arrive, and retrieve stolen goats and donkey.

Shepherd attacked and expelled in Khemdat.

Army arrests shepherd from Makhul

Another attempt to meet with the army’s Occupied Territories Legal Advisor following up on reports we submitted on growing gap between 2006 High Court decision obligating army to allow and protect Palestinian farmer access to agricultural lands, and current reality. The Advisor met with us in the past. Now he says that it is not his responsibility, and these are “coordination issue,” not legal issues.

16.1 Home demolition in Fasail. Family with 5 children found shivering under a tree in pouring rain. A soldier apparently asked father to stop whining when he begged them not to tear baby’s blanket. According to B’Tselem: 57 homes demolished in East Jerusalem in 2018 for lack of the permits Israel makes it almost impossible for Palestinians to receive, leaving 144 homeless. 82 homes in the West Bank. 251 homeless. Numbers used to be much higher. Now many don’t try to build. Demolitions are a key dispossession component since Israel abolished Palestinian planning committees in 1971. Israeli committee almost never approves Palestinian building plans. Today Israel wants Palestinians to move from Area C to A and B “on their own accord.” If people can’t build a home…. In Negev, 2220 structures demolished in 2017 because one can’t get a building permit in an “unrecognized village,” even if the village existed before the State of Israel. Probably about half of the demolitions were homes.

18.1 Settlers set up a building on Turmosaya’s land (Shilo Valley). 40 Trees cut down in Mreyer (Eastern Shilo Valley, along Alon Road).

20.1 Sowing grain with ____ in area where he used to live next to the Rimonim settlement (On Alon Road), until settler violence forced him out. The problem is not the settlers from Rimonim, but those in the nearby unauthorized Ma’aleh Shlomo outpost, sometimes augmented by “Hilltop Youth.” Last year ____ lost NIS 30,000 because settlers from a Ma’aleh Shlomi allowed their flock to eat everything in the area that ___ planted. They have wrought damage to many others as well. Israel is not removing the outpost, although the State considers it illegal.

21.1 Tu B’Shvat. We help farmers plant on endangered lands in the Gush Etzion area, where they have been expelled by settlers when they come alone, and where army uprooted trees last time they planted.

Settlers make appearance in Uja area on horse and in atv. Leave when they see volunteers protecting the shepherds.
22.1 Some 1,000 trees cut down in Safa (South of Gush Etzion, underneath Bat Ayin settlement, and close to Kfar Etzion settlement)

We caught settler in act bringing flock into planted area near Rimonim.

In Rashash(Along Alon Road), shepherd detained after Bedouin and settler flocks mix. Bedouin try to avoid mixing, but settlers from unauthorized outpost often try to use their flock to intercept and block Bedouin flocks. When flocks mix, settlers call army and claim Bedouin stole sheep. Shepherd forced to erase pictures showing what happened, and of settler flock in planted area. All this takes places in an army live fire zone established, shortly after 1967. International law allows an occupying power to take necessary security steps, but that does not include practice areas. For thirty years the army allowed Bedouin to graze in the live fire zone, and notified them whenever there was actually going to be an exercise. All that changed when the outpost was set up adjacent to the local army base. At first the base provided water and electricity, until that was exposed. The settlers sometimes attempt to push the Bedouin entirely out of the live fire zone, and have it all to themselves. Sometimes, they seem to want to “divide it up. When they call the army, the army sometimes makes a show of treating everybody equally, and saying everybody must leave the live fire zone. Sometimes not. Sometimes tries to get the flocks to keep their distance. Officers have told us that they realize they have more important tasks than chasing after sheep, and would prefer not to be involved, if there is no real friction.

Samra (Northern Jordan Valley): Settler cattle in planted area. We call army and police to expel.

23.1 Army tried to expel Rashash shepherds. Officer lies to me, claiming there will be three weeks of exercises. He asks, “Would it be OK if I came into your house, and then asked for permission?” In other words, this is Israel’s/the settler’s house.

We send another letter to legal advisor asking to meet (see 15.1). ____sends letter because no answer to his request to plant trees where bulldozer cleared 22 of his remaining trees, despite my real time video I shot from a distance, and sent to the army when it was happening in October Over years, over 200 of his trees next to Havat Gilad unauthorized outpost (Southwest of Nablus) have been destroyed, 50-100% of his olives stolen every year and settler buildings now inside his grove.

23.1 Umm Zuka outpost (Northern Jordan Valley) settlers harass shepherds, bring cows into planted fields. Activists move them because army doesn’t. Afterwards, settlers come to Bedouin flocks, and expel. Soldiers finally arrive, and demand that activists erase pictures.
Maskiot (Northern Jordan Valley)-Army pushes shepherds back with new maps of expanded live fire zone, but forbid pictures of maps.

24.1 I caught a settler in the act of grazing sheep on Palestinian land near Rimonim.
Army turned back shepherds in Rashash. Some shepherds in North were afraid to go out without us. ____ is also afraid.

25.1 Settlers from Mevuot Yerikho (South Jordan Valley) try to expel shepherds a kilometer from the outpost. (As far as Israel is concerned, it is a “neighborhood” of the Yitav settlement kilometers away.) Army comes after we call. Shepherd manage to remain. Closer to Mevuot Yerikho they are expelled.

Maskiot. Settlers come with flock and dogs, act violently towards shepherds. We send volunteers and call army. Army says shepherds must be 500 meters from settlement.
26.1 Killing of Palestinian farmer in Mreyer (Alon Road). Army, police and human rights organizations investigating. Settlers from nearby Adei Ad outpost, army and Palestinians have differing accounts. Adei Ad is one of the most violent outposts. I have seen those injured in previous attacks, settler women with babies blocking soldiers on days soldiers were protecting Palestinian farmers (and somebody puncturing tire of army vehicle), the cut down or poisoned trees… I therefore tend to believe that incident started when settlers attacked Hamdi Nasan, who was working in his olive grove. Palestinians, the outpost guard unit and army arrived. We do know he was shot in the back. Many injured. Several additional Palestinians remain in critical condition. When we paid a condolence call, it was hard to look in eyes of Hamdi’s broken father, and even harder to speak with 7 year old son.
26.1 Settlers come to frighten away shepherds next to Maskiot. Our presence and calls to army prevent.

28.1 On road to “Nun Dalet Memorial” at the location of 1970’s helicopter crash southeast of Omer’s Farm outpost, the army repeatedly tries to get shepherds to leave, even though they have no order.

29.1 Soldiers keep shepherds to south of Nun Dalet road. Mevuot Yerikho security patrolling far from outpost, outside his area of authority.

Elderly shepherd arrested in Farasiya

31.1 Settlers from Shadmot Mekhola (Northern Jordan Valley) and their dogs attack flock from Al Faresiya. They kill a sheep and wound others-taking the dead sheep.
We again contact DCO about replacing destroyed trees next to Khavat Gilad outpost, and about a DCO tour with farmers from Gins Afut to lands near Emanuel they can’t access. We want to either get access, or an explanation.
1.2 In January 40 structures demolished or seized in Occupied Territories Displacing or 44 Palestinians, and affecting 200 more One of a terrorist, 39 for lack of almost impossible to receive permits.

Army ignores illegal fact that illegal outpost in Umm Zuka nature preserve is creating a water cistern.

In Rashash settlers observe. Keep distance because of our presence.

El-Khama. Army temporarily detain us and block road to volunteers trying to get to outpost where settlers harassing shepherds.

Our presence keeps settlers from expelling shepherds from Samra. Settler “Uzi” says he will take revenge by again brining cows to planted area. We learn that on previous Shabbat 3 sheep aborted because settlers threw stones at them. Shepherd injured by stone.

2.2 Shabbat . Settlers violent toward shepherds in El KHama and near Maskiot. Army come and leave.

On this Shabbat may we realize that even the holiness of the Land of Israel can become alien fire and idolatry when it blinds us to the Image of God. May we do the work that we need to do to oppose evil, so that we merit the peace of Shabbat.

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 is recognized as a role model for faith based human rights activism.
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