Among the plagues in this week portion, there is “dever,” a pestilence that strikes only the livestock of the Egyptians, and the “barad” (fiery hail) that destroys the flax and barley outside the land of Goshen, as well as striking people and livestock that remain outside.
Unfortunately, people can also bring plagues on each other. As I will relate shortly, I saw it up close and personal this week (and see it just about every week.) Every act of terror or violence defaces the Image of God in fellow human beings, and every act harming the earth that sustains us, is a humanly caused plague. The perpetrators and the victims can be Israelis or Palestinians, haves or have nots, Sephardim or Ashkenazim, Jews or non-Jews. However, I will concentrate on a few examples from this past week that I experienced personally.
Settlers from an outpost between the Rimonim and Kokhav HaShakhar settlements began this week to wreak a plague on the grains planted by Bedouin shepherds to feed their flocks in the summer months. They bring their flock into the Palestinian fields to graze, leaving no more behind than did the barad. Last spring I frequently caught the settler shepherds in the act and chased them out, while Israeli security forces did nothing. I hope that we will be more successful this time around in getting the security forces to do their job. I have reason to believe that we will, but time will tell.
On Monday, settlers and soldier differentiated between flocks owned by Jews, and flocks owned by non-Jews. We were accompanying the Bedouin shepherds from Ein Hilwah who the army used to allow to graze their flocks freely in the adjacent live fire zone we unilaterally declared, unless there was truly to be a military exercise.
Since the repopulation of the settlement of Maskiyot and the additional of an adjacent outpost, the Jewish settlers freely use the live fire zone, but expel the non-Jewish shepherds. If we are not around, it can be direct and physical. They also illegally fly a drone over the Palestinian flocks to scare them away. Because we were there on Sunday, the settlers didn’t try to expel the Palestinians on their own. The settler security officer led the army to us. We and the shepherd were detained for five hours (at least the flocks were able to continue to graze), while the soldiers showed no interest in the settler owned flock in the same area. Thankfully, we had a lot of time to talk with the soldiers. For most of them, their hostility warmed into some limited understanding of the injustice they were a part of.
Whereas God separates between the Israelite and Egyptian flocks, problems get worse when the flock belonging to settlers from the Malakhei HaShalom outpost mix with the flocks from Rashash. Just as with Ein Hilwah and Maskiyot, the army and the Bedouin managed to coexist until the settlers set up their unauthorized outpost.
Many days there is a tense moment as the Bedouin fearfully and carefully guide their flock around the point where the settlers on horseback and their flock block them, and then continue on their way. The army has made it clear to us that they have more important things to do than keeping peace in the kindergarten, or chasing after flocks. While it is their hope that the shepherds will find a way of coexisting (which would actually be a victory of sorts for the settlers, since their outpost is illegal even according to the Israeli government, let alone most of the world), the settlers are determined to drive all non-Jews from the Land.
On Wednesday I received an emergency call from one of the Bedouin shepherds telling me that the settlers had seemingly released their flock to mix with the Bedouin flocks . They asked me to call the security forces and to come quickly because past experience told the Bedouin that they would be accused of stealing sheep. Sure enough, although the Bedouin quickly cooperated in returning ten sheep that had joined their flocks, the settlers chased after them. When I arrived, the settlers were illegally holding on to three shepherds.
In this video clip, you can see one of the settlers blocking me as I attempt to free the Bedouin, and grabbing one of them by his jacket. Afterwards, soldiers arrive, and you hear me suggesting in Hebrew that the officer accompany the settlers to identify any additional sheep still with the Bedouin.
Posted by Arik Ascherman on Thursday, 3 January 2019
One of the settlers says that they need to count their sheep, and don’t actually know that any are missing. Nevertheless, they press charges, and two shepherds spend hours without water or food in the police station, until I eventually get them released.
Posted by Arik Ascherman on Thursday, 3 January 2019
They were gone by the time I arrived, but one of my tires was slashed. It could have been them, or one of the other settlers that had been going up and down the path. All I know is that the collection of my recently slashed tires is growing.
God, in the specific context of the Exodus, can take actions that only harm non-Jews. I wish that God had found a way to free us that did not cause so much suffering to the Egyptians, but I recognize the limitations of my human understanding. I can say with greater certainty that, other than true cases of employing the least harmful method of self defense, it is wrong for we humans to justify actions that harm others, while protecting our own. We all too often find the reason to justify harm to others. If I accept my human limitations regarding God’s actions, I do not accept the idea stated by some of our sages that the tetragrammaton God reveals to Moses at the outset of the Torah portion is the one of God’s names reflecting God’s Mercy and Loving-kindness. The loving-kindness exhibited towards the Israelites is experienced by the Egyptians as God’s Strict Justice.
I didn’t see dever or barad this week, but I did hear about the plague visited upon Bedouin crops, and saw Israeli soldiers enforcing differential treatment on different flocks, depending on whether they were owned by Jews or non-Jews.
May it be God’s Will that we bring fewer plagues upon each other, and act with a little more loving-kindness and mercy crossing all that divides us.