Not by Might and Not By Occupation-Shabbat Hanukkah

I am often asked, “Don’t you, as a religious Jew, acknowledge that God gave the Jewish people the Land of Israel?” and “How do you reconcile that with your human rights work on behalf of Palestinians?” I usually give several answers.

Firstly, one must differentiate between human rights and final status solutions determining sovereignty. Human rights organizations traditionally don’t take a position on a one, two or ten state solution, or drawing borders. We say that the Occupation must end because it inevitably leads to human rights violations. However, it is the job of others to hammer out what that ending the Occupation will look like.  And, as long as we do have effective control over the Occupied Territories, we are responsible to protect the human rights of those under our domination.

More to the point, nobody who takes the Torah seriously can ignore the fact that God does promise the Land of Israel to the Jewish people in perpetuity.  However, if one takes the Torah seriously, one cannot ignore the fact that this is not a blank check.  The Torah and the prophets make it very clear that God, and the Land itself, will spit us out, if we do not behave as God expects.  While some would argue that not to “redeem” the Land by any means possible makes us unworthy to live in the land, I believe that oppressing fellow human beings – not honoring God’s Image in every human being — makes us unworthy in God’s eyes. There could be a paradox that the very actions necessary to hold on to the entire Biblical land of Israel make us unworthy to do so.

I also quote the halakhic response by Rabbi Ovadia Yoseph z”l that many of his supporters would rather forget.  He ruled that, as holy as the Land of Israel is, human life is more holy.  If territorial compromise can prevent bloodshed, as painful as it would be, that is what must be done. One can argue that compromise will not prevent or reduce bloodshed. However, if one does believe that giving up territory could save lives, the obligation is clear.

Personally, I believe it is a huge mistake to insist that there is only one correct solution to our conflict, and that the others are disasters. What is important is the process by which Israelis and Palestinians come to agreement. That must be a process genuinely arrived at, without coercion. People can be sitting around a table, while there is plenty of coercion going on underneath the table. Sometimes leaders sign a piece of paper, in order to say they signed a piece of paper. There must be a true commitment by the leaders to implement the agreement, and it must be marketable to Israelis and Palestinians. The desire for a negotiated settlement cannot be an excuse for one side or the other to drag out negotiations ad infinitum, while continuing to establish facts on the ground making a just solution almost impossible…

I would be very happy were a solution to be arrived upon that would allow Jews to live in the entire Biblical Land of Israel. As somebody who knows the Land over the 1967 well, and appreciates both our roots there, and their relatively unspoiled beauty, I would love to live there myself. But, not as an occupier.  In the words of the haftarah reading for the Shabbat of Hanukkah, “Not by might and not by power, but by My Spirit says Adonai of Hosts.” Zekhariah 4:6.

In my many discussions with former MK Yehudah Glick, one of the foremost advocates for Jews praying on the Temple Mount/Haram al Sharif, I have told him that I agree that those Jews who do not believe there is a halakhic prohibition to praying on the Mount should be able to so. I agree with his vision, derived from Isaiah and Micah, that the Mount/Haram al Sharif should be a place where all can pray in their own way.  It upsets me that Muslims are opposed to our praying there. However, “Not by might and not by power,” and not through occupation. We must find the way to come to agreement with the Waqf, and not use our guns to impose the solution we believe to be right.  And yes, there will probably be more willingness by Muslims to talk about this, when the discussions are no longer under the shadow of occupation.

Perhaps it is no coincidence that this week’s Torah portion, Miketz, is often the portion we read on the Shabbat of Hanukkah.  It is not only the Maccabees who win a tremendous military victory, but turn out to be terrible rulers who eventually replace the Greek occupation they overthrew with Roman occupation and expulsions. In our Torah portion, Joseph rises to immense power.  With this power he saves the Egyptians and his family from starvation.  However, he also dispossesses the Egyptians of their lands, and concentrates even more power in the hands of Pharaoh and the elites.  He brings us to Egypt, where we will suffer from Pharaoh’s power.  This is why Rabbi Arthur Waskow calls Joseph a “Tzadik (just and righteous person) in the dark (“God Wrestling”). Although he claims at the outset of our Torah portion that it is not he who interprets dreams, but God, we are never told that God speaks to Joseph.  He may have been doing his best to do the right thing, but we must ask whether, with the aid of God’s Spirit, Joseph could have done better.  Joseph too, needed to hear, “Not by might and not by power, but by My Spirit says Adonai of Hosts.”

The power in Joseph’s hands, or in ours, is not inherently evil. It must be channeled and informed by God’s Spirit.  Yes, the mistakes of Joseph and of the Maccabees led to suffering by us and by others.  However, we also know how powerlessness caused us to suffer for 2,000 years. May we learn to use justly and wisely the power now in our hands,

“Not by might and not by occupation, but by My Spirit says Adonai of Hosts.”

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.
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