Shaiya Rothberg

The Sub Laban Eviction was a Crime Against Humanity – אדם

Noura Ghaith-Sub Laban, center, is comforted by family as she reacts to their eviction from their home. (Mahmoud Illean/AP)
Noura Ghaith-Sub Laban, center, is comforted by family as she reacts to their eviction from their home. (Mahmoud Illean/AP)

When the Jewish state becomes a tool for persecuting an ethnic-national population, Torah requires that we resist it.

On Tuesday, July 11th, the State of Israel forcibly evicted the Ghaith-Sub Laban family from their home and replaced them with Jewish settlers. The eviction was part of Israel’s wider systematic persecution of the Palestinian population in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Israel’s regime over the green line is a form of Apartheid, as documented by all the major human rights organizations dealing with Israel-Palestine, such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, B’tselem and Yesh Din. The Sub Laban eviction should be understood in this context.

The official justification for this eviction, and others like it, is the return of property to those who lost it during the 1948 war. However, Israel has one law for Jews (they have a right to property lost before 1948) and one law for Palestinians (they cannot recover their lost properties). If the issue was restoring property to those who lost it, your property would be restored to you regardless of your ethnic identity. But Israeli law and policy result only in evicting Palestinians and replacing them with Jews, even though in fact many more Palestinians than Jews lost property in 1948. Clearly, Israel’s policy of “returning lost properties” is merely a ruse for evicting Palestinians.

The Sub Laban family was forcibly evicted from their home by the state because they are Palestinians. Their apartment in the Muslim quarter had been their family home for some 75 years. The matriarch of the family, Noura, was born there, and there she gave birth to her children. They were the last Palestinian family in their building, the rest already having been evicted and replaced by the chosen ethnicity of the Jewish state. Using the state as a tool to oppress and dispossess a particular ethnic-national population is defined as a crime against humanity in international law (see the Human Rights Watch link above). I’d like to share with you why this phrase also resonates for me in Jewish sources.

One of the Torah sources most central to my religious identity is the Idra Rabba of the Zohar, a 13th century work often considered the Bible of Jewish mysticism (Kabbalah). As I understand it, the Idra presents the mission of Israel-humanity in the world as “expanding our faces”, to become more like אריך אנפין, the “expanded faced one”, an Aramaic idiom expressing ultimate compassion and parallel to the Hebrew term ארך אפיים, one of the 13 attributes of mercy. The Zohar teaches that we need to expand ourselves in this way so that we can act as conduits for שפע אלוהי (the divine flow) of existence, life, love, creativity and all other good things. According to the Idra, our problem as human beings is that we become too narrow –  cut off from our transcendent source –  which results in our becoming paranoid and destructive. The collective narcissism of Jewish supremacism and racist nationalism strikes me as a perfect example of this type of  destructive “narrowness”. In the narrow state, we cut off the flow of divine abundance, leaving the world in inner and outer גלות (exile).

For the Idra Rabba, when we expand ourselves and become conduits for the divine flow, we take on the form of אדם (adam, humanity). אדם adam is the human constellation of entities and powers that makes God’s presence in the world possible. The meaning of human in this context cannot be expressed in discursive language. The Idra expresses it in a kind of hymn to humanity that gives voice to the ineffable and all-encompassing significance of human being:

כְּמַרְאֵה אָדָם: דְּכָלִיל כָּל דִּיוּקְנִין 

כְּמַרְאֵה אָדָם: דְּכָלִיל כָּל שְׁמָהָן 

…כְּמַרְאֵה אָדָם: דְּבֵיהּ סְתִימִין כָּל עָלְמִין

…כְּמַרְאֵה אָדָם: דְּכָלִיל כָּל רָזִין

Like the appearance of a human – that contains all images.

Like the appearance of a human – that contains all names.

Like the appearance of a human – that contains all worlds…

Like the appearance of a human – that contains all secrets…

(Zohar 3:135a)

The Zohar teaches that we cultivate being human through divine qualities like those expressed by the sefirot of Kabbalistic symbolism: Consciousness (דעת), Love (חסד), Justice (דין), Beauty (תפארת), Relationality (יסוד-מלכות) and so on. The task of Torah is to expand our selves so that we may take on the form of אדם (adam, humanity) and channel divine energies of consciousness and creativity into the world.

When the Jewish State and Judaism become weaponized to destroy human lives, to desecrate אדם adam, we act against the essence of our faith. The eviction of the Sub Laban family was not only a crime against humanity in international law, it was a crime against אדם adam, a crushing blow to ourselves as creatures in God’s image, a dismemberment of the living constellation of divine entities and powers – human being – through which שפע אלוהי  (divine abundance) flows into the world. The true Torah of יהו-ה is a vehicle of humanization – of becoming more אדם  adam (human) and not dehumanization and oppression, to which the Sub Laban family, and millions of other Palestinians across Israel-Palestine, have fallen victim.

I witnessed the crime committed against the Sub Laban family. As part of a community of anti-occupation activists in Jerusalem Al-Quds called Free Jerusalem, I slept in the family home that night, together with four other members of Free Jerusalem, and Mustafa, the 72 year old father of the Sub Laban family. During the night before the eviction, Mustafa was emotionally and physically exhausted, and explained that Noura was not home because she was ill. In spite of the dire circumstances, Mustafa took pains to make sure that all of the many visitors to his home, ten people just between my shift and the one before, were fed, watered and had everything they needed. I wanted to beg him to forget about us and get some rest. But I knew it was pointless: We were in Mustafa’s home, and nothing could prevent him from showering us with welcoming kindness.

In the early morning, about twenty Israeli armed forces stormed the Sub Laban family house. They smashed open the door with some kind of machine. As a few of them picked me up as if I weighed no more than a child, and just before they threw me down the stairs leading from the apartment, I looked back and saw Mustafa’s silhouette, slightly bent over, surrounded by armed men, looking about him at the home he knew would be wrongfully taken – from him, from Noura, from their children – in no more than just a few moments. I will never forget that image of Mustafa. We Jews are a people that has known persecution. Where is our collective memory?

יהי רצון

May the divine will be manifest

That the State of Israel cease all persecution of Palestinians.

יהי רצון

May the divine will be manifest

That we have the strength and commitment to protect the Sub Laban family and all those who dwell in Israel-Palestine.

About the Author
Shaiya Rothberg lives with his wife in Jerusalem Al-Quds. He is a teacher of Jewish Thought and a human rights activist. Shaiya holds a PhD from Hebrew University in Jewish Thought and a B.A. in Jewish Philosophy and Talmud from Bar-Ilan University. He made aliyah in 1988 and served as a soldier and officer in the I.D.F. Shaiya's writing and teaching focus on the transformative potential of Jewish tradition.