Arik Ascherman

Thou Shall Not Covet — Unless It Is Palestinian

Take a look at this home. In all likelihood it will not exist in a week. It belongs to Abdel Mikhsein and six additional family members living in Palestinian Susya. Abdel Mikhsein isn’t here right now. He is in intensive treatments for advanced brain cancer. His son has kidney problems. His father was murdered by settlers back in the 1990s.

The home consists of two tents. One serves as a kitchen.

The family lives in the second one.

But it is “legal” to demolish Abdel Michsein’s home because he dared to put a roof over his family’s head without a permit.

In this week’s Torah portion we accept the Ten Commandments. I am writing from the Palestinian village of Susya, where Abdel Mikhsein’s home is two of the 7 structures that will in all likelihood be demolished next week for one simple reason-settlers watching like vultures from the adjacent settlement of Susya covet this land.

The government knows that this is private Palestinian land, and has acknowledged that on several occasions.  There is no dispute that Palestinian landowners moved to these lands in 1986 after they were expelled from their adjacent village that became an archeological site because there is an ancient synagogue there.  There is no dispute that a planning and zoning committee with no Palestinian representation has rejected every subsequent attempt to legalize building a new village on their agricultural lands.  For all the fine words about planning principles, I was present when a settler got up to explain the real reason for not approving a master plan, “We all know this is a joke.  You would never approve a village next to our settlement.”  Actually, the all Israeli planning committee wouldn’t ever approve a new village anywhere.

Only the most disingenuous can speak about the rule of law here.  Palestinians are not members of our democracy.  Neither do we afford them the protections that international law was designed to give occupied populations.  The law used to deny Susya residents the ability to build legally is neither fair nor just nor even legal.  It is an occupier’s law imposed in a one sided way in violation of international law.  It is designed to create an environment hospitable to settlers and toxic for Palestinians because we covet what they have. There is no other reason that Israelis, rather than Palestinians are in charge of non-defense related civilian affairs such as zoning and building for Palestinian communities.

The fact is that I and Susya residents sat with the army in 2015 when the army offered to recognize and help build a village here.  That was then. This is now.  That was Defense Minister Ya’alon.  This is Defense Minister Lieberman.  That was under President’s Bush and Obama.  This is under President Trump….. It has nothing to do with planning.  It is all about politics, power and coveting. By the way, how many buildings without permits are in settler Susya and the surrounding area?

A  bit more on coveting.  Nary a month goes by without Susya settlers attempting to take over more of this land.  In the late 90’s we obtained a letter from then Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai acknowledging that all of the lands from the Susya settlement fence westward are private Palestinian lands.  I have pictures of the Shreitakh family returning to work their lands.  However, the coveters didn’t give up.  Now the Shreitakh family lands are covered with settler agriculture.  The coveters know that once the Palestinians are no longer living on their lands, it will be easier to achieve Shreitakh 2, Shreithakh 3, Shreitakh 4……

Throughout the Occupied Territories it is the same story.  On Sunday PM Netanyahu has promised a discussion about legalizing ground zero for price tag Israeli violence-Khavat Gilad.  On a regular basis Israelis coming from the direction of Khavat Gilad carry out pogroms in nearby Palestinian Farata.  The recent murder of Khavat Gilad resident Rabbi Shevakh was terrible, and I send condolences to his family. However, only the most covetous and cynical can say that the response to Palestinian terror should be rewarding Jewish terror.   Khavat Gilad founder Itai Zar claims that some of the lands he has built on were purchased.  It may be true.  But, everybody knows that he has gone way beyond that, even building structures in the adjacent olive grove belonging to Farata.  Every year when the farmers come under heavy protection to harvest their olives, they discover that 70%-100% have been stolen.  Did I mention, “Thou shall not steal?”

We can pretend that many things are legal, particularly when we undemocratically and unilaterally impose laws on others.  However, when we appear one day before the heavenly court, we will not be asked whether we acted “legally.”  We will be asked whether we coveted, and whether our coveting led us to steal.  We will face Abdel Mikhsein and be asked whether we acted justly.

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.