Arik Ascherman


Sukkot and Shemini Atzeret/Simkhat Torah defined as “zman simkhateinu” – the time of our joy. We are commanded to be “entirely happy.” (Deuternomy 16:14)  Unfortunately the events of last week highlighted for me how some are unhappy because of the well being of others.

On Wednesday, Palestinian farmers and an olive picking delegation of the organization I headed for 21 years, Rabbis For Human Rights, was attacked by an Israeli mob that descended quite a distance from Yizhar. Many were injured, and my friend 80 year old Rabbi Moshe Yehudai was hospitalized with head and arm injuries, after the mob chased after him and beat him with an iron bar.  Olive trees were torched, as well as backpacks left by those who fled.

Although I generally leave the honor of bringing volunteers to the olive harvest to RHR, and concentrate on stopping the chipping away at our 2006 High Court victory defining the duties of Israeli security forces towards Palestinian farmers,  needless to say I was there the next day.

We called the police and army, as we again saw 5 Israelis and a dog heading down towards us.  The settler security officer was the first to show up, followed by an army officer.  The settler officer scowled at the very idea that he would reign in those threatening the farmers, and had some choice words for us.  The army officer insisted that he had no authority to deal with either the attacking Israelis or us. (There is an Israeli army urban legend that they can only arrest or detain Palestinians, and that the police must enforce the law regarding Israelis.)  In a direct violation of that 2006 High Court decision, he the ordered us all out.  The army has the authority to expel us, but the ruling explicitly says that the army MAY NOT expel Palestinians when they are being threatened, unless there is no other way to prevent bloodshed.  This was certainly not the case on Thursday. A police officer who arrived backed the army officer.

On Friday the army violated Israeli law in the same way in several villages.  In Burin, the army chased after the farmers trying to find a location even further from Yizhar to continue working.  When the RHR delegation left altogether, they border police beat one of the farmers, and he had to be hospitalized as well.  As they beat him, they asked him, “Why did you bring volunteers? Come alone.”

On Shabbat, there were no Israeli or international volunteers.  The Yitzhar security officer drove by farmers, apparently looking for activists.  When he didn’t find any, he would say, “Good morning” and moved on. When we came back today, the residents of Burin debated whether perhaps it would be better for us to wait in the village.  If it was our presence that most set off the settlers, maybe we should only come into the fields if intervention was necessary.  Ultimately, they decided that we should be even further from Yitzhar, but in the field.

On a facebook page called, “Eretz Yisrael L’Am HaYehudi” (The Land of Israel for the Jewish People” they a picture of myself and my colleague Guy Hirschfeld, writing,

“A provocation by a leftist terrorist organization was prevented in Yizhar.  Residents of the settlement are grateful to the police and army that pushed away extreme leftist activists that came close to Yizhar for the second time this week.

The police and army pushed away extremist leftist activists that came close to Yizhar this morning (Thursday), after they created a provocation on the outskirts of the settlement that developed into a conflict.

Yesterday and today leftist activists entered an area close to the homes of the settlement, that is forbidden to them without security coordination.   They violated a closed military area order.  The police and army pushed the activists away and prevented the provocation.

Among the extreme activists were Arik Ascherman known for many years for his provocations in Judea and Samaria, and Guy Hirschfeld, an anarchist from “Ta’ayush”…

In the picture:  Leftist terrorist organization activists Ascherman and Hirschfeld.”

I wrote back to them highlighting how they render words such as “terrorist,” “radical leftist” and “anarchist” meaningless after they so distorted their meaning.

I also included “provocation.”

However, I then realized, that, as sad and sick as it may be, there are those for whom it really is a provocation to see Palestinian farmers peacefully and safely harvesting their olives, and even more infuriating to see Israelis helping them.  Many years ago, I challenged the fact that the orders the army issues to keep Israelis out of the olive groves during the harvest also keep us out.  I pointed out that that rather than excluding Israelis, they could exclude all who were not invited by the landowners. Then the truth came out, “You are more of a red flag to the settlers than the Palestinians.”  There are people who truly are not happy because Palestinians are happy.

On Friday, I asked on facebook what is the joy and happiness we are to experience on Sukkot and Simkhat Torah.  One respondent came up with exactly the answer I had been thinking of.  We read in Deuteronomy 16:14: You shall rejoice on your holiday, with your sons and daughters and your servants and the Levites and the non-Jew living among you, and the orphan and the widow in your gates….and you shall be entirely happy.”

Just as the midrash tells us that binding the four species together to make the lulav we shake on Sukkot represents bringing together the entire community, with all of our differences, we learn that the joy the Torah commands us comes about through togetherness.  Our happiness is a shared happiness, moving even beyond the boundaries of the Jewish people.  It will be actualized when he take care of indigent Israelis, African asylum seekers Israeli Arabs and Palestinians, so that one and all experience joy.

As we transition from Sukkot to Simkhat Torah–rejoicing with the Torah—may we rejoice by living Torah. May we work for a joyous world in which one of our greatest joys is knowing that we have done our part to make the Torah’s vision a reality—a world in which we are happy BECAUSE others are happy as well.

I will be more able to dance with the Torah on Simkhat Torah because I harvested olives with the famers in Burin today.

Khag Sameakh-Wishing a Joyous Holiday.

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.