Arik Ascherman

‘Yeah-Boo” and Other Memories of My Dad, Discourse, and Parashat Kedoshim

My father’s yahrzeit was on the 30th of Nissan (Wednesday). More about him and what we can learn from him regarding our current situation and Parashat Kedoshim at the end.

But reflecting on the events of the past few days I recall how he would talk about “yeah-boo” situations that had both positive and negative elements. I would add that there are situations that appear positive or negative, but turn out to be the opposite. There are also situations where we need to ask whether they were positive or negative:

Yesterday we finished pruning several vineyards of landowners from El Khader near the Elazar settlement. Positive? We had to do it because Palestinians are not allowed to work their lands. Several times the army liaison officer went back and forth as to whether Mohammad who is over 70 could go to his land. The rule is no entry if land is closer than 200 meters to a settlement. His vineyard is between 190-140 meters. Several times settlers in uniform kicked him and his nephew out, usually “politely.” Ultimately the answer was not only that they can’t enter their lands. The Morar High Court decision we won in 2006 allows the army to limit free access to their lands when absolutely necessary for security, but requires the army to schedule access to those lands. The liaison officer said that no coordination is possible. We hear the same story in location after location…. Because it is already way late to prune grape vines, we had to do it….

The army issued a one month order closing the areas around Palestinian homes and fields at the Taibe junction to everybody other than residents. I initially thought that, even if we could not visit or protect our friends there, this could be a very positive development, if the army would enforce the order against the settlers who regularly come with their flocks to harass and steal pasture. But on the first night of the order (Wednesday) the army itself invaded at 1:00 am, overturned everything and damaged a car and threatened to continue doing so….

We were told that yesterday the army arrested settlers on the main road passing by Kufr Maleq lands in Eyn Samia. But, on an almost daily basis settlers and their flocks coming from the direction of “Micha’s Farm” break through fences and wreak havoc on everything growing. The army and police have done very little to stop this, and for several months were telling the farmers they couldn’t come to their lands. One officer even said the settlers had a permit to be on land not theirs. After again catching a settler and a flock in the act, a police officer asked me, “If a landowner has already submitted a complaint (He has), why hasn’t anything been done? I was somewhat speechless, but answered, “Yes, it is true that you haven’t done anything.”  He did talk to the investigators who said the complaint was being looked into….

The High Court has ordered the state to detail how it will protect some of the shepherding communities such as Zanuta in the South Hebron Hills who fled their homes because of settler violence and want to return. No final decision yet, but that could be positive. As a result of our (Torat Tzedek) appeal the state has issued demolition orders for a violent outpost in the Binyamin region. Again this is potentially positive. But there is one small detail. The State made no commitment to actually carry out the order. Furthermore, the High Court accepted the state’s arguments against a restraining order permitting entry to the area only to landowners, Palestinian residents, and those invited by them. The settlers are not content with having violently expelled the residents of Wadi a Seeq. They are ranging further and further, even as the expelled residents lacking sufficient grazing lands can only gaze from afar at the plentiful grazing areas they can’t access.

And yesterday the state demolished 5 tents belonging to one family from the entire community that temporarily fled the Rashash shepherding community out of fear of the settlers. These demolitions were carried out by the occupying state, but last week they heard noise in the middle of the night. We later discovered that somebody had entered Rashash and demolished three homes. A few months ago a new road and a new outpost were created nearby without permit and an Afraid to return home, and with the state capable of demolishing in the places he has an option of pitching new tents and continuing to live as a shepherd, he and many others have almost nowhere to go without giving up their flocks and way of life.

Having gotten off my chest some of what I have experienced this week, I want to share some additional thoughts about my father not necessarily connected to what I have written above, but not entirely disconnected:

As my father’s yahrzeit approached,  I of course thought about what we could and should learn from him in our present condition here in Israel. I thought about the fact that as somebody who was a young man at the time of the Holocaust and served in the US army during World War II (not as combat soldier), my father had both a great love for Israel and great respect for the importance of my human rights work. As a result of long conversations and field visits with me, similar to conversations we would have about economic justice in the US, he came to understand the connection between righting wrongs in our society and both the physical and moral well being of our society.

My father knew how to really listen to people, learn from them, and could change his opinion based on what he heard. Perhaps because he was a businessperson, he looked for win-win solutions, rather than forcing zero sum solutions on others He rarely raised his voice or shouted, and almost always spoke with derekh eretz.

I contrast this to the our style of our internal discourse today, let alone how we deal with those who today are our enemies. We learn in our Torah portion that even the way we disagree can be destructive or healing, “You shall not hate your brother or your sister in your heart. Reprove your fellow so that you will not incur guilt because of him. “ (Leviticus 19:17)  The point of how we interact with each other should not be to stoke hate. Rather, our honest dialogue and even our disagreements should be with the goal of building bridges, so as not to incur the sin of hating others. As Ibn Ezra points out, this also has a great impact on both the physical and moral wellbeing of our society:

“ This is the reverse of but thou shalt love your fellow human beings who are essentially like you (v. 18). Now all of these commandments are implanted in the heart.⁠61 Israel will dwell in the land when they observe them, for the second temple was destroyed because of causeless hatred (sinat khinam).

I believe that my father could interact with others in the way that he did because he didn’t divide people  into categories of important or unimportant, between those who could be of use to him and those who couldn’t, or according to other measures of status. As we read in our Torat portion, “Do no wrong in judgement. Do not favor the poor or show deference to the wealthy and powerful. Judge others justly and fairly. “ (Leviticus 19:15).  Among those who worked for him he looked for talent and potential, cultivated it and helped them spread their wings and fly.

His memory is a needed blessing and role model.

May We Achieve True Shalom In The Spirit of Shabbat

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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