flag of israel – דגל ישראל By israel captures c: flickr
Here is the beginning of a list of our spiritual asif for the year. It begins with a partial list of our accomplishments in RHR and in the wider human rights community, and continues with some of what we can be proud of as Israelis. It is far from complete, and I would be happy to hear from those of you with suggestions of what to add (And you are also invited to let me know what is missing from this year’s Yom Kippur vidui ):
- This year we mark ten years that RHR has been involved with the Palestinian olive harvest. Things are far from perfect. Farmers still have great difficulty obtaining permits to access their land between the separation barrier and the Green Line. There are areas where all the trees have been poisoned, chopped down or uprooted. However, as a result of our efforts, most farmers are planting, harvesting, pruning and harvesting, “To the last olive,” in places where they previously hadn’t reached for up to 15 years. Thousands of Israeli volunteers have come out with us and/or our coalition partners in the “Harvest Coalition.” They have given a helping hand, learned about the realities on the ground, and forged solidarity.
- The many small initiatives that have emerged from theIsrael’s social protest. True, there is not at the moment one large movement that can bring hundreds of thousands into the streets. However, there are untold numbers of individuals whose lives have been changed. There are tens of initiatives, such the “Ma’abara” that I work with with in Jerusalem, the “Haifa Front” that Rabbi Lev works with, the Periphery forum, the housing team of Tarabut, J14, and many others. The protest also gave a big push to our group of activists in Beit Shean.
- Incredible educational work in 12 pre-army academies and two human rights yeshivas. We see our former students involved in many organizations and initiatives, and sometimes in key positions as Knesset aides, in the prosecutor’s office, etc. We need many more initiatives like this, because others who do not share our values have been investing in education for many years quietly and out of the spotlight.
- An independent evaluator of our project with Ta’ayush and Breaking the Silence in the South Hebron Hills, told us, “It was an honor to evaluate your program. “If there were more programs this good, I would be out of a job. From conception, to planning, to execution to importance to impact, it gets top marks. I particularly was impressed by the Israeli-Palestinian solidarity that has been created.” Also within the Israeli activist community this project is recognized as one of the outstanding examples of what is possible. Along with “Comet,” “B’Tselem,” and many others, we have made a difference. As I wrote in my Rosh HaShanah Thoughts, the words of Nasser Nawajah say it all, “When they demolished our homes in the eighties, we were all alone, and there was nothing we could do. We’re not alone anymore.” Throughout the West Bank and East Jerusalem, we hear from Palestinians both that we have made a concrete difference in their lives, and that it is incredibly important to them that they are not alone.
- Ovadia successfully fought together with the Ma’abarah to prevent he and his wife from being evicted from their Amidar owned public housing apartment. For reasons of privacy, we can’t mention the names of all those whose evictions we and others prevented, but they include Leah, Smadar, Itzik and many others.
- Khan El Akhmar. After rumors spread that the army was planning to demolish the mud and tires school RHR helped build for the Jahalin Bedouin, there was an amazing outpouring of concern from the international community. The army’s Civil Administration committed itself in the Knesset to not moving the Bedouin without a thorough study of safety and health factors, appropriateness for Bedouin lifestyle, etc., and dialogue with the Bedouin. The threat of demolition and displacement still is very real, and right wing groups like “Regavim” are pushing for it, but there is a commitment to at least taking Bedouin needs into account.
- Ruti Kedem will soon graduate with a degree in archaeological preservation, a profession with many job opportunities. RHR’s help with National Insurance Institute bureaucracy was critical when the clerks wanted to make her chose between the degree that could make her self supporting and the financial assistance she needed to complete her degree. Again, privacy considerations do not allow us to mention the name all of those our Rights Center in Hadera has assisted.
- The JNF did the right thing. Twice. Together with RHR-NA and additional partners, letter writing campaigns influenced the Jewish National Fund to temporarily freeze the forced eviction of the Sumarin family from their home in Silwan in East Jerusalem, and to stop work on a portion of the lands of the unrecognized village of El-Arakib. In Silwan, the Rueidi won in court the right to register their property in their name.
- A family from Safa received compensation from the army for the ongoing damage to their trees, apparently being caused by individuals coming from the adjacent settlement of Bat Ayin.
- The Emek College determined that the work of human services student Rivka Yones with RHR’s public housing advocacy program in Beit Shean was one of the two outstanding projects of the year. In Beit Shean, we helped numerous families avoid eviction, get needed repairs, and solve other problems. Our grass roots work in Beit Shean and elsewhere has informed what we are doing to change housing policy as the initiator and a leading member of the “Housing Coalition.”. While our work in the Knesset is still very uphill and more at the level of “bikurim,” (first fruits associated with the holiday of Shavuot) then spiritual harvest, we do take pride in the suggested laws we have written, the Knesset public housing caucus we have helped create, the Knesset public housing conferences held this year, etc.
- The Jabber family now has restored access to their vineyard fenced in by the Givat Harsina settlement next to Hebron.
- The Hushiya family brought in their first grain harvest on the lands our legal team won back the previous year, The Mor family brought in their first harvest in the Twamin valley.
- Demolitions of several solar panel installations in the South Hebron Hills were frozen. Land takeovers have been repulsed in several places, physical attacks aborted, etc. Again, more at the level of first fruits, we have pending cases to return major tracts of land and to return planning and zoning to Palestinian hands in Palestinian communities in Area C.
- RHR’s staff. They are simply incredible, working night and day. I would like to particularly single out the two new lawyers in our legal department, Keren Knafo and Meya Keren. I was almost moved to tears preparing a report for a grant received to add rabbinical students/newly ordained rabbis/prospective rabbis to our staff. We have half time positions in our OT, Social Justice and Education departments, as well as somebody who works directly with me on communications, public housing, etc. Each one of them expressed how their work with RHR has done much to shape their understanding of the world and their paths as rabbis.
- Like so much of our work, we would prefer that it was not necessary. Nevertheless, the work of the ” Tag Meir” coalition to bring Israelis, particularly religious Jews, to the sites of “Tag Makhir“ (Price Tag) acts of vandalism, arson, and hateful graffiti mostly directed against non-Jews has done much to send the clear message, “Not in our name.” The fact that Prime Minister Netanyahu, the Chief Rabbis, and many other leading figures from across the political spectrum have strongly expressed their revulsion at these acts has done a great deal to send the message that the vast majority of Jewish Israelis repudiate such acts. While we continue to hold authorities responsible for not doing more to prevent these acts, a comparison with so many examples around the world and throughout history where leaders have remained silent says something very positive about Israel as a whole.
- That is perhaps an appropriate segue from the spiritual harvest of RHR and the human rights community to the spiritual harvest of the State of Israel.
- Israel’s free press. I am constantly amazed by the fact that Israel dedication to a free press allows reporters from around the world to report on all of our faults and wrongdoings. In israel the mainstream press has a much wider range of opinions regularly expressed than in the press I grew up with in theU.S. My colleagues and I can regularly write columns saying exactly what we think, not to mention paid media. This year we have seen a huge amount of growth in terms of the articles and op-eds RHR staff and members have been able to place in both the mainstream and alternative media.
- Many Israelis believe in listening to multiple voices. In addition to the free press, we see that in the right-wing educators who invite us to teach in their institutions, invitations to lead tours for the army, etc. Debate remains very strong in this country.
- NGO’sIsraelhas one of the most developed NGO sectors in the entire world. While one can cynically say this is because of the amount of problems we have, or ask whether we have always been effective, many are incredibly effective. Their existence testifies to the fact that, for all of the well known Israeli cynicism, many Israelis remain engaged and concerned. The innovation and creativity of the Israeli “Start Up Nation” also expresses itself in the work of NGO’s trying to makeIsraela better place.
- NGO’s often rely on volunteers. As mentioned above, this is the 10th year RHR has helped with the Palestinian olive harvest. Every year since 2002 tens to hundreds of volunteers put their bodies on the line to protect Palestinians from settler violence. (Only a small percentage of settlers are directly violent, but that small percentage is plenty.) Other RHR volunteers go out every week to teach English to the Jahalin Bedouin. A Canadian group from Operation Groundswell helped us this summer to clean a water cistern belonging to the residents of Bir El ‘Id in the South Hebron Hills, whom we helped return to their homes in 2009. Our board is a volunteer board. Volunteers help many other organizations as well. Every week Israelis volunteer for Ta’ayush and Machsom Watch and Yesh Din in the Occupied Territories, while others help fellow Israelis, guest workers and African refugees insideIsrael.
- We have a beautiful country, and a growing green movement trying to protect it.
- Israeli Youth. We have wonderful youth in this country. I see it in the idealism of the youth movements and in the support that some of them give to the issues we champion. The well known midrash (Shir HaShirim Rabah 1:3) tells us that, before God gave us the Torah, God wanted a guarantor. Neither our patriarchs and matriarchs nor our prophets were sufficient, but God saw our children as worthy guarantors. If we teach them Torah (v’shinantem l’vaneikhem) they will help us fulfill Torah.
- Israeli Creativity and innovation
- Polls show that a majority of Israelis still want peace and are prepared to give up a great deal to achieve peace, even if differences remain between us and the Palestinians as to what is necessary to achieve peace. (Many are pessimistic that it is possible.)
- Polls show that a strong majority of Israelis still support universal human rights in theory. Even if they do not always support our vision of human rights in practice, they aspire to be a moral nation.
- Most Israelis want interfaith understanding. We witnessed this year in the above mentioned response to price tag operations. There is a great desire by both secular and religious Israelis to learn Torah, better understand our Jewish tradition, and apply it to the moral issues of our day.
- Israelhas an economy that has weathered the world wide economic crisis better than most. Now we must do more to ensure that the weakest and poorest Israelis also benefit from this success.
- Most Israelis really believe that we have the most moral army in the world. They believe that human rights violations are aberrations, and are not systematic. Yes, this is very problematic and points to just how much work we still have to do simply to educate our fellow Israelis about the realities on the ground. However, this also point to something very positive. Most Israelis want to be moral and want to believe that we are acting justly. If people want to be just, we have a chance to eventually help them understand what we need to do in order to be just.
- In Israel, not only are Jews free to wear kippot (traditional Jewish head covering), but Muslims and Christians are free to wear and display the symbols of their religion. While non-Orthodox Jews and members of other faiths still face discrimination in terms of state funding, etc., for the most part all are free to practice their faith.
- Israel Has a thriving, and often radical cultural scene.
This year’s list is much longer than last year’s, but still not close to covering all of our spiritual asif. Please forgive me for what I have not included. Write in, so that we can add additional items in the future.
Eloheinu V’Eloei Kadmoneinu, Our God and God of our ancestors, may it be Your Will that we will use the gifts we have received from You so that next year our vidui will be shorter and the list of our asif longer. May the promise of bikurim be fulfilled as asif, As Rabbi Meir taught, may we know how to approach our faults like pomegranates, recognizing and extracting the edible fruit, while discarding the klipah, the hard inedible outer shell.
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