My son, the Israeli soldier, and human rights: Thoughts by Rabbi Yehiel Grenimann

3 Comments 27 July 2014

As part of Rabbis for Human Rights’ series featuring the reflections, both human rights related and not,  of our staff and rabbis during Operation Protective Shield, Rabbi Yehiel Grenimann, RHR’s director of human rights in the occupied territories, shares his feelings as son serves in Gaza. A dedicated Israeli activist, Rabbi Grenimann has spent much of his life committed to justice and equality in Israel and the Palestinian territories. Yet Rabbi Grenimann is also a husband and a father, and his son was recently called up as a reservist.


I am concerned about the safety of my peace-loving son who is a soldier down south, possibly already in Gaza, in Hermesh unit. There are people there who want to kill him, as they want to kill as many other Israelis as they can. The difference is that as a soldier he is a “legitimate” target, unlike the innocent civilians on both sides of this conflict. No one, of course, is really innocent in the eyes of those who live, preach and act on hate here.

I’m a human rights activist, who served as a soldier in reserves for 25 years just as my son does now. I know that a soldier is no less a human being for being engaged in attempting to defend his people from missiles, terrorist murders, kidnappings. Nor are the Hamas militants any less human for acting on their hatred in these ways.

I have been involved, personally and politically, for decades now in the dialogue with Palestinians in search of peace and understanding. The defense of human rights of all and respect for human dignity in Israeli society has been a concern as long as I can remember. It led me to get involved in Rabbis For Human Rights from its founding in 1988 and has been my professional calling in my work for RHR over the past eight years.

Rabbi Grenimann assists a Palestinian farmer harvest his barley on his land next to the outpost Hazon David outside of Hebron. The farmer is subject to much intimidation and harassment by extremist settlers. RHR helps ensure the Israeli authorities allow the farmer to harvest, and our presence  as Israelis during the harvest helps ensure the safety of the Palestinians.

Rabbi Grenimann assists a Palestinian farmer harvest his barley on his land next to the outpost Hazon David outside of Hebron. The farmer is subject to much intimidation and harassment by extremist settlers. RHR helps ensure the Israeli authorities allow the farmer to harvest, and our presence as Israelis during the harvest itself helps ensure the safety of the Palestinians.

In that time I have faced many personal and professional dilemmas in dealing with our reality on the ground in the West Bank (known in the Jewish narrative as Judea and Samaria). I am often torn between my own concern for the security and well being of my people, the Jewish people, and their country, the State of Israel and the heart-breaking phenomenon of ongoing military occupation, and the injustice that this causes the Palestinian people with which we “share” this holy land.

My son, Neriya, a combat soldier,  received an emergency call-up on the evening of July 17th. He shares my values and religious and moral commitments as well as some of my dilemmas. He too has been an activist for peace and environmental justice. He has studied Arabic, has Palestinian friends with whom he studied environmental issues and who have visited him in our home and he has been hosted in theirs.

My involvement in human rights work is something he is proud of and supports, though he sometimes questions some of the things RHR supports or does. I too am proud and support him in his defense of his country.

We both share a healthy degree of skepticism regarding the official explanations given by governments and the political groups in play in this tragic situation, having experienced inaccurate and even deceitful reports of events in the past.

With a son on the front lines and a sense of existential threat from a mortal enemy, it is hard to maintain a critical stance. We are caught up in events and are as yet unable to have the perspective and information needed to judge as to what we have done as a nation. The time for that will come.

I pray that he will return unscathed both physically and morally from his experience of war and continue to work for peace, and share with me his view of events.

There are thousands more like him in the Israeli army. Decent people who have no intention to kill civilians, want an end to violence but believe that the Jewish people in the Land of Israel have a right to defend themselves, for whom the right to life both as individuals and as a people is a basic human right, a right we would like to see our enemies realize as well in the only way that is possible in this tiny country – mutual respect and willingness to compromise.

It is time to end this conflict so young people like my son can devote themselves to life and fulfill the words of Torah: “Uvaharta BaHaim” – choose life.

IMG_20140116_111813Rabbi Yehiel Grenimann is the head of the rights in the OT department in Rabbis for Human Rights. The views he expresses here are his own and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Rabbis for Human Rights. 



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3 Comments so far

  1. marion says:

    Yehiel, kol ha kavod! As you sure know I am 100% with you and your work and I very much admire you! May your son and all Israel’s sons come home safely. May you be blessed to see the results of your work soon, bekarov beyamenu, AMEN!

  2. Deennaa says:


    It is very heartening to see that you, as a Jew and as a teacher among your people, are for Peace in Palestine. I do not understand why you make no mention of the root of this problem and that is the Military Occupation of the people of Palestine and the confiscation of their land by your own Israeli government. It is a clear Offensive against a people who are only DEFENDING. And they are defending with no military against Israel’s Fourth largest military in the world. How is it that you do not mention the imprisonment of 1.8 million people in Gaza and your government’s world class military hideously bombing people who are basically imprisoned sitting ducks with no where to escape the carnage your government and its military are committing? Their paltry rockets are no match for Israel’s weapons of mass destruction. Since the death statistics are public everyone can see there is a gross disparity in the number of Palestinian deaths to that of the Israeli’s. Its horrible that we even have to mentioned who dies the most. But this is not a war of soldiers against soldiers but a massive high tech military bombarding and murdering CIVILIANS and CHILDREN on the widest of scales. There really is no Palestinian “military”. No navy, no air force, no phosphorus bombs, no hideous weaponry the likes of which Israel is raining down upon these trapped civilian human beings. I question how you can be for Human Rights and not address directly your own government’s Genocidal actions and your government’s MILITARY OCCUPATION of brutal oppression in your Human Rights, and more importantly, your religious beliefs as a rabbi. While I support Human Rights for ALL humans and especially the rights of Palestinian people to their FREEDOMS to live without a nightmarish enslavement in the land called Holy, I do not understand how you can reconcile your human rights work and still embrace the military Occupation and killing of these neighbors of yours. I cannot see Israel as any “holy” land until your government is dismantled from its zion-ist political nationalism and its embedded usurpation of the lands and people of Palestine, and that government embracing the true Torah spirituality and values that emulates God’s compassion – as that Torah embodies. Zion-ism, as is being practiced and carried out for the last 66 years in your lands, is actually the root of the entire warring it is committing against a collective people without ANY Human Rights. I think your position MUST have a quandry and more and a split in your spiritual position when you obviously have deep care for all people involved. Shouldn’t it also consider a complete change in your Israeli government’s war mentality? Palestinian’s and Jews lived together in Palestine BEFORE the zion-ist invasion and the beginning of their destructions BY that very invasion. History cannot be separated from any current life and living of any human population. Everyone wants to be proud of their country/nationality, but if those people’s are committing very wrong actions against other people’s, then that country demands a critical look into its own mentality. I am american, but I do not love this country’s government. I am not proud of most of its people. For the same reason I do not like the zion-ist political government of Israel. I am an american Indian and I understand Oppression and Genocide only too well. One OFFENDS. And the other DEFENDS. My people’s history is full of Massacreing, displacement and the actual and real theft of our children. I see a twin in Palestine. And it isn’t the Israeli’s. We were one of the most peaceful peoples on planet earth. We believed in One God for all mankind. We loved and cared for our children and our elders. We had a social and governmental organization – in ALL the over 500 tribal Nations. The whites crashed in upon us and began immediately to destroy us – when FIRST we welcomed them. From then on we were demonized and dehumanized and shoved off our lands and into basic concentration camps known as “Reservations” – where today you will find the most neglected, poverty ridden and every social ill you can mention – and STILL, the United States Government and most american people know zilch about our ways and our thinking and our spirituality. Even after 5 centuries! THEY write the most about us and steal our narrative. They appropriate our culture materially and spiritually(of which thieves do know not the depth of). We know very perfectly how Holocausts begin. We still pay the price. As many of us as remain are as many stories of pain and grief that remain – except for the ever successful “assimilation” of so many among us who have adopted the “white american” value system – which is next to no values except money. And the banner upon which the whites of america carried out our holocaust was “Manifest Destiny” – which is STILL in operation to this very day. It is a very deadly belief “system”. Again, I say it is a twin I see in Palestine. Teachers like yourself, and as a human being, you must realize there are ROOTS that must be addressed. I just didn’t quite see any probing into those roots from your own statements. Just your “duty” to do military service to continue what is the ROOT of all the bloodshed – mostly Palestinian blood -that is being caused to be shed there in the land called holy. We american Indian’s would say that ALL of God’s earth is holy and Life giving to every human on earth – and we cherish it all and its living beings. I do not think there will be any solution to this grossly unequal destruction of human beings done by one side to the defending other side until the root of the weed is pulled out. The weeds in your lands are overcoming the garden of life and living. There will be no Human Rights for everyone until there is a consensus on getting rid of that which is poisoning and killing – that grave and brutal oppression and horrendously taking away the bed rock freedoms of an entire and collective people who have lived in those lands for centuries. Bring ALL the Torah teachings from our Creator. Not just a part. I think the world hates to see the Israeli zion-ism hi-jack the true Judaism that teaches God’s compassion. “Thou shall not Kill” is still the commandment for everyone. It was our way also. Until they came to kill us and displace us.

  3. Daniel Aron says:

    Now we see how a Teepee dweller joins the band wagon in some pseudo-intellectual attempt to educate ….within seconds she is admonishing and chastising with relish and great munching and gnashing of Cheyanne jaws! Rabbi… You ever thought of taking advantage of Shnat Shmitah and disappearing for a while?!!! Co-existing and romping with the Muslim rabble who have illegally occupied our land for 1400 years is against all regulations. How many times must we be warned? Yehoshuah bin Nun was warned and hesitated in the undertaking he was ordered to complete …some 400 years later King David was forced to clean up the mess. Until today we pay the price of King Shaul’s botch-up… namely Amalek!!! Ghetto Jews in IDF uniforms were handed the keys of Har Ha Bayit …but NO!! Their European shtetal indoctrination got the better of them…they returned them to the Wakf and once again stones rain down from above …hurled by that same Poor! Poor! Poor! “underdog” THE PHANTOM RACE … the Palestinian!!! She ignorantly or sinisterly allies her people’s plight with that of the riffraff the UN idiotically created in the 1940’s… how quaint… those same “refugees” who originated from Tunisia/ Egypt/ Iraq/ Jordan during the Ottoman/British occupation. As far as Hiawatha is concerned I suggest she go back to wondering the prairies and getting high on powwow… this is all way above your league!!!

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