“Beloved are human beings, for they are created in the image of God”-Pirkei Avot 3:18
About Rabbis for Human Rights:
Founded in 1988, Rabbis for Human Rights is the only rabbinic voice in Israel that is explicitly dedicated to human rights. Representing over 100 Israeli rabbis and rabbinical students from different streams of Judaism, we derive our authority from our Jewish tradition and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Our mission is to inform the Israeli public about human rights violations, and to pressure the State institutions to redress these injustices. In a time in which a nationalist and isolationist understanding of Jewish tradition is heard frequently and loudly, Rabbis for Human Rights give expression to the traditional Jewish responsibility for the safety and welfare of the stranger, the different and the weak, the convert, the widow and the orphan.
RHR works primarily in the following 5 fields, where we think our rabbinic voice will be most effective:
1. Human Rights Work in the Occupied Territories:
Olive Tree Campaign: RHR works year round with Palestinian farmers from several dozen villages in the Occupied Territories, to ensure that they can regularly access their agricultural lands, often denied to them because of their proximity to Israeli settlements. We negotiate and coordinate with the army to ensure the High Court mandate military protection during the olive harvest, and to ensure access to lands when denied. We also bring hundreds of Israeli and international volunteers to work side by side and in solidarity with Palestinians during the olive harvest, who help provide protection against possible settler intimidation. We also track Israeli settler acts of damage of Palestinian trees and property, and monitor the state response. During Tu B’shvat, we purchase and bring hundreds of Israeli and international volunteers together with Palestinians to plant some 2,500 olive trees in areas where settlers have cut, uprooted and/or burned trees in acts of vandalism and arson.
Advocating for the Rights of the Jahalin Bedouin: Since the early 1990s, RHR has worked to challenge government plans to demolish structures and forcibly transfer the Jahalin Bedouin community elsewhere. More recently, we have focused on rights to education of this community. We work with several local Bedouin women community activists, and we have helped them create an educational center for girls, slowly expanding to include boys, and a library. With the help of volunteers, we provide English and Hebrew lessons for Jahalin children throughout the school year, and we regularly organize and run summer camps where more than 150 children regularly participate.
2. Challenging Land Confiscation in the Occupied Territories:
RHR works to legally prevent or reverse the takeover of Palestinian lands in Area C, and ensure that Palestinian farmers can safely access those lands. We started working in villages in the South Hebron Hills, and we have recently expanded to the villages around Bethlehem as well as to a few villages in the Northern West Bank. We continually monitor the implementation of previous rulings on land access issues, and currently are working on over 200 open cases relating to land confiscation, criminal charges and complaints lodged by Palestinian farmers against settlement security personnel.
3. Socioeconomic Justice Work in Israel:
Rights of the Poor: RHR focuses on raising awareness and lobbying the Knesset for better economic rights for impoverished Israelis at the national level. At the local level, our Rights Center in Hadera helps hundreds of Jews and Arab citizens obtain socioeconomic rights that have been denied to them, such as unemployment or disability benefits. We also run empowerment and advocacy groups of local Arab and Jewish citizens from the Hadera area who focus and advocate for policy changes of their choosing.
Rights to Public Housing: RHR provides legal representation for public housing tenants in Beit Shean, Beersheva, and Hadera whose housing does not meet their needs or who are facing eviction. In Jerusalem, we work with those who are not even deemed eligible for public housing due to criteria that do not reflect true need. In coalition with other organizations, we wrote proposed legislation to save Israel’s public housing, and helped to create an officially-recognized Knesset lobby to promote public housing.
Defending Israel’s Unrecognized Bedouin Villages of the Negev: RHR engages in both raising public awareness and advocacy to protect the rights of 30-40,000 Israeli Bedouin currently living in “unrecognised” villages under the threat of forced displacement. Many of these villages are not provided basic services including water, sewage and healthcare.
4. Promoting Human Rights Education in Israel:
Teaching Human Rights in Israel’s Pre-Military Academies: RHR works in 13 pre-military academies, exposing every year some 800 young Israelis to our human rights teachings based on our rabbinic interpretation of Israel’s Declaration of Independence. Tours to witness firsthand the human rights challenges created in Jerusalem by the Separation Wall and facing African refugees and asylum seekers in South Tel Aviv are a highlight of this program. We believe that teaching human rights to young people who then continue onto their army service better equips them to deal humanely with the realities on the ground.
Human Rights Yeshivas: For more than a decade, RHR has been teaching about human rights and Judaism to Israeli university students. We currently run 2 human rights yeshivas, with a total of 40 participants. Students who participate in the program receive a stipend, and intern in a human rights or social change organization in order to understand more deeply the challenges facing Israeli society.
5. Interreligious Dialogue and Education
As of January 1 2015, the prestigious Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel (ICCI) became RHR’s interreligious department. The department seeks to harness the teachings and values of the three Abrahamic faiths and transform religion’s role from a force of division and extremism into a source of reconciliation, coexistence, and understanding for the leaders and the followers of these religions in Israel and in our region. Major activities include our “Abrahamic Forums” which bring together religious leads from the Jewish, Muslim and Christian faith to speak with groups across Israel about human rights, religious freedom, and spiritual unity; interreligious activism combatting hate crimes; and lectures, panels and tours geared for both the Israeli and the international public.