“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 4 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; this past year, 146 children attended 2 different camps, which included taking them to the sea.
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 200 open cases relating to land confiscation and 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 benefits, etc. We also run a 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 challenge the government’s plan to remove 30-40,000 Bedouins from their homes and resettle them in 7 existing towns, plagued with poverty.
4. Promoting Human Rights Education in Israel:
Teaching Human Rights in Israel’s Pre-Military Academies: RHR works in 12 pre-military academies, exposing every year some 600 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.
- In 1993 RHR received “The Speaker of the Knesset’s Award for the Quality of Life in the Field of Enhancing the Rule of Law and Democratic Values, Protecting Human Rights, and Encouraging Tolerance and Mutual Respect.”
- In 2006, RHR was awarded the prestigious Niwano Peace Prize for its efforts to promote peace in an interfaith context.
- In 2011 Gandhi Peace Award honored RHR’s Rabbi Arik Ascherman & Rabbi Ehud Bandel
RHR’s Rabbi Arik Ascherman and Rabbi Ehud Bandel with representatives of the Gandhi Peace Award
Due to the nature of our struggle, it is rare for total finality to accompany our accomplishments. Like a whack-a-mole game, just as one home is spared from the bulldozers, another family receives a demolition order, and just as one legislation is scrapped by the Knesset, a new one pops up. Nevertheless, RHR has done much to forward human rights within Israel and the Palestinian Territories. From getting our hands dirty digging cisterns on the ground to influencing legislation at the highest levels of government, our commitment to justice is unwavering. Our achievements include:
In the Occupied Territories…
- The planting of approximately 3,000 olive trees every year in areas in danger of takeover, or where settlers have previously cut, uprooted or burned trees.
- Coordination with approximately 50 Palestinian villages in the West Bank during the annual olive harvest has ensured over the last ten years the rights of thousands of farmers to plant, harvest and prune their olive trees in areas at-risk for settler orchestrated attacks.
- Together with the Catholic Comboni Sisters and others, we organize a summer camp for 70 Bedouin children, even taking them to the beach one day. For most, it was their first time seeing the sea.
- A 2006 High Court victory requiring the army allow Palestinians to safely access their lands. As a result of this victory, Palestinian farmers’ access to their lands has vastly improved.
- In 2009 our legal team returned the residents of Bir El’Id to their village after almost 10 years of expulsion. Despite this victory, the army continued to give demolition orders, and even claimed some of their original caves were off limits. In 2012, RHR was again victorious and returned villages to 5 additional caves, a water cistern, and two animal pens.
- Since 2004, our legal team has prevented numerous demolitions and allowed for greater access to lands in multiple Palestinian villages in Shilo Valley and the South Hebron Hills while filing numerous criminal or other complaints as they come up. We have over 85 cases open involving more than 8000 dunam of lands, and we continue to take on more cases as we expand into the Bethlehem area.
Socio-enonomic justice in Israel…
- We saw the defeat of the Wisconsin Plan– an extremely misguided “welfare-to-work” plan– in 2010 after years of campaigning on its dangers to the public, the press and the Knesset.
- Our Rights Center helps around 200 unemployed and underemployed Jewish and Arab residents of the Hadera and Wadi Ara region demand their socioeconomic rights.
- Our public housing advocacy program in Beit Shean was voted one of the two outstanding projects of the year (out of 130 competing projects) by the Jezreel Valley College in 2012. The program has helped some 85 tenants in September 2011.
In educating fellow Jews on human rights…
- We have exposed around 600 young Israelis, the majority of whom will become army officers, to our human rights and Jewish values curriculum through our 13 pre-military academies. Students are encouraged to ask questions and challenge ideas that exist within themselves and within Israeli society.
- The creation of a human rights curriculum which several Bay Area middle schools have committed to run as pilot programs.
With the Negev Bedouin…
- RHR tirelessly campaigns for the rights of some 45,000 Negev Bedouin against demolitions and forced relocations. In December 2013 we saw a victory when legislation that would have caused the expulsion of 40,000 from their ancestral lands was scrapped (the Prawer plan), but the situation remains precarious.
In interfaith work…
- RHR organizes and participates in numerous interfaith events and demonstrations through Tag Meir (“Bright Tag”). This includes: donating a barbed wire fence to a Palestinian village plagued with violence caused by their neighbors, and donating new Qur’an books to a mosque whose copies had been destroyed in an arson attack.
- Facilitating groups of Jewish, Christian and Muslim seminary students in a joint study about the overlap between human rights and the environment