General, Justice in Israel, Justice in Israel-Negev Bedouin, Legal Work, Occupied Territories

Is Hope Defensible? Rosh Hashana thoughts 5775 by Rabbi Arik Ascherman

1 Comment 23 September 2014

Is Hope Defensible?
Rosh HaShana Thoughts 5775

Arik2

Rabbi Arik Ascherman
President and Senior Rabbi
Rabbis for Human Rights

Last week members of RHR met with a US Council of Bishops’ peace mission on the last day of their visit. The bishops were quite depressed. When it was my turn to say something, I recounted some of the same stories and verses that many of you who have heard me speak or follow what I write are familiar with. I spoke of the fact that there is a solid majority of Israelis and Palestinians who want a negotiated agreement, but don’t believe the other side wants peace. However, this is the reason that a week before Egyptian President Sadat came to Jerusalem most Israelis were against the very same proposals they overwhelmingly supported when they understood that peace had became real. I quoted Tractate Kiddushin 40b’s teaching that we must see life as two perfectly balanced scales, and that a small, seemingly meaningless action on our part can tip the scales. I explained that, living here, I believe in the basic goodness of my fellow Israelis and of Palestinians, and spoke of the Elul/High Holy Days message that people can change for the better. If I had time, there are so many additional midrashim you know that I love: God sowing the seeds of  the Messiah as Joseph is sold into slavery, jumping into the sea before it parts…

Yet, I suppose we shouldn’t have been surprised at how the bishops felt. There are a lot of depressed people in Israel and Palestine today, and with good reason. We are in the aftermath of a war in which the only winner was the Malakh HaMavet (Angel of Death). The war’s expenses are also being used as an additional excuse not to fund the recommendations of the Alaluf Committee on Fighting Poverty, recommendations that RHR fought so hard to achieve. Prime Minister Netanyahu is now the radical left winger of his party, being attacked from within and from without for having not allowed the army to “finish the job” in Gaza. Palestinian support for previously languishing Hamas is soaring as a result of the war. While claiming that the war has opened new possibilities for peace, the government has announced a massive land seizure and avoided talks on a permanent cease fire…

It is not just this year. Over a period of years I have noticed that it is more and more difficult to recruit volunteers, and I believe that is because many have given up hope that an investment of their time makes a difference. I am aware that many of my High Holiday messages and other communications in recent years have been defending hope.

Influenced as I also have been by this summer’s carnage, I didn’t realize that I too had lost sight of our successes this year. When I sat down to write our Rosh HaShana funding appeal, I was surprised to see how much we accomplished this year. We turned around the Alaluf Committee, helped freeze the Begin/Prawer Negev Bedouin Bill, convinced the army to teach a curriculum we wrote, obtained a resounding statement by the Israeli High Court that discriminatory planning leading to the demolition of Palestinian homes is unacceptable, and made public housing one of the most talked about subjects in the Knesset… As I write, I have just received the news that our High Court has ordered that the “open” facility essentially imprisoning asylum seekers must be closed. While RHR wasn’t one of the appellants, the decision allows me a different perspective on the night I was pepper sprayed and attacked simply for standing with the asylum seekers who had fled that accursed facility.

Thinking of the incongruity of celebrating achievements in the shadow of war, I am reminded of the joke, “Other than that Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?” On the other hand, I know that each of these successes points to what is possible.

So, is hope defensible? When I talk about the power for change inherent in the High Holy Days and the promise of a new year, is Ascherman just putting on his rose colored glasses again?

Can we be so audacious, as to hope, and does that hope have anything to do with the High Holy Days?

As already explained above, I believe there are objective reasons and historical precedents that give hope. For that matter, it is no coincidence that our national anthem is HaTikva, The Hope. Without the ability to see beyond the current reality and truly believe in the possibility that a different and better reality was in the offing, the Jewish people would have disappeared after losing independence almost 2000 years ago, and there would be no State of Israel today.

Secondly, I believe in the power of “restart.” When I, and/or people around me, become stuck in a negative pattern, I will ask if we can do a “restart.” This is an artificial concept, but often it works, just like rebooting our computers can sometimes get them working on the right track again. We make a huge change for the better through the very ability to step outside the negative dynamics that have developed in our relationships and say, “Now I am making a conscious choice to recognize that I am caught up in something unhealthy and want to make a clean start”

There needs to be an act of will on our part, and that act of will could take place at any day, at any time. However, it helps when somebody or something outside us gives us a push, and when we are reinforced and supported by the “collective effervescence” (Emile Durkheim) that occurs when everybody around us is engaged in the same process. Rosh HaShana is our reminder that fresh starts are possible, telling us “the restart begins today.” We can break with patterns of the past, just as in the Torah reading for the second day of Rosh HaShana, God teaches Abraham to break with customs of child sacrifice. Recalling the creation of the world reconnects us with the vision of the world as God intended, and to which we aspire. Yom Kippur, just nine days after Rosh HaShana gives us a target date for doing what is necessary to take concrete steps to make the restart more than just words. If we are taught that “Itzumo shel yom,” (the very essence of the day) gives Yom Kippur the power to cleanse and effect pardon, part of that essence is the power of so many people collectively restarting.

For me, a discussion of the historical basis for hope and the psychology of hope is not complete without a discussion of faith. We pray in the High Holy Day Amidah prayer, “Give hope to those who seek you,” and shortly after told that this will come about. In the Haftarah for the second day, Jeremiah tells us in the name of God that, “There is a reward for your work” (Jeremiah 31:16) and, “There is hope for your future.” (Jeremiah 31:17). On the first day there is more than just promises. Hagar and Ishmael are saved, and the prayer of Hannah is answered. All year around we pray “Mi Khamokha,” in which remembering our redemption on the shores of the sea allow us to believe that future redemption is possible.

Faith is the belief that the arc of history is ultimately moving towards God’s dream for the world. Whatever we will merit to see in our lifetime, we are a part of God’s tapestry, “You are not obligated to complete the task, but neither are you free to desist from doing your part” (Pirkei Avot).

I concluded my remarks to the Catholic bishops by reminding them that we had a special responsibility as religious leaders to do our part. But, responsibility for the world whose birth we celebrate on Rosh HaShana is not limited to religious leaders alone. Faith entails obligation because it reminds us that all the renewal and healing and fresh starts and new possibilities that we believe are possible in the New Year will only happen when we fulfill the roles that God has ordained for us, even though our attempts to know what those roles might be are also a matter of faith.

I admit that I generally do not pray all of the traditional preliminary prayers of the morning service. However, from Rosh Khodesh Elul (the month preceding Rosh HaShana) through Hoshanah Rabah (The seventh day of Sukkot), I recite the prayer, “Not because of our righteousness do we supplicate You.”  The conclusion is “ashreinu,” we are blessed because we are obligated to “thank and praise and bless and sanctify.” It occurs to me that we are also blessed because we are commanded to serve and carry out our task and do our part to bring closer to reality the promise of creation.

It is for that reason that every year I bless our staff with the hope that in the New Year they will enjoy the satisfaction and rewards of long days and nights that bring results. I share that blessing with you.

Wishing You a Blessed and Sweet and truly renewing New Year,

Arik

P.S Those of you who are on our “regular mail” mailing list will shortly receive shortened camera ready versions of RHR’s annual Yom Kippur vidui (confession) and Sukkot assif (celebration of Israel’s spiritual harvest). The full downloadable vidui will be posted on the RHR website on Sunday, September 28th. The assif will be posted on Sunday, October 5th. We will also be posting ushpizin (Sukkah guests) posters with original artwork welcoming those in need of shelter into our sukkas and into our hearts.

P.S.S. Please contact Sara Zur, rhr.sara@gmail.com, about bringing an RHR speaker to your community. I am planning on being in England for Limmud and for the first week of January 2015, and in North America in May 2015

shanatovacard

Shana tova!

 

Education, General, Justice in Israel, Justice in Israel-Negev Bedouin, Legal Work, Occupied Territories

“Come as Far as you Can”: RHR’s High Holiday Appeal

1 Comment 22 September 2014

An appeal by Rabbis for Human Rights Co-chairs Rabbi Amy Klein, and Rabbi Moshe Yehudai, and Rabbi Arik Ascherman, president and senior rabbi for RHR, on the upcoming High Holidays. Continue Reading

Legal Work, Occupied Territories, Press Releases

Authorities demolish 9 structures in Khirbet Ar-Rahwa in the South Hebron Hills

No Comments 07 September 2014

The following update on demolitions in Khirbet ar-Rahma comes Operation Dove, an Italian NGO that focuses on the South Hebron Hills. Khirbet ar-Rahma is a small and poor Palestinian village in Area C of the occupied territories. Since its location in Area C means it is under full Israeli control, the villagers are subjected to the Israeli military planning system that blocks almost every Palestinian attempt at building and developing within their village. Whatever is built,  is demolished every now and again, as demonstrated by this most recent demolition.  In the background of the photos, please note the  new Jewish settlement, some of  which is illegal by the Israeli law,  but nevertheless is permitted to stay intact. This is an example of institutionalized discrimination, and demonstrates why RHR submitted an appeal to the High Court of Justice to return planning authority to the Palestinians in Area C. 

September 1 2014 demolition at Khirbet ar-Rahwa with Israeli settlement in background. PHOTO: Operation Dove

September 1 2014 demolition at Khirbet ar-Rahwa in the South Hebron Hills with new Israeli settlement in background. PHOTO: Operation Dove

From Operation Dove:

UPDATE 2014-09-01: IDF DEMOLISHED 9 STRUCTURE IN THE VILLAGE OF KHIRBET AR-RAHWA
38 persons lost their home, 21 of them children

Khirbet ar Rahwa – On 1st of September 2014, during the afternoon, the Israeli army and the D.C.O. (District Coordination Office) entered into the palestinian village of Khirbet ar-Rahwa, in the South Hebron Hills, and demolished 3 houses (tents), 3 animal shelters and 3 toilettes. No demolition order was delivered for these structures.

September 1 2014 demolition at Khirbet ar-Rahwa in the South Hebron Hills. PHOTO: Operation Dove

September 1 2014 demolition at Khirbet ar-Rahwa in the South Hebron Hills. PHOTO: Operation Dove

All the demolished structures were built with simple materials. Ar-Rawha that is located in area C, has no access to electricity, to the water pipeline and to any kind of facilities and services.
The houses belonged to the Altal family and to the Jabaarin family. Because of the demolitions, 38 persons, 21 of them children, lost their houses. All the families are waiting for humanitarian aid.

The village of ar-Rahwa is surrounded by the settlement of Tene and the outpost of Havat Moor. This outpost received demolition order in 2000, but the D.C.O decided to not demolish any house until now. Also the outpost is connected with the electricity net and water pipelines, services that are denied for the Palestinians of ar-Rawha, who are the legal owners of the land where the settlement of Tene is located.

Additional photos from Operation Dove

Related:

RHR Area C Planning Appeal

sketch 2

General, Legal Work, Occupied Territories

“What I have Witnessed in Susiya” By Rabbi Arik Ascherman

No Comments 22 June 2014

The following article was written by Rabbi Arik Ascherman, president and senior rabbi of RHR. It originally appeared in the Jewish Chronicle Online. 

What I have Witnessed in Susiya

By Rabbi Arik Ascherman

South Hebron Hills 1-3-2014 (20) Continue Reading

General, Legal Work, Occupied Territories

REPORTS: Palestinian Child Chased by Extremists near Susiya Settlement

No Comments 16 June 2014

Yesterday, Palestinian residents from the Palestinian village Susya reported that two right wing extremists chased a Palestinian boy in an agricultural area belonging to the village, located near the settlement Susiya. Palestinian residents of Susya have suffered from many instances of violent harassment in this agricultural area and following legal action by Rabbis for Human Rights, an order was issued prohibiting Israelis from entering the area. (In more “typical” circumstances, a government would deter criminal activity and there would be no need for an order forbidding entry on the basis of nationality.) In any case, the boy was able to run away and reach the village before he was caught and adults from the village ran towards the boy to deter those chasing him. Their fears range from the regular attempts to harm Palestinians including children to the fear that this is a retaliation for the recent kidnapping of three Yeshiva students.

Maan News: Settlers ‘Hurl Rocks at residents, houses,’ in South Hebron Hills

RHR prays for the safety of the three kidnapped yeshiva students

The reasons behind the incident are not clear and thus the fears surrounding it remain. We will continue to monitor the situation and warn that violence without intervention simply perpetuates the cycle of hatred and revenge and endangers life on both sides. We can point, for example, to Iraq, the country with the highest rate of terrorism in the world and see how the extremists on both sides – Shiite and Sunni – have chosen to respond to terrorism with more indiscriminate terrorism and see that it has not led to quiet or to deterrence but to an intolerable cycle of violence.

IMAGE: For demonstrative purposes only.

General, Legal Work, Occupied Territories

IDF Participates in Land Takeover Alongside Avigail Outpost

No Comments 12 June 2014

It seems that the only thing that could get the IDF to consider moving a barracks from private Palestinian land is a High Court date. But even if they do move the barracks, the outpost it is on still succeeds in its main objective: preventing Palestinians from accessing their land. Avigialoutpost

Despite numerous previous requests, only after our appeal at the Israeli High Court of Justice, has  the IDF began considering moving a structure, located on private Palestinian land,  that has been utilized for years as barracks at the illegal outpost “Avigail.” In addition, even if Palestinian ownership of the land were to be fully respected, the remaining parts of the outpost (on either side of the Palestinian land) leave a narrow path between the two sections of it [see map] which, in reality, would be prohibited to Palestinians as it is a security zone. In this way, the outpost is used to effectively deprive Palestinians of their land without even building on it.

The structure that was used as the army barracks was built on private Palestinian land in the illegal outpost Abigail. Despite numerous requests from Rabbis for Human Rights, the IDF has not evacuated the building (monitoring procedures were “on paper” only, but were not implemented). Only after a High Court appeal did we find in one of the state’s responses,  to our surprise,   that the structure  is usually used as a soldier residence. Following the petition, the army is currently exploring options in the regional brigade to move the structure – or so it seems, at least.

Haaretz: After evicting Palestinians, Israel seeks to legalize outpost in firing zone

General, Legal Work, Occupied Territories

Handcuffed while harvesting: RHR helps coordinate release of handcuffed workers

No Comments 26 May 2014

 Despite following direction from the army to harvest his wheat, a Palestinian farmer with lands very close to two settlements’ was interpreted by the army and his workers handcuffed as they attempted the task. Though it cannot be proven, RHR suspects the army was called in by the requests of observing settlers.  Continue Reading

General, Legal Work, Occupied Territories

The Empty Plot Test: Looking at an entire Palestinian village and seeing only empty space

No Comments 18 May 2014

A Supreme Court ruling from 2010 established the “Empty Plot” test to be utilized in when deciding the fate of structures deemed illegal in Palestinian villages.

While the test itself masquerades as a purely objective, legal-technical planning tool, RHR Attorney Netta Amar Shiff explains how it is actually “a doctrine of denial and concealment” hiding a policy seeking to fully erase the Palestinian people, history and culture. Continue Reading

General, Legal Work, Occupied Territories

WATCH: Report from The Media Line on planning authority in Area C

No Comments 15 May 2014

A new report by Linda Gradstein of The Media Line on the lack planning authority for Palestinian villages located in Area C. Linda Gradstein is Bureau Chief of The Media Line and a contributor to NPR.

More on planning authority in Area C

General, Justice in Israel, Justice in Israel-Negev Bedouin, Legal Work, Occupied Territories

WATCH: Rabbi Ascherman speaking in Bedford, Massachusetts

2 Comments 08 May 2014

Rabbi Arik Ascherman, president and senior rabbis at Rabbis for Human Rights, speaking at the First Parish Bedford Unitarian Universalist in Bedford, Massachusetts on March 30th 2014.

 

 

Arik Ascherman At First Parish Bedford (Massachusetts) Unitarian Universalist from David Lance on Vimeo.

Special thank you to David Lance for putting the video together!

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