Currently in the USA, Rabbi Ascherman, President and Senior Rabbi of RHR, shares his thoughts on the recent developments regarding the Prawer Plan.
Dear Friends and Supporters,
Greetings from the U.S., where I am on a speaking tour. It is difficult for me not to be in Israel right now as we savor a victory yesterday over the Begin/Prawer bill, and to play in the Jerusalem snow with my children.
Below, you can see in Hebrew the response of the Regional Council of Unrecognized Villages, and of RHR to the news that Benny Begin acknowledged that there was not sufficient support for the bill, and asked PM Netanyahu to freeze it, which he did!!! Despite PM Netanyahu’s decision to freeze the bill, the committee continues as the government has not yet pulled back the bill.
This is a time to pause and realize that we, you and especially the Bedouin community have accomplished something. I couldn’t even begin to thank all of those in Israel and abroad who have been partners in this effort. RHR spokesperson Yariv Mohar has particularly been my partner day and night over many months, doing way more than just a spokesperson’s job. Another special thanks to the 800 rabbis and cantors who signed the joint RHR/T’ruah letter to date, and the many rabbinic movements in Israel and abroad who have spoken up and spoken out.
At the same time, we are conscious that the struggle is just beginning. The radical right is saying that already by the Monday session of the Knesset Interior Committee they will be introducing new legislation even worse than the Begin/Prawer bill.
This week’s Torah portion points the way to an alternative possibility. Jacob learns from the terrible consequences of his outright preference for Joseph. When blessing Joseph’s children, he does put his right hand on the younger grandchild, Efraim. However, he blesses them together. To this day, we bless male children on Friday night with Jacob’s words, “May God make you like Efraim and Menashe.”
I am hopeful that we too will learn from our mistakes. Rather than speaking paternalistically about what is “Good for the Bedouin,” while planning demolition, transfer and dispossession, maybe we will learn to speak at eye level with our fellow citizens. May it be God’s Will that we find a way to bring God’s blessings to all.
For those of you who have missed the news, after all of our efforts on so many levels against the Begin/Prawer bill, the final straw was the “Day of Rage” on November 30th. It is sad that it was only after thousands of Bedouin took to the streets, and there was both police violence and Bedouin violence, that people started realizing that it was simply spin to say that most Bedouin support the bill and that only a handful of provocateurs oppose it. The Day of Rage led to wide spread media coverage in Israel and around the world.
On Monday two things happened. Firstly, a government map was exposed showing more of what their true intentions are.
Secondly, Benny Begin, whose personal integrity and honesty is legendary, said that, contrary to what government spin doctors have been saying, he had never claimed that the Bedouin had agreed to his plan. He had merely said that he had spoken with many Bedouin about his ideas. This prompted the radical right to say that they had only been supporting this “Giveaway” to the Bedouin because the Bedouin were also supporting it. Now, they would withdraw their support. Yesterday, as reported abo ve, Begin recommended that the Knesset debate on the bill be suspended.
This does not mean that the battle is over, or that we are out
of the woods. There will now be a tough fight between those
pushing for a worse bill, those who will be content to leave
things as they are, but leave the Bedouin in poverty, continue
to demolish, and approve new Jewish communities where Bedouin
communities still exist, and those of us who will be pushing
for a genuine dialogue with the Bedouin and a serious look at
the RCUV/Bimkom alternative plan.
There are now four alternative scenarios:
1. The far right will succeed in promoting a plan worse than Begin/Prawer.
2. After a hiatus, Begin/Prawer will be brought back.
3. The current status quo will be maintained. That means the 35 “Unrecognized” villages, and to a large degree the townships and recognized villages, will suffer ongoing demolitions, lack of basic infrastructure and services, etc. The government will continue to advance plans to build new Jewish communities on the ruins of Bedouin communities. Begin made a point of saying that we must not leave the Bedouin in their current degrading conditions.
Each of these options will lead to a burning Negev, people fleeing and investments drying up. If we do not double our efforts, we may wake up in 10 years and say that Begin was right when he said that there is no perfect justice, and that his bill was the best the Bedouin could ever expect, given Israel’s political landscape.
4. However, as I said above, there is a fourth possibility. The government could begin to speak with the RCUV as the chosen representatives of the unrecognized villages, seriously consider the RCUC/Bimkom alternative master plan, and turn a new leaf in the relations between the State of Israel and her Bedouin citizens.
May it be God’s Will. May we and our Bedouin partners have the strength and wisdom to stay on course and help make God’s Will a reality.
P.S. As we approach the end of the year, your generous end of the year contribution will help us continue this fight, and win more victories like we won yesterday. Full donation information can be found at here, and you can make an on-line donation at bit.ly/rhrdonate. For those of you who donated to our paid media campaign to fight Begin/Prawer, we will be monitoring developments to decide whether to continue with that campaign. As we had said when soliciting those donations, they remaining funds will be used for other Bedouin related programming should the media campaign no longer be necessary.
P.S.S. My current speaking/fundraising tour continues:
December 13-15 Eugene
December 16-17th Houston
December 18 – NYC
December 19 – 20 St. Louis
December 20-21 Cleveland
December 22-23 Washington, DC.
December 24 Miami/Ft. Lauderdale
December 25-25 – NYC
For more information about this, or to arrange for me or other RHR representatives to either visit your community or meet with you in Israel, please contact Sara Zur at email@example.com. I can be reached in the U.S. at (206) 250-1451, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Atiah El Asam, Chairperson of the Regional Council of Unrecognized Villages
”We are pleased with the decision to freeze the discussions on the Prawer Bill, and we are hopeful that the bill will be cancelled entirely. We declared from the outset that this plan is not a solution for the unrecognized villages, but rather adds more difficulties to the difficulties that we are already dealing with. We hope that the problem will be solved in a way that satisfies the residents and meets their demands and rights. We know that this development is the result of a just struggle by Bedouin citizens and all those who stand with them: Many Arabs and Jews, human rights organizations and the wisdom of Benny Begin to realize that there is no program.
Rabbis For Human Rights:
“As we knew and said, Israel and the Jewish people are much better than the Prawer Bill, and the intent to expel some 40,000 citizens from their homes. We congratulate the Bedouin community for their determined and successful struggle. We also appreciate the step taken by former minister Benny Begin. Of him we can say he is, ” Upright and righteous and speaks truthfully in his heart” (Psalms 15:1-2) We also warn that stopping this problematic plan is only the first step. We now must achieve the recognition of the unrecognized Bedouin villages and ensure basic infrastructure and budgets, as outlined in the alternative master plan of the RCUV and “Bimkom” We are commanded regarding the non-Jew living among us, “There shall be one law for all, the non-Jew living among you shall be treated as a citizen. ” (Leviticus 24:22)