On Friday June 15th 2014, Rabbi Ascherman, RHR’s president and senior rabbi, along with seven residents (including two minors) of Al Arakib, were arrested during a protest over the destruction of the unrecognized Bedouin village of Al Arakib. Despite protesting nonviolently, Rabbi Ascherman was beaten, punched in the jaw, during the arrest. The detainees were held for the night and released on bail the following afternoon before Shabbat. The court forbade Rabbi Ascherman from entering Al Arakib for seven days. Below was written by Rabbi Ascherman just before the start of Shabbat.
READ: More on the destruction of Al Arakib
By Rabbi Arik Ascherman
.Firstly, I and all of RHR pray for the speedy and safe return of the three yeshiva students
On Friday I wrote the words below about my arrest, the beating we took, and most importantly about El-Araqib. I sent them abroad, but it was too close to Shabbat here, and I preferred to wait until today. I also added a few thoughts, based on my Shabbat conversations with my family.
A few words before Shabbat. Firstly “Blessed be God Who frees the captives.” However, one of those arrested in El-Araqib is unfortunately still in jail. Furthermore, all the structure inside the cemetery structure were demolished except one, for which there was no order. (The state didn’t wait for the decision of the judge in the petition arguing that there were no valid orders for any of the buildings, but there was one that the one the state acknowledged had no order)
WATCH: Footage of the destruction of the mosque in the cemetery of Al Arakib
The last thing I saw as I was driven away by the police was all of the El-Araqib residents standing among the gravestones – the living with the dead. I wasn’t there, but I understand that they started to rebuild immediately after.
I am grateful to my high school football coach and to my youth movement (NFTY). Coach Bestwick always said that if you could survive football preseason (American football, for all those wrapped up in the World Cup), you could survive anything. The knocks I got in football were definitely worse than the various injuries I sustained from the beating I took from the police.
I often sing when arrested. One of the songs we sang in NFTY, that was so appropriate on Thursday, was “VaYashvu Ish takhat gafno…” Every person shall sit under their vine and under their fig tree, and none shall make them afraid (Micah 4:4) May it be God’s will that we can achieve a world in which every human being can dwell safely on their land and enjoy the fruits of their labor.
IF YOU HAVEN’T ALREADY DONE SO, PLEASE CLICK HERE TO SIGN BEFORE SHABBAT THE EL-ARAKIB PETITION. The cemetery structures have been demolished, but the struggle for El-Araqib and Bedouin justice throughout the Negev is far from over:
If you are in Israel, please make a special effort to get to El-Araqib during the week I am prevented from doing so. I hope that I am allowed to join the weekly vigil at the Lehavim Junction on Sunday at 16:30.
Additional Details: Transportation from Be’er-Sheva: Michal 054-5851700, email@example.com; Transportation from Tel-Aviv: Yaakov: 050-5733276, firstname.lastname@example.org, Michal: 052-6886867, email@example.com
On Shabbat Shlakh Lekha, permit me to share with you what I had intended on teaching in Herzliya last night – as we think about the ten spies who brought a bad report of the Land, as opposed to Joshua and Caleb, we think about the fact that it is often said that we malign Israel.
I think that those who carry out acts such as destroying El-Araqib are the ones who give Israel a bad name.
However, we also should remember that we can choose how to portray any reality that we see. I pray that, like Moses, we will continue to uncompromisingly fight anything that is wrong and unjust in Israel, while still being able to see all that is good in our country and in our people. And, may we never see ourselves as grasshoppers. As the midrash teaches, the giants saw us as grasshoppers because we saw ourselves as grasshoppers. We musn’t lose faith in our ability to improve our society from within.
IMAGE: Rabbi Ascherman with residents of Al Arakib after his release
P.S. Just before saying Sh’ma in bed, my son asked me why I put myself in these situations. I gave him a longer answer, but the immediate answer was, “When one sees the entire might of the State deployed to oppress the weak and helpless, it is forbidden to turn away and not act.”
What hasn’t the State done to destroy El-Araqib. In recent days minister’s assistants didn’t return calls, and the head of the Israel Land Authority fooled an MK into thinking that he had a promise to hold off. However, the State was not willing to wait until a judge decided whether or not there were valid demolition/eviction orders. Tens of police, a helicopter , horses and much heavy equipment was deployed. The desire to destroy El-Araqib once and forever was so strong….
However, the story is not over.
We will not turn away or cease to act.