Category Archives: People

Who by bulldozer, and who at gunpoint?

Rabbi Arik Ascherman originally presented these remarks at a Congressional briefing on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, September 19, 2017.  They were subsequently published in The Times of Israel on Sept. 20, here. I share them on my blog to find an audience that might not have seen or read his plea earlier.  Shana Tova to my Jewish friends and family.

Rabbi Arik Ascherman

Rabbi Arik Ascherman

Presentation for Senate Briefing – September 19th, 2017

My name is Rabbi Arik Ascherman, and I am here to plead for the life of Aysar’s village. After 21 years leading Rabbis For Human Rights, I recently founded “Torat Tzedek Torah of Justice,” dedicated to the human rights of Israeli single parent moms and Palestinians alike, because the Torah teaches us that every human being is created in God’s Image. I come before you without a political agenda. Defending human rights does take place in a political context. What I mean is that, while we believe that the Occupation must end because it inevitably leads to human rights violations, it is beyond our mandate as a human rights organization to take a position on a one state versus two state versus ten state solution, or where borders should be.

This year, September 21st is both International Peace Day, and Rosh HaShana, the Jewish new year. Also known as Yom Hadin, the day of judgment, in two days we will pray, “On Rosh HaShanah it is written. On Yom Kippur it is sealed. Who will live, and who will die… Who will be content, and who will suffer.” Many of you know this prayer because the late Leonard Cohen put some of the words to music, “Who by fire, who by water” In Susya’s case, “Who by bulldozer, and who at gunpoint? Who by direct force, and who by slow strangulation? Who by Jerusalem, and who by Washington?”

Arik at US capitol

I’m here, rather than home in Israel preparing for Rosh HaShanah, because the fate of Susya will in all likelihood be determined in Washington. I will explain, but first a bit of background:

The Palestinian residents of Susya lived on both sides of what became the 1948 border. They fled or were expelled, depending on your narrative, from their lands on the Israeli side. Their village on the side under Jordanian control was Susya. In 1967 they again came under Israeli control. In this age of alternative facts, some say that Susya never existed. The truth is that there are pictures of a visit by representatives of the U.S. Consulate, it appears in British records, and there are signs in the archeological site that used to be Susya pointing out the caves that were once homes. There is a 1982 report from the Israeli government lawyer, Plia Albeck. She is known as the “mother of the settlements.” She certainly did not accept the idea that most experts on international law who are not over the top pro-Israeli or pro-Palestinian adopt, that the Fourth Geneva convention applies in the West Bank, and forbids the creation of settlements even on so called State Land. She proudly explained in her memoirs that she did everything she could to find lands to establish settlements. In her 1982 report, she is trying very hard to establish a settlement in the area. However, she writes that she has a problem. There is a Palestinian village called Susya, surrounded by 3,000 dunam (750 acres) of privately owned and registered land. It would take me all day to explain the ins and outs of determining land ownership. Suffice it to say that it is highly unusual for Israeli officials to acknowledge Palestinian lands as privately registered, certainly in the South Hebron Hills.

Albeck indicated that there was one hill where a settlement could be set up, and the settlement also called Susya was established in 1983. Several years later the settlers asked Albeck for help, and she wrote to them that they had so clearly built beyond the area she said could be built upon that any attempt on her part to help them would only get them in more legal trouble. More recently, a report by the pro-Settlement NGO “Regavim” noted that there were some 23 homes in the settlement of Susya built on private Palestinian land. Nevertheless, Israel maintains that there is no issue of eifa v’eifa (discriminatory double standards), but simply maintaining law and order.

In 1986, the residents of Palestinian Susya were expelled from their homes in order to make an archaeological site out of an ancient synagogue located there. Make no mistake, we Jews do have ancient roots in our homeland. Neither Israelis nor Palestinians should try to establish their root in our shared land by denying the roots of the other. However, rather than make the synagogue alone an archaeological site, the residents were forced to abandon their entire village. Some of them moved on to their nearby agricultural lands, living again in simple caves. Harassment began in the mid-90s. The villagers were again expelled after a settler was murdered in 2001 (Not by somebody from Palestinian Susya, and no actions have been taken against the settlements where settlers who murdered Palestinians live.) Settlers accompanied the soldiers, who demolished the caves and filled in water cisterns.

The Israeli High Court ruled that this was an illegal expulsion, and returned the Palestinians to their lands. However, they were left “Nisht aher, un nisht aher,” (Yiddish-neither here nor there), because the Court neglected to address how they could replace their demolished homes. In 1971 the Israeli army, in contradiction to the Hague Convention that requires leaving civilian affairs in the hands of the civilian population unless there is an overriding military necessity, abolished Palestinian local and regional planning and zoning committees. The army assumed all planning responsibilities. For the most part, they either inadequately plan for Palestinian building, or don’t plan at all. All of Susya’s applications to build legally were rejected. In the most recent attempt, the army committee ruled in 2013 that it would be “unfair” to force the Palestinians to live in an isolated area without infrastructure. There are of course many isolated settlements. Electrical lines and water mains actually run right by Susya from settlement to settlement, but Palestinian Susya isn’t given access to this infrastructure. The real reason, as a representative of the U.S. Consulate who attended the meeting of the army planning commission with us heard, was expressed by a representative of the local settlement council, “We all know that this hearing is a joke. You would never approve a Palestinian village so close to our settlement.”

In 2011, the local settlement council and Regavim initiated a Court appeal to have Palestinian Susya wiped off the face of the earth. They demanded that all the structures that Palestinians were forced to build “illegally” be demolished.

Here Washington comes in. Contrary to what Israel tells many foreign governments, the Israeli High Court has never ruled that Susya must be destroyed. In fact, the case is still in court. However, neither has the Court prevented the demolitions. Currently, the decision to demolish or not demolish is a government prerogative. The court is interested in an agreement, and will not order the destruction of Susya if the Israeli government objects. It’s therefore legitimate and crucial for the international community to express an opinion. Given the settlement movement’s intense pressure on the government to demolish, the only reason that Susya is still standing today is because of international concern led by the U.S. As a result of that concern, Israel budged in 2015. They agreed to meet with the residents of Susya.

I was present at those meetings. The army offered to recognize and help build Palestinian Susya on their lands. The only disagreement was over which part of their lands the village would be built. Defense Defense Minister Lieberman then replaced Defense Minister Ya’alon. In August 2016, Lieberman asked the Court for more time to study the issue. He requested a postponement until just after the U.S. elections. He has continued to ask for postponements.

Frankly, the common wisdom in both Washington and Jerusalem, was that the current U.S. administration would quickly give the green light for Susya’s demolition. Apparently, that hasn’t happened until now. It seems that in Washington there was an understanding that there will be no chance for a renewed peace process if the U.S. backs down on elementary issues of fairness and justice.

Susya’s residents must be allowed to live on their lands, whether or not there will ever be peace, and no matter who will eventually be sovereign over this area. If we take our Prime Minister seriously when he declares that there will not be a Palestinian state on his watch that only increases our responsibility towards the Palestinians who will remain under our control for the foreseeable future. However, let’s be clear. The obstacle to peace is a lack of hope. Polls show that both Israelis and Palestinians want peace, but neither believe that the other side wants peace. If you allow Susya to be destroyed, hope will be diminished. The Palestinian trust in the ability of the U.S. to be an honest broker will be further compromised.

We are extremely concerned that Washington’s position has now changed, or that Israel believes that Washington has no intent continuing to vigorously engage Israel on behalf of Susya. While we are waiting for the next scheduled court deadline in late October, Minister Lieberman recently declared that the Ministry is working on plans to destroy Susya and the community of Khan Al Akhmar in the coming months. (Khan Al Akhmar is one of the West Bank communities of the Jahalin Bedouin tribe, intimidated into leaving Israel in the early 1950s. Along with Susya, Khan Al Ahmar is a very symbolic test case, because all the sides have drawn lines in the sand. Up until now, the international community has protected the school Rabbis For Human Rights helped build there.)

My questions to you are, “What can each of you do to ensure that the U.S. continues to vigorously lead international support for Susya. How many members of Congress will make personal phone calls to the President, his advisors, and the State Department?” I would prefer that human beings do not play God, deciding “Who shall live and who shall die.” But, that’s the reality. In two days I will stand before God to plead for a sweet and good year for myself, for my loved ones, for my people, for my country and for our world. I will pray for Susya, for Khan Al Akhmar, for Israelis in need of public housing and also for Israeli Bedouin communities such as Umm Al Hiran and Al Araqib. They too won’t exist in another year if Israeli government policy doesn’t change, or if there isn’t salvation from another quarter. However, our tradition teaches us that we cannot ask for God’s forgiveness and blessing before making every effort to make amends with our fellow human beings. In the same vein, I cannot come cleanly before the heavenly tribunal without standing first before you. You in this room and in this city are the tribunal with the ability to determine whether Aysar’s village will live or die. With power, comes responsibility. Please do not shirk your responsibility. If you do, this boy will not have a home. It is really that simple.

Some say that Israel’s democracy should make these decisions. That is disingenuous. Palestinians cannot vote for the Knesset. They cannot sit as judges on the courts that determine their fate, nor serve on the planning committee for their communities. Israelis cannot claim a democratic right to determine the fate of those not part of their democracy. Because Israel doesn’t have a constitution or a Bill of Rights, even Israeli Bedouin villages such as Umm Al Hiran or Al Araqib don’t have the protections that democracy is supposed to provide. Although Al Araqib existed before the State of Israel, and Umm Al Hiran exists where Israel placed its residents in 1956, they are a minority. The majority has “democratically” decided to destroy them. Al Araqib has been demolished nearly 120 times since 2010. Israel is currently seeking to complete the expulsion of the non-Jewish residents of Umm Al Hiran, in order to continue the building of Jewish “Hiran” on the rubble of Umm Al Hiran. As a Jew, an Israeli, a rabbi and a Zionist, it pains me to share with you these truths, but they are the truth.

Finally, it is not popular in Israel today to be a human rights defender. If you google, “Ascherman, knife,” you can watch me being attacked by a young knife wielding settler in October 2015. It wasn’t the first time I was physically attacked, nor the last. At the recent sentencing hearing, I said I was not interested in punishment, but rehabilitation. Every young person, whether or not I agree with him or her, and whether they are Jewish or not, should have their entire life ahead of them to fulfill dreams and contribute to society. Having expressed that to an Israeli court on behalf of my attacker, I certainly feel qualified to make the plea in the court before which I now stand -You. “Do not take from Aysar his dreams and his future.” The power is in your hands. Not to make a decision is to make a decision.

Thank you. Shana Tova. I wish you a good and sweet new year. Gmar Khatima Tova-May the final seal for Susya, Umm Al Hiran, Khan Al Akhmar, Al Araqib and for all of us, be the seal of life.

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under Israel, People, Politics, Settlers, Spiritual - Religion, US Policy, Video

We All Live in Gaza

A couple of years ago, Maurice Jacobsen contacted me out of the blue.  I remember it well because I was sitting in Cairo trying to return to Gaza, and Maurice was an American who wanted to travel to Gaza also. He’s a filmmaker, and producer-director at Inshallah Media Project.

I couldn’t give him much encouragement because I hadn’t found any cracks in Israel’s tight siege of the Gaza Strip.  But Maurice didn’t give up.

The fruit of his labors can be seen in this wonderful short film.  Congratulations Maurice! Thank you for bringing all of these Palestinian artists to our attention.

2 Comments

Filed under Gaza, Peaceful, People, Uncategorized, Video

#Gaza5K – where every step and $$ counts

IMG_4443

In a couple of weeks I’ll be walking, not running, in the #Gaza5K to raise funds for UNRWA-USA to support the Gaza mental health progran for Palestinian refugees.  This will be my 3rd year and I’m really looking forward to it.

My goal is $1000 this year.  As of August 21, I’m 1/4 of the way there so I really need to focus on my fundraising and would appreciate any donation of any size. Donations are tax deductible, and I’m confident that the funds are spent wisely.  Please check out my story here.   And here’s my story and photos from the #Gaza5K last year when I exceeded my goal of $2,000. To make a safe and secure donation, please click here.  Thank you!

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Gaza, Peaceful, People, United Nations, Video

Donald and Bibi – two birds of a feather

Why can’t Trump give a full-throttle denunciation of the white supremacists, the KKK, and the neo-Nazis who violently marched through Charlottesville last weekend, killing a young anti-Fascist protester? Instead he raises the false equivalency of both sides are to blame.

Why does Netanyahu give a tardy and tepid response to the marchers who yelled “Jews will not replace us!”?

Why does Netanyahu’s son consider ‘anti-Fascist thugs’ as bad as neo-Nazis?

The answer is short and simple.

All three men share a fundamental belief that the ends justify the means. Trump wants to make America great again for white nationalists. Does anyone still doubt that?

Under Netanyahu’s leadership for many years, and the Zionists who came before him, the State of Israel has proven to be a Jewish nationalist project which has expelled, slaughtered, dehumanized and subjugated Palestinians under a brutal military Occupation for the past 50 years, and well before that with the creation of the State of Israel in 1948.

The ends justify the means.

So Jewish nationalists (aka Zionists) despise folks like me more than Nazis because we dare to call a spade, a spade. We’re calling for the end of the illegal occupation. Nazis are calling for the extermination of Jews. Think about that for a moment.

If you condemn neo-Nazis and white supremacists marching in Charlottesville, but you’re silent about (or worse, support) the Israeli occupation of Palestine, then you’re a hypocrite.

three evils

 

 

 

 

 

 

2 Comments

Filed under Israel, Occupation, People, US Policy

Charlottesville and Israel – too much hatred going around

I think I need a Venn Diagram to help me understand who is aligned and opposed with one another in this complicated world of neo-Nazis, white supremacists, Republicans, Democrats, conservatives, progressives, Jews, Christians and all the rest.

One moment I think I have everyone properly pigeon-holed in their appropriately-labeled box, but then someone throws in a spoiler.

Take this example which really has me puzzled.

The invitation sent out to the KKK and their buddies to come over for a jolly good time in Charlottesville made it clear what the organizers of this “Unite the Right” march think about Jews and African Americans.

ab93a9ad14434b31d608fa38b9e17e9b94dc2672

Pick up tiki torches before you leave your hometown. There will be a torchlight ceremony and the tiki torches will all be gone from the shelves of the local stores. Dollar stores are your best bet. Wal-Mart has them cheap as well. Make sure and get some tiki torch fuel/oil too. Otherwise they won’t burn.
Note: Do your best, but if you can’t get a tiki torch in time, don’t worry about it – it is a requirement, but some people are bringing extras.

The only difference between these jerks in Charlottesville and the KKK wearing their white robes and hoods and burning crosses, was their brazenness in exposing themselves to the cameras for future identification.  Surely, their vile hatred and racist chanting would be roundly condemned by Americans of every political stripe.

Was I ever wrong.

Before the last tiki torch was put out, a Republican leader from New Mexico was blaming the “violent, leftist protesters” —-

“These violent, leftist protesters are the brainless robots that are created by evil Soros money,” Roman Jimenez said in a post on the county party’s Facebook page on Sunday. “The white ones have been taught to hate their color, the women are taught to hate men, black and minorities want to kill whites and police.”

“They then have the audacity to call conservatives racist,” Jimenez wrote. “Their own racism, hate and violence has created the divide amongst those that refuse to be bullied on anymore. They’re getting exactly what they asked for. A segregated society of groups that they’ve created and even labeled themselves.”

Huh?  What universe does this guy live in?

Nazi salute

Then a Republican leader in Israel chimed in.  A Jew, an Israeli-American, a Republican. Instead of a full-throated condemnation of these neo-Nazi Fascists, he used almost the same talking points as the politician from New Mexico.  Who is writing their script?

“I am, of course, no supporter of Nazis or white supremacists. But this very tragic event could have been avoided,” he said. “It was clear to all that the leftist thugs would come out to provoke and escalate the events. These thugs are the ugly face of progressivism around the country. They are looking to shut down free speech.”

He went on ….. that the car-ramming attack, in which 20-year-old James Alex Fields plowed his car into a group of counterprotesters, killing one, “must be investigated. I am confident that Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and the newly appointed director of the FBI, Christopher Wray, will conduct a proper investigation. And I will not be surprised if they find that the incident was deliberately provoked by the left.”

The clincher was this ….. “When whites become a minority, then, just like the Black Panthers, they, too, are going to get into their identity as whites and demand their place. So we have the extremists on the left against the extremists on the right. And both of them are anti-Semites and pro-Palestinian.

Now I’m really scratching my head.  This moron from Israel is throwing everyone into the “extremists” bag and calling them anti-Semites and pro-Palestinian.  This novel conflagration of anti-Semitism and pro-Palestinian (forget that Palestinians are Semites too so he’s actually blasting these extremists for being both anti- and pro-Palestinian at the very same time) is insulting to Jews and Palestinians alike.

The organizers of the “Unite the Right” march in Charlottesville must be smoking their cigars with deep satisfaction. They’ve divided Americans in a way that we haven’t seen in a very long time.25On Monday, two days after the violence in Charlottesville, protesters made their voices heard in front of Trump Tower in Manhattan. Their messages were clear, their delivery was strong and peaceful, and they left no doubt what they think about Trump and the white supremacists who inhabit the White House today.

20

7

 

3 Comments

Filed under Israel, People, Politics, US Policy, Video

#GazaChat connects the world to Gaza

Gaza chat

A little known secret must be shared.

I never would have had the opportunity I had living and teaching in Gaza (Sept. 2012 – May 2013) if it hadn’t been for the Palestinian friends I made on Facebook during the heady days of the Arab Spring in 2011.

My nephew was responsible for setting up my Facebook account in 2007 or 2008 over my initial resistance. I just couldn’t imagine how Facebook might improve the online messaging experience I already had with email.

I know some friends in my cohort (50s, 60s and 70s) who refuse to take the leap into Facebook or, if they do, they carefully circumscribe their “friends list” and the online experience. They hope to maintain a semblance of privacy on a very public social media tool.

I did just the opposite. I want everything to be public. In the early days, I searched out interesting people (like authors and leaders in different fields) to request their “friendship” on Facebook. One led to another, and to another, until I had a critical mass of “friends”, many of whom I didn’t know personally but I liked their minds. I appreciated what they wrote or posted on Facebook.

Facebook all Over the World

I knew the downsides of Facebook — the silo effect which might trap me in an echo-chamber of like-minded “friends”; the craziness from the trolls on social media; and the ugliness from obnoxious idiots. Thankfully, I’ve been able to tiptoe around the minefield and avoid most of the traps I’ve been warned about.

During the Arab Spring uprising in Cairo in early 2011, a young Palestinian from Gaza reached out to me on Facebook. I don’t know how he found me, but our only connection seemed to be English and a mutual interest in the Arab Spring revolution. When he told me he was from Gaza, my typing fingers started whizzing along on the keyboard, recalling my first visit to Gaza in 2004. I wanted to hear more about his life in Gaza.

One thing led to another — as so much with life on Facebook does — and I met more Palestinians in Gaza, and a university professor from Gaza, and then secured an invitation to visit Gaza. Al-hamdulillah!

Israel has had a stranglehold on Gaza for the past 10+ years, preventing Palestinians from leaving and, more recently, preventing foreigners from entering the Gaza Strip. Social media provides the critical connection to the outside world from the “largest open air prison in the world.

According to a 2016 report published by the Palestinian company Concepts, approximately 1.7 million Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip use Facebook, while more than one million use WhatsApp and more than 300,000 use each of Twitter and Instagram.

Now I have a Twitter account (although I’ve decided to avoid Twitter since the Tweeter-in-Chief began polluting the airwaves).

I’m stepping into the world of Twitterstorms and Twitterchats because I see a glimmer of what the future holds. The benefit of tweeting in 160 characters still seems a bit elusive to me but I’m willing to learn. What new path might this reveal?

Gaza chat

The Twitterchat tomorrow (August 8, 2017) is organized by Just World Books and Just World Educational which provide the following explanation:

How does a Tweetchat work?

A tweetchat is a semi-structured, Twitter-based conversation that’s held at a designated time and built around participants’ use of a single hashtag– in our case, #GazaChat. Our two planned #GazaChats will run:

  • On Tuesday, August 8, 10-11 am ET (5-6 pm Palestine Time) and
  • On Tuesday, August 22, 10-11 am ET (5-6 pm Palestine Time)

If you are on Twitter, we hope you’ll join them both! Simply log on to Twitter at (or slightly before) the designated start-time, and search for the hashtag

#GazaChat, which we will all be using.

Once you’ve done that search and arrived at the #GazaChat screen, be sure to:

  • from the options near the top, choose the “Latest” view (circled in the screengrab above);
  • refresh the page frequently (the “Refresh” button is also circled); and
  • remember that you can post your own tweets directly from the search page– and when you do so, Twitter automatically adds the hashtag to your tweet!

It is actually easier to refresh the search if you use a mobile device, where you do it simply by swiping down on the screen. Whatever device you use, though, you’ll likely find there’s a time-lag of around 20 seconds between when someone posts a tweet with the hashtag and when it shows up in the search.

For the hour of the tweetchat, our hashtag will function as our (globe-circling) chat room! By the way, for most participants, joining the conversation is a text-only experience, so you’ve no need for any fancy internet connections.

To help structure each chat, we (@JustWorldEd) will throw into it a series of questions, that we’ve previously prepared on static image-slides for your easy visibility. We’ll post a new question every few minutes, and we’ll number them, Q1, Q2, Q3… They will look like the sample one shown here.

We ask chat participants to try to respect the numbering system, which helps to give some structure to what could otherwise be an unruly Twitter free-for-all. When you see a question– or a series of answers to any question– that you want to comment on, discuss, or give an answer to, please preface your answer or other contribution with A1, A2, or whatever the number is of the discussion-portion it’s related to. Twitter will then automatically include the #GazaChat hashtag on your answer, if you’re connected via the hashtag search.

You’ll need to keep your answers short, of course. But you can certainly contribute more than once to each question.

We also ask you to keep your contributions respectful to everyone– and not to hog the discourse completely.

Once the discussion on Q1 seems to have run its course, we’ll tweet out Q2… then Q3, Q4, and so on… Stay tuned to the #GazaChat hashtag so you can see and respond to each of the questions as we send them out!

 

 

 

 

3 Comments

Filed under Gaza, Media, nonviolent resistance, People

Day #30 – August 5, 2014 – Operation Protective Edge

Three years ago, on this date, Sayeeda Hussain Warsi, Baroness Warsi, a British-Pakistani lawyer, politician and Senior Minister for the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office, handed in her letter of resignation over her disagreement with the government’s policy on the Gaza conflict.

I admire her. I wish there had been some politicians in the United States Congress who had spoken so directly and honestly about the atrocities in Gaza.

Leave a comment

Filed under Gaza, IDF, Israel, Israel Defense Forces, People, Politics, Video