Culture, Global, Israel, Justice

Rabbi to the Palestinians

A short article in the Independent talks about the work of Rabbi Arik Ascherman, director and Co-founder of Rabbis for Human Rights. The organization is perhaps one of a very few which represents rabbis of all branches of Judaism, who together stand up for Human Rights in Israel.
Rabbi Arik Ascherman
The organization has three main focii: “human rights education, including courses in pre-army colleges; social and economic justice in Israel, which has seen it, with other Israeli groups, win a signal victory in halting the country’s draconian welfare-to-work project; and Palestinian human rights. This last includes a legal initiative which has reversed the takeover of hundreds of acres of Palestinian land by the settlements.”
Of the three, the project which RHR is perhaps most famous for is the protection of the olive harvest in Israel. Despite ostensible legal protection for olive trees in Israel – not to mention the law of the Torah which forbids attacking trees and cutting them down wantonly, even at a time of war, olive trees have been a target of settlers who also may attack Palestinians, settle illegally on Palestinian land or engage in other un-Torah-like behavior.

The inspiration came in 2002, when Noaf abu Ghabia, a Palestinian deeply committed even at the peak of the intifada to co-existence and non-violence, and with whom RHR had joined in various symbolic Jewish-Arab tree plantings, appealed for help against settlers attacking harvesters in the village of Yanoun. RHR began bringing volunteers, and three years later won a crucial High Court ruling ordering the army to protect the harvest.
While it was, as he puts it, a “high maintenance victory”, requiring a constant presence of the volunteers, Ascherman says that this year the army has – despite some exceptions – largely fulfilled the first two requirements of the ruling: protection of access to the land and of Palestinian farmers as they pick the olives. “There are farmers reaching olive trees they haven’t been able to reach for 10 and 15 years,” he says. What the army has been much less good at – so much so that RHR is close to returning to the High Court for a new order – is preventing the destruction of trees and theft of olives by the settlers.
Ascherman has a theory that the settlers’ actions are a response to the nascent peace process, which they see as an “existential threat” to their way of life. He reels off a list of villages where olives have been stolen – sometimes before the harvest – or trees poisoned or cut down. Then he takes us to perhaps the saddest sight of this year’s harvest, the scorched fields within sight of the notably hard-line settlement outpost of Havat Gilad.
Here, between 1,500 and 2,000 trees were burned two weeks ago by settlers – according to some witnesses, with troops looking on – as the “price” for the destruction by the army of two illegal buildings in the outpost earlier in the day

To learn more about RHR in North America and about Jewish values and human rights come to the RHR-NA conference on human rights this weekend Dec. 5-7th.

19 thoughts on “Rabbi to the Palestinians

  1. This propagandist nonsense is a main reason why I became supportive of the settlers. The fire at Havat Gilad was set by leftists and Arabs, as it is every few months. In this case, after almost burning the Jewish community to the ground, and causing tens of thousands of sheckels in agricultural damage, the wind shifted and the fire descended on Arab olive groves. To then blame the Jews for the damage is the epitome of contempt for truth.
    Rabbis for Human rights may do some good work, but of their efforts in the territories that I am aware of, it seems they only specialize in staged provocations.

  2. I have no proof either, other than the video tapes I took, but in my experience working in villages near Nablus, settlers at Itamar, Elon Moreh, Yitzhar, and Baraka were crazy. They shot at us. They released dogs on us, the burned fields, and pulled out plants. The army would arrive and say patently absurd things – arrest you, beat you up, drive you to a settlement and release you. Settlers openly threatened to kill you – things that would get them federal prison in a civilized country.
    I really struggle to understand how people could support these settlers, though I understand it as I live in Israel and see that settlements are the logical continuation of Zionism. My problem is that these people tend to lie about the situation to cover up what’s going on. That is the ultimate sin for me. I would have more respect if the actions of settlers were defended openly, instead of hidden behind deceit.

  3. Right. News stories are not proof. Video of leftists setting fire to fields is not proof. IDF arresting leftists for the field burning at Bat Ayin is not proof. Let me ask, what proof is there that Jewish settlers set those fires?

  4. you saying that there are news stories, videos and arrests also isn’t proof. I can say the Mongolians burned down the trees, anybody can say whatever they want. proof, sir. i want proof. proof of the so called olive tree burning conspiracies and proof that RHR engages in “staged provocations.” not just mention that these things you claim to be proof supposedly exist. if you’re going to make outlandish claims, back them up with real proof, not just more unfounded statements.

  5. @Victor: I have yet to see proof that President Obama was born in the States. The birth record from Hawaiai, the newspaper announcements, his passport – none of that is proof.
    @Woody: “I see that settlements are the logical continuation of Zionism. ”
    Really? Many of the settlements are built on land appropriated from the Palestinians. Ben Gurion spoke of rights for all residents. Does your Zionist dream envision spending money to guard fanatics who have settled illegally (I am speaking about those settlements that the government and court have declared to be illegal) rather than on education, research, culture, etc?
    Don’t tell me about poor behavior by the Palestinians. I can take responsibility only for the behavior of my people. We are told to be “A light unto the nations.”

  6. @Victor: Can you let us know where those videos are and how we identify the people in them as leftists? Having worked with many leftists in Israel, I have yet to hear of one of them burning olive groves. Certainly I would have no hesitation vouching for Ascherman’s honesty in this area – the man has dedicated his life and risked it over and over to protect Palestinians -and countless powerless Israelis (sabras who live in poverty, for example) not to mention immigrants- I hardly think he would be in the business of covering up, no matter who was doing the burning.
    OTOH, there’s certainly lots of documentation of settlers engaging in violence (I’ve witnessed it myself) and destruction of property.

  7. Justin, I provided a link in my first comment. I also provided a number of links in the mishpocha post. Just scroll down, it was only a week or so ago. Just because you claim to not have seen these links does not mean they do not exist. The same goes for Donkey, who actually did see those links and is just pretending they don’t exist.
    How can it not trouble you that there is this entire alternate universe where things happen that don’t fit into your frame of reference? Violence against settlers? Burning Jewish fields? It’s a myth, it has to be, because leftists never hurt anyone and those poor Palestinians would never do such a thing.
    There is dogma and there is reality. Choose one.

  8. Please note, that’s my post up above. I’m on a public computer and it automatically filled over my input fields. Didn’t notice until it was too late.

  9. Actually….
    You made a claim about leftists being the big problem, I inquired further, you cited Havat Gilad as an example. I asked for more evidence. I’ve now seen several articles where the IDF says “we saw an Arab running away from the field,” which hardly seems conclusive to me.
    Thanks for sharing the other stuff, it’s good to know, but you seem to keep coming from the perspective that everyone in the settlements are innocent victims committed to peaceful co-existence and non-violence. It’s just not true. I’m pretty sure that none of my old friends at Bat Ayin are committed to that, at least.

  10. how about proof from a non-biased, reputable news source? I’m beginning to believe that you may not understand what proof is…

  11. Donkey, you perhaps didn’t see this link from the mishpocha post:,7340,L-3986648,00.html
    Let me get that salt off your shoulders. There’s some on your chin, too. I really think it’s problematic that some of you are patting yourselves in the back for the absence of significant coverage of violence being directed against the settlers as proof that it doesn’t occur. Read my remarks on the mishpocha post regarding media coverage of the settlements.

  12. 1. Suspicion is as suspicion does. Folks have been asking you for proof. Suspicion isn’t proof of anything
    2. That has nothing to do with Havat Gilad
    3. Lumping Israeli anarchists in with the Left as a whole creates something of a red herring.
    4. None of us are saying that violence against settlers doesn’t occur. In fact, I thanked you for pointing me to these sources. We’ve simply pointed out that violence on behalf of settlers is also a very real and very problematic issue. You seem unwilling to acknowledge this at all.
    5. I appreciate the smugness and condescension.

  13. Donkey, here’s that smugness and condescension bit right back at ya. Why can’t we talk like normal people all the time? I didn’t say the settlers were made of puppy fuzz. There is plenty of coverage when they do wrong, Israeli coverage and international coverage. All I’m looking for is some balance in reporting that isn’t creating a type of subhuman to whom anything can be done and then justified with a media blackout. When stories are told about the settlers without any confirmation, any adherence to journalistic standards, something is very wrong. If something burns the settlers did it. If something breaks, the settlers did it. No need to look deeper, we all know they’re evil.
    Last year, at about this time, there was a story that the settler in Havat Gilad sliced the tires on an Army jeep. It was everywhere, haaretz, maybe even went international. The settlers are attacking the IDF! That’s what did it for me. I just couldn’t believe it. By sheer luck the Shomron Regional Council had just created a public relations office so I called them and heard a completely different story. The soldiers were driving all over Havat Gilad in their jeep, over fields and agricultural equipment, trying to ruin produce, knocking down fencing for the animals. It’s some local beef those soldiers have with the community leader. They try to provoke him and then arrest him for something. They finally ran into an electricity pole, knocking it down. At this point all the residents came out and someone sliced the tires on the jeep so that the soldiers could not keep destroying the farm. At least that’s what could have happened. It’s possible they also drove over some farm equipment that could have punctured the tires. That’s your big mutiny against the IDF? It made huge headlines at the time.
    I’m tired of reading haaretz or bbc just parroting the line of some Rabbi for Human Rights or a Palestinian in a neighboring village, and then I talk to a settler in that village and they just blow that narrative out the water. One time there was shooting blamed on the settlers during the oil harvest, and two weeks later I found out from someone in a nearby villager that there was a clan war, nothing to do with the settlers, they could hear the AKs popping off all night. When I ask then why don’t you speak up, they’ll say the media never even came by or called to hear their side.

  14. @Victor: You SOOO fail to respond to Donkey. It is, at times, difficult to get a strait answer out of someone who believes, “I want the truth-but don’t trouble me with the facts.”
    You say, “When stories are told about the settlers without any confirmation – I know the films taken by the 200 video cameras handed out by B’Tzelem won’t be considered conformation- after all-anyone can edit video.
    All of your “proofs” are little more than anecdotal stories. Get real.
    But I have a solution for you. Forget BBC and HaAretz. Just get your news from Arutz Sheva. Problem solved.
    You write, “I’m tired of reading haaretz or bbc just parroting the line of some Rabbi for Human Rights or a Palestinian in a neighboring village, and then I talk to a settler in that village and they just blow that narrative out the water.”
    So now you prefer to rely on the subjective view of an involved party. Sure, the narrative of some settler- wow, that is real proof. Maybe you would cease to be tired of such reports if the settlers behaved better.
    Let me be clear: Most people who live over the Green Line do so for so-called quality of life reasons. They are generally not ideologues. But this is not so of many of the settlers. This is NOT so of the rabbis who urge soldiers to ignore orders when they conflict with their own sense of rectitude.This was not so of the settlers who poured oil on the soldiers during the Gaza evacuation.
    Do Palestinians behave badly-sometimes they do. Settlers? Sometimes they do.
    But just remember who has the guns. Remember who controls the import and export of most all goods. Remember who controls the ability to travel.

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