A Man, a Woman, and a Baby

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From Maimonides:

Our sages commanded us to visit the non-Jewish sick and to bury the non-Jewish dead along with the Jewish dead, and support the non-Jewish poor along with the Jewish poor for the sake of peace. As it says, “God is good to all and God’s mercies extend over all God’s works” (Psalms 145:9), and “[The Torah’s] ways are pleasant and all its paths are peace” (Proverbs 3:17). —Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Laws of Kings 10:12

Our beat-up car weaved around potholes in the dusty road. We were in what’s known as “Shchunat Ha’argazim,” a neighborhood named after the wooden shipping crates used long ago by poor immigrants for housing in this neglected corner of Tel Aviv. The houses aren’t shipping crates anymore but most aren’t much better; crumbling stone structures and metal huts. It’s hard to believe that this dilapidated enclave is within sight of the sleek office towers and glass-enclosed condos that make up so much of the city’s skyline.

My companion, Gideon, turned onto a dirt drive and parked next to a corrugated metal wall broken up by a row of prison-like steel doors. As we got out of the car, a big white dog ran up to us, barking furiously, protecting his territory. With the angry dog close on our heels, we carefully made our way to one of the heavy doors and knocked. We waited. The door opened tentatively: a small, young black woman holding a baby. She broke into a huge smile when she saw Gideon.

I followed as Gideon briskly walked through a covered courtyard hung with laundry, a two-burner gas stove resting on a rickety table, and entered the apartment, a single room jammed with beds, a sink and tiny counter in the corner. A man who had been lying down got up to give Gideon a hug, then Gideon turned to the baby in the woman’s arms, cooing and tickling its chubby little belly. Though I’d been warned, I was still stunned by the man’s appearance. His body was covered in thick brown scar tissue. His legs were raw, with what looked like open wounds.

This mother and father are African refugees from Eritrea whose Jerusalem apartment was firebombed seven months ago as part of a wave of violence directed at refugees, one outcome of an incitement campaign spearheaded by leading politicians. Attacked with Molotov cocktails, the mother, Marvit, pregnant at the time, and the father, Tsagai, a soft-spoken man who worked in construction, became human torches, suffering third degree burns over much of their bodies. After the conflagration they were left with nothing—impoverished, their minimal belongings destroyed, homeless, critically injured and in grave pain, with few sources of help. When Gideon heard the news of the bombing on the radio, he drove from Tel Aviv to Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem to offer help. He subsequently found them housing in Tel Aviv and continues to find ways to pay their rent, ferries them to doctor visits, and is their steady source of food and moral support.

Now, returning to Israel after a half-year absence, I had come with Gideon to meet them in their tiny one-room apartment. Tsagai, in chronic pain, is unable to work. Marvit, who gave birth to a healthy baby boy four months ago when she was recuperating, was not injured as badly as her husband but her arms and legs are a patchwork of scars.

The African refugee situation in Israel is complicated but there are more humane policies and strategies the government could have chosen to pursue. Nevertheless, as I wrote in a blog post last year, these people who have fled genocide, war, rape and torture, have been demonized in the same way that Jews were for centuries. Senior ministers in the government and Knesset members have engaged in a campaign, unprecedented in its ferocity, calling these asylum seekers a “cancer,” a “national plague,” “rapists,” and an “existential threat” to the nation. As one appalled commentator wrote, “A reviled, powerless minority discussed in the language of war and disease. Where have my Jewish ears heard this before?”

The perpetrators of the attack on Marvit and Tsagi have never been caught. Even if they were, it is doubtful that they would have been prosecuted. Recently, the person arrested for throwing a Molotov cocktail at a Palestinian car last year, severely burning an entire family with children, was released without charges. The same goes for the perpetrators of “Price Tag” attacks throughout the West Bank, and the Jewish settlers who routinely attack Palestinians. Few are arrested or prosecuted.

But back to Gideon. He is an Israeli who believes the Jewish state should be different, that we have a moral mandate to help those in need. He spends much of each day collecting food and bringing it to shelters and the homeless, especially populations the rest of society shuns.

Gideon’s activities are supported by the Good People Fund which raises money to finance the work of people like him in Israel and the USA. The fund helps these “good people” in their work of Tikun Olam, repairing the world as they seek out those in need, feeding the poor, and relieving suffering. Typically, they run small non-profits that operate under-the-radar with just volunteers or very small staffs.

Gideon’s next objective is to raise the $625 monthly rent that will be needed over the next year for Marvit and Tzagai ($7,500 in total). Until now, the rent has been paid by the Good People Fund and by ASSAF, an organization that provides counseling and asylum assistance to African refugees. But existing funds are running out and Gideon does not know where he will find February’s rent – and the rent after that.

Although my blog is usually political in nature, sometimes I encounter situations that cry out for attention. This is one of those. I hope readers can help by making a donation on the Good People Fund website. You can designate your gift for a special purpose (Gideon’s work, African refugees, hunger, etc.) or you can make a general donation for the fund to distribute where the need is greatest. Marvit and Tsagai’s family is not the only dire situation that the fund hears about. Much of its work is directed at helping individuals or families who have their own uniquely distressing circumstances.

Please forward the link to this blog post to others who might be interested in helping.

This column was previously published on The Times of Israel.

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The Palestinian Security Services and a Third Intifada?

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One of the only success stories of the relationship between the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and the Israeli government has been the American-backed Palestinian National Security Services, a uniformed security force of the Palestinian Authority. Since 2005 at a base in Jordan, the US government has spent hundreds of million of dollars training thousands of officers who were then stationed throughout Area A, the parts of the West Bank under exclusive Palestinian control. (Click here and scroll down a bit for descriptions of Areas A, B, and C.)

In partnership with the Palestinian Civil Police, the Israeli army and the Shin Bet, the security service has thwarted terrorist attacks, uncovered weapons labs and arrested suspects, disbanded armed gangs, and contained demonstrations against both the Palestinian Authority and Israeli policies. Despite criticism of some of its tactics and goals, it has restored a sense of law and order to the major Palestinian cities, where not too long ago anarchy reigned, and close coordination with Israeli authorities have helped create a sense of safety and calm in Israel.

But recent policies by the Israeli government threaten this security cooperation.  In a post on the Daily Beast titled “The Future Of Palestinian-Israeli Security Cooperation,” columnist Dan Fleshler alleges that Palestinian-Israeli security cooperation is on the verge of falling apart.

Palestinian Authority security forces, trained in Jordan with American assistance, have been protecting Israeli lives and ignoring derisive claims that they are collaborators not because they want to collect salaries; instead, they want to build an institution necessary for statehood and to allay Israeli fears about relinquishing the West Bank. Ghaith al-Omari, a former Palestinian Authority advisor, told me that the work of the security services “was predicated on a path leading to liberation and a new state. Soon, very soon, if it is clear that is not happening, they will feel like suckers enforcing the occupation, and this security regime—like the Palestinian Authority itself—could dissolve.”

In the Oscar-nominated Israeli documentary, Gatekeepers, – a must-see film slated for a February 1st release in the USA – a former director of the Shin Bet states that he was  given the same warning by a senior level Palestinian official.

Ynetnews.com reported in December that “The IDF and the Palestinian security forces in the West Bank have been enjoying a relatively good operational relationship over the past few years, but military sources told Ynet Tuesday that cracks have been appearing in the security relations’ proverbial veneer.”

Although cooperation mostly continues for now, the article went on to report what is happening in the face of rising demonstrations in the West bank.

Sources on both sides agreed that the Palestinian security forces are stepping up their vigilance vis-à-vis rioters in the need to restore order to the Palestinian street – and not necessarily their desire to cooperate with Israel.

The Palestinian leadership is livid with Israel over the government’s decision to suspend the transfer of levies to Ramallah, as a significant part of the taxes Israel collects on behalf of the PA fund its security forces. The suspension, prompted by the UN’s status upgrade, has resulted in delayed wages.

“If the troops think that they’re not going to get paid, we’ll have a serious problem on our hand. It will affect everything, including the security collaboration,” a Palestinian source told Ynet.”

An Israeli official expressed the same concern, adding that the PA is in dire financial straits.

It is not only Israel that is withholding funds. The US Congress has prevented the transfer of $450 million in budgeted US aid. That would close the $400 million fiscal gap that the Palestinian Authority faces as it runs out of money to pay for salaries and basic services.  In a rational world withholding these funds would seem absurd given that only Hamas would gain from the demise of the Palestinian Authority. But it seems that Congress has its own political logic.

In my first blog column last week since returning to Israel, I posted comments by a senior level IDF commander on the West Bank and a former director of the Shin Bet who both stated that a third intifada was about to start, or already had. So far these are mostly demonstrations protesting arrests, theft of Palestinian lands, or settler attacks. The Israeli army often reacts violently – last week 53 Palestinians were injured in these clashes. How much worse will that be if the Palestinian security services are no longer willing or able to cooperate with Israel? What will happen if the situation on the West Bank continues to deteriorate to the point where the populace reaches the point of desperation, where it feels it has nothing to lose?

The Israel Policy Forum (IPF) held a conference call  in December with Colonel P.J. Dermer  and Steven White, former advisers to the American-backed training program of the  Palestinian National Security Services. They recently returned from a trip to the region where they met with senior level Palestinian and Israeli officials. I have pasted in below some of their comments but first I offer a few caveats. These are American officials so their perspective is American centric. Also, the situation is changing daily on the West Bank and recent developments – Palestinian statehood recognition by the UN, the massive Israeli response of constructing 9,000 additional housing units over the Green Line, the deteriorating economic situation, and the continuing settler and IDF violence against Palestinians and their property  – may have consequences that are hard to foresee. Let’s keep in mind that the first intifada in the 1980’s was a spontaneous uprising, catching leaders and observers on all sides by surprise.

Colonel P.J. Dermer: Good security cooperation cannot carry the day, cannot make peace, cannot be the deciding factor, and we’re starting to see the results of where you have great security cooperation over the last few years now run head-on into a moribund diplomatic and political peace process.

Steven White: But let me just say I think setting the stage, and I think P.J. [Colonel Dermer] would agree with me that the overarching theme, if you will, that we took away from our trip was the absolute hunger for American leadership on this issue. We heard from officials on the ground from both Israelis, including senior IDF, senior Ministry of Defense, Shin Bet, and senior political officers within the Palestinian security services, and then some old friends from the Quartet and the U.N., [that American leadership] is lacking.

There is no American influence on the ground as we speak. And that’s not myself or P.J. just talking. That’s directly what we heard from our interlocutors…. I came away with a distinct feeling that they enjoyed talking with us because they felt it was the first time that they were talking to Americans in a long time who actually understood the breadth of the problem and thus, you know, the realities of what they were having to deal with day in, day out, on the ground.

 You know, with respect to the third intifada question, I personally do not think that we are right now on the verge of the outbreak of a third intifada.

But I have a to caveat that. The caveat is that, quite literally, when you look at the economic situation in the West Bank, the lack of a political horizon, the lack of U.S. diplomatic engagement, you know, the state of affairs within the Israeli body politic, upcoming elections, the aftermath of Operation Pillar of Cloud– Pillar of Defense, whatever you would like to call it, you know, and the slight uptick now on the dignity factor vis-à-vis Hamas in Gaza — all of the embers for the eruption of a third intifada are there. Everything is in place for one to erupt.

But it hasn’t yet. So, the question, I think, before us, but even more so, before our administration, is, you know, do we act now while these embers are embering, you know, to try and stop it before it happens, do we try and stop it after it erupts, or are we just going to sit back and let it burn?

…. we need to stem the bleeding on the economic situation in the West Bank. It’s probably the most dire now that I’ve ever seen it.

…my personal opinion is that basically the Obama Administration decided to pull chocks on this problem set after the reaction it got from both Congress and the Senate, and also Bibi Netanyahu in the White House in May of 2011. Then we heard from a senior official in a closed forum that that was exactly the case, that the president had basically said, he gave it a good shot but people weren’t interested. So, he was basically walking away, punting the ball to the Quartet and that he would focus on his reelection.

Obviously, you’ve seen what’s happened with Congress. Up to now they’ve continued supporting security financially, but they shut off a good bit of money that was related to basically the Palestinian people on the West Bank.

So, I think we’ve all got to ask ourselves a question: Are we better off with a functioning Palestinian Authority in the West Bank that says it believes in the two-state solution or are we willing to let it die? And that’s a question that I’ve not seen Congress legitimately ask itself. And it’s not one that I’ve seen the administration vocally ask.

IPF Interviewer: Well, P.J., do you agree with this? Do you think the economic is front and center? 

Colonel P.J. Dermer: To a degree, yes. I mean, let me add it to your question and tie it in to the question about intifada. I mean, it’s worse, in a way, because the PA is, again, not functioning. Fayyad [Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad] intended with this great, grand gesture announcement about three years ago now, and for myriad reasons — you know most of them — it is affecting the status of play in the Palestinian security services, because they are feeling the pinch for salaries, budgets, logistics, operating capabilities, i.e., they can’t put all their vehicles on the road, they can’t refuel all their vehicles in a timely manner right now, according to some of the commanders we talked to.

So, in a sense of the Palestinian Authority not being able to operate economically, that is now delving down into the issue of how the Palestinian security services operate.

Well, in their eyes, it’s to keep law and order but not necessarily for the state of Israel. They have their own issues to worry about. If they can’t perform their functions as they’re supposed to, as a burgeoning nation state, then what is the exact role of the Palestinian security service?

They do have a good reputation in the West Bank. That’s a positive development in U.S. history, but at the end of the day, they’re not there to fight Palestinians. They’re there to keep basic law and order. And this is a burgeoning dilemma, with or without the economic situation, but with the economic situation pressing on them, it adds to the dilemma in the West Bank.

The general populace, though, I will argue, still remains pretty apathetic because they don’t see where it’s getting them. You know, two intifadas (inaudible) for them. There’s nowhere else to go. 

Steven White: I met with a former– well, still current IDF, but now he’s in the Ministry of Defense, who had always played his cards very close to the bone when it came to discussing the actions of his government vis-a-vis the actions of the IDF or the Defense Ministry or the Shin Bet.

This time, it was wholly different, and he began the conversation with, well, it appears my government’s doing everything it can to put a bullet through the head of [Palestinian President] Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority without any thought whatsoever as to what follows.

The security officials, along with past guys like myself and others, are arguing that, you know– I’m sorry, let me put it another way: We asked a senior IDF general, you know, just what was it that we accomplished, really, from 2007 to probably 2010? 

And his answer was, “My job was to tactically set the ground where my government, the government of Israel, could negotiate with the Palestinians without a knife against its neck. He continued that I consider that I successfully delivered that. With American help, with Palestinian help, we delivered that. But unfortunately, my government has not chosen to take the strategic, long-term view or to build upon that,” end of quote.

 …. if you look back to 2008, and the operation in Gaza then, the West Bank was relatively a yawn. The IDF pulled out two brigades from the West Bank to send to Gaza. 

 The economic situation on the ground was beginning to thrive. There was a political horizon. People were at the negotiations table, you know? And the response in the West Bank to what was happening in Gaza was virtually nothing.

 You look at what happened now– the economics are in the toilet. There is no political process. There is no political horizon. And is it any wonder that people would roll themselves back to the dignity thing with regard to the supposed great victories that Hamas won for the dignity of the Palestinian people, when everything else is missing to counteract that argument?

For the full interview transcript, go to http://www.israelpolicyforum.org/interview/pj-dermer-and-steven-white-west-bank-security-situation

Back in Tel Aviv

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It’s been a long six-month absence since I last wrote on this blog. Last week I returned to Tel Aviv just in time for a massive storm: almost hurricane-strength winds and lots of rain. Highways were flooded and closed causing massive traffic jams, snow has blanketed the north and Jerusalem, and schools are closed. For this I could have stayed in the Northeast where the sun is shining and it is warmer than here!

In the meantime, much in this land has changed in the last six months but much has stayed the same.

Palestine was recognized as a state by the United Nations, sort-of, and Israel’s right- wing government retaliated by approving 9,000 additional housing units over the green line and moving forward on the site planning for the E-1 area which juts out into the West Bank.  The fulfillment of these actions will be the final nail in the coffin of a two-state solution. By completely cutting off Palestinian East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank, this new construction will remove the possibility of any part of Jerusalem being a Palestinian capital while the building in E-1 will permanently split the West Bank into two separate, non-contiguous cantonments.

As elections in Israel approach on January 22, the right-wing parties have moved much farther to the right, purging moderates and advancing extremist elements, much as the Republican Party in the US has done. The difference is that, in the US, the Democratic Party remains strong and a force to reckon with. In Israel, the left is fragmented, weak, and under assault. The center and left parties have made halting and late moves towards a unified front. It probably is too little, too late. The irony is that polls continue to show a large majority of Israeli Jews, including significant numbers who vote for right-wing parties, strongly favor a two-state solution. But the right-wing narrative of fear and extreme nationalism, and the hesitation of too many leading left-wing leaders to challenge this narrative and offer a credible alternative, seems to be carrying the day for the far right.

In the meantime, the oppression of Palestinians in the West Bank and of Israeli Bedouin continues.  The latest UN report for the two weeks at the end of December listed the following statistics on violence in the West Bank:

–       63 Palestinians were injured by Israeli forces during clashes and demonstrations, including nine children in the village of Tubas. The majority were injured with rubber-coated metal bullets (2 Israeli soldiers were also injured).
–       Israeli authorities demolished over 20 Palestinian structures in East Jerusalem and the West bank, making 15 people including children homeless. The demolitions were due to lack of building permits which Palestinians are unable to obtain even for needed structural repairs to their homes, farms or businesses. In addition, multiple vehicles were seized and fields were plowed under.
–       Settlers continued their violent rampages with 15 incidents:

  •         They attacked and injured 3 Palestinians (One settler was injured by Palestinians in a rock throwing incident.).
  •         They vandalized or destroyed 230 olive trees (8,600 trees were destroyed or damaged in 2012).
  •         They burned one Palestinian home and four vehicles.
  •         They damaged 11 other vehicles by stoning or slashing tires.

As usual, violent settlers were seldom prosecuted. It is like open hunting season.

Lest you think the Palestinian residents ate taking all this violence lying down, Ynetnews.com reported that an IDF commander on the West Bank claimed that the third Intifada has already begun: “The Defense establishment has been careful not to overstate the significance of the recent – and growing – wave of unrest sweeping the West Bank, but according to IDF Ezion Sector Commander Colonel Yaniv Alalufm the third intifada has already begun.”

‘We’re no longer on the verge of a third intifada – it’s already here. We anticipate many more (clashes) from now on,’ he said.“

Click here to read the full story.

This perspective was reinforced by Yaakov Perry, a former head of the Shin Bet, who stated, “Are we on the edge of a third intifada? It is a real possibility because of the amount of despair coupled with the [political] stalemate.”

On a more positive note, several days ago I received a public letter from Rabbi Arik Ascherman of Rabbis for Human Rights (RHR) about a victory that they and their Palestinian partners won over the settlers. The letter offers a glimpse into the Wild West atmosphere in parts of the West bank and how, occasionally, justice triumphs – if only temporarily. I have pasted in the letter below.

Dear Friends and Supporters,

I didn’t know myself how moved I was going to be last Wednesday to see Palestinian tractors from Jalud plowing their lands with the protection of the Israeli security forces.  It only happened when I stood there and realized that I had first been in this place in 2005.  On that day I came with farmers from adjacent Kusara, who were apparently renting some of the lands directly underneath the “Aish Kodesh” outpost belonging to Fawzi Ibrahim from Jalud.   Since that time, the settlers of Aish Kodesh have continuously expanded their “red lines,” beyond which Palestinians attempted to access their lands at their own peril.  Thanks to Palestinian refusal to give up hope, and RHR’s amazing Occupied Territories legal team, old wrongs have been righted. That is something worth being emotional over.

Aish Kodesh means “Holy fire.”  The settlers here are certainly full of fire, but I think that it is “Aish Zarah,” a “Foreign Fire” that God neither commands nor desires (Leviticus 10:1-2).  I have no doubt that these settlers truly believe that they are serving God. But, as someone who strongly dislikes stereotypes, and knows that not all settlers are the same, Aish Kodesh is one of the best places to find the stereotype of a religious, fanatic, and often violent settler.  Just as in the Biblical story of Nadav and Avihu, the settler’s possibly genuine but tragic belief that they are doing God’s Will has destructive consequences.

Back to 2005, I saw the farmers from Jalud peacefully plowing many of the same lands we plowed last week.  However, the farmers of Kusara had apparently crossed the invisible “red line.”  We had barely begun plowing, when settlers swarmed down the hill and attacked.  The Israeli security forces were protecting us, but suddenly turned against us.  Throwing stun grenades at our feet, they said we must leave, though promising that they would arrange another day for the Palestinian farmers to return.  That day never happened.

From year to year the “red lines” were expanded.  A few years ago I was accompanying a senior army officer who was also threatened by a settler who descended from Aish Kodesh. I see this settler from time to time, as he apparently has a “Land Development Company.”  In 2010, a settler from Aish Kodesh planted a vineyard just where stun grenades had been thrown at our feet.

Two months ago, RHR’s legal team got the Legal Advisor for the Occupied Territories to recognize Fawzi’s ownership of the land upon which the vineyard was planted, and an order keeping Israelis out was issued. Fawzi can’t repossess the vineyard yet, but there was no question regarding the rest of his land.  That land was also closed to Israelis. The only problem was that Fawzi needed army protection to actually return to his lands.  However, the army put him off time after time.  Fawzi had invested NIS10,000 in seeds to plant wheat and the investment would have been lost if he didn’t sow the wheat soon. Monday night the army cancelled again, and our lawyers got on the phone.  The army agreed that the work would go ahead as planned the next day. 

Click here for a a fuller description and pictures, but the bottom line is that things didn’t go so well.  Security forces battled settlers with tear gas and stun grenades, and arrested some of them.  However, they were no match for the determined settlers (mostly women with their babies and small children), who sat down in the fields while others attacked.  All the while they vented their anger at the Israeli forces for treating fellow Jews this way.  We also discovered that olive trees we had planted the previous week in nearby Kusara had been uprooted the previous evening, and that an elderly family living on the outskirts of Kusara was terrorized.  On Tuesday, a man travelling from Jalud to Kusara was pulled out of his car and beaten so badly that he had to be hospitalized.

On Wednesday the army was better organized and Fawzi managed to plow and sow, despite the best efforts of the settlers.  In the morning, the Palestinians had also discovered several iron bars planted during the night, apparently to puncture tractor tires. All day long the settlers played cat and mouse with the security forces, and at one point tried to set the fields alight with burning tires.   

As we prepared to leave, it began to sink in that Aish Kodesh’s unchecked reign of terror and relentless expansion had been stopped and reversed. Ultimately, our work will determine to what degree there will be isolated settlements and outposts in the Shilo Valley surrounded by Palestinians exercising their rights to their lands, and to what degree it will be the Palestinians accessing isolated patches of their lands surrounded by the lands taken over by settlers.

I said “Thank you” to many of the security forces.  Quite a few seemed to share our good feeling. One, however, did not.  When I wished him a good day, he said, “I wish you a terrible day.”  I had also spoken with him and a friend of his the previous day, as they angrily said I was no rabbi, that I was helping the enemy, that all Arabs are terrorists, that all of the Land of Israel is ours, etc.  I tried on both days to acknowledge his anger.  Although I am not naïve, I asked whether oppressing people or doing justly was most likely to break the cycle of enmity.  I also offered to go over Jewish sources with him regarding the rights of non-Jews in the Land of Israel, and spoke of all of the work RHR does for the human rights of Jewish Israelis.  Yousef cut off our conversation, so I will never know whether I might have actually broken through. Sadly, that border police officer will probably continue to think that helping Palestinians is traitorous.

Many of you know that whenever we are accused of “Aiding the enemy” or being “Provocateurs,” I answer from last week’s Torah portion, the first chapters of the Book of Exodus. Pharaoh, like many before and after him throughout history, sees Moses and Aaron as provocateurs because they give the “Happy natives” strange ideas about rights.  Over the next few weeks, we will also see that things get worse for the Israelites before they get better.  Likewise, we all know that the uprootings and beatings of the last few days may be nothing compared to what lies ahead.  Settlers will do everything in their power to get those lands back. 

Some of the good feeling was further dampened when settlers rampaged in the village that night, sending one four year old boy to the hospital with head wounds.  You don’t need to understand Arabic to understand the look on his face and the terror in his voice when he was asked “Who did this to you?” and he answers “Il Yahoud”-the Jews.

On Shabbat Israelis again attacked Kusara. In retalitation, Palestinians from Kusara attempted to enter the settler vineyard on Fawzi’s land, and began breaking down the fence to the settlement itself.  There is no doubt that, after years of intimidation, tree destruction, an arson attack on a Kusara mosque, etc., the entire area is in danger of going up in flames.  We call on both Israelis and Palestinians to eschew violence.  

However, none of the above can take away our satisfaction realizing that some 120 inaccessible dunam have been sowed, and a modicum of justice achieved.

Finally, the extensive press coverage on this has focused on the skirmishes between settlers, security forces and Palestinians.  The settlers helped make this into a great story – Tree uprootings, violence, price tag, and blocking tractors. How often do we see security forces shooting tear gas and stun grenades at settlers?  At one point I said to some of the Palestinians, “Ninety nine point nine percent of the time it is the other way around.  Today, the army is battling the settlers.“

However, this is missing the real point.  When we tell the Exodus story to children they particularly focus on plagues and miracles.   As we get older, we understand that this is also a story about hope against all odds, God’s Providence, the triumph of justice, and liberation.  Perhaps we even ask whether the Egyptians had to suffer so, although they were the oppressors.  Some of us take heed of the midrash from Shir HaShirim Rabah that when the angels were singing after the miracle at the sea, God demands that they cease, “The works of my hands are drowning in the sea, and you are singing praises?” 

The real story from last week isn’t the battles that went on, or the terrible settlers that blocked and beat and sat on the ground with their babies and burned tires. There should be no great pleasure in the fact that settlers were tear gassed, and in some cases beaten or arrested. 

The real story here is that of partnership between RHR and determined Palestinians, who refused to give up hope that justice could be achieved. When the agadah asks what God has been busy with since the miracle at the sea (The answer is that God has been making matches), we are being taught that, with a bit of faith and determination, small miracles can happen.

 I am incredibly proud of RHR’s legal team that worked with our Palestinian partners to bring this about.  Thank you to the Ta’ayush volunteers who usually do not work in this region.  I was initially alone in the field on Tuesday, but you answered the call. I also note that these events took place as the Warschawski family was sitting shiva for Yehudit z”l, a tireless worker for justice and reconciliation, and the daughter of one of RHR’s founders, Rabbi Max Warschawski z”l. I am sure that Yehudit is smiling.

B’Vrakha,

Arik

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