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Home arrow Blog arrow April 2009 arrow April 9, 2009

April 9, 2009
April 9, 2009: Seder Service with gratitude to Rabbi Arik W. Ascherman and a repeat from 11/08
PASSOVER THOUGHTS

Rabbi Arik W. Ascherman

We all know that Pesakh is a time where Jews traditionally clean their homes of khametz (leavened grain products) and that many speak of cleaning our souls of khametz as well.  Many traditional sources draw a link between the swelling that takes place as part of the leavening process, and the exaggerated pride and self importance which becomes arrogance.  This may seem like a personal, introspective thought more appropriate for the High Holy Days than for Pesakh`s emphasis on the collective.  However, it can certainly be applied on a national, collective basis as well.   In fact, nationalism itself all too often takes on an extremely chauvinistic tone.  Each of you, wherever these Pesakh thoughts reach you, can apply this to the various collectives of which you are a part.  Where does healthy pride and self-respect end, and where does arrogance begin?  In the words of the seminal sociologist of racism, Gordon Allport, when do in-groups create out-groups?  I will offer a few thoughts in the Israeli context.

 
We Israelis tend to believe that the laws that apply to the rest of the world don`t apply to us.  As the Tamir commission worked to create the Israeli Wisconsin Plan, we often suggested that more attention be paid to studies conducted on similar programs around the world.  These studies indicated that very few programs actually reduced unemployment, and almost all of them increased poverty.   I have no doubt that many of the preeminent scholars on the commission were familiar with the studies, but almost nobody on the commission was willing to explain how these studies impacted on the Israeli plan.  It was as if these studies simply didn`t apply to us.  (For some bureaucrats, ideologues and those who saw their narrow self interests served by reducing the welfare roles, increasing employment was never the goal.)


Most Israelis truly believe that we have the most moral army in the world.  Looking at armies around the world, it may be true that few would do as well ours were they to be facing the situations that the Israeli army faces.  However, that is cold comfort given what ought to be our demand that the Israeli army live up to the higher standard mandated by the Jewish Tradition as we understand it.  Furthermore, given the evil inherent in warfare, we must do more to avoid the situations in which the Israeli army, or any other army, must put its morality to the test.  While I have very serious concerns about the conduct of the Israeli army in the recent Gaza War, and no illusions about the morality of some of those we face, I first ask whether we could have avoided the renewal of rockets on Sderot that precipitated the war.  As I have written previously, few Israelis are aware of the connection between the mood in Gaza and our failure to uphold our commitments in the June cease fire agreement to open up the border crossings and let in essential goods.  What would have happened if Gazan civilians had more of their basic humanitarian needs met and saw that Israel could be trusted to abide by agreements?  What would have happened had we spoken to Hamas?  What would have happened had we taken more decisive steps to ending the Occupation?   We might have found ourselves in exactly the same position, but I suspect not.  


The insistent, blind and arrogant belief that we have the most moral army in the world has become sop to our conscience insuring that we will not have the most moral army in the world.  By internalizing a response to an often hostile international community, we have both absolved ourselves of the vigilance necessary to maintain our own standards and given ourselves an excuse to ignore international standards.  One reason for an independent State inquiry into what happened in Gaza is to remove the khametz of arrogance from our collective consciousness.  Even as we all pray that our worst suspicions are unfounded, an inquiry forces us to admit the possibility that our children might have committed acts which contradict what the vast majority of Israelis want to believe of ourselves.  Admitting that it is possible is the first step to making sure that it not be possible.


One of the most painful moments in my life was the moment that I realized that I could no longer say "We have the most moral army in the world."  I want to be able to say those words.  I don`t know enough about other armies to say whether we are less moral.  Leaving comparisons aside, I simply can not ignore the mounting evidence that the Israeli army co-opted its own legal department and the ethicists to justify what it wanted to do in the name of protecting our soldiers, even as the Army Rabbinate distributed pamphlets encouraging akhzariut (cruelty).  There is no consensus, even within RHR, as to what happened in the Gaza War.  That is another one of the reasons we join our fellow Israeli human rights organizations in calling for an independent State inquiry not in the hands of the army.  However, we must face our own pain to free ourselves from the chains that enslave our minds and prevent us from actualizing our own most deeply cherished beliefs and desires.

In Israel, the khametz of arrogance leads us to oppress our fellow Israeli Jews because we are the Jewish State protecting world Jewry from oppression and can make programs work here that have not worked elsewhere.  We can turn Sudanese refugees back at the borders because we who suffered from closed borders could not possibly be responsible for doing to others what was done to us.  We can legally expropriate land, evict people from their homes and demolish the homes of others because our legal system would not allow a contradiction between the legal and the ethical, and we have nothing to learn from international law used by a hostile world to attack us.  We can fight wars without betraying our own values because we have the most moral army in the world.


Author of Freedom, help us on this Holiday of Freedom to rid ourselves of the khametz of arrogance that enslaves our personal and collective conscious in so many spheres.  In so doing, may we be freed to be Your partners in building the world You would have us create.


Pesakh Sameakh V`Kasher - Wishing You a Joyous and Kosher Pesakh

Rabbi Arik W. Ascherman
Executive Director
RHR
RABBIS FOR HUMAN RIGHTS HAGADDA SUPPLEMENTS 5769

WHO SITS WITH US AT OUR SEDER?

 

Eloheinu v`Elohei Kadmoneinu (Avoteinu, Avoteinu vEmoteinu), our God and God of our ancestors, we are gathered around this seder table as b`nei khorin, free people commanded to remember our dark nights of oppression.  We have vowed never to become oppressors ourselves.  Yet, particularly because we remain deeply aware of those who continue to threaten us and those who deny our right to a homeland, it is easy to harden our hearts to those who have paid an excessive price for our people`s prosperity and security.  Our experience as victims blinds us to the possibility that we can be both victims and victimizers at the same time.  To be truly free we must banish Pharaoh from our hearts and reaffirm our commitment to honor God's Image in every human being.  Recalling the midwives of old, we know that the seeds of redemption are planted when we oppose Pharaoh's command.


Tonight we leave a place at our table for victims of oppression.  We renew our commitment to winning their freedom, thereby insuring ours.  We particularly remember: (Choose one or more)

A.      Civilians in Gaza , Sderot, and the Western Negev .  "Otherwise in the event of war they may join our enemies," (Exodus 1:10) Pharaoh invoked "security" to justify his oppression of the Israelites.  Today, Gazans and Israelis all live in fear and suffering as each side justifies its actions against civilians in the name of self-defense.  A cease fire this year ended with the plagues of fear, death and destruction after Israel failed to honor her commitments to allow the free passage of basic goods, and Hamas renewed rocket fire on Israelis.  Seven year old Or'el Iliezrov hung between life and death for weeks after a Grad rocket slammed into the family car.  Dr. Ezzeldeen Abu al-Aish mourns the death of three daughters from Israeli tank fire.  Hatred grows as it feasts on the blood of innocent Israeli and Palestinian civilians, but remains un-satiated.


This night we remove ten drops of wine from our cup of joy, remembering the innocent Egyptians who suffered and died from the ten plagues.  We vow to defend ourselves without punishing the innocent.

B.      Participants in the Israeli Wisconsin Plan.    "Anna" (Not real name) is a single parent of 4 from E. Europe who supported herself and her sick parents until herself stricken with cancer.  To manage the pressure she now needs psychiatric drugs and should be hospitalized, but there is nobody to take care of her children. She cannot take the drugs and work. She therefore ended up in the Israeli Wisconsin Plan, Instead of getting the help she really needed, the program operators saw her as somebody who was exploiting the system and must be forced back to work under the threat of losing State financial benefits.   For six months she was able to get one month exemptions on psychiatric grounds,, but now will all her benefits cancelled if she doesn't work and isn't granted disability.  So far she hasn't heard.  Anna is one of thousands of unemployed Israelis forced into an experimental carrot and stick program to bring them back into the workforce.  However, cowed by unfeeling operators, forced to work in jobs they are not physically capable of doing, asked to leave young children at home without childcare, punished for accidental violation of the rules by the loss of the benefits which are their economic lifeline, and humiliated when they try to appeal, participants often end up with no support because the for profit operators have removed them from welfare rolls.  After prodding from RHR and others, the Minister of Industry has improved the program, but the decree of the Finance Ministry is that the still harmful program should be expanded to the entire country.

As we recall how Pharaoh enslaved us with "avodat pharekh," (forced labor) we vow not to oppress the weakest among us.   Rather than rejecting them as "strangers" we must embrace them as brothers and sisters, and commit to lifting them from the degradation of poverty to the praiseworthiness of a dignified existence.  We remember that a positive goal does not justify all means.

 
C.       Um Kamel El-Kurd.  Newly widowed after police evicted her and her sick husband at 4:00 am from their home in E. Jerusalem 's Sheikh Neighborhood as part of a thirty five year campaign to evict 28 refugee families, Um-Kamel has been residing since then in a tent on a dirt lot not far from her home of 50 years.  Even the tent is torn down by the police from time to time.  Every night is a night of watching for the Ghawi and Hannun families. Evicted at midnight in 2002, they managed to return.  Served with new eviction orders, they spend sleepless nights fearing a knock at the door.    

Our ancestor was a wandering Aramean.  This night we remember that all have the right to a home.

D.      Silwan   Tonight, 88 families in El-Bustan neighborhood of Silwan, E. Jerusalem live in fear of having their homes demolished to make way for an archaeological park.  Above in the Wadi-Hilweh neighborhood, archaeological excavations have caused roads to collapse, cracks in the homes and buckling floors.  In Issawiyah, the Dari family faces a third demolition. 

Celebrating the seder in the security of our homes, we commit ourselves to work in the coming year so that our National Home rests on a foundation of justice. 

E.       Sudanese Refugees.  "No Ammonite or Moabite shall be admitted into the congregation of the Lord…because they did not meet you with food and water on your journey after you left Egypt…"(Deuteronomy 23:4) Fleeing the carnage of Darfur and unwelcome in Egypt, Sudanese refugees come to Israel's borders assuming that they will find refuge among those who have known too often the terror of being refused asylum .  However, they are turned back  from closed borders.    The lucky ones who have made it across have been imprisoned for months and longer, some of them eventually released.  Samuel (not real name) saw much of his family murdered in Southern Sudan and was himself imprisoned.  Helped to escape before he too was murdered, he became a translator in Egypt .  However, his life was again in danger because Egyptians thought he "knew to much."  At first imprisoned in Israel , he now helps fellow refugees.

Opening our doors to invite all who are hungry to come and eat, we remember the many doors closed to us over long years of persecution.   Opening our doors on Seder eve reminds us to open our hearts AND our borders.

Hurshiya Family.  After settlers used their guns to prevent the Hurshiya family from farming or grazing their land, the settlers claimed it was theirs because they had been farming it.  While RHR helped them to win most of their land back, a settler vineyard still remains, they are often denied the army protection needed to safely enter their land and are now being sued by settlers because the government returned their land to them.

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsh taught that the sin of the Egyptians was thinking that their might gave them the right to oppress the stranger.  This night may we remember that, instead of whips or guns, our outstreached hands must hold scales of justice.


NEXT YEAR IN A JERUSALEM REDEEMED THROUGH JUSTICE AND THOSE RETURNING TO HER THROUGH RIGHTEOUSNESS

The Four Children at the Seder Table:  Which Child Am I?

As we celebrate this Holiday of Freedom, the ending of slavery, we ask, "Who am I, when I hear of human rights abuses? Who will I choose to be when I know that others are suffering?"

Will I be one who does not ask? Will I close the newspaper or turn off the television so that I do not hear? Will I turn my head and heart away?

Will I ask only simple questions? "What is this?"  Will I ask what, but never why?

Will I let the evil impulse, my yetzer hara ask: "What has this to do with me?" Will I let the problem belong only to the victims and the do-gooders? Will I distance myself from those in need?

Or will I strive to act in wisdom, to ask: "What are the underlying causes of the problem and what needs to be done to stop the abuse and free the oppressed? What are the laws and what does Gd expect of me?"

May Gd open the eyes of those who do not see, the mouths of those who do not ask, and the hearts of those who do not care, and grant us the wisdom to open our hands to our fellow humans when they are in need  - the hand of generosity, the hand of support, the hand of peace and friendship.

Rabbis For Human Rights :: rehov harekhavim 9 :: jerusalem, israel 93462 e-mail


November 23, 2008: Two-time a Refugee and a Tent in Occupied East Jerusalem
 

[Occupied East Jerusalem] Less than a five minute walk from my room at the Ambassador Hotel, Fawziya Khurd and international supporters began living in a tent, because the Israeli police enforced a court order to throw her and her spouse, Mohammed out of their home, which they had been living in since 1956. The day before my last visit, Mrs. Khurd/Um Kammal [mother of Kammal] became a widow when Mohammad expired secondary to the stress of home eviction by Israel.

At 3:30 AM on November 9, 2008, Reverend Richard Toll was awakened in his hotel room in the neighborhood when the Israeli Occupying Forces/IOF broke down the door of the home of the Al Khurd family. Rev. Toll told me [during the final day of Sabeel’s 7th Annual Conference: The Nakba: Memory, Reality and Beyond] that he was jarred awake by a woman’s pain filled scream that was indescribable.

 
The Al Khurd family have lived in their home in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood since the days when east Jerusalem was under Jordanian control. The United Nations upon contract with Jordan, allotted them the land after they became refugees when they were expelled from their home in west Jerusalem by Zionists during the 1948 war.

Hasib Nashashibi, of the Ensan Center for Democracy and Human Rights-an NGO coalition of
Palestinian Muslim and Christians- explained to me, “When Jordan controlled this land and the UN granted privileges to the Palestinian refugees including those from west Jerusalem, such as education, health care, and relief and development; they also allowed the refugees to give up not all privileges and receive a home and land deed instead. Jordan never fulfilled their obligation to send the written documentation that these west Jerusalem refugees are land owners and not tenants. Now the Israeli’s are trying to make them refugees for the second time!”

In 2001 a group of settlers broke into the west wing of the Khurd family home while the couple were at the hospital due to Mr. Khurd's ill health. Mr. Khurd went back to the hospital suffering from the emotional stress and physical problems and died the day after his wife welcomed me with a smile and invited me in to share a meal with the neighbors and many international supporters.

Family and neighbors offer Mrs. Khurd sanctuary but the internationals sleep in the tent every night to maintain a presence on the rented land and to support the other twenty-seven Palestinian families in the neighborhood who have received orders from Israel to evacuate their dwellings-in one home alone 52 people are currently residing.

A few days ago, three internationals were arrested, interrogated and then released. They returned to the neighborhood, but were not on site during my visits.

Background:

Since East Jerusalem’s occupation by Israel in 1967, the Oriental Jews Associations and the Knesseth Yisrael Association have been waging a brutal take over of the Khurds’ home, claiming that the land originally belonged to Jews.

In 1972, they succeeded to register the land in their name with the Israeli Land registrar.

In 1999, settlers burst into the home and set up an occupation in a wing of the house that

belonged to the couple’s son, Raed.

The Khurd family hired lawyers and have spent a fortune in court battles.

In 2006, the Israeli court finally revoked the claim of ownership by the settlers.

On February 25, 2007 the Israeli Supreme Court issued an order to evict the settlers; but it was never enforced!

The settlers-most of them are from America- have been stealing homes from Palestinians in the neighborhoods around the Old City of Jerusalem which if not challenged and prevented, will pre-empt any future peace deal with the Palestinians.

The settlers current desire is to cleanse more than 500 Palestinians from the neighborhood and build 200 apartheid apartments for Jewish only colonists.

This hurdle of injustice by the Israeli Government has lit a fire in the international community.

One of them is Axel Weissenfels, from Austria, a government that allows their young people to opt out of military service and choose nonviolent civil service in foreign countries instead.

Axel informed me, “I have been in occupied east Jerusalem for nine months now and will probably stay beyond my one year commitment. I am working for the Society for Austrian Arab Relations in the Old City in the Art Foundation, doing workshops with the children. We gave the children in the neighborhood cameras and we will soon display an exhibit of their work right here on this site. I have slept here the last three nights on a mattress [on the hard rocky ground].

“America should know how their tax dollars are being spent [$7-10 Million per day] which go to continue the military occupation of Palestinians. The Palestinians are simple and righteous people; they do the correct things and all they want is to live in peace.

“If the USA would stop paying all those millions to Israel the occupation would end and America would have the money for health care and caring for their poor.”

 Adnan Husseini, Governor of east Jerusalem, while on his way out of the tent, sent this message to America, “We hope that the U.S.A. will focus more attention to the Israeli Palestinian conflict and help us have peace. When Palestine receives justice the international community, Israel and U.S.A. will also have peace. The American people are excellent people and we wish the New Year will change this situation for the benefit of everyone. All the best to America and good luck!”


We the people of America do not need luck; we need to wake up and understand that Israel is only a democracy if you are a Jew.

In Israeli law, all of Jerusalem, including the eastern half of the city, is considered to be the “indivisible” capital of the Jewish state and has set up a block against Palestinian negotiators to make a deal on the division of Jerusalem.

Settlers are claiming land all over occupied East Jerusalem based on title deeds that pre-existed 1948, when Israel became a state and began to ethnically cleanse the land of Palestinians, destroyed 531 Palestinian villages and 750,000 Palestinians became refugees.

President George W. Bush became a willing collaborator in this on going injustice in his infamous 2004 exchange of letters with Ariel Sharon. Bush affirmed that Israel would not be expected to return to the armistice lines of 1949. Instead, Bush declared that Israel would be able to hold on to its “population centers” in the West Bank. This is the empire’s Orwellian spin to attempt to justify the established settlement blocs; every one of them are illegal under international law!

Among the failures of Annapolis is the incessant construction of colonies on the land of Palestinians.

Palestinians are denied building permits to build upon their legally owned land.

Ehud Barak, Defense Minister and leader of the Labor Party, personally approved hundreds of new apartments for the settlers within the last few months.

“Michshol Hafrada” is Hebrew for "The Separation Wall" and that translates to Apartheid Wall in Afrikaan.

The Apartheid Wall has divided Palestinians from Palestinians and has stolen their aquifers, denies them access to their land, jobs, families and holy sites and consumes over $1.25 Million USA Tax dollars every day- a 2006 estimate!

Looking at a map of the so called Holy Land today it is clear to see that Palestine has been divided into enclaves; Bantustans!

 
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know

What I was walling in or walling out

And to whom I was likely to give offence.

Something there is that does not love a wall,

That wants it down.-Robert Frost

Over a quarter of a million Jewish colonists live in East Jerusalem-and according to international law-all the settlements are illegal as is the Apartheid Wall.

Jewish only colonies have been implanted to divide the indigenous Palestinian neighborhoods throughout occupied territory. Over 100,000 indigenous Palestinians are trapped by the Apartheid Wall and are tortured at over 600 checkpoints that deny them access to their land, jobs, families and holy sites.

Evictions and home demolitions have become the status quo in the so called Holy Land, for since 1967, over 18,000 dwellings -averaging eleven people per unit- have been bulldozed by Israeli forces because they interfere with settlement expansion.

Israel attempts to justify their immoral actions with three distinct categories:

1. Collective Punishment-homes of suspected terrorists-in reality that is anyone who opposes the occupation- and the families of suicide/homicide bombers. These punitive actions amount to 15% of the over 18,000 homes destroyed since 1967.

2. Administrative demolitions for lack of building permits- which Israel refuses to issue-account for 25%. In occupied east Jerusalem one out of four Palestinian homes have a demolition order.

3. “Security” reasons-the blanket response to all of Israel’s injustices and illegal actions.

Backed by USA blind allegiance and silent collusion with the Israeli courts and government, it will take international outrage to unite and change course, for the Obama Administration is being filled with Zionist Hawks!

I made my first visit to the Al Kurd family tents on November 19, 2008 and met a few Italians who had come to entertain the oppressed and nonviolent people of the neighborhood.

Alex and Francesco, are two clowns from the street theater project called Charlatani Without Borders. They had arrived in occupied territory two weeks prior to offer some creative relief from the misery of military occupation. A chain link fence surrounded the property and there were two tents at that time.

When I returned on November 22nd, I learned that the Israeli forces had bulldozed the chain link fence down and one of the tents that that the nonviolent internationals had been staying in.

 
The site is only a few hundred yards from the Al Khurd’s home in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood and Israeli authorities attempt to justify their actions by claiming the tents were erected without permission on state land.

What will it take for the world to say ENOUGH!?!
 
   
 
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