One wonders just exactly what these rabbis stand for, given the horrendous denial of human rights to the indigenous Palestinian community. Of the latter fact there can be no doubt. The wonderful irony of course is that it is often Israeli groups which document the tragic facts of both the ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1947-48, the theft of land taken in the Six Day War in 1967 and the ongoing illegal settlements. Most of the documentarians are secular “Jews of conscience” who publish the undeniable facts of this ongoing oppression and humiliation. In the age of the internet,all of this meticulous work is available to all. There is no excuse for an educated canadian rabbi no to know this—unless the state of Israel has replaced the Torah as the locus of the ultimate in Judaism.
These groups are well known in Israel, the foremost being B’Tselem The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories http://www.btselem.org/. For over two decades this marvelous flowering of Jewish tradition has documented settler abuse and championed human rights in the West Bank and Gaza and as their website proclaims “ promoting a future where all Israelis and Palestinians will live in freedom and dignity.”
Before the Obama inauguration in January 2009, Israel unleashed a savage attack on Gaza entitled Operation Cast lead. B’tselem tallied up the result: 1398 Palestinians killed by the overwhelming forces of the IDF. Bear in mind the shocking asymmetry of the sides in this conflict.
The IDF has planes and an air force, missiles, tanks, gunboats, a professional army.They travel on “Jews only” roads. The Palestinians have none of these except the hopelessly inaccurate Katyusha rockets. They have neither army, air force, Apache helicopters provided by the USA, F-16s courtesy of same, tanks, defense of any kind, a pathetic leadership , an apartheid wall which has stolen 10% of their land and divides families. It is a slow strangulating death.
So we have in this stunning slaughter in Gaza— 1398 Palestinians killed, 344 minors among them and only 22 who were taking part in the hostilities, 248 policemen killed inside their offices, 110 women among the dead, wholesale infrastructure demolished. And on the other side 6 dead Israelis, soldiers in the security forces who also carry the divine image.
And we remember the horrible pictures of Israelis watching the slaughter from distant hill tops. A family outing? A computer game?
The above is but a tiny picture of the colonial war on the territory of Palestine which has now lasted 65 years. The suffering has been incalculable, the reporting absolutely abysmal and saddest of all, the silence of the synagogue, deeply regrettable.
Amidst this contemporary version of Dante’s hell, yet, we have rabbis who like the above have not been silent, who carry the Torah into this suffering. Rabbis for Human Rights (http://rhr.org.il/eng/ ) are those men and women in Israel who are the “rabbinic voice of conscience in Israel, giving voice to the Jewish tradition of human rights”. The organization was founded in 1988, and includes 100 Israeli members from every branch of Judaism as well as some rabbinical students. It is supported by shuls in the diaspora.
Their vision statement says it all:
Our work expresses the view that as Jews, we are obligated to protest against every injustice enacted against any other person, a view based on the belief that man and women was created in God’s image. We believe that it is our obligation to inform the Israeli public about human rights violations, and that it is our role to pressure state institutions to fix these injustices.
One of those rabbis is American-born, Harvard educated Arilk Ascherman the recipient of the Gandhi Peace award in 2011. This reb shows up at as many house demolitions (there have been app.27,000)since 1967). Ascherman describes one of these heartbreaking incidents:
The families were hysterical. The grandmother was wailing while the father of the family was clutching at his heart and others were begging us to do something. It was simply heartbreaking …We watched helplessly as the pneumatic drills tore into the final remaining home. To officer after officer I read off chapter and verse from various international conventions which Israel is a party to. Commanders ordered their people not to listen or take the paper….The charge sheet against me claims that I ran in front of the bulldozers, interfering with the work of security forces and endangering myself. I can say that I lost my kippah (the Jewish skull cap) in the ensuing moments….There isn’t much in the rubble of those houses, as the families succeeded in removing most of their belongings. It is not like some of the demolitions where we find children’s toys, clothes and schoolbooks among the rubble. However, there is a kippah and I feel that it means something. Perhaps it symbolizes the trampling and burial of the Jewish Values I grew up believing in. Perhaps it means the opposite. Perhaps it symbolizes the fact that their were Jews who stood against this injustice in the name of Torah.
And those 20 rabbis on the plane. What are they thinking?