Monday, January 14, 2008

An Abomination - the 800 Jewish Settlers of Hebron - Part 2

Today is Day 14,520 of the Maintenance of the Immoral (and Illegal) West Bank Settlements and more than 40 years since the start of the immoral (and illegal) occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.

Micah.6:8 “He has told you, O man, Only to do justice and to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God

Within the borders of Hebron, one of the biggest Arab cities in the West Bank, are 120,000 Palestinians. In the old city of Hebron, there are 800 Jewish Israeli squatters and 30,000 Palestinians while around Kiryat Arba the squatterment founded by Rabbi Levinger near Hebron, there are an additional 9,200 squatters.

On another discussion board, one of the posters was trying to justify the activities of the Jewish settlers of Hebron and made the following comment:

“War is ugly. Conflict is ugly. Either we have a right to the land or we don’t. I believe we do - which necessitates some ugly actions. I don’t condone unnecessary violence; but it isn’t ugly to fight back to protect your rights.”

My response was as follows:

What makes you believe that this is a war? It seems to me to be an occupation in which one body, the Government of Israel, has won a war in 1967 and reigns supreme over another body, the Palestinians, with overwhelming superior military force.

Just “who” is the “we” that has a right to the land? Is it anyone who is Jewish? Do I and my family have a right to the land? What laws do you cite as authority for who you believe owns the land?

“Ugly actions” – for sure!!! – Stealing land, beating and killing children, women and men, cutting down olive trees, preventing the harvesting of olives and cutting down olive trees, harassment to force the closing of commercial establishments, destroying property, pouring filth.

“ isn’t ugly to fight back to protect your rights”. Assuming that the Jewish settlers own the land, what laws guide them on how to take the land back. In Massachusetts, we have a legal process that dictates the steps in court that a landlord must take in order to evict someone on his or her land. What laws are the settlers relying on when they do what they do? What they do is not only ugly but contrary to what we expect from those who live in civilized society.

Ugly, ugly, ugly……

Isaiah 1:17,27 “Learn to do well – seek justice, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow .. Zion shall be redeemed with justice, and they that return of her with righteousness.”

Here is an article published over this past weekend about life as a Palestinian in Hebron.

The Sword is Mightier by Seth Freedman / The Guardian [UK] / Jan 12, 2008

"An unarmed civilian observer mission can’t offer balanced policing to Palestinians in Hebron, a city where the IDF runs the show.

It’s easy to claim that the pen is mightier than the sword from the safety of a university lecture hall, or a middle class soiree in a suburban dining room. However, in the bandit country that is Hebron, the adage rings somewhat hollow, as I found after spending a day out on patrol with Temporary International Presence in the City of Hebron TIPH. What I saw during my six-hour shadowing of the dedicated yet ultimately toothless members of the TIPH team made me question the wisdom of their presence in the troubled city.

Established in the wake of Baruch Goldstein’s shooting spree in a local mosque, TIPH’s raison d’etre is to “monitor the situation in Hebron and record breaches of international law.” In essence, they are stationed in the city to bear witness to the almost daily violent incidents that erupt between the Jewish settlers of Hebron and their Palestinian neighbours.

So it was on Wednesday, as I set out with Sibyll and Mortens, respectively Swiss and Danish TIPH workers, who are old hands at dealing with the explosive situation using the limited tools at their disposal. Our first incident was fairly mundane by comparison with what we’d see later - a youth protesting to the pair that every time Palestinian Authority workmen came to try and fix a sewage blockage in the souk, Israeli soldiers ordered them to leave the area without allowing them to carry out their repairs.

“This is the third time we’ve heard this story in four days,” said Sibyll, as she noted down the boy’s complaint in her notebook. “All we can do is to try and get our liaison officers to try to intervene with the army and the PA, and attempt to get permits for them to complete their work [unimpeded].” Mortens concurred with her plan of action: “It won’t happen overnight, though - we have to write a report, contact the DCO, and hope that they can achieve results.” And in the meantime, the stench of raw sewage hangs over the market and adds to the sense of discomfort that the shopkeepers are forced to endure.

There had been reports that it was the settlers who had blocked up the sewage system, causing the problem, although that was hard for the team to verify. However, the next incident they were called to appeared far more clear cut. In a busy street underneath a barred window of one of the settlement buildings, a couple of tin cans with unidentifiable viscous liquid oozing from them lay on the edge of the pavement. “They tried to light it before hurling it at us,” declared a middle-aged Palestinian man breathlessly, pointing up in the direction of the offenders’ homes.

“They were 16 or 17,” he continued, “not small kids at all.” Hanging from the bars of the windows were sandbags filled with stones, which Sibyll said, “are prepared by the children, who then throw the rocks down at the Palestinians. The IDF come, but always deny that anything has happened.” All that TIPH can do in such circumstances is pull out their notebooks, log a record of the incident, and then file the report with the DCO, which does little to placate the injured parties or to reassure them that anything tangible is being done to protect them.

“There’s a feeling of real frustration amongst us,” said Ghassan, a Swedish member of TIPH. “We can’t intervene in a situation; all we can do is turn up and take photos.” He explained that this causes inevitable resentment on the part of the Palestinians, while others on the Palestinian side “don’t like us because they’re convinced we work for the Israelis.”

As we continued along the route of the patrol, we came across a gaggle of teenagers surrounding a dishevelled-looking man sitting askew in a wheelchair. His T-shirt badly ripped from shoulder to shoulder and covered in bloodstains, he shook as he turned plaintively to Mortens and Sibyll and pleaded for their help. “The army did this,” he began. “They beat me, and there are 15 of them still in my house now - you’ve got to go and do something.”

After taking photos of his injuries to use as evidence, we hurried off in the direction of his house in the company of one of the boys who was acting as guide. However, our way was obstructed by a shaven-headed Russian IDF soldier who ordered us to take a far longer, circuitous route, since the Palestinian boy was banned from walking past the Cave of Machpela. When we eventually got to the raided house, the operation was still in full flow, with heavily-armed soldiers milling around on every floor of the building as the children of the house nervously looked on.

Thanks to the terms of their mandate, TIPH members are unimpeded in their monitoring work, thus the soldiers had to let them photograph the ongoing search and interview the commander once he’d declared the building safe. “There were rocks being thrown from the roof,” he stated flatly when questioned. “I didn’t see anyone in a wheelchair,” he went on, looking to his charges for confirmation, “and if there had been, I promise you he’d still be here with us.”

“It’s a bit fishy that he managed to get out of the house and all the way down the road in a wheelchair in the middle of a raid.” He proposed that the man’s injuries might instead be a result of him jumping off the roof and trying to escape arrest, implying that the wheelchair was merely a prop used to garner sympathy from the TIPH team. Once the soldiers had left, we entered the house and interviewed the wounded man’s children, who assured us that he had been beaten by the troops.

However, they also admitted that their younger brother had been throwing rocks at the army, and refused to stop when his older siblings and father remonstrated with him. At the same time, they couldn’t give a convincing explanation for how their apparently wheelchair-bound father had made it up the impossibly narrow stairs onto the roof to chastise their brother. This prompted Sibyll to complain that the hardest part of her job was trying to decide who was being honest and who just wanted to apportion all the blame to the other side.

The commander’s parting words to us had been “We were just doing our job - no one should have rocks thrown at them, should they?” While entirely right, his concern seemed pretty ironic given the complete ambivalence the army showed earlier when Mortens and Sibyll tried to report the missile attacks on the Palestinians. That the IDF runs the whole show in the city, and TIPH can do little more than meekly complain from the sidelines is the heart of the problem when it comes to policing the area fairly.

Of course, Israel is hardly likely to agree to arm the likes of TIPH, just as they have all but repealed the authority’s mandate to be in charge of keeping order in the Palestinian half of the city. However, given that a large part of TIPH’s purpose is to try and afford the same level of protection and security to the Palestinians that the settlers enjoy, it is clear that there is no balance whatsoever at present.

Well-meaning but ultimately impotent foreigners wielding notebooks and pens are no match for M16-toting soldiers when it comes to delivering justice to the city’s residents. Therefore it is no surprise that, despite what TIPH was set up to deliver, the Palestinians feel no better looked after now than they did before 1994. And that is no more likely to assuage their frustration and fears than any other half-hearted internationally-led initiative - meaning that their ongoing feeling of abandonment is entirely understandable while the best they’ve got is TIPH.

Deuteronomy 16:20 – “Justice, justice shall you pursue that you may live and inherit the land which God gave you” and the footnote in the 1980 Hertz Edition “(T)here is international justice, which demands respect for the personality of every national group, and proclaims that no people can of right be robbed of its national life or territory, its language or spiritual heritage.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

An Abomination - the 800 Jewish Settlers of Hebron

Today is Day 14,515 of the Maintenance of the immoral (and illegal) West Bank Settlements and more than 40 years since the start of the immoral (and illegal) occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.

Micah.6:8 “He has told you,..., Only to do justice and to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God

A few weeks ago I received the latest report from B’Tselem entitled “Ghost Town: Israel’s Separation Policy and Forced Eviction of Palestinians from the Center of Hebron”, May 2007.

This report sits on top of the file of to-be-read material but I just cannot overcome the nausea that overwhelms me as I contemplate reading 107 pages about the abomination that is the 800 Jewish residents of Hebron. I did read the first sentence of the Conclusions:

"The constant and grave harm to Palestinians living in the center of Hebron is one of the most extreme manifestations of human rights violations committed by the State of Israel."

Hebron Area H2

This morning I received this message:

Hebron, Area H2 (guest post)
by BZ - - Tuesday, January 8th, 2008
This post is by guest contributor Shira Levine.

Below is a reflection I wrote after traveling last Friday to area H2 of Hebron, the twenty percent of the city that is under direct Israeli control. I toured with Breaking the Silence, an organization of Israelis who served as soldiers in Hebron and are aiming to educate the public on the reality of the situation.

The most frightening part of the area of Hebron that is under Israeli control is the totality of the tragedy – the complete emptiness which serves as evidence that you can erase a presence with enough guns and padlocks. But there are still Palestinians there.

On the few streets that Palestinians are allowed to walk on, they walk with trepidation – brief encounters with a soldier who asks you on the street to open your jacket and show that you’re not wearing a bomb belt must happen countless time a day for the few residents who stayed in this part of the city. The soldier gestures and it’s clear to the pedestrian what he wants. And in the space between the houses that have not been abandoned, or where residents have not been driven out, you see a young women step out to empty trash. She’s wearing a bed sheet as a headscarf. It’s surprising to see her here. It’s surprising that anyone is left.

Palestinians in Hebron seem to live with a low profile, clinging to their houses. Many of the houses are empty. And all are surrounded by trash. Much of it is the trash thrown by Jewish settlers onto the houses of Palestinians, with the clear intention of driving out their neighbors.

Every Palestinian window is covered with chicken wire to prevent rocks being thrown in from the settlers. Since windows have still been bashed in, some Palestinians have enclosed their homes with metal shutters. How dark is it inside those houses?

The darkness. The day was sunny, but the barrenness cast a deep shadow. Row upon row upon row of locked up shop fronts. Like in abandoned American inner-cities. Only these shops weren’t left voluntarily – different streets have different levels of what our guide described as sterilization. After the Baruch Goldstein massacre in 1994 of Palestinian worshippers, there was a legitimate fear of Palestinian retaliation.

As a result, Palestinians were closed in their homes and allowed out only every few days for provisions. Beginning with the meat market, areas of the city began to be emptied and shut. Shop owners there continued paying the rent that, under the complex property laws in Hebron, maintained their right to the land. They were paying rent for stores that were locked up on roads that they still aren’t allowed to walk on. A few settlers have started building in the empty storefronts.

There are no cars, no stores, and even walking is forbidden on the sterilized roads in what used to be a bustling Palestinian city. The former soldiers who give the tours tell horrible confessional stories of the violence and harm that the army did in its efforts to make Hebron a place where 800 Jewish settlers can live.

800 people who don’t want to live with their neighbors. People who send their children to attack Palestinian students returning from school. Videos, filmed by residents with hand held camcorders from the Israeli human rights group Betselem, show pure hatred in fifteen year old settler girls who push down adult Palestinian women teachers.

The settlers’ goal is clear. The Palestinians should leave.

The encroaching emptiness has succeeded. Is it possible to stand in the ruins and imagine a restored market place? Is it possible to imagine that children could bring back milk without walking through empty streets and army check points?

When you’re there, it feels like the end. 15 years ago, if we’d stood in the market and you’d told me that the army and the settlers together would clear out this section of the city of its Palestinian residents, I couldn’t have believed you. I couldn’t have imagined how strikingly different the place would become.

It’s hard to imagine that it still can.

Sadly, George W. Bush, the President of the United States, who is visiting Israel and the Occupied Territories, is not likely to visit Hebron Area H2 and be made aware of the story of the 800 Jewish settlers living there.

Leviticus, Chapter 19

On New Year’s Eve, for perhaps the twentieth year, my wife and I and another couple, our good friends, enjoyed First Night in Boston. One of the four performances we attended was at the Universalist-Unitarian Church. The sounds of the talented guitar player from Mexico reminded me of music of Andre Segovia played by my roommate Bill in college now over 50 years ago. I took out the prayer book in the pew in front of me and read an excerpt from “The Heart of the Torah” Leviticus Chapter 19. Today, I took a look at the entire Chapter. Here is what struck me.

"1. And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying,
2. Speak to the entire congregation of the children of Israel, and say to them, You shall be holy, for I, the Lord, your God, am holy.
9. When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not fully reap the corner of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest.
10. And you shall not glean your vineyard, nor shall you collect the [fallen] individual grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger. I am the Lord, your God.
11. You shall not steal. You shall not deny falsely. You shall not lie, one man to his
13. You shall not oppress your fellow. You shall not rob. The hired worker's wage shall not remain with you overnight until morning.
14. You shall not curse a deaf person. You shall not place a stumbling block before a
blind person, and you shall fear your God. I am the Lord.
15. You shall commit no injustice in judgment; you shall not favor a poor person or respect a great man; you shall judge your fellow with righteousness.
16. You shall not go around as a gossipmonger amidst your people. You shall not stand by [the shedding of] your fellow's blood. I am the Lord.
17. You shall not hate your brother in your heart. You shall surely rebuke your fellow, but you shall not bear a sin on his account.
18. You shall neither take revenge from nor bear a grudge against the members of your people; you shall love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.
23. When you come to the Land and you plant any food tree, you shall surely block its fruit [from use]; it shall be blocked from you [from use] for three years, not to be
24. And in the fourth year, all its fruit shall be holy, a praise to the Lord.
25. And in the fifth year, you may eat its fruit; [do this, in order] to increase its produce for you. I am the Lord, your God.
32. You shall rise before a venerable person and you shall respect the elderly, and you shall fear your God. I am the Lord.
33. When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not taunt him.
34. The stranger who sojourns with you shall be as a native from among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. I am the Lord, your God.
35. You shall not commit a perversion of justice with measures, weights, or liquid
36. You shall have true scales, true weights, a true ephah, and a true hin. I am the Lord, your God, Who brought you out of the land of Egypt.
37. You shall observe all My statutes and all My ordinances, and fulfill them. I am the Lord."

The 800 Jewish settlers in Hebron

The American Jewish Committee just released its 2007 survey of American Jewry. I wonder what percentage of American Jews know the story of the 800 Jewish Settlers in Hebron. I wonder what percentage of American Jews are familiar with the above passages from Leviticus 19. I wonder what percentage of American Jews who are familiar with the story and the above passages would condemn the actions of the settlers and the Government of Israel for supporting the settlers.

I wonder what percentage of American Rabbis know the story of the 800 Jewish Settlers in Hebron. I am quite certain that American Rabbis are familiar with these passages. I wonder what percentage of American Rabbis who know the story and are familiar with the passages would condemn the actions of the settlers and the Government of Israel for supporting the settlers.

The Jewish settlers in Hebron are one of the primary reasons I regret that the Great Sanhedrin (the supreme court of the Jewish people) was dissolved about 1700 years ago. One of my fondest dreams is for a Great Sanhedrin to be reinstituted so that the Jewish settlers could be indicted for its violation of Leviticus 19. What might be appropriate would be to frame the accusation as attempted murder of Judaism – the thrusting of a knife into the heart of the Torah.

Elsewhere in the Torah is another piece of the Heart of the Torah- Deuteronomy XVI, 18:20 – “Justice, Justice shalt thou follow, that thou mayest live, and inherit the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.” Another question to ask is "Where is God?" We would not need to reestablish the Great Sanhedrin if God was observing the Hebron settlers. She would likely disinherit all the 800 and evict them.