In 2003, Rabbi Arik Ascherman, director of Rabbis for Human Rights, physically interposed himself between an Israeli police bulldozer and a Palestinian home being razed because the owners had not obtained a permit ot expand it. Considering that Palestinians cannot get such permits, Ascherman thought it unjust for Israel to essentially force Palestinians to live in abject misery with no hope of improving their lives or living conditions. Like Martin Luther King, he and his group feel a moral responsibility to oppose a nation’s unjust laws especially as they oppress the weakest among them.
Yesterday, an Israeli court made Rabbi Ascherman a criminal (Israeli court convicts rabbi of interfering with demolitions). It should be said that the prosecutor asked the judge to set aside the verdict and commute the sentence to performing community service so that Ascherman would not have a criminal record. If I were Ascherman, I wouldn’t allow the Israeli justice system the satisfaction of assuaging its conscience in this way. I’d say like King did in the Birmingham jail incident, I would force them to sentence me to prison. This no doubt would strengthen the point Ascherman is trying to make in the eyes of Israelis: that they should not stand idly by while Israel oppresses innocents who seek nothing more than making their families a bit more comfortable.
Ascherman’s response to the court was:
"For us, this trial really was about the people who have no voice here, the victims of home demolition. And that’s why we’re going immediately from the courthouse…to begin the rebuilding of one of these homes."
The prosecutor also revealed this interesting reasoning behind the necessity for Ascherman’s conviction:
In a reference to the planned evacuation this summer of 21 settlements in Gaza and four in the West Bank against stiff opposition from settlers, the prosecutor warned that "especially in these days" such protests could pose a danger.
"One can imagine what the situation would be here if we were to allow this kind of resistance," the prosecutor told the court.
It is preposterous for him to equate what Ascherman did to what settlers are doing in the face of dismantling their settlements. The Palestinians whose homes were demolished had lived in them for a long time, even generations, with the approval of the authorities. When they expanded their homes, Israel demolished their entire home (an extraordinarily disproportionate punishment). The settlers and their government have created these settlements in contravention of international law and against the wishes of the U.S. and much of the world’s governments. Many of these settlements do not even have Israeli government approval. In addition, each uprooted settler will receive $200,000 for losing their homes. What does the Daari family get for their trouble? Bubkis! You simply cannot equate these two situations. The prosecutor seeks again to assuage his conscience by saying we have to punish the rabbi or else the settlers will be able to get away with murder. It’s just not so.
The AP story puts the demolition into a very human context by describing the pain and suffering it has caused for the homeowners:
The foundation of one of these houses razed in April 2003 still stands, with crushed shoes and toys strewn about. On Tuesday, Ahmad Mussa Daari, the previous homeowner, watched as his two sons and Ascherman mixed cement for the cornerstone of what they hope will be a new house in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Issawiya.
Destruction of the homes left two large extended families homeless.
The families did not obtain permits to enlarge their houses, which human rights activists say is nearly impossible for Palestinians in Jerusalem.
Daari said he built the house a year before it was demolished to make room for his two sons and their new families. The seven-member Daari family now lives in a two-bedroom house.
Holding the hand of his 4-year-old son, Daari said he was "sad to hear the decision today, because one man helping another man should not be illegal."
Ascherman’s simple human act of lending a helping hand to another man in need represents the best of what Israeli-Palestinian relations should and could be.
Very true–I had the opportunity to see Rabbi Ascherman speak near my campus last semester, and he truly is an inspiration. He dramatically changed the way that I view the Middle East conflict. My thoughts are with him and his family.
You are forgetting that Israeli law allowed and encouraged settlers to go to Gaza. You can’t hold settlers in Gaza to “international law and wishes of the US” while Palestinians are not. Another point I don’t see in your commentary is the security question. Were those houses demolished just because they lacked a permit or could it be a security threat as well? When terrorists are housed or allowed to attack from such neighborhoods, extreme measures may have to be taken and it’s in that context that you must analyze the punishment’s weight vs. infraction.
Richard Silverstein says
No, you are only partially right about your first statement. Israeli law allowed them to settle certain communities. But it did not allow them to erect many of the most controversial settlements. It did not allow them to erect many outposts & settlements which even Israeli authorities concede were not authorized. Besides, merely because Israel authorized them to settle there does not make it right. It is wrong. The world says it is. The UN says it is. Every U.S. president including Bush says it is. Israel may say the opposite, but then it cannot pretend that it is a member in good standing of the world community since it flagrantly rejects those rules & laws it finds inconvenient (much like the Bush Administration by the way).
I don’t see any way in which you can say that the Palestinians are not being held to international law or U.S. wishes. YOu should clarify what you meant as it sounds pretty fuzzy to me.
And you’re wrong again (& should read the link to the article in my post) about the demolished home being a security threat. THe article clearly states that it did not have a proper permit & says nothing about it being a security threat. Besides this home is in East Jerusalem where I know of few if any demolitions done under security considerations. I know all about security considerations compelling Israeli forces to demolish homes. You don’t need to go over that territory here. Besides, these Israeli demolitions are also a violation of international law because Israel does absolutely nothing to make whole those whose homes they destroy. It is an unconscionable act on Israel’s part & one which only adds to its bitter enemies.
With self hating “Jews” like that who needs Arabs…
He is not in the slightest self hating, he just reaslises that treating people like animals is not part of Zionism, it is a twisted version sullied by the racist policies of Sharon. Israels actions are simply unacceptable and if the people of the USA (who value freedom and justice above all else) actually realised how these “operations” destroy families whose only crime is to live, they would stop being so sympathetic to her cause.
Adda Ascherman says
The true values of Judaism cannot be abandoned when we established a Jewish state. I believe this is what he is indeed showing us.