Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Open Letter to the Jewish National Fund - Just say no! by Rabbi Arik Ascherman (Jerusalem Post)

Don’t forest over the community when there are cases in court in which the Beduin are trying to prove their ownership of the land.

Over the past several months, a very cruel and one-sided battle has been raging in El-Arakib . Despite the several land ownership cases currently before the courts, encroaching JNF forests are poised at the edge of lands belonging to this “unrecognized” Beduin village in the Negev. (Part of the mere three percent of the Negev over which the Beduin claim ownership.) Since July, Israel Lands Authority (ILA) bulldozers have demolished El-Arakib nine times.

Nine times the residents of El Arakib have rebuilt simple shelters, frustrating plans to erase every trace of their homes and orchards. They have been beaten and arrested, along with Jewish supporters. Only the cemetery has remained untouched, a testimony to the generations that had lived there before the State of Israel existed.

Last month, the government decided that enough was enough. On January 16, Israel razed the village for the tenth time. With rubber bullets, numerous arrests and even more vicious beatings that left several people hospitalized, the ILA cleared away even the rubble from the previous demolitions to prepare the land for planting.Since the first demolition, twisted rubble has reached skyward, a monument of screaming agony. However, as soon as the bulldozers left, the determined residents and activists emerged from the graveyard where they had taken refuge and began to rebuild again. They were joined by large numbers of activists.

LIFE WAS never easy in El-Arakib, but the residents struggle to put up pitiful makeshift shelters, braving the stinging rain driven by a bitter wind whipping around the sheets of plastic they tried to nail into place.

Nobody would be surprised if these people decided to abandon their lands to the JNF forests who get ominously closer every time. I am sure that is what those who plan these violent attacks had expected, and what the ring of watching police wait for. However, we Israelis, who have so often accomplished the impossible because we knew that there was ein breira (no choice) should be the first to appreciate the quiet, desperate determination of the residents of El-Arakib.

Relief then came in the form of a tentative stop-work order from the court, but with a price. The state said that it incurs the expenses every time a demolition is prevented because it still has to pay those contracted in advance, and that it must be reimbursed if the court agrees to issue a stay that turns out to be frivolous. I understand the argument, but it essentially makes access to justice dependent on your wallet. Here, the justification for the stop work order seems neither frivolous nor trivial – don’t forest over the community when there are cases in court in which the Beduin are trying to prove their ownership of the land. Several days later, Beersheba District Court Judge Nechama Netzer canceled the order. However, she also said that the situation was unacceptable, and a solution must be found. She appealed to the JNF not to create facts on the ground by foresting over El-Arakib.

Incredibly, the very next day the ILA declared their intent to quickly finish preparing the land for planting and made good on their promise. The bulldozers quickly disposed of the shanties, proceeding to level everything to the ground I AM therefore appealing to the JNF yet one more time to fight for their soul. They have told me several times that they sees themselves as the forestry service for the state, and is therefore obligated to do what the state asks.

But there comes a point when you must just say no. It is true that our sages taught that “the law of the land is the law,” but they also drew red lines. The Shulchan Aruch determines that even a king, who has much more authority in the Jewish tradition than a government, cannot force people to violate the commandments of the Torah (Choshen Mishpat 369:11). Even the king – and certainly a body such as the JNF doing the bidding of a government – is not allowed to twist the law to allow the theft of a field. (Mishna Torah Laws of Theft and Loss 5:13, Shulchan Aruch Choshen Mishpat 369:8) We are taught not to honor unjust or unequally applied laws.

When laws discriminate against one group in favor of another “the law of the land is the law” does not apply, “and it is not applicable when there is no equality, taking from one and giving to another”(Beit HaBechira to Baba Kama 113a, etc.). “The law of the land is the law is not in force unless the king equally applies his statutes regarding all his subjects.” (Or Zaruah to Baba Kama 447, see also Tashbetz part 1: 158) THE TREATMENT of the Beduin minority is a classic case of double standards. Jewish citizens would be afforded every opportunity to remain on their land, or at least to have their day in court. The JNF is not obligated to participate in state discrimination.

Rather, the JNF must observe shev v’al taaseh, refrain from participating in discrimination and theft.

None of us want to believe that the state we love is using its power to ride rough shod over hapless fellow citizens and to take the kivsat ha’rash (literally, poor man’s stolen sheep) from those who have almost nothing. None of us want to believe that previous courts may have lent a hand to injustice. I am sure that this does not represent the values of many who work for or support the JNF.

However, if you don’t believe either me or the silent testimony of the El-Arakib cemetery, look into it for yourself.

Ask for the documents and come meet with the Beduin.

The JNF, with all of the wonderful work it does, sullies itself by collusion in such an inexcusable and unjustifiable act. Remember the Jewish and Zionist commitment in our Declaration of Independence to equality for all.

Please, just say no.

The writer is a human rights activist. Demonstrations are planned outside the JNF offices in Jerusalem today [Feb. 1, 2011] at 14:00pm and in El- Arakib.

Published in the Jerusalem Post

1 comment:

  1. Thank you Rabbi. You prove that there are decent rabbis in the world!