Letters from Donna Baranski-Walker, Rebuilding Alliance, and Rabbi Arik Ascherman, Director, Haqel
To all who are celebrating the Jewish New Year, I send wishes of Shana Tova, a good year. In this time of reflection, I am forwarding an important message from Rabbi Arik Ascherman, now director of a new Non-Governmental Organization called Haqel — Jews and Arabs In the Defense of Human Rights. I join Rabbi Arik in asking everyone, of all faiths and backgrounds, to click here, now, to send a letter to the leaders of the Jewish National Fund to urge them to stop planting trees to remove the villagers of the Bedouin village of Al Araqib from their homes and their land in the Negev in Israel. Their homes have been demolished 103 times so far. They need all of our help.
Thank you for all that you do.
Executive Director, Rebuilding Alliance
from Rabbi Arik Ascherman
Director, Haqel — Jews and Arabs in Defense of Human Rights
Dear Friends and Supporters,
Please find below my Rosh HaShana Thoughts 5777, including simple steps you can take to save Al-Araqib. a village located in the Negev, Israel. You can start by emailing a letter to the KKL-JNF asking them not to carry out their threat to resume the foresting-over of Al-Araqib — something that your letters froze in 2001. Good News! Haqel-Jews and Arabs In the Defense of Human Rights (notice slight name change) is now officially registered as an Israeli NGO! We have included our founding goals and principles below.
Rosh HaShanah Thoughts 5777
Rabbi Arik Ascherman, Director, Haqel — Jews and Arabs in Defense of Human Rights
The traditional Jewish belief is that on the High Holy Days from Rosh HaShana through Yom Kippur, it is decided who will live and who will die in the coming year but our actions can change our fate. It is also in our hands to impact on the fate of villages in imminent danger of dying. To be more accurate, they are in danger of being killed. Haqel – Jews and Arabs in the Defense of Human Rights has worked with partners to create the FourVillages Campaign on behalf of four of them: Susya and Umm Al Kheir in the Occupied Territories, and Umm Al Hiran and Al Araqib in the Negev.
Some choose to play God with the fate of entire villages, and I recall once hearing Professor Avi Ravitsky saying that when serving on the underfunded committee determining which medicines and procedures will be included in the national health care plan he felt that he had to decide who shall live and who shall die. As problematic as many of us find the imagery of God as King that permeates the High Holy day liturgy even more than the rest of the year, it is important to remember that, as exalted as our role is, we must remember to whom we are beholden when tempted to allow ourselves to decree the destruction of entire communities.
Others choose to be actively complicit or complicit by doing nothing. The Israeli government determines how to divide the economic pie. Along with the Israel Lands Authority, they can determine the fate of villages. There are enablers such as the Israeli army, or the KKL-JNF (the Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael – Jewish National Fund).
But, what about the rest of us? On Rosh HaShana and on Yom Kippur we recite, “Teshuvah, Tefilah and Tzedakah can avert the severe decree.” Teshuvah, Tefilah and Tzedakah mean returning to our highest selves, prayer and introspection and planning change, and then doing something concrete to repair our wrongdoings and make our world more just.
Whether we have been actively or passively complicit regarding the fate of villages, the plight of those Israelis living in poverty, the abuse of African asylum seekers, or any number of additional issues here or abroad, or in our personal lives, the words we will recite in the coming days will be of little avail if they do not lead to teshuvah, tefilah and tzedakah.
We now have an opportunity to begin the year the way we aspire to act throughout the year. It is this opportunity to be changed by changing the reality around us, that makes the marking of the new year a time of joy and celebration, as well as a time of awe and trembling.
Many of you helped avert a stern decree when you took action on behalf of Susya in August. As proud as I am of the legal work that my Haqel partner Advocate Quamar Mishirqi-Assad has and is doing on behalf of Susya, the concern by governments and citizens around the world over several years is most responsible for keeping this Palestinian village alive.
During these High Holy Days, we ask you to act to save Al Araqib. You did it in 2011, and we need you to do it again.
Purchase documents show that the El-Turi Bedouin tribe bought these lands from the El-Nukbi tribe starting in 1906. The earliest graves in their cemetery go back to 1914, and there was a polling booth there for the first Knesset elections. The Israeli High Court has ordered the District Court to hear their land claims. However, today the State claims the village lands were expropriated in 1953.
The village has been destroyed 103 times since 2010, and those hanging on in simple lean-tos and cars have been jailed for trespassing on their own lands. The villagers of Al Araqib are mired in legal debts. Many “unrecognized” Bedouin villages are in danger, and Minister Uri Ariel has threatened to go back to legislation to carry this out. However, the previous minister made it clear to Bedouin leaders that, while there is room for discussing the fate of the other villages, they are unwilling to talk about Al Araqib.
In 2011 you saved Al-Araqib. At that time, Keren Kayemet-Jewish National Fund (KKL-JNF) was using backhoes to plant whole forests with mature trees, converging on Al-Araqib from all directions. I would look at the approaching trees and think of Macbeth, and the woods of Birnam. To this day, the residents of Al Araqib describe these KKL-JNF trees as soldiers with M16s threatening to destroy them. While the JNF was not setting the policy, they were the complicit enablers.
Thousands of you wrote letters to the KKL-JNF. Many of you explained that generations of your family had put money in the KKL-JNF “pushkes” to buy land for the Jewish people and other worthy projects. But, you hadn’t contributed to forest over the villages of Israeli citizens. As a result, the KKL-JNF froze their forestation efforts. We believed that the forestation would remain frozen until land ownership was resolved.
We were wrong.
This last November, KKL-JNF installed a new international board. This summer the KKL-JNF bulldozers returned to prepare for planting lands they had been working on just before the 2011 freeze. Those members of the KKL-JNF board opposed to this work were powerless to stop it. The regional director of the Israel Lands Authority (they do set policy, along with the Israeli government) made it clear, “We will be back in the fall to plant.” We expect that to happen sometime between November-January, unless you stop it.
We therefore ask you to take several easy steps to give El-Araqib a chance to live:
- Click here to write a letter to the KKL-JNF leaders in Israel, the U.S., Great Britain and Canada
You can send the letter we have written, modify it, or write your own. If appropriate, it could be helpful to note that you/your family have been supporters of the KKL-JNF, and/or that you are committed both to Israel and to justice for all humanity, are part of the young generation, or anything else about yourself that might say to the KKL-JNF that they should be particularly concerned about your opinion, and that of the group(s) that you are representative of.
- Actions are being planned for a Global Sukkot Against Demolitions.
First, there will be a global action day on October 16th, just hours before the beginning of Sukkot, with protests outside of KKL-JNF offices in cities around the world. Please write to email@example.com to let us know if you are willing to be part of, or help organize a Global Sukkot Against Demolition action in front of your local KKL-JNF office.
Second, we will be sending out materials to host a Sukkot Against Demolitions educational event in your community. If you’d like to receive these materials linking Sukkot, the plight of the four villages and the KKL-JNF, please write to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please click here for a more extensive list of KKL-JNF offices worldwide.
- Make a contribution to the Human Rights Defenders Fund (HRDF) to subvent the crushing legal debts of El-Araqib. The Human Rights Defenders Fund coordinates, monitors, advises and provides funding for legal defense in proceedings against human rights defenders: individuals and groups working in peaceful ways to promote and protect human rights in Israel and the OPT. Over the past four years HRDF has supported the human rights defenders of El Araqib. Your contribution will help pay both for lawyers’ fees and the paralegal work that the Fund has taken upon itself.
- In the U.S. and Great Britain, you can make a tax deductible donor- designated contribution to the Human Rights Defenders Fund through the New Israel Fund. Please make the check out to the New Israel Fund, and note on the memo line: “Human Rights Defenders Fund(Account 50045)-El Araqib.” Please also write to us at email@example.com to ensure that your contribution is properly tracked.
- In the U.S., Checks of $100 and over can be sent to:
New Israel Fund: PO Box 96712; Washington, DC 20090-6712.
- Donations under $100 can be sent directly to HRDF by check. They will not be tax deductible.
Human Rights Defenders Fund
P.O. Box 8589 Jaffa, Israel
Please note on the memo line that your donation is for El-Araqib.
- Bank transfer:
Bank HaPoalim(Bank Number 12) Branch # 567. Account # 364313. Swift address -POALILIT. IBAN- IL50-0125-6700-0000-0364-313
Because the HEDF has many cases, it is even more important that you write us, so that we can ensure that your contribution is properly tracked.
- In Great Britain, please make out donations of any amount to the New Israel Fund: New Israel Fund Unit 2, Bedford Mews, London N2 9DF or make an on-line donation at http://www.newisraelfund.org.uk/get-involved-2/donate/. Please note in the comments box that the funds are for theHuman Rights Defenders Fund (Account 50045)-El Araqib.
- From other countries: please follow the instructions for donations from the U.S. under $100.
4. You might also choose to write letters to the Israeli government and/or your government on behalf of El-Araqib.
5. Please “like” the Four Villages Campaign facebook page, and share the videos, pictures and essays you can find there, as well as appeals from El-Araqib residents and the daily short video clips we will be posting during the High Holy Days, and through the Global Day of Action in front of KKL-JNF offices on the eve of Sukkot, October 16th.
Teshuvah, tefilah, and tzedakah. The words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts will be acceptable to God (Adapted from prayer after the amidah (standing prayer) when they are part of a process of returning, reflecting and making a more just world.
Shana Tova, Wishing All Humanity and The Four Villages Sweetness and Life in the Jewish New Year!
Haqel’s Goals and Founding Declaration
- Haqel will work to create a society that honors every human being in the spirit of humanistic morality and religious faith in the holiness of human life in the eyes of God.
- Haqel will work practically to implement the human rights principles embodied in international law.
- Haqel will educate to increase awareness and commitment to human rights principles, multiculturalism and the status of women in the State of Israel and the Occupied Territories.
“Haqel” means “Field” in Arabic and Aramaic, and is the root of agriculture” and “farmer” in Hebrew. The work of “Haqel – United in the Defense of Human Rights” brings together members of two peoples and three religions working in one field. The field is a symbol of renewal, a source of income, and a connection to the land. Amidst the voices claiming that only one population owns and controls the entire field, we believe that there must and can be room for all. With all of the different traditions and backgrounds among our members and staff, we are united by something greater. Bringing together the secular humanistic commitment to human dignity as an ultimate value and the religious faith in the holiness of human life because human beings are created in the Image of God, we are united in our clear recognition that we are obligated to safeguard the human rights of every human being by virtue of his/her humanity. Our understanding of human rights is defined by international law, our faith traditions, and morality as understood in humanistic thought. As Muslims, Jews, Christians and secular humanists, we believe that human rights principles light our path in our efforts to live together in our small field in a manner that honors human dignity and the environment.
We have therefore come together as people of faith and action, knowledgeable both in our traditions and about ground realities, with considerable experience and successes in defending human rights. We will work practically to prevent human rights violations, and to increase awareness and commitment to our human obligation to observe and defend human rights. With one foot in grass-roots organizing and the other amongst decision makers, we will use legal, educational and activist tools to implement our vision for Palestinians and Israelis, women and men, Jews, Christians and Muslims, and the dis-empowered classes.
At the outset, we will concentrate on two areas in which we have great experience and knowledge:
1. Legal work stemming and accompanied by field work in order to prevent the takeover of Palestinian lands in the Occupied Territories, to ensure that farmers have safe access to their lands, and to prevent administrative home demolitions.
2. Advocacy and field work to defend the “unrecognized” Bedouin villages in the Negev, and to safeguard the lands of the Bedouin community.
As soon as we are able, we will add a third, as of yet undefined project, that will impact on the human rights of all Israelis, Jewish and Arab