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Attack by settlers in South Hebron Hills
By Rabbi Arik W. Ascherman
A letter
Rabbis For Human Rights

Dear Friends and Supporters, shalom:

I thought you might be very interested to read my comments about the attack on me, RHR volunteers, and Palestinian shepherds that took place Friday.

Many of you have already heard the basic facts. On Friday settlers from Pnei Khever attacked Palestinian shepherds from El-Buweib. We feared that one of the Palestinians was seriously injured after being pushed to the ground, but he is fine. Another elderly Palestinian man was also pushed to the ground. One of our RHR volunteers was lightly injured when a settler twisted her arm trying to steal and destroy a camera. She was kicked as she lay on the ground protecting it. Several cameras were damaged. I had been further away trying to prevent one of the settlers from scaring away the sheep, but had to hurry back as one of our volunteers called to say that things had turned violent.I was pushed and slapped around by this maniac with a baton in his hand as I intervened and stood between him and additional targets, but suffered no injuries. His first words to me were, `I am not stupid like the others. I have broken the cameras and there will be no evidence.` He proceeded to threaten to murder me and my family. He also claimed to have known me from the time we were in the Reform youth movement as teenagers in the U.S. A teenager from Ma`aleh Adumim was his accomplice. It took almost an hour for security forces to arrive, even though we had notified the DCO the previous day that we would be working in the area, and I called them the moment the first two settlers and their dog arrived. My appeals to the other settlers to restrain the two also fell upon deaf ears. I was detained along with the two most violent settlers because they concocted a story in which I attacked them and stole their camera. (The original lie being that our camera was his. After I told the officers that we had proof of purchase and there were pictures from other days proving that it was our camera, he changed his lie to a claim that we had stolen and then disposed of another camera which he refused to describe.) Of course, the raging settler became as sweet as pie whenever the security forces were in earshot. He suggested that we meet for coffee, taught Torah to the police officers hanging on to his every word (He is a rabbi), squinted convincingly through his glasses in which one of the lenses was missing (his `proof` that he had been attacked.) and mourned the fact that he had offered to talk, but we weren`t interested. We are very concerned that the police will dismiss the entire afair as claims and counterclaims, but we do have video to back up our position and it was the settlers that had to sign on conditions for release. I didn`t. Our legal staff is following up to insure that our complaints are dealt with seriously. I really appreciate all of the phone calls and emails expressing concern. I know that the incident also made the press. However, it was others who were injured more than I and, unfortunately, such daily occurrences for Palestinians don`t make the news when there isn`t an Israeli rabbi involved.

As so often with these events, I relive them in my head afterwords and think about what I/we should have done and what I should have said. I demand of myself and of all of our volunteers to refrain from verbal as well as physical violence. However, perhaps I was too calm as we waited in the police station after these settlers had injured Palestinians and an RHR volunteer, threatened my family and stopped the Palestinians from accessing the land. And, although part of our discussion waiting around in the police station was about the week`s Torah portion (Akharei Mot/Kedoshim), I was struck as we read from the Torah in synagogue on Shabbat how many commandments from Kedoshim had been violated that day. So, indulge me to write here what I should have said then:

1. In the police station, the settler (Dov) tried to be very friendly, but also belittled my religiousity and my Jewish knowledge. He asked how many times I had read through the Shulkah Arukh, etc. I didn`t deem this worthy of reply. However, I should have reminded him of what my mother taught me the first time she took me to synagogue, `You can pray in there all that you want. However, if you come out and punch somebody, it didn`t do you any good.` This rabbi is clearly knowlegable about Jewish texts and made a point about how he loves to start Shabbat early. It is possible that he knows more Jewish texts than I do and his love of Shabbat is admirable. However, on Friday he attacked Palestinians, damaged cameras and injured one of our volunteers. He would do well to learn some Torah from my mother. I would be willing to study Torah together in order to try to get him to understand how one must treat fellow human beings. I will not hate or ignore his humanity or cease trying to understand his point of view, but there is no room for a friendly cup of coffee with somebody who has unrepentedly attacked women and the elderly, threatened my family and who does everything he can to strip people of their land.

2. This settler repeated time after time that there was no legitimacy to secular law, but that we recognized halakha and Jewish law. We should have gone through Parashat Kedoshim verse by verse:

Leviticus 19:11 `Don`t steal.` Settlers, backed by the State, certainly violate this one. Although at one point he said he had bought the land, his basic position was that there is no theft because the Torah gives the entire Land of Israel to the Jewish People. He forgets that throughout the generations most of the greatest rabbis have upheld the property rights of non-Jews in the Land of Israel. The Civil Administration representative who arrived claimed that this was `probably State Land,` although he wasn`t sure and both settlers and Palestinians had a right to be there. Even if it is State Land, much state land is privately owned land which the Jordanians failed to register; and the 4th Geneva Convention requires genuine State land to be held for the good of the Palestinians.

`Don`t lie.` Dov`s concocted stories contained plenty of lies.

19:12: `Don`t oppress your neighbor, don`t steal.....` See above.

19:15: `Don`t commit injustice in legal judgements.` Pnei Khever is `legal` according to Israel. It is part of the entire system of stealing land `legally.` While

what to do with settlements founded in violation of international law is a political question beyond our mandate as a human rights organization, theft must

be identified for what it is.

19:16 `Do not bear false tales.` During this entire episode, I was accused of murdering Dov Dribben (I was already awared damages because of these libelous

claims, but, as I told the settlers, they are entrapped by their own stereotypes. There was a new twist, as I was also accused of the murder of an additional settler. I should have told them that, while I had nothing to do with either reprehensible murder (not entirely clear if Dov Dribben was murdered or if the death was accidental), in the case of three murdered settlers from the S. Hebron Hills, I had heard their names for years because they had constantly harrassed Palestinians.

`Do not stand idly by while your neighbor bleeds.` The security forces who took so long to arrive and the remaining settlers who did nothing to restrain their friend...

19:17 `Do not hate your brother/sister in your heart. Rebuke your fellow.` There was certainly rebuke and I suppose they don`t consider Palestinians their brothers or sisters. However, we Israelis certainly also had a lot of hate directed at us.

19:18 `You shall love your fellow as yourself.` Self evident, except to those who do not wish to see non-Jews as their fellows.

19:32 `Rise before the aged and honor the elderly.` Pushing an elderly man to the ground is not exactly honor.

19:33-35. `When a stranger lives amongst you do not oppress him/her. Treat the stranger living among you as a citizen. Love him as yourself for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. Do not commit injustice in legal judgements or in weights and measures.` Dov maintains that all this applies only to converts to Judaism (rabbinic judaism distinguished between `ger toshav,` the resident alien and `ger tzedek,` the convert. There are some who claim as Dov does. However, when I asked about `for you were strangers in the Land of Egypt` Dov argued that the Jews had converted to Egyptian religion....

The bottom line is that we have several people injured and the Palestinians are still effectively denied access to the lands adjacent to Penei Khaver. We will need to determine as individuals, as Israelis and as Jews whether the State of Israel, whose Independence Day we also observed as we read Kedoshim last week, will make those words live or not.

Rabbi Arik W. Ascherman
Executive Director, Rabbis For Human Rights

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