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Rabbis for Human Rights Director about his arrest at Sheikh Jarakh
Rabbis for Human Rights

A Word From the Director

On Tuesday evening we helped organize a candlelight solidarity vigil opposite the Sheikh Jarakh homes where Palestians were evicted and settlers were allowed in. As many of you know, I was arrested there, the 36th person to be arrested since the evictions of the Hanoun and Ghawi families (Including 2 women from the RHR staff.) The situation leaves me angry and worried, because we are talking about a serious threat to Israeli democracy. Some of the arrests were “justified,” even though we don’t think that the police should have been there evicting families to begin with. However, the only crime of many of those arrested was their inability to accept the injustice done to the El-Kurd, Ghawi and Hanoun families.

When I decide to engage in civil disobedience I know that I am likely to get arrested. In certain tense situations, I know that things are likely to get out of control, even if nobody on either side was necessarily planning arrests. However, here the police, instead of fulfilling their duty to protect the rights at the heart of democracy, have in a very calculated way been attempting to cut short and stifle peaceful protest. Under the cover of preserving public order, their goal has been to prevent expressions of solidarity or advocacy for these Palestinian families. The courts are also complicit in this when they reward the police with restraining orders as a condition for release, making it all the more difficult to organize.

What happened? The vigil was quiet and there was a heavy police presence. I was helping the police and consulting with them, in order that participants would honor the police request not to block streets. We didn’t want to give the police an excuse for stopping the vigil. After an hour at the Hanoun family’ s house , we wanted to go to the Ghawi home. A police officer told us that we could not walk down the alley taking us to the Ghawi home, and directed us to take another longer route. Neither he nor anybody else said in any fashion that we could not walk along the longer route. At that moment a few officers called me from the other side of the road. I figured that they wanted to talk to me about some detail or other, and began to cross the street. A number of officers quickly surrounded me, some pulling me by the arms and others pushing me from behind. There were regular police, border guards and at least one plains clothes officer. When I asked what was going on and what my status was, I was told that I was detained and that I would be arrested if I didn’t come with them to the police car. When I asked, “Why,” it was clear from their words and their tone that they had been waiting for the opportunity to arrest me. They said that the moment that we had begun to move we were holding an unauthorized march and that I was inciting people to participate in an illegal activity. I laid down on the sidewalk, and told them that I would not resist arrest but would not cooperate. Many tactics were used to draw out my arrest and incarceration for 22.5 hours, and I was given a 7 day restraining order keeping me out of Sheikh Jarakh (The police wanted 30 days, and we would have appealed even the 7 days if we could have received a court date in time.) I won’t go into details regarding the curses and kicks I received from officers(I have lodged a complaint with the Unit for the Investigation of Police), the fact that somehow the rumor was spread among right wing prisoners that I had attacked police officers, etc., because the real story is not about me personally. It should be superfluous to say that the connection between the police account of events and what actually happened was tenuous at best.

It is important to point out that in my 14 years directing RHR I have seen the security forces at their worst and at their best. It is human nature and almost unavoidable that they identify more with their fellow Israelis than Palestinians. However, in all these 14 years I have never seen collusion between police and settlers like we have seen from the “Shalem” police station in Silwan over the last two years (Where Palestinians know that if they complain about being attacked by Israelis, they will be the ones arrested), and now in Sheikh Jarakh.

In Rabbi Nava Hefetz’s dvar Torah below, she quotes from this week’s Torah portion, ‘You shall not harden your heart and shut your hand against your needy brother.” (Deut. 15:7). As always, THE question is, “Who do we see as our brothers and sisters?” Unfortunately, some of us are willing to harden our hearts towards non-Jews and to ignore the command of next week’s portion,

“You shall appoint judges and officers (In Hebrew, “shotrim,” which is “police officers in modern Hebrew) for all your tribes, in all the settlements that the Lord your God is giving you, and they shall govern the people with due justice. You shall not judge unfairly. You shall show no partiality.; you shall not take bribes, for bribes blind the eyes of the wise and distort the plea of the just. Justice, justice shall you pursue, that you may thrive on and inherit the Land that the Lord your God is giving you.” (Deut. 17: 18-20)

I can’t say that the police are taking bribes, but I can say that they are showing partiality. This is not the way for us to thrive here – It is not the Judaism and not the democracy that we desire. There is another way, one that will allow us to merit Isaiah’s prophecy in this week’s Haftarah, the third Haftarah of consolation after Tisha B’Av, “Great shall be the peace of your children. You shall be established through righteousness. You shall be safe from oppression (Could also be read, “You shall be distance yourself from oppression” and shall have no fear. (Isaiah 54: 14)

Shabbat Shalom

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