Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
Jacob’s dream (Genesis 28:10-22) was his first encounter with the God of his fathers Abraham and Isaac, and is part of a narrative that culminates next week in a second meeting at the River Jabbok (Genesis 32). There, in the darkness of night, Jacob wrestled with a Divine/human being and became Yisrael, the one who struggles with God.
In these Genesis chapters, we watch Jacob grow into the Jewish leader he was destined to become. As a boy he was graced with great spiritual potential, but he was ethically challenged and needed a full range of life experience, including hardship and suffering, before he could assume leadership of the tribe.
At the core of his life was his relationship with his twin brother Esau, a relationship that was troubled from the start. Even before birth in Rebekah's womb they struggled. Jacob emerged second holding Esau’s heel signaling both his resolve and his destiny to become the leader.
Rashi reasoned that Jacob’s apparent manipulation and deceit in attaining the birthright in last week's portion Toldot gained for him what should have been his from the beginning. After all, Rashi explained, if you drop a pebble into a flask followed by a second pebble, and then invert the flask, what happens? The second pebble falls out first. Thus, though Esau was born first, he was conceived second.
As the boys grew, Rebekah understood as only a parent can that Esau lacked the necessary spiritual gifts to effectively lead the tribe, whereas Jacob possessed deep understanding of the spiritual world. She therefore compounded Jacob’s unethical behavior with her own, and orchestrated with him a plan whereby Isaac would bless Jacob as the first-born in Esau’s place.
Our commentators struggled with the deception. Some explained that Isaac’s old age, blindness and feeble-mindedness kept him from knowing which son was which, and so he was easily tricked in blessing the wrong son. However, all evidence suggests otherwise, that Isaac was not at all feeble-minded, nor was he confused. He had maintained and built upon his father’s wealth, and his blessings of his two sons in last week's portion (Genesis 27:28-29, 39-40) were each eloquent poetry describing Jacob’s and Esau’s respective natures and destinies.
It seems to me that Isaac was a silent and willing partner with Rebecca in the ruse, that though loving Esau dearly, Isaac agreed that Jacob was the more fitting heir and leader. This was not the first instance in which the younger exceeded the older (e.g. Cain and Abel, Ishmael and Isaac).
Jacob’s dream of angels ascending and descending the ladder to heaven at Bethel signals the spiritual destiny of the Jewish people. Commentators note that the stairway (sulam - samech, lamed, mem) totals 130 according the the science of gematria that assigns number equivalents to Hebrew letters, just as Sinai (samech, nun, yod) also totals 130, thus linking Jacob’s dream-revelation and Moses communion with God at Mt. Sinai.
When Jacob awoke from his dream, he was astonished and said, “Surely God is in this place, and I did not know it!”
For the first time in his life Jacob experienced awe, wonder and humility, the quality of which he sorely lacked and needed in order to lead effectively his tribe.
Jacob’s faith was not yet fully evolved despite his powerful encounter with God at Bethel. Though moved, he vows his obeisance to God conditionally:
“If God remains with me, if God protects me …, and gives me bread to eat and clothing to wear, and if I return safe to my father’s house – then the Eternal shall be my God.”
Nachmanides explained that Jacob was not as deficient in faith as the narrative suggests. He doubted not God, but himself because he knew that he was a man prone to committing sin. The Ramban says that Jacob’s conditional vow was a sign of his righteousness.
Among the great themes in the patriarchal and matriarchal narratives is that our Biblical heroes all suffer fear and a sense of inadequacy, as do each of us. Only the hardship that comes with life experience facilitates their spiritual and moral growth.
This week Jacob dreams, falls in love and is tricked by Rather's father, Laban, to serve him for many years that he may marry Rachel. Laban made Jacob’s life miserable, and so at last the younger man fled with his family.
In next week’s Torah portion, Vayishlach, Jacob’s spiritual and familial journey reaches a peek moment as he encounters for the second time a divine/human being on the night before he is scheduled to meet the brother that he so wronged twenty years earlier. That night encounter and the next day's meeting are among the most dramatic moments in all of Biblical narrative.
The story is not only about the meeting between estranged brothers, however. It is about each one of us. Stay tuned!
12.11.13 at 2:49 pm | Exile is not just about one’s physical. . .
12.7.13 at 5:18 pm | Joseph and Nelson Mandela demonstrate that a few. . .
12.3.13 at 6:33 am | Anat Hoffman's letter and a link to include your. . .
12.2.13 at 7:19 am | To acknowledge vulnerability is to accept our. . .
11.29.13 at 6:59 am | The recently published Pew Study of the American. . .
11.27.13 at 8:45 am | The two pieces below published in today’s. . .
12.7.13 at 5:18 pm | Joseph and Nelson Mandela demonstrate that a few. . . (100)
12.11.13 at 2:49 pm | Exile is not just about one’s physical. . . (60)
6.19.12 at 7:13 am | One has to ask why would so many people would. . . (57)
November 4, 2013 | 12:07 pm
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
There are three categories of Israeli settlements:  East Jerusalem neighborhoods forming a ring around Jerusalem,  large settlement blocs (i.e. small cities with more than 20,000 residents), and  small settlements and illegal “outposts” of a few dozen families each built strategically throughout the West Bank.
The Israeli consensus is that categories #1 and #2 will remain in Israel with land swaps to the future state of Palestine, and Israeli settlements and outposts in category #3 will be evacuated.
The recent announcement by PM Netanyahu of construction of 1500 apartments that so infuriated the Palestinians in Ramat Shlomo, a northern Jerusalem neighborhood, concerns building in category #1. Bibi is right, that these will remain Israeli. He made the announcement, most believe, for internal political reasons, to placate right-wing members of his government who were infuriated by the release of 26 Palestinian prisoners convicted of murdering Israelis.
[Note: There is one other sub-category of settlement in East Jerusalem Arab neighborhoods that I will address in my next blog.]
Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, the General Secretary of the Palestine National Initiative (PNI) and a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, compares the West Bank to a piece of cheese in which one side (Israel) takes bites while the other side (Palestine) is prevented from doing so. He warns that soon there will be no cheese left to share, and “Palestine” will have been eaten-up by Jewish settlements.
Is Dr. Barghouti correct? This is the question we asked of Leor Amichai, the director of “Settlement Watch” for Shalom Achshav, a liberal Israeli advocacy organization, when he took us on a tour of the hills around Ariel and Nablus deep into the West Bank.
Every year Shalom Achshav updates a West Bank map that includes brown and blue circles of different sizes, as well as small red dots. The brown circles are Palestinian cities and villages, the blue are Israeli settlements, and the red dots are Israeli “outposts” (i.e. illegal settlements according to the Israeli government). The size of the brown and blue circles is determined by population, ranging from a few dozen families to 50,000 inhabitants.
There are more than 100 blue circles speckled strategically all over the West Bank, 30 red dots south of Bethlehem, 30 more around Jerusalem, Jericho and Ramallah, 50 around Ariel, Nablus and Qalqiliya, and 6 in the far north, for a grand total of about 120 illegal red-dot-Israeli outposts.
The Israeli government has promised to remove these outposts, but has failed to do so while at the same time looking the other way as regional West Bank settlement councils provide, using Israeli tax money, the necessary infrastructure of water, electricity, gas, and security.
While on Sabbatical leave in Jerusalem two years ago, Leor took me to scout with him new outposts being built near Jerusalem. As I compare the 2011 and 2013 Shalom Achshav maps, there are many more red dots today than there were just two years ago.
Shalom Achshav says that 42% of the West Bank is currently zoned for Jewish settlements, 12% of the total West Bank population are Jewish settlers, 4% of all Israelis are settlers, and in the event of a two-state agreement, 1.8% of all Israelis (i.e. 100,000 Jews) would need to move from category #3 settlements/outposts back onto the Israeli side of the border.
Shalom Achshav and B’tzelem (another leading Israeli human rights organization) claim further that fully 33% of the land on which Israeli settlements are built in the West Bank is on privately owned and deeded Palestinian land.
Whether Israelis have the right to live anywhere they choose in the West Bank is not the issue. I believe they do, assuming they accept the sovereignty of the future Palestinian state. The relevant issue today is whether it is politically wise for Israel to build settlements if doing so makes a two-state agreement more difficult to attain?
To this question, it seems to me to indeed be unwise. Category #3 settlements and outposts have become a significant political problem in negotiations, but not as yet an insurmountable one.
Of the 100,000 settlers who will need to evacuate their settlements in a peace agreement (assuming no agreement is made for them to remain under Palestinian sovereignty), 70-80% moved to the West Bank so as to purchase inexpensive homes close to Jerusalem or Tel Aviv. They, likely, will move back to Israel without incident with appropriate compensation.
The other 20-30% are ideologically and religiously driven settlers, many of whom are militant. It is unclear whether they will move peacefully or not.
PM Netanyahu’s announcement of new house construction in categories #1 and #2 is, without a doubt, politically provocative to Palestinians. Hopefully, however, this construction will not affect the outcome of negotiations.
And so Dr. Barghouti is both correct and not correct – the piece of cheese is getting smaller, but all hope is not yet lost. The time for an agreement is now!
November 3, 2013 | 6:27 am
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
On Tuesday, October 8, Israel’s daily Haaretz featured a photograph (front page above the fold, right-hand column) of Anat Hoffman, the Chair and public “face” of Women of the Wall (WOW). Adjacent to her photo (also above the fold, left-hand column) was a photograph of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the 93 year-old spiritual leader of the Shas Party, who had died the night before.
The article accompanying Anat’s photograph reported that by a majority vote, the Board of Women of the Wall accepted a “compromise” proposal presented by Natan Sharansky, Chair of the Jewish Agency, that would grant equal rights to women’s prayer groups and egalitarian prayer services at the Western Wall (Kotel) at a third section to be located south of the traditional prayer area and under Robinson’s Arch, now a limited space and part of an archaeological park.
The Chief Rabbi of the Wall, Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, agreed to the compromise and that he would have no authority over prayer in the new area.
Our synagogue group had attended WOW’s monthly Rosh Hodesh Cheshvan services on Friday morning, October 4, in which thousands of ultra-Orthodox had crowded into the prayer areas at the Kotel.
The last time I attended WOW Rosh Hodesh services was three years ago. Then, I witnessed a display of behavior by so-called “religious” Jews that was as ugly and undignified as anything I had seen anywhere in Jewish life. Ultra-Orthodox men screamed curses, filthy epithets and insults at the women of WOW as they prayed quietly at the back of the women’s section, and ultra-Orthodox women spit on them.
This October’s experience was not much better. Loud-speakers blasted prayers making it difficult to hear oneself think and a group of religious settlers danced and screamed their prayers on the men’s side of the mechitzah just feet from the WOW women. The purpose of the loud-speakers, allegedly, was to offer prayers of healing for the very ill Rabbi Yosef, but effectively they drowned out WOW prayers (and everyone else too) thus fulfilling the “religious” prohibition against kol isha, the voice of women praying.
The women’s section was packed with hundreds of young ultra-Orthodox girls and women, a strategy the ultra-Orthodox had used in the past at the behest of Rabbi Rabinowitz to make it virtually impossible for WOW to find space in which to pray.
The juxtaposition of the photographs of Anat Hoffman and Rabbi Ovadia Yosef in Haaretz was, of course, coincidental, unless you believe that “coincidences are God’s way of staying anonymous!” Regardless, that morning’s headlines visualized the culture war engulfing Israel.
My synagogue group had an appointment with Anat at 10 AM that day, but she was late because as soon as WOW made its decision, she was deluged with calls from the international press seeking comment. Under the circumstances we forgave her happily.
The WOW Board voted by a large majority in favor of the compromise; however, there are WOW members living in the United States and Canada who were angered by this decision because they wanted prayer rights in the women’s section of the Kotel and not the “new“ area.
After voicing their criticism openly, Anat responded that the compromise, assuming all conditions are met, is the first time the government of the state of Israel recognized equal rights of women to pray openly at the Kotel, to be led in prayer by women, to wear tallitot and lay t’filin, and to chant aloud from the Torah. She said:
“This space is revolutionary. It will allow every Jew, man and woman, to pray, celebrate and hold religious ceremonies at the Western Wall. However, know that we are resolved: We will pray there only if it is built in this spirit and according to our conditions.”
There are sixteen conditions that WOW insists must be met for the compromise to go forward. (For details see "Women of the Wall issue list of demands for prayer space" - UPI.com- October 28, 2013 http://www.upi.com/Top_News/World-News/2013/10/28/Women-of-the-Wall-issue-list-of-demands-for-prayer-space/UPI-31671382962197/?spt=rln&or=1
This Monday, November 4th (Rosh Hodesh Kislev), marks the 25th Anniversary of Women of the Wall. The compromise agreement is a tipping-point victory not just for WOW, but for world Jewry.
PM Netanyahu, Jewish Agency Chair Sharansky and the Israeli government are to be congratulated for affirming the dignity and integrity of the Kotel, Judaism’s most sacred site, the rights of world Jewry at that site, and for affirming the principles of religious pluralism and equal rights for all Jews, as so stated in Israel’s Declaration of Independence.
On Tuesday, December 3rd (7:30 PM) Anat Hoffman will speak at Temple Israel of Hollywood (7300 Hollywood Blvd., LA 90046). The community is invited at no charge. We ask that you RSVP to www.tioh.org/rsvp so we may plan appropriately.
November 1, 2013 | 9:50 am
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
The classic wrestling match in Biblical literature is that between the most dissimilar twins, Jacob and Esau. They began their struggle with each other even before they were born, in their mother Rebekah’s womb; and their battle continued throughout their lives.
Rebekah was so tormented by the intrauterine combat that she pleaded with God to explain her suffering or let her die. God said only that her sons must struggle and that the younger one, Jacob, must win.
The story of Jacob and Esau is a tale of two brothers whose appearances and natures were polar extremes. Their parents’ favoritism ("Isaac favored Esau because he had a taste for game; but Rebekah favored Jacob." Genesis 25:28) didn’t help to forge family harmony.
Isaac preferred his first-born Esau who was a man of the field and a hunter, unlike himself. No reason is given, however, for Rebekah's special love for Jacob. Perhaps she loved him because he was soft and impressionable, or because he was the youngest and more vulnerable.
The Torah describes Jacob at birth as an ish tam that stayed close to the camp thereby spending more time women. He was meek and smaller than his brother and starkly contrasted with Esau who, as a hunter and a man of the field, was covered over with a hairy mantle and whose skin pigment was red and sanguine as if he was ready to kill and taste blood.
Later rabbinic tradition explained that Jacob, who dwelt in tents (Heb. ohalim) spent his days in the house of study. Quiet, thoughtful, settled, orderly, and well-integrated, Jacob, not Esau, understood intuitively the dignity of the birthright and the spiritual implications of his father’s blessing. He strove to protect the future of Judaism and Jewish life even if it meant deceiving his father and brother.
Unlike Jacob, Esau despised the birthright that he should have understood as sacred. Rather, Esau’s belly was his God and his yearning was material. Incapable of deferring hunger he sacrificed Eternity and sated himself with nothing more than a pot of stew.
In Freudian terms, Esau embodies the id, the primitive killer-instinct and lust-hunger that so often threatens civilization. As such, the rabbis regarded him as evil.
Ironically, despite Jacob's questionable ethics, he represents moral and spiritual refinement that is cultivated through prayer and study of sacred literature, thereby assuring Judaism’s future and the continuity of the Jewish people through the ages.
Jacob and Esau are prototypes of our lower and higher selves and strivings. As twins, we might think of the brothers as one person combining two natures doing battle. Together, as one, they are emblematic of the tensions within every human being.
I sometimes think of the Biblical narrative as a dreamscape of the Jewish people and each Biblical character as a projection of each of us as individuals and as Jews.
The good news is that despite Esau’s and Jacob’s misunderstandings, jealousy, betrayal, hatred, and resentment towards each other, this week's Parashat Toldot is not the end of their story. Next week, in Vayetze, the brothers meet after twenty years as older and wiser men. They fall upon each other's necks, weep, Esau forgives Jacob, and they establish peace, at last.
A veritable metaphor for our times!?
October 31, 2013 | 6:51 am
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
A highlight of my synagogue's mission to Israel and the west bank earlier this month was our visit to Rawabi, a model Palestinian city emerging out of the “hills” (Rawabi means “hills” in Arabic) between Ramallah, Nablus and Tel Aviv.
This city will eventually house 40,000 middle class young Palestinians and families in 6000 condominiums on 1560 acres. There will be banks, shops, offices, eight public and private schools, playgrounds, parks, hiking trails, an arts center, two mosques, a Greek Orthodox Church, a hospital, movie theaters, and a 20,000 seat amphitheater for sporting events and concerts.
The construction is using 10,000 workers, and the builders hope that eventually 3000 to 5000 new jobs will be created in the city.
The man behind this project is Bashir al-Masri, a 52 year old charismatic Nablus born and American educated businessman who raised more than $500 million from the oil-rich nation of Qatar and contributed $300 million from his private conglomerate, Massar International.
Each unit will cost between $60,000 and $200,000. Mr. al-Masri is promoting what he calls “Islamic financing” in which “service charges” will replace interest payments, forbidden by Islamic law.
We met for more than an hour with Bashir thanks to Felice Friedson, co-founder and Executive Producer for “The Media Line “ (TML) and her husband, Michael Friedson, co-founder and Executive Editor and Director of Media Services for TML. TML is a well-respected non-profit news organization in the Middle East that feeds stories daily to Al Jazeera, CNN, the BBC, Israeli, and American news services.
To a person, our group was impressed not just by the scope of this project (a modern "wonder of the world!?"), but by Bashir’s staff, organization, expertise, intelligence, optimism, and drive.
Though Mr. al-Masri has met many hurdles along the way since first conceiving this project in 2007 (construction began in 2011), nothing seems to diminish his vision and optimism. Obstacles include a promised $150 million contribution by the Palestinian Authority to build schools and a police station that never materialized, allegedly because the government is broke despite the nearly $4 billion the PA receives from foreign governments and international NGOs each year, and two significant political obstacles presented by the state of Israel.
Though Rawabi is in Area A, controlled by the PA per the Oslo Accords, the west bank is under Israeli military authority. Bashir has had co-operation from Israeli authorities, but Israel approves construction of roads that pass through Area C, which is Israeli controlled. There is an access road for construction equipment, however a road wide enough to accommodate the 40,000 future Rawabi residents has not as yet been approved.
The second obstacle is water. Trucks are bringing water in for construction purposes, but there are no arrangements with Israel as yet to provide water to the city.
Bashir believes that PM Netanyahu is using access roads and water as negotiating chips with the Palestinian Authority in the peace negotiations, thus the delay of arrangements, he told us with bitterness and frustration.
Criticism of the project has come from two quarters. West bank Jewish settlers complain that Palestinians are building new homes by the thousands while the expansion of their settlements (nay – illegal “outposts”) is constrained. Orint Flint, a settler of Ateret (an illegal “outpost” built in defiance of Israeli government policy but with Israeli compliance) said “It feels like unfair treatment of Jewish residents.” (The Guardian, August 8, 2013)
There are also Palestinian critics who are part of the BDS campaign (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel) who charge that Bashir al-Masri and other Palestinian business people are helping to “whitewash [Israel’s] ongoing occupation, colonization and apartheid against the Palestinian people” by cooperating with Israeli industry and consulting with Israeli architects and engineers. (The Guardian, ibid)
Al-Masri told us that support is coming to him from every quarter, including internationally famous Israeli architect Moshe Safdie who volunteered to help in any way he could because he was moved and impressed by the scope and vision of the project and its importance to the future state of Palestine.
I see no down side for the Palestinians and Israel in this project because Rawabi will be a stabilizing element for a state of Palestine. Bashir said that though he is happy to contribute to Palestinian nation-building, he is not motivated here by altruism. He is a businessman and out to make a profit.
With so much capital pouring into the west bank from Qatar and elsewhere, the Palestinians will have too much to lose to break cavalierly an agreement with Israel. The PA has shown, in this regard, its ability to coordinate security with Israel, and this is what Bashir is counting on in a two-state agreement.
I pray Rawabi succeeds as its success will be not only a success for Palestine, but for Israel as well!
October 29, 2013 | 6:40 am
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
Walking in a three square block area of south Tel Aviv earlier this month with Sigal Rozen, the Public Policy Coordinator for Israel’s “Hotline for Migrant Workers,” was like moving through an urban African slum. This is the neighborhood, run-down, dirty and vastly over-crowded that has been designated by the Israeli government for 35,000 mostly African migrant workers and political asylum seekers to live.
Three years ago thousands of Eritrean and Sudanese refugees began entering Israel illegally from the Sinai desert seeking political asylum. Alarmed by the large numbers and concerned that Israel could be overwhelmed by hundreds of thousands more refugees, the Israeli government began constructing a security fence along the southern border to stop the human flow. As a gauge of the dimension of the migration, in 2012, 285,142 Eritreans and 112,283 Sudanese sought asylum all around the world, and for good reason.
For years the Sudanese government has conducted a genocidal war against the people of Darfur as well as widespread human rights abuse including sexual violence against women, torture, and drafting and arming children for the military.
Eritrea, a small African nation adjacent to Ethiopia, is among the world’s most egregious human rights offenders, and Eritrea’s President, Isaias Afewerki, is among the world’s most brutal dictators.
The UN reports that the Eritrean government pursues systemic and widespread human rights abuse including extrajudicial killings, shoot-to-kill orders of those attempting to leave the country, enforced disappearances of citizens without family notification, arbitrary detentions, physical and psychological torture by police and army interrogators, inhumane detention conditions, sexual violence against women and children, drafting children into the armed forces, compulsory and indefinite military service, no free speech, assembly, religion, or movement.
Sigal Rozen told us that there are currently 54,201 African asylum seekers in Israel, among which are 36,067 Eritreans and more than 15,000 Sudanese. However, no one has been granted asylum by the state of Israel despite the fact that 84% of Eritrean asylum seekers around the world are recognized as refugees. In fact, since signing the Refugee Convention in 1951, for unexplained reasons, Israel has recognized only 202 refugees in total for political asylum.
Israel claims that the Eritreans and Sudanese in Israel are “work infiltrators” who come solely to improve their quality of life, and that there is no basis upon which to grant them political asylum.
The presence of so many Africans in Tel Aviv today has provoked a strong negative public outcry by many Israelis. In response the Knesset passed an amendment to the Anti-Infiltration Law to allow the incarceration of asylum seekers for up to three years. However, on September 16 the High Court of Justice unanimously invalidated the amendment as unconstitutional because it compromised Israel’s Basic Law regarding human freedom and liberty. The Court instructed the government to examine all cases of Africans currently incarcerated (i.e. 1750 people) within 90 days.
To Israel’s credit, the government has not deported any of these refugees, most likely because Israel’s leaders understand the fatal consequences should these people be returned to their home countries.
The Israeli public’s ire against African migrants has grown and was heightened this year following two highly publicized criminal acts by Eritreans in south Tel Aviv. One case involved the alleged rape of an 83 year-old Tel Aviv woman in her home. A second was the near fatal encounter of a young Israeli husband and father who was dragged out of his car at a stop light and beaten by five Eritreans as his wife and children watched in horror. As bad as these incidents are, Sigal Rozen says that the actual crime rate among African migrants is six times lower than the crime rate among Israelis.
These refugees want badly to go home, but they fear for their lives. In Israel they quietly do whatever work comes their way in order to survive. They live crammed together in dilapidated apartments, many to a room sleeping on the floor and on boarded-up balconies. Refugee children do attend school, as required by Israeli law, and have done well, passing Israeli High School matriculating exams at high rates.
Sigal urges Israeli employers in agriculture, construction and the nursing sectors to employ these people and help relieve their hardships, and she urges the government to grant them extended work permits so they can remain in Israel legally until they feel safe enough to return home.
Judaism teaches, “You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 22:20).
One would hope that the Jewish people and the state of Israel will treat these refugees with kindness and open hearts. As a people we have been where they are today. We know the heart of the stranger.
October 27, 2013 | 8:08 am
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
I am one of 620 rabbis and cantors who signed a letter to Prime Minister Netanyahu (http://bit.y/BedouinRabbis - “Clergy United Against Bedouin Dispossession” organized by T'rua and Rabbis for Human Rights) asking the Israeli government to set aside the Begin-Prawer Bill as unjust.
The bill’s authors say that the bill will settle land ownership disputes between Israel’s Bedouin Negev citizens and the state, compensate the 30,000 to 40,000 Bedouin being moved from their homes to new recognized villages, and ensure their well-being by affording them regular access to water, electricity and other services.
However, there is far more here than meets the eye.
The 190,000 Bedouin Arabs of the Negev, among the poorest in the country (71% live below the poverty line), are full citizens of the State of Israel. 90,000 of these Bedouin live in 45 villages of which 35 have not been recognized by the government and are therefore not provided the most basic services. Only ten of the 45 villages are expected to receive formal government recognition.
The bill will forcibly move these Bedouin from villages in which they have lived for generations because the state does not recognize their property claims. Why?
First, the Bedouin who lived on their land under Ottoman and British Mandate control had “understandings” with the authorities about which lands belonged to them. The formal process of regulating land ownership under the British Mandate (1917-48), however, was never carried out in the Negev, though many landholders elsewhere in the country were officially registered.
Second, the Bedouin had their own traditional system of property acquisition that was acceptable under Ottoman and British rule, and so they were given the impression that registering their land in the government Land Registry was not necessary.
Third, Israel’s War of Independence dislocated thousands of Bedouin. Immediately after the 1948 War, Israel declared the lands temporarily evacuated by Bedouins to be “abandoned land.” The IDF confiscated that land and turned it into military training zones and built yishuvim (Jewish communities) on the land of abandoned villages.
Dr. Dan Gazit, an archaeologist who has spent decades living and working in the Negev, claims that an archive in the Beersheba Municipality that existed during the British mandate era documented all land ownership data for the Bedouins of the province, but was “lost” during its transfer to the State Archive. He has written:
“The State of Israel, which disappeared the Bedouin ownership date of their lands in the Negev, is now expelling them from their land, claiming that they have no official ownership documentation.”
This is a classic “Catch 22!”
“The Begin-Prawer Plan” will force the displacement and eviction of dozens of villages and tens of thousands of Bedouin residents, dispossess them of their ancestral property, and damage the social fabric of their communities thus putting thousands of families at risk of falling further into poverty, unemployment and crime.
What is recommended instead is for the Israeli government to recognize formally the unrecognized 45 villages, all of which have met the same criteria required of new Jewish communities to be registered, and thereby afford them adequate water, electricity, plumbing, health care, education, and employment.
The unfairness of this bill is stunning in another way. There are currently 100 Jewish villages in the Beer Sheva District of the Negev with an average population of only 300, far fewer than the Bedouin villages which have between 400 and 4800 residents. Jewish villages, however, have had no difficulty attaining land and formal recognition thus affording them the necessary infrastructure from the Israeli government including water, electricity, plumbing, health care, education, and employment.
The premise behind the Begin-Prawer Plan is that Bedouin Arabs are usurpers of the land upon which they live because they lack documentation, but that is a problem created by the state of Israel, not the Bedouin themselves who are victims of bureaucratic neglect.
The Prophet Micah (2:2) warns us: “And they covet fields, and seize them; and [they covet houses and] take them away; thus they oppress a man and his house, even a man and his heritage.”
What pans out at the end of the day is that this Begin-Prawer bill is a land grab by the state of Israel of property lived on and possessed by Israeli Bedouin Arab citizens.
Jewish tradition teaches that the highest moral duty is to treat strangers and the most vulnerable in our midst with kindness and justice. The irony in the case of the Bedouin is that as citizens of Israel they are NOT strangers at all, but part of the fabric of Israel’s democracy.
If Israel is to embody the best of Jewish ethical tradition (as it does in so many areas) and the highest democratic standards, then the Knesset must defeat this bill.
October 24, 2013 | 9:59 am
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
I had not visited Hebron for forty years ago until my synagogue group did earlier this month. In this time so much yet so little has changed.
In 1973 the city and surroundings had 40,000 Arab Muslim residents and 150 Jews. Today, there are 250,000 Palestinians and 8500 Jews.
A holy city to both religions because of the patriarchs’ and matriarchs’ burial caves (Genesis 23 - in this week's Torah portion Chayei Sarah) and it being located along an ancient trading route, Hebron has been vulnerable to multiple conquests and violence since the time of Abraham.
Israel has controlled the area since 1967, and as part of the Oslo process, Israel and the Palestinians signed the “Hebron Agreement” in which the city was split into two sectors: H1, controlled by the Palestinian Authority and H2, controlled by Israel.
Our group visited H2 with David Wilder, the spokesmen for the Hebron Jewish community.
Wilder is a religious settler who packs a pistol on his hip over which is draped his tzitzit. He is a passionate defender of the religious right of Jews to Hebron. He says there is no such thing as the Palestinian people, that the Arabs there have no distinct identity separate from Arabs in the Middle East, and that they have contributed nothing of lasting value to the advancement of civilization, in contrast to Judaism and the Jewish people.
While denying Palestinians their national identity he demands that they recognize our Jewish religious and national rights. He is resentful that Arabs have access to 97% of the city under the Hebron Agreement while Jews have access to 3%.
Wilder denies that he is an “extremist!” Palestinians and most Israelis don’t agree.
He opposes a two-state solution, and when challenged by evidence of settler and Israeli mistreatment of Palestinians, he said these are lies disseminated by anti-Israel and anti-Semitic groups.
Here are some of those “lies”:
In 2013 Palestinians were barred from using Shuhada Street, their principal commercial thoroughfare in H2. In recent years due to settler violence, half the Arab shops in H2 have gone out of business.
The Israeli human rights organization B'tzelem says that "grave violations" of Palestinian human rights have occurred in Hebron because of the "presence of the settlers within the city" and that there has been less than an adequate response from Israeli security forces in stopping the violations. B’tzelem cites regular incidents of "almost daily physical violence and property damage by settlers in the city.”
In 1994 the Israeli Shamgar Commission of Inquiry concluded that Israeli authorities consistently failed to investigate or prosecute crimes committed by settlers against Palestinians.
Though much of Hebron’s Arab community is thriving in business, education and commerce, still the violations continue as is clear by the testimony of many Israeli soldiers who have been stationed there, one of whom said (courtesy of "Breaking the Silence"):
"My main difficulty … was the … Jewish community… The feeling was that we were protecting the Arabs from the Jews, … [and] … the Jews really did whatever they pleased and no one would care...I was standing guard duty ... and I see a six-year Palestinian girl [whose] whole head was an open wound….Th[is] extremely cute [Jewish] child … would regularly visit our position decided that he didn't like Palestinians walking right under his home, so he took a brick and threw it at [this little girl’s] head. Kids do whatever they please there. No one does anything about it. No one cares. Afterwards, his parents only praised him. The parents there encourage their children to behave this way. I had many such cases. 11-12 year old Jewish children beat up Palestinians and their parents come to help them along, set their dogs on them; a thousand and one stories.”
The violence, of course, goes both ways over a long period. The most egregious attack on Jews occurred in 1929 when Arab rioters murdered and butchered 70 Jewish men, women and children, and wounded 60. At the same time, 455 Jews survived because their Arab neighbors protected them.
As a delayed payback, in 1994 Baruch Goldstein, a resident of Kiryat Arba, entered the Mosque and machine-gunned 29 Muslim worshipers dead and wounded 130 before being killed.
Just last month, an Israeli soldier was murdered in Hebron.
I asked Wilder what he and his community would do in the event of a two-state solution in which Hebron becomes part of the State of Palestine. He said that it won’t ever happen!
If it does, and I hope that it will, both Israeli and Palestinian security forces are going to have their hands full dealing with these fanatic religious settlers.
I pray that there will be no loss of life on either side when a two-state agreement is reached, hopefully this year. However, the history of Hebron suggests that such prayers are pipe dreams.