Category Archives: Advocacy

Call on Ambassador Taub: Halt the demolition of Susiya

Dear Ambassador Taub

We are writing to you out of deep commitment to Israel and to Judaism.

The Torah teaches us that ‘the stranger who lives with you shall be as a native from among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt’ (Vayikra 19:34).

Today, the Palestinian residents of Susiya face the imminent destruction of their village, the place they call home. This is scheduled to take place between now and August 3rd. The courts have ruled that 37 structures in the village are due for demolition because they were built without permits, despite the fact the land on which they stand belongs to the Palestinian villagers of Susiya.

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Susiya FAQs

Where is Susiya?

Susiya is a Palestinian village in the South Hebron Hills of the West Bank. The majority of the village is in Area C which means it is under full Israeli control and any decisions about building and civilian infrastructure have to be dealt with by the Civil Administration which is a department of the IDF.

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BFRHR proud to have supported the Bedouin of the Negev

One of the moments that I think that BFRHR can be most proud of in the last few years was our campaign against the Praver-Begin Bill on the Arrangement of Bedouin Settlement in the Negev. This campaign ran from mid 2012 to the beginning of 2013 and was a great example of cross denominational cooperation, quick thinking, immediate action and coordinated multi-faceted response. The Bill proposed the resettlement of 30,000-40,000 Bedouin in the Negev which in effect would have been forcible eviction for this population.

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The Bedouin of the Negev – a response to Geoffrey Alderman

The Hebrew Bible speaks many times of the importance of how we treat others, speaking of equality under a shared law, of the humanity of all peoples. Leviticus tells us “If a stranger sojourn with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong.  The stranger that sojourns with you shall be to you as the home born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.  I am the Eternal your God. (Lev. 19:33-34); and “you shall have one manner of law, for the stranger as for the home-born; for I am the Eternal your God” (24:22)

So how can we, who love Israel, stand by silently when we see her breaking a founding principle from her Declaration of Independence that “[Israel] will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture” ?

Geoffrey Alderman likened the treatment of the Bedouin in the Negev to that of the people living in the path of the proposed high speed rail link in the UK.  His analogy is disingenuous and ignores the sensitive and complex factors around the historical treatment of the Negev Bedouin. He asserts that the outrage surrounding the Prawer-Begin plan is “completely artificial, pseudo-sentimental, a pollution of rancid hot air” but he is wrong on all counts.

It is true that many Bedouin did not register their ownership of land under either Ottoman, British or Israeli law, but that does not mean that they did not have their own traditional system of communal and individual ownership of land. Forced under martial law in the fifties and sixties to move to a condensed area between Dimona, Arad and Beer Sheva, many later moved into urban townships and had to give up all claims to their land. But some did not and found themselves living in unrecognised settlements, with no municipal status, no supportive infrastructure of water, sanitation, electricity.

They are perceived as criminals, unable to lawfully develop or build on the land on which they live.

Not registering their land did not mean they did not own their land. The JNF and the Jewish Agency bought land from the Bedouin in the years before the State of Israel came into existence – they clearly thought the Bedouin owned that land.

The Negev Bedouin are amongst the poorest Israelis and with the least opportunities to improve their lot. They have limited access to education or to health care. Clearly the situation must be addressed, and I congratulate the Government of Israel for finally trying to solve an issue that has festered for so long. This has been a long lasting conflict between the State of Israel and her Bedouin citizens in the Negev. But how does one begin to create a different future? Not by imposing a ‘solution’, or by treating the other side as less than equal. Not by playing up a stereotype of a rootless and wandering people who have no particular place they call home. Not by saying that because our legal system has no record of ownership, there can be no record of ownership. And certainly not by not bothering to consult with the people involved but rather treating them as primitives or children who cannot know what is in their own best interests.

“If a stranger sojourn with you in your land you shall not do him wrong” says scripture. It matters that the majority of Negev Bedouin are living under the poverty line; it matters that the process of urbanisation has dislocated the Bedouin from their traditional lifestyle of agriculture and animal husbandry. It matters that there is high unemployment, delinquency and crime rates in the townships. We have to find a mutually agreeable solution to the benefit of both the State and her Bedouin citizens so that both people and land can develop sympathetically. The measure of a society is found in how it treats the most vulnerable citizens, and it is also found in how respectful it is of all its citizens. To claim that a solution is “extraordinarily generous” when there has not been any discussion or consultation is to misunderstand generosity. The closest word in Hebrew for generosity is ‘nadiv’ and it bespeaks both generosity of resource and nobility of leadership.

Bimkom, a group of architects and planners have worked with the Bedouin of the Negev to create an alternative plan, based on the existing settlements and which provides a basis for a viable development of the region as a whole, while maintaining the principles of equality, recognition and justice.

A different future could be created if we simply returned to our founding texts of bible and of our modern state – One law for the stranger and for the Israelite; Doing no wrong to people who live alongside us.

It is possible to resolve the disputes of the Bedouin of the Negev if the political will made it so, if the politicians act like nedivim with both generosity and nobility, working together with all those involved rather than imposing a ‘solution’ that does not recognise the needs of those who will live with it. It is possible, with real political will, to give the people of  Israel the leadership they surely deserve.

This article was printed in an abbreviated form in The Jewish Chronicle on 10 January 2014 and online on 17 January 2014. You can view it by clicking here.

Supporting Rabbis for Human Rights and the Bedouin is an expression of Zionism

Yesterday’s event entitled “The Bedouin Community in Israel” made me reflect anew why my support of Rabbis for Human Rights is an expression of Zionism. The event was organised by the Israeli embassy in response to the public protest of Jews and non-Jews against the so-called Praver-Begin bill (for background click here). In the opening remarks, the embassy representative, a Bedouin from the Gallil-region in the north of Israel, explained that the negative headlines concerning the Praver-Begin bill were based on propaganda from, what he called, anti-Zionist groups.

We weren’t off to a good start! I seriously considered leaving the event, but then thought to myself that these views shouldn’t be allowed to remain unquestioned and decided to stick around until the Q&A.

The presentation itself focused on how Israel’s plan to resettle the Bedouin was only in their interest and a plan that focused on not leaving any Israeli citizen behind. Explaining that girls in the Bedouin community generally were not allowed to graduate from High School, Lirit Serphos (Head of Policy and Planning on the Development and Growth of the Bedouin Community) said that resettlement of the community was vital to ensure that these children would have full access to education.

In my response to her, I pointed out that the Israeli government currently fully finances a school system, namely the orthodox religious one, which results in all boys finishing school without a High School Diploma because they stop learning maths, English and science at age 10!

Of course, I believe that every child should have access to a good education but I stressed that in light of the treatment of the ultra-orthodox community it seems as if Israel is applying double standards when it comes to the Bedouin. In their case, the government seems to adopt a quasi-colonialist approach of knowing what is best for the indigenous people. Even Lirat had to acknowledge I might be onto something but then quickly added that one cannot compare the Bedouin and the ultra-orthodox community.

I explained that I was opposed to the bill not because I am an anti-Zionist or a self-hating Jew but because I am a passionate Zionist. Because I am a religious Zionist, I believe that Israel should exercise leadership in accordance with Proverbs 14:34: “Righteousness exalts a nation;” placing justice and compassion at the heart of all policy making. I believe that Israel must show each time anew that it legislates according to the precepts of “freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel,” as stated in the Declaration of Independence. Because I am a religious progressive Zionist and a supporter of Rabbis for Human Rights, I believe that our Jewish values must be in constant dialogue with the values of contemporary society and as such, we must ensure that the rights granted, just as the responsibilities demanded, apply to all citizens of the State of Israel equally – be they Jewish or not.

That’s why we need to fight for the rights of the Bedouin as Zionists for Israel’s sake!

Take Action on Behalf of Bedouin

65 UK rabbis have written to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, Finance Minister Yair Lapid and Welfare Minister Meir Cohen to ask them to prevent the passage of the Bill on the Arrangement of Bedouin Settlement in the Negev. To learn more about their letter click here.

We would like you also send a letter to these ministers protesting against the bill and to find a fair and just solution to the living arrangements and welfare of the Bedouin community in the south of Israel.

It is simple to take action! Just click here to also send a letter to protest against the bill.

Op-Eds Advocating on Behalf of the Bedouin

Two members of British Friends of Rabbis for Human Rights wrote op-eds for Jewish newspapers to draw broader attention to the situation of the Bedouin in Israel and to mobilise more support for the campaign to stop the legislative process of the Bill on the Arrangement of Bedouin Settlement in the Negev through the Israeli Parliament.

Rabbi Alexandra Wright wrote on June 13, 2013 in the Jewish Chronicle: ‘All is desolation and destruction’. Read the full op-ed here.

Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg wrote on June 23, 2013 in the Jewish News: “Let’s show Israel is based on Jewish value of justice”. Read the full op-ed here.

He also wrote on July 15, 2013 in Haaretz: “Every Jew should see the Bedouin issue as test of Israel’s moral values”. Read the full op-ed here.

International Press Takes Note of BFRHR’s Protest on Behalf of the Bedouin

The international press has given extensive coverage to the letter signed by 65 UK rabbis under the auspices of British Friends of Rabbis for Human Rights to protest against the Bill on the Arrangement of Bedouin Settlement in the Negev.

UK Press

International Press

65 UK Rabbis Protest against the Bill on the Arrangement of Bedouin Settlement in the Negev

65 Rabbis from the Orthodox, Liberal, Reform and Masorti movements of Great Britain this week have joined together to sign a letter of protest to the Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, Ministers Yair Lapid (Finance), Tzipi Livni (Justice) and Meir Cohen (Welfare and Social Services), demanding that they stop the legislative process of the Bill on the Arrangement of Bedouin Settlement in the Negev through the Israeli Parliament.

Meeting with BedouinA copy of the letter, written under the auspices of the British Friends of Rabbis for Human Rights (BFRHR) was delivered to His Excellency, the Israeli Ambassador by Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner (Chair of BFRHR) and a delegation from BFRHR on Thursday 6th June.

If the Bill is passed, it would result in the forcible eviction of 30,000-40,000 Bedouin residents from their villages in the Negev into existing townships. Moving the Bedouin, they argue, ‘disregards traditional family and kinship ties and the communal and social fabric of their villages and has already been shown to result in disastrous levels of unemployment, destitution and disillusion.’

The BFRHR letter appeals for a proper consultative process with Bedouin men and women to settle land claims and recognise the Bedouin’s historic rights to their lands, leading to the provision of proper services for their villages and attention to the long-term needs of the Bedouin. The Rabbis warn that the Bill is likely to do serious damage to the international reputation of the State of Israel.
Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner, Chair of BFRHR said, ‘The Ambassador listened carefully to our questions and concerns. Now what matters is that this Bill that could drastically alter so many people’s lives is challenged in the Knesset as it is being challenged throughout the world.’
Spokesperson for the BFRHR, Rabbi Alexandra Wright added that the Bill is unjust and unfair in its discrimination against an impoverished and marginalised minority in Israel and that she earnestly hoped that the Ministers would, instead, provide a fair and compassionate process that would enhance Israel’s international standing.

View/download the full text of the letter click here.