Sermon for Parashat Mattot
“The tribes of Reuben and Gad approached Moses and the leadership saying ‘If we have found favour in your sight, let this land be given to your servants for a possession; do not bring us over the Jordan.’ And Moses said to the children of Gad and to the children of Reuben: ‘Shall your brethren go to the war, and shall you sit here?” 32:5,6
This question asked by Moses of the two cattle owning tribes is one that resonates so poignantly today. “Shall your brethren go to war, and shall you sit here?”
We have been watching anxiously as Israel has been slipping once more into war. And as we obsess over the news feeds and the reporting, the analysis and the social media links, we wonder about what is our role? how could we sit here while our fellow Jews are at war? And what is it that we should be doing?
As part of her course of study, Reut Schwartz, student at RHR’s Beit Midrash for Human Rights – operated jointly with Hillel: The Center for Jewish Life on the Hebrew University Campus in Jerusalem, is conducting her field work at Koach La Ovdim – Democratic Workers’ Organization. She has taken over the work of last year’s Beit Midrash student Noa Regev as an organizer for afternoon day-care workers in Jerusalem. Soon, the workers will elect a representative committee, which will begin negotiations with the employers (the Jerusalem Municipality and the Israel Association of Community Centers)
“Today, I am doing all I can to make sure that there will be democratic and accessible elections for all the workers,” Reut reported excitedly.
Reut is helping prepare the logistics and content for the elections conference. She is meeting workers in the various neighborhoods, writing letters to voters and making sure that all the workers receive the letters and are aware of the coming elections. Reut is in contact with the workers’ leadership, and at the same time is making sure to mobilize and empower more workers to take on leadership roles. Today, there are two important positions that must be filled: representatives on the elections committee and representatives willing to run as candidates for the workers’ committee. Making the elections accessible to all of them means making sure that each worker has the opportunity to go to the polling place on a day and at a time convenient for her. In addition, Reut is working with the guidance team to ensure that each neighborhood has a representative on the committee because each neighborhood needs its own representative and it is important that each neighborhood is heard in the negotiations with the employers. The success of the elections – regardless of which women will be elected to the committee – will guarantee the livelihood for the women and their ability to have power and influence over their working conditions.
For more information on the work of RHR’s education department click here.
Rabbis for Human Rights opposes violating the rights of suspects under investigation, even in cases of severe hate crimes. Rabbis for Human Rights applauds the signs of a new determination on the part of law enforcement authorities to bring to justice perpetrators of hate crimes (“price tag” attacks) against Palestinian subjects in the West Bank. We are proud that we assisted residents of Far’ata to report the incident of cars being set on fire, and that we connected and mediated between them and police officers, prior to the case being passed to our colleagues at Yesh Din.
However, as much as we would like to see the perpetrators of hate crimes against Palestinians in the West Bank brought to justice, this must not be accomplished through proceedings which violate the rights of the suspects.
At this time, there is reason to suspect violation of the rights of the three suspects who, according to yesterday’s (Feb 5th) reports, were indicted in the car arson in Far’ata. If these suspicions are correct, we view this matter as gravely problematic.
We are aware of the significant difficulty security forces face in gathering evidence against suspects in such crimes, but are certain that there are other means of gathering evidence – which require investment of resources and manpower – which do not violate the rights of the suspects. We wish the security forces complete success in eliminating the desecration of God’s name that is “price tag” attacks.
Read more on price tag attacks on the RHR website.
Update from Rabbis for Human Rights
One day after the publication of Amira Hass’s article based on a report by Rabbis for Human Rights, and after pressure from our organization, the IDF rushed to finally authorize a Palestinian farmer to plough and sow his land, which he is forbidden to do without army permission. The IDF, which feared confrontation with violent extremists from the adjacent outpost Esh Kodesh, preferred to ban Fawzi, an elderly Palestinian man, from accessing and cultivating his land. But the pressure accomplished its goal and Fawzi will not suffer the significant harm of missing an entire agricultural season, a loss which would have cost him 200,000 NIS.
A great deal of effort is made by RHR in Israel to offer teaching on Jewish ethics to young men and women about to start their military service. One important source for their studies is the Israeli Declaration of Independence with detailed references to the traditional Jewish teachings on which it is based. We reproduce below one page from their specially created “Tractate of Independence – Massekhet Atzma’ut” – anyone who would be interested to see more and possibly run some teaching sessions in their own communities should contact Rabbi Nava Hefetz at RHR Israel for more information.
The Palestinian village of Susya located on south of Jerusalem in the West bank has been saved from immediate demolition by Rabbis for Human Rights. The 350 villagers who have five times been forcibly evicted from the land which they legally own have been granted a stay of execution in the Israeli Supreme Court where they were represented by RHR advocates.
The court decided that within 90 days a plan must be prepared for the village which will make clear where houses can be built and the Israeli authorities must also ensure that Palestinian farmers are not prevented from getting to work on their fields. Until now the Palestinians have not been given permission to build houses on their land which has been declared a site of archaeological interest. As the villagers were not offered any alternative place to live, they set up homes in caves adjoining their fields, and when these were destroyed they put up the tents in which they now live. However Israeli settlers have been allowed to build a village with good houses in the area and Regavim a right wing organisation supporting the settlers presented a petition to the High Court calling for the demolition of the tents and other property belonging to the Palestinians.
RHR have organised a cross party lobby group in the Knesset to ensure that public housing is built to higher standards and allocated fairly. RHR want to ensure that affordable housing is included in the plans for each neighbourhood. It is vital that legislation includes planning for housing units of various sizes, e.g., for single people, multi-generational families, as well as ensuring that provision is made in each neighbourhood for long term rentals and affordable housing so that low income families and other vulnerable people are not excluded from certain neighbourhoods. Lack of affordable housing was one of the main reasons underlying massive social protests in Israel in the last two years. As RHR point out, the people, who are excluded from living in a neighbourhood because housing is too expensive, are also deprived of the opportunity to take up local jobs, send their children to good local schools or benefit from transport services.