Rabbis for Human Rights’s Department of Palestinian Rights in the Occupied Territories works with approximately 30 Palestinian villages in the West Bank, particularly during the olive harvest season (October – December). During that period RHR bring, almost daily, bus loads of Israeli and foreign volunteers into the Occupied Territories to participate in the olive harvest with Palestinian farmers. This occurs in areas of conflict or tension with Israeli settlers and/or where there are issues of access with the Israeli army. This is accompanied by legal work and advocacy work from the Jerusalem office.
RHR are in regular contact with the Army’s Legal Advisors’ Office and regional offices of the Civil Administration (DCO, i.e. military coordination with local Palestinian population). RHR engage in letter writing campaigns to return law and order whenever RHR come across cases of abuse, neglect, or collusion between local army officers and settlers (unfortunately not unusual) and sometimes RHR also resort to the courts. RHR regard the 2005 Supreme Court decision affirming the right of local Palestinian farmers to access their lands without harassment by settlers as a landmark achievement in this regard.
In the past year, the army has been more cooperative, at least during the olive harvest, even posting guards near areas of conflict with the most extreme settler outposts. During the rest of the year RHR accompany farmers, either physically or through lobbying with the appropriate authorities during the planting, pruning, and ploughing seasons and during other harvests (almonds, wheat, barley).
Destruction of trees (particularly olive trees) near settlements, army bases and major roads is a serious problem. Approximately 3000 trees were destroyed during the years 2008-10. This past season RHR replanted some 2000 trees in 17 villages. RHR also work in coordination with other active human rights groups (B’Tselem, Yesh Din, Taayush) in reporting and dealing with other kinds of human rights issues – arbitrary arrests, collective punishment, confiscation of equipment (such as tractors) and the heavy limitations in Area C (composing 65% of the Occupied Palestinian Territories) placed on building and development. RHR have an ongoing relationship with the Israeli police on these issues.
In addition to RHR‘s work with Palestinian farmers, RHR are also engaged in promoting the rights of the Jahalin Bedouin, who live near Maaleh Adumim. Currently, RHR are engaged in advocacy against government plans to move the Jahalin Bedouin to near the garbage dump in Abu Dis. RHR also promote their rights to education, and in 2009, in conjunction with the Italian NGO Viento de Terra, RHR helped build a school for Bedouin children at Khan El Akhmar. These children had suffered from lack of adequate access to education, and although a demolition order has been issued against the structure, it still serves the needs of the 60 children attending 1st to 3rd grade two years later. Over the years, RHR have run summer camps, and have provided language classes (Hebrew and English) for the Jahalin. Over the last couple of years, this has been done in conjunction with the Combini Sisters – a convent in East Jerusalem concerned with the plight of the Bedouin.
Finally, RHR have also been active in East Jerusalem (particularly in Silwan and Sheikh Jarrah) on issues of housing discrimination, home demolitions and evictions.