Rabbis for Human Rights on Home Demolitions

Rabbi Arik Ascherman/Rabbis for Human Rights (Israel), 12/8/2004

Dear RHR Members and Friends,

My day yesterday began with the darkness of home demolitions, continued with my daughters Khanuka party, and concluded with the ordination ceremony at the Schecter Rabbinical School. Mazal Tov to all of the new ordinees, especially Rabbi Idit Lev, Economic/Social Justice Director for RHR; Rabbi Florian Chinsky, who served this past year as the Schecter student representative to the RHR board, and Rabbi Uri Ayalon, who serves on our Economic/Social Justice Advisory Committee.

The bulldozers arrived in Jabel Mukaber this morning. They demolished three stores and the home of the Salameh family. Another home was saved after the owners lawyer ran to the court. They had already paid a NIS 30,000 fine and had made significant progress (likely to be ultimately sisyphean) towards the courts demand to attain a pinpoint zoning plan allowing a building permit. For a mere NIS 10,000 they were given another extension. Everybody, even some of the demolition force, rejoiced when somebody ran up with the order and then the receipt. The forces of the Interior Ministry and Border police quickly left. The Caterpillar and Daewood demolition machines returned from whence they came. Neither the Ministry of the Interior nor the Municipality will pay to repair the deep scars in the road left by the machinery, so who cares? Everybody thought I was joking when I asked whether the forces that a few minutes before had been so diligently removing the familys belongings from their home would now help return them. Some volunteers from the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions helped out.

The stores owners and members of the Salameh family were not so lucky. After almost four years (September 1998-June 2001) in which we significantly reduced demolitions, they are now part of the record high Jerusalem demolition statistics of the last three years. We will check out the claims of the storeowners that they were in the middle of paying a fine and had not received any demolition order. We will check out the claim that there was simply an error by the court (and the Salameh familys lawyer) that a restraining order was not issued when the court set a hearing for December 25th. Neither the relatively sympathetic border police commander (I warned them to do something a month ago I just want quiet I am friendly with
the people and wish this wouldnt happen. Sometimes I drink coffee with them after the demolition.) nor Tzvi Schneider (the Interior Ministry official responsible for demolitions and already being sued for one of the many cases in which he is accused of demolishing in knowing violation of court orders.) was willing to give the time necessary for the lawyer to run
to court and correct the mistake. We will check out everything, but this will not help much for the six members of the Salameh family whose belongings we left piled underneath the December sky.

RHR board member Rabbi Ben Hollander tells of the surrealistic and difficult experience of coming home to see life go on as usual after witnessing the first demolition of the Shawamre home in 1998. I should be inured to this already, but I didnt succeed in getting the pictures out of my head when I took my daughter to her kindergarten Khannukah party. I was comforted a bit to see these beautiful children and rejoiced along with my daughter in
her innocent joy and a little light was restored to my eyes. However, I knew that not to far away there were children without smiles that night. As the children lit the candles, danced and sang the well known (and some of them rather militaristic) songs in this kindergarten which educates for humanistic Jewish values, I couldnt help but look around and ask which of these children would be educated to add light and freedom to the world, and to right the wrongs I had seen that morning? (Of course I hope that when these children grow up home demolitions and occupation will be a thing of the distant past and that they will have the privilege and responsibility to right other wrong.) Who among them will be educated by the very same Khannukah narrative to be among those mocking or silent police officers who
stood opposite me that morning?

I am always overcome with emotion at ordinations, as new rabbis forge a new link in the ancient chain and take upon themselves the responsibility to bring a little light to the world and our people. However, I was particularly overcome yesterday. Perhaps it was because the fact that some half of the ordinees were active in RHR. Perhaps it was because of the
darkness I had witnessed in the morning. May it be Gods will that these new lights will succeed in their path.