Blood, Tears, Trees, & Peace

Rabbi Arthur Waskow

Blood, Tears, Trees, & Peace

By Rabbi Arthur Waskow
December 2, 2001

By now we can write the story in our sleep, awakening only to find it confirmed in real blood and real tears.

And each time awakening to what has happened in our sleep reminds us that this night-time is a bleak winter, in our people's history. Thank God there is Tu B'Shvat, that mid-winter festival of the Rebirthing of the Tree, to beckon us.

In this case, literally. Physically. For Israeli Rabbis are beckoning us to plant new life, this Tu B'Shvat.

Once again this morning we in North America awaken to see the blood of Israeli teen-agers on the streets of Jerusalem and to hear the wails of their beloveds, and once more we awaken to the blood of Palestinian teen-agers as well, and the wails of their beloveds also.

Many voices caution us against treating these deaths as morally equivalent. Some say Israeli youngsters are being killed deliberately and callously, the Palestinian youngsters because they were throwing stones or because a land-mine or a mortar shell missed its intended target. Other voices say that a military occupation cannot be equated with those who throw stones or shoot bullets at its soldiers.

One thing is clear: the ethical weights of these deaths are not "equal," but the grief is equal, the rage is equal, the impulse to revenge is equal — and equally destructive.

We do not have to see the deaths as morally equivalent to see them — all of them — as evidence of a profound failure.

The two peoples, families of Abraham, that were supposed to be blessings to all the families of the earth have indeed become models to all the families of the earth — models of disastrous violence.

There must be another path for us to take.

In Israel, Rabbis for Human Rights is trying to walk that other path.

It is the only Israeli organization in which rabbis of Orthodox, Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, and renewal affiliations join.

They join in a sense that Israelis of Jewish and of Palestinian origin have human rights — like the right to decent health care, the right to life in time of illness — that are under attack, and must be defended.

They join in a sense that "guest workers" in Israel have a right to dignity and decency, a right not to be forced into prostitution and servitude.

They join in a sense that Palestinians are entitled to live peacefully in their homes, in their villages, and to travel peaceably from one town to another — not to be blockaded, not to have their homes demolished, not to have the olive trees uprooted that are the economic roots for the education and the dowries of their children.

They join WITH Palestinians to act in nonviolent ways, to break down old Palestinian stereotypes of what and how Jews are, to create experiments in nonviolence, to act as seeds of change among Palestinians as well as among Israelis.

They renew Torah as a source of compassion and courage.

Rabbis for Human Rights invite us:

Spend the full moon of mid-winter Shvat, the festival when Jews traditionally celebrate the Birthday of the Trees, helping give a new birth to peace efforts through tree-planting in Israel and in Palestinian villages!

RHR is calling for people from Europe and America to join on Tu B'Shvat 5762 (January 28, 2002) to replant some of the 30,000 Palestinian olive trees that have been uprooted during this intifada. (If you can't physically come to Israel then, there are other ways to help; see below.)

For many of us who have given money and energy in support of the Olive Trees for Peace campaign, this will be an opportunity to see the fruits of our labor and to bring our bodies as well as our money to work for peace.

Rabbis for Human Rights is planning for a week of activities including text study and an exposure to all of RHR's work (e.g. for economic rights like health care for Israelis and foreign workers, as well as tree replanting and humanitarian aid for Palestinian villages).

RHR is exploring the possibility of some additional tree-planting in poverty-stricken areas inside Israel where they have worked for human rights.

Rabbi Arik Ascherman, exec of RHR, explained to American groups he met during the past few weeks that RHR will not be seeking and does not expect confrontations with the Israeli army or setttlers, since the plantings will be done on the private land of Palestinian villlages.

Asked whether there were any risks, Arik said it would be dishonest to say there will be no risk at all — Hostile actions by Palestinians and/or by Israeli settlers cannot be absolutely ruled out — but that in RHR's opinion, they are very unlikely.

The week will run from Friday January 25th through Sunday February 3rd.

For further details please write

If you can't physically go to visit Israel in January but would like to help out, please write They are organizing house-parties where friends can gather to take joy in each other, to see videos of RHR's work, and to raise support money for them.

In regard to the Palestinian aspect of this very special week: Their olive trees have been cut down by Israeli soldiers and settlers. Some have actually been cut to prevent their use as cover for attacks against Israelis; but many were located within villages out of sight or reach of bypass roads or other possible Israeli targets. Those NON-security uprootings will be what RHR replants. And in any case, the seedlings to be planted are much too tiny to be used as cover for violence.

Why were trees uprooted that are NOT security threats? The trees are not merely decorative, but economically crucial to the villages. Destroying them is a way of reducing villages to abject poverty, perhaps of trying to force Palestinians to leave their homes. Some elements in the Israeli government and military and some elements among the settlers seem to have used uprootings as a means to these Eytz chayyim hi, says Proverbs, "l'machazikim bah." --

"A Tree of Life she is, for those who hold her close." Who is this Tree? — Chochma, wisdom, says the original text. The Torah, say the Rabbis. God's Own Self, say the Kabbalists. All these, say we, and ALSO the rooted, flowering trees of earth — for all of these nourish and make fruitful each the other and all life together.

--- Arthur


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