The Spirit of Sukkot Contradicts Israel’s Occupation of Palestine

Sukkah photo courtesy of Jeremy Price (flickrcc/forestfortrees).

The following note from Rabbi Arik Ascherman raises for us a very important question: is it anything more than hypocrisy for Jews to dwell in sukkot this holiday, pretending to make ourselves vulnerable to material insecurity, when in fact we have huge material and military security but instead are imposing insecurity on the Palestinian people?

It’s a troubling question.

Rabbi Ascherman is the courageous chair of the Israeli branch of Rabbis for Human Rights in Israel, and his experience this week in the Silwan section of East Jerusalem gives us a better understanding of what is at stake in the demand by Palestinians that Israel continue its temporary ban on settlement building or expansions or home demolitions or evicting Palestinians from East Jerusalem, at least while the negotiations are continuing.

We in the U.S. might also add a note of our domestic hypocrisy in claiming to care about the poor and the oppressed, but allowing the Democrats to have spent this past year and a half providing almost no relief to those who are being thrown out of their homes for inability to pay off outrageously high mortgage rates — rates that were imposed on them by banks that made loans without adequately alerting the borrowers to the likelihood that their mortgages would be much more expensive soon.

We Jews at least should be giving this issue a much higher priority than our Jewish community has done so far.

Sukkot Thoughts — Rededicating Ourselves To Those Who Have No Homes, Or Whose Homes Are Endangered

by Rabbi Arik Ascherman

Today was quite a day. Shots rang out in Silwan at 3:30 am and a young Palestinian man is dead. One witness says he saw a jeep with private settler security guards far from any of the houses taken over by various Jewish groups in the East Jerusalem neighborhood. A guard claims his life was in danger. I was the first Israeli human rights activist to arrive on the scene. We didn’t know at that point how many people were injured or killed, and we were trying to help the residents get information from Magen David Adom and the hospitals. Internet news sites asked for permission to use a picture I took of the bloodstained spot where the man fell. Later Silwan erupted with stone throwing and tear gas. When the terrible truth came out, things got worse. One Israeli was stabbed, cars and busses damaged, rioting on the Temple Mount, arrests.

Meanwhile, we had planned for the Ghawi family to put up a Sukkah. We hoped that the police would not tear it down as they tore down their various tents opposite their now taken over home in Shekh Jarakh, since the eviction in August 2009. We thought that maybe Jewish and Palestinian children decorating together might soften their hearts. The Sukkah was torn down and destroyed.

However, none of this is what I had wanted to write about:

On Sunday I finally had an opportunity to meet with representatives of the 40 families in Beit Sha’an who have received eviction notices from their Amidar homes (Public housing). I was floored. Even in the Occupied Territories, I have rarely seen such terrible housing conditions. One family was crowded into a poorly built and probably dangerous roos, with a makeshift outhouse without a roof. Sukkot always raises my consciousness about housing. As I tell my children, living in a rickety and fragile structure in to which the rain penetrates should sensitize us to those who live in such conditions all year long, or who have been thrown out of their homes, or whose homes have been demolished. I therefore hope that all of you will make the effort this Sukkot to participate in at least one of our holiday activities in El-Arakib or Sheikh Jarakh. (And sign up for the olive harvest.) As Beit Sha’an demonstrates, those we must be thinking of, praying for, and committing to act on behalf of are not just residents of East Jerusalem or unrecognized villages.

We are also approaching the 10th anniversary of the bloody events of October 2000. We should remember the as yet unheeded recommendations of the Orr Commission, and their determination that discriminatory land policies implemented by all Israeli governments towards Israeli Arabs leads to home demolitions and potentially explosive anger.

Although I met the families in Beit Sha’an for the first time this week, dedicated activists have been working with them for months. Many of the activists are the same activists to be found in Sheikh Jarakh, giving lie to the canard that they are concerned only about non-Jews. More amazingly, some of the Beit Sha’an residents have come to Sheikh Jarakh. Just as common oppression has led to amazing partnership between Jewish participants (now former participants) in the Israeli Wisconsin Plan from Hadera and Arab participants from Wadi Ara, we can gain some comfort from the fact that oppression sometimes helps people see beyond their own situation to grasp a wider picture. I wish it would happen otherwise. Sukkot was also the holiday that in the Temple we offered sacrifices for all the nations of the world and prayed for rain for all, perhaps understanding that there are certain blessings that all enjoy, or none enjoy. If we can build on our universal consciousness, the fragility of life we recall on Sukkot can re-motivate us to activism that could really make Sukkot the “Season of Our Joy” we are told that it should be.

Khag Sameakh (For A Joyous Holiday of Activism)

I also encourage you to read Mark Kirschbaum’s piece on Sukkot, and check out the other articles that Mark has written as part of his weekly Torah commentary on


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