Avoidable tragedy in Israel

אם אינך רואה אימייל זה כראוי לחץ/י כאן
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Haqel: Jews and Arabs in Defense of Human Rights

An Eyewitness Account of The Preventable Tragedy in Umm Al Hiran

Dear Friends and Supporters,

On Wednesday I was an eyewitness to an unnecessary tragedy, fueled by a series of wrong decisions and indifference. Two Israelis are dead, one a Bedouin resident of Umm Al HIran and the other a Jewish police officer. Homes have been demolished, two MK’s and others have been injured. Mutual anger and distrust threatening the very fabric of Israeli society has been increased. We need you to respond by sending a letter to your nearest Israeli embassy and donating to our Bedouin campaign.

Having just read the opening verses of the Book of Exodus this last week, the demagoguery and fear mongering that has taken place since Wednesday would make Pharaoh proud. One would think that recalcitrant and greedy Bedouin refused wildly generous compensation offers to leave their illegal homes because Arab leaders were inciting them. In fact, hundreds of police with guns drawn made a pre –dawn raid to secure the village for demolitions. I and a few other activists arrived just before the police. The village leaders made it clear that, come what may, they didn’t want violence. I was pushed aside as I held up the picture of 100 year old Musa, reminding the soldiers that he could be their grandfather or great-grandfather.

The investigators are still sorting out what happened next. Many were quick to claim that Yaaqub Abu Al Qian intentionally rammed his car into police officers, killing Erez Levi before being himself killed. The police now acknowledge that shots were fired at the car before it headed towards the soldiers, corroborating the testimony of many eyewitnesses and indicating that Yaaqub may have lost control as a result. The autotopsy seems to indicate that he bled to death because he was denied medical care. I did not see that incident. I did see the police, furious after a fellow officer was down, attack MK Ayman Oudeh and swing their rifles at others. Stumbling after him in retreat after having been pepper sprayed, sponge tipped bullets whizzed past my ears. One of them struck Oudeh in the back. Somehow, he was also struck in the face. We were pushed outside a perimeter. We helplessly watched the bulldozers demolish home after home. I continued to hold up Musa’s picture, gave numerous press interviews, and tried to speak words of Torah and from Israel’s Declaration of Independence to the police. 

MK Ayman OUdeh Injured

The tragedy is compounded by the fact that the residents of Umm Al Hiran would have agreed to leave their homes located where Israel moved them in 1956, had the State been willing to commit to any one of the numerous solutions they suggested. In December, the State decided to force the issue by issuing eviction/demolition orders a few at a time. Intervention had nevertheless led to renewed negotiations that continued up until midnight the night before. I am not sure whether the sides were as close to an agreement as they seemed to be, or whether it was all smoke and mirrors because the government wasn’t really willing to commit to an acceptable solution. I only know that, rather than agreeing to continue the talks, the police were sent in a few hours later.

There are those who will say our very presence was incitement. No. I already wrote that the village leadership wanted no violence. Pharaoh teaches us that the true inciters are those that sow fear of powerless minorities. In last week’s portion we also met the midwives. Our sages debated whether they were Jewish, or Egyptians who were not deceived by the incitement of their leaders, preserved their humanity, and stood by the Israelites. Too many times in our history we Jews were alone when oppressors came to expel us from our homes. In the last few weeks, and in those pre-dawn hours, the residents of Umm Al HIran felt nearly alone. Nobody should need to stand alone against the entire might of the State, and we were determined that they would not be.

I have so much sadness in my heart, and I also ask, “Could we have done more?” So, let’s do a little more now. Not everybody who has opened previous emails has emailed (takes a few minutes) or a faxed (a bit longer) the picture of 100 year old Musa Hussein Abu Al Qian (The same one I held up to the police) to your nearest Israeli embassy or consulate.

If you have already sent your letter, please post and ask your friends to so so. It can all be done in three easy clicks, starting at https://actionnetwork.org/letters/fax-today-for-umm-al-hiran/ We have 1,800 emails sent so far, and I don’t know how many faxes. We should be able to at least triple that.

I also know that we could have done more had we had more funds at our disposal. Please help us to do now what we couldn’t do last week.

The studies I initiated in 2013 and in April of this year show very clearly that the story of Musa and Umm Al Hiran touches on many Israeli heartstrings. Promises are meant to be kept, people should not be moved by force, and the fabric of Israeli society must be preserved.

If we had been able to conduct a paid media campaign putting Musa’s picture in front of every Israeli, we might have been able to create a public outcry. Perhaps more of the press that is in an Umm Al Hiran feeding frenzy now would have shown interest before blood was shed. The studies showed that facts count for something. Stripping away disinformation changes public opinion.

We can’t bring back the dead. However, this tragedy has actually created a window of opportunity. While the demagoguery that has abounded since Wednesday is reminiscent of the fear spread by Pharaoh in last week’s Torah portion, the media has also given us the chance to tell the story of Umm Al Hiran and the Negev Bedouin. I have personally given numerous interviews. Op-eds previously being rejected are now being accepted. My Times of Israel blog piece that had received almost no attention suddenly reappeared on TOI’s list of most read and shared blogs. For a brief amount of time, the public is focused on this issue.

WE MUST MAKE EVERY EFFORT TO OPEN THIS WINDOW FURTHER, BEFORE IT SHUTS. Full donation information, including how to make a tax deductible donation from the U.S. or U.K, can be found by clicking here, or scrolling to the end of this email. You can also just click here to donate on-line. Please make your generous general contribution, and then dedicate a little more for the Bedouin media campaign. Let us know how you are dividing your donation, so that we can use it as you intended.

Given the fact that Musa’s home was not one of the ones demolished, but his home and the homes of many others in many villages are in danger, we still have the chance and obligation to leave no stone unturned. Please write your letter, ask others to do so, and make a contribution to enable us to afford paid media.

Musa, as I mentioned, still has a home. But, it was his son that was killed on Wednesday. (In fact, we have issued a statement citing sources in Judaism, Islam and Christianity explaining why it is wrong that the police are not returning the body for burial.) Whether it turns out that Yaaqub intentionally rammed his car into Erez Levi, or whether the increasing evidence to the contrary exonerates him, both Yaaqub and Erez are victims of a police invasion of Umm Al Hiran that never should have happened. And, the uncontrollable tears of a hundred year old father were real.

Our tradition teaches us that God pays attention to the tears of those unjustly wronged. Created in God’s Image, so must we.

Co – Founder
Haqel (The Field)-Jews and Arabs in Defense of Human Rights.

tags: Israel/Palestine   
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