From Trump to Umm Al-Hiran

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Rabbi Arik Ascherman, co-founder of Haqel, holding up a picture of 100 year old Umm Al-Hiran resident Musa Hussein Abu Al Qian.

Photo courtesy of Haqel. Rabbi Arik Ascherman, co-founder of Haqel, holding up a picture of 100 year old Umm Al-Hiran resident Musa Hussein Abu Al Qian.

As President-elect Trump consummates the victory of his racist and demagogic campaign, Israel’s discriminatory demolition of homes in Umm Al-Hiran yesterday signified another step away from democracy and towards Jewish ethnic domination. Human identity – the sense people have that they are Homo sapiens and morally responsible for other Homo sapiens – recedes before our eyes in both Israel and America. Trump and Netanyahu make clear in speech and policy that too often they do not see human beings as human beings but only as particular identities, such as Jews or Arabs, Americans or Mexicans, Christians or Muslims.
According to some theories, this receding of humanity is a temporary setback in the consistent (and possibly inevitable) ascension of human identity rather than more particularistic ones. Essentially, the logic goes, since human civilization (environment, communications, politics, law, economy) is now global and thus species-wide, the species-based human identity will prevail. But for those whose homes were bulldozed yesterday in Umm al-Hiran, and for the families of the two people killed during the conflict there, anticipating a more human future is little consolation.

As a lover of both religion and fantasy novels, I sense a certain awesome drama as the dark clouds gather over the landscape and the light from above grows dim. Just like in Harry Potter, the forces of racism today appear in vulgar forms of violence and demagoguery. Last month, in response to the High Court’s ruling that the Israeli settlers in Amona must evacuate lands they illegally occupied, Prime Minister Netanyahu pledged to destroy “illegal” homes of Israeli Arabs inside Israel. He said this act of collective punishment against Israeli Arab citizens expressed his idea of “equality.”
Before considering the absurdity of Netanyahu’s claim, I’ll explain why I put scare quotes around “illegal.” Israel often uses building permits as a powerful tool for ethnic domination. On the West Bank, Israel’s control of planning and building is little more than a mechanism of unjust discrimination. In contrast, inside Israel, where Arabs are formally equal citizens, the picture is more complicated and Israeli law sometimes functions as it should. However, in Umm Al-Hiran, which is inside the Green Line, and where the state has already begun demolishing the Israeli Bedouin village to build on its rubble a town for Jews, the law looks more like the West Bank. A state mechanism of unfair discrimination is not law but the mockery of law and hence the quotes around “illegal.”
Tens of Israeli Arab-owned buildings have already been demolished in the government’s response to the High Court’s ruling that Amona be dismantled. Why is this decision such a big deal? Because it is the exception, not the rule. The rule is that Israel’s West Bank regime systematically dispossesses Palestinians of their private and public resources. For example, Israel may soon expel the residents of Palestinian Susya from their privately-owned land in the southern West Bank and so a policy began in 1986 to destroy the Palestinian village of Susya and establish the Jewish settlement of Susya in almost the same place.
The court’s ruling on Amona is a glitch in an almost perfect picture of Jewish domination on the West Bank. But that glitch is intolerable to Netanyahu. And so he directs his wrath at Palestinian citizens of Israel like those whose homes were destroyed in Umm Al-Hiran yesterday. By singling out Israeli Arabs for collective punishment, Netanyahu rejects the core of human rights and democracy, which reflects a uniquely human identity: the principle of non-discrimination among citizens regardless of race or ethnicity. By sending the bulldozers to destroy “illegal” buildings of Arab Israelis specifically, Netanyahu tore off the mask of his supposed commitment to democracy, and revealed that for him “a Jewish State” means Jewish domination.
Things will likely get worse before they get better in Israel and America. Trump and Netanyahu’s racism and demagoguery are on the ascent. But not all the homes in Umm Al-Hiran have been demolished. We can resist injustice by raising our voices for human rights. I believe, maybe because of too much religion and fantasy, that we who are created in the Image of God will not forever forget our humanity. In Israel and America, we can return to the path of justice and equality; we must rejoin the struggle with renewed commitment.
The time when solidarity with Israel could mean supporting her government has passed. If you love Israel, then fight Jewish ethnic domination. These policies are not only ugly, selfish, and immoral, but they will also destroy both us and the Palestinians. Here’s a first step: Help prevent additional discriminatory home demolitions in Umm Al-Hiran.

Links to Get Involved

Haqel – Jews and Arabs in Defense of Human Rights

The Four Villages Campaign

Shomrei Mishpat – Rabbis For Human Rights

T’ruah – The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights

Note: The views in this article are the author’s own and do not represent any institution.