Rabbibrian's Blog

A Voice for Justice and Peace in Israel/Palestine

“How do I deal with it? How do you deal with it? You pay for it!” A Reflection on Jerusalem and American Responsibility

Posted by rabbibrian on March 11, 2010

Child at Demolished home in Silwan

On Tuesday a shocking article on the front page of HaAretz about the arrest of Palestinian children in the middle of the night and their abuse in custody, reminded me of a transformative moment on a trip to Israel in November 2009.

First, the article:

“Several children in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan were arrested and taken from their homes in handcuffs in the middle of the night over the past few months, as part of a police crackdown on suspected stone-throwers, several teenage residents told B’Tselem and Haaretz.

Haaretz and B’Tselem, the Israel Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, collected testimonies from several teens that suggest the police are treating them violently and violating their rights.

“They told me to get down on my knees and slapped and kicked me, one from behind and one from the front,” a 15-year-old told B’Tselem.

A large Border Police force has been raiding Palestinian homes at night, targeting mostly children aged 12 to 15.

Most of the children and teenagers living near near the two controversial residential buildings inhabited by Jewish settlers in Silwan – Beit Yonatan and Beit Hadvash – have been arrested at least once.

The police and Border Police activity follows complaints by the Jewish residents of the two buildings and by the guards hired by the Housing Ministry to protect them.

They say there has been an increase in children throwing stones at their houses and cars.

“The interrogator kept asking me the same question for an hour and every time I denied it, he swore. He swore at my mother and sister. He slapped me and wouldn’t let me go to the toilet or have a drink of water,” a 14-year-old told B’Tselem.

Another child said he was seated facing the wall and was beaten every time he turned his head.

Parents who try to argue or block their children’s arrest are treated harshly or attacked, said Jaballah Rajabi, many of whose family members have been arrested.

“I tried to talk to them and they hit me, sprayed me with gas. Fifty of them come for every child. This isn’t police, it’s a mafia,” he said. “

This shocking report of the arrest of children responding to the attempts by Israeli authorities to change their neighborhood, reminded me of a moment on a Rabbis for Human Rights trip in November 2008.  We visited a home in Silwan that had been demolished a few days earlier.  We stood together on the rubble of what had been two days earlier the home of a family.  A resident told us that he had just returned from the prison where he tried to secure the release of children from the neighborhood who had been arrested in the middle of the night.  When the house was demolished, some kids threw stones at the bulldozers and were filmed by the army.  In the middle of the night soldiers came to their houses, pulled them out of their beds and arrested them.  Exactly the same procedure that is described in this B’Tzelem and Haaretz report!

Child at Demolished home in Silwan

When I heard the resident tell us this story a little more than a year ago, I was overwhelmed with sadness and anger.  What were the Israeli authorities thinking? First, they demolish the home of a family so as to build a parking lot for the new City of David tourist area that they are building in the heart of Silwan, a densely populated Palestinian area.   Then they arrest children in the middle of the night because they thew stones at the bulldozers and hold them in jail.  How much hatred will be generated as a result of this demolition and all the other actions come in its wake?   Has Israel lost it’s mind, it’s soul?

At that moment I couldn’t stay there anymore and approached Rabbi Yehiel Greniman, a courageous Israeli rabbinic colleague  who sees many home demolitions.  I told him that I couldn’t bear to stay there another minute.  I have to leave.  “You see this all the time?  How do you deal with it?”

Rabbi Yehiel Greniman and Palestinian resident in Silwan

Yehiel looked me in the eye and said,  “What do you mean, how do I deal with it?  How do you deal with it?  You pay for it!”  He then told me that a representative of the American consulate witnessed the demolition and pleaded with the Israeli commander not to destroy the house.

Yehiel taught me a lesson that day.  Yes, we Americans, pay for it.  We pay for the abuse of these children, we pay for the settlement of Jews in Sheikh Jarah, in Silwan and in other Palestinian neighborhoods, and we will pay for the new settlement construction that Israel announced yesterday during vice-President Biden’s visit to the country to initiate the new “peace negotiations.”   Will we do anything beyond the polite reprimand that Biden issued yesterday?  When will America actually tell Israel that unless these unjust actions that violate core American values must end immediately, we will withhold our support and aid.   How long will our leaders make nice statements but in reality just turn a blind eye to the disaster that is unfolding in Jerusalem?

And we, the Jewish people, what has become of us that we dispossess another people and that we arrest children in the middle of the night.  Last week a 13-year-old child in Hebron who was arrested for stone throwing was held in prison for 9 days because his father couldn’t afford to pay the bail.

In the book of Lamentations, the author wails about the destruction of Jerusalem: “For these things do I weep, my eyes flow with tears.”  “Remember O God what has befallen us, Behold and see our disgrace.” (Chapter 1:18 and 5:1)  These ancient words come to my mind as we all watch the tragedy unfold in this holy city.

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14 Responses to ““How do I deal with it? How do you deal with it? You pay for it!” A Reflection on Jerusalem and American Responsibility”

  1. Louis Frankenthaler said

    Now the question is this…the Israelis, the politicians, many but not all news commentators, are asking about the timing of the announcement about more settlement building in East Jerusalem rather than asking about the fundamental issue of how the Israeli Govt. led by the Jerusalem mayor is working to cleanse East Jerusalem. The Israeli Govt. seems to be succeeding in pulling the wool over all the eyes of the US administration… Will Biden hug Bibi again????

    • rabbibrian said

      Yes, even this morning they focussed on timing rather than on the issue itself. It seems that the U.S. administration is not yet committed to act in good faith towards those who are victimized in this conflict and to force Israel not to continue the settlement building in Jerusalem. I guess some may see Biden’s statements “condemning” the announcement as a step forward. Biden only joins many American officials who have made such statements in the past and never acted on them. The Obama Administration has a pretty dismal record in regard to Israel so far. I guess it could only get better?

  2. lia rosen said

    Brian,

    Thank you for these painful words that expose our shameful actions,

    Lia

  3. rav anita steiner said

    Brian
    Thanks for writing this bog.
    You might note that Rabbi Yehiel
    Grenimann is RHR’s Director of the Department for the Occupied Territories.

    You might also be interested in the article in Haaretz this week……
    “Hebron boy, 13, jailed for days because father can’t afford bail”

    http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1154521.html

    and finally his release
    http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1154675.html

    rav anita steiner
    chair, RHR

    • rabbibrian said

      Thanks Anita. I am grateful that you shared Yehiel’s title and I would add that it is so important that there is one rabbi in Israel who has that sacred job. You all deserve to be proud of his work and the work of Rabbis for Human Rights. I think I mentioned the boy in Hevron in my post, at least I meant to do so. Thanks again for the links to that story.

  4. Stephanie Schamess said

    A very moving post, Brian. When I visited my relatives in Israel at the end of our RHR trip in 2008, I felt awkward about my activism, even though they are more or less left-wing. What business did I, an American, have coming to their country to criticize, to take photos and keep a journal for the purpose of giving presentations back in the USA that would not exactly present Israel in a good light? It occurred to me then that what gave me the right to do so was precisely what you write about: my taxes — our taxes — pay for much of the worst of what we saw. Since then, that is what I’ve said to people who raise that issue.
    I have been glad of the chance to read your blog and hear first hand from you about what’s going on. Thank you.

    • rabbibrian said

      Thanks Stephanie for your reflection. The response of your family is very common here in Israel. What right do you have to criticize Israel. You haven’t made the commitment and you won’t bear the consequences. Israelis are absolutely correct that it is they who must make the decisions but they can’t have it both ways, we make the decisions and you have to support us financially, diplomatically, politically and in ever other way. The American involvement in Israel is enormous and without that support, Israel would face much more pressure to build a democratic society where people are treated equally regardless of ethnic orig in. As long as Israel gets the support and cover from the U.S., it is morally irresponsible for Americans not to insist that our government force Israel to adhere to basic human rights standards of equality. If they choose not to, the U.S. should cut it’s support. Why is America so compliant when Israel again and again greets visits by our leaders with announcements of new settlements. And, as Louis Frankenthaler, points out the timing is offensive, but the real issue is the reality of the evictions, home demolitions along with the massive constructiion for only one ethnic group. Taking this position is complicated for us as American Jews who are deeply connected to Israel, but in the long run, it is the best way to support Israel and we must put an end to the hypocrisy of being liberal on every issue except Palestine. Jews and most major Jewish organizations would be horrified at such ethnic discrimination in the U.S. If it is not O.K. in the U.S. why is it O.K. in Israel?

  5. Jane Easley said

    Brian,
    I’m afraid it’s District 6 all over again. Thanks for your thoughtful words.

    Jane

    • rabbibrian said

      I assume you are referring to District 6 in Cape Town. When I was a child my father owned a store on the outskirts of District 6, maybe it was even in District 6. I remember when the area was declared a “White area” and the “Coloureds” were evicted. Reflecting on it now, most of my community, my parents, their friends were opposed to the decision of the government but we did not stop it. Many Israelis are opposed to the settlements, and many even to the settlements in Jerusalem but I doubt there is enough community commitment to stop it. Action here alongside fierce advocacy by Americans for U.S. intervention, may bring a halt to the present suicidal course that the Israeli government, the Jerusalem municipality and the settlers have chosen.

  6. Beth Harris said

    Louis and Rabbi Brian, I totally agree with the ridiculous media attention to the “timing” of the home demolition orders. I will share your thoughts, Rabbi Brian, in my communities.

  7. Nicholas Booni said

    Dear Brian:

    I often think of this line from Allen Ginsberg’s Poem “Death to Van Gogh’s Ear!”

    “jet plane streaks among the clouds -
sky writers liars in the face of Divinity”

    LIARS IN THE FACE OF DIVINITY… what a thought.

    Over the years I have used the line and filled in my own blanks.

    Today it might be…

    Israel builds new settlements on Palestinian territory, liars in the face of divinity.

    Small cancelation,

    Best always,

  8. Mehnaz said

    We do pay for it, that’s why i think we need to change things here….

  9. My wife and I – and others in Philadelphia have not been able to stnd it for te past ten years. Our tax dollars have been funding these violations of human rights in the West Bank and Jerusalem. We stand in vigil EVERY riday in Philadelphia – joined by fellow Americans from many different religious and politicalbackgrounds! We sign petitions – lobby our representatives in Washington and raise as much money as we can to support all of the other US – Israeli – Palestinian organizations that are actively opposing the ongoing recacitrance of the Israeli establishment. House demolitions and new settlements are not paths to peace! As faithful Jews we have no choice but “rodeph shalom”!

  10. Dan Wolk said

    Rabbi Brian, you hit the nail on the head. Why are US taxpayers willing to pay for illegal Israeli settlements and oppression of Palestinians in the midst of a recession? I can only guess that it’s because we taxpayers have no idea how much money is involved. If we did, there would likely be a chorus of protest.
    I was appalled at the arrogance of the Israeli spokesmen when asked about the recent announcement of housing development for Jews in E Jerusalem, saying that the only problem was the timing. What Chutzpah. It’s time to say “Dayenu” to aid to Israel!

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