Succot has universal meaning

The need for permanent housing and a sense of rootedness isn't only a Jewish one.

October 3, 2006 19:07
4 minute read.
Succot has universal meaning

succot 88. (photo credit: )


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Succot commemorates the 40-year period during which the Children of Israel wandered in the desert, living in temporary shelters. Because for almost 2,000 years we lived as a stateless people, exiled from one place to the next, one would expect that now that we are well established in our permanent succa - read state - we would be sensitive to others who wish to fashion a sense of permanency and rootedness. And yet, it seems that whatever lessons we derive from this season relate exclusively to insular manifestations of the holiday and not to its universal implications. There is no better example of this lopsided understanding of Succot than the Jerusalem municipality's - and by extension the government's - discriminatory policy toward the Palestinian residents of east Jerusalem. Amir Cheshin, who served as Teddy Kollek's and Ehud Olmert's Arab affairs advisor, writes in his book, From Separate and Unequal: The Story of Israeli Rule in East Jerusalem: "In 1967, Israel's leaders adopted two basic principles in their rule of East Jerusalem. The first was to rapidly increase the Jewish population in East Jerusalem. The second was to hinder growth of the Arab population." While there are countless examples of this ruthless policy being applied, there is one family in particular that has suffered excessively - the Dari family, who have been labeled "common criminals" by Jerusalem's Mayor, Uri Lupolianski, because they dared to build their home without the requisite permits. Why? Because such permits are virtually impossible to acquire as Israel has turned urban planning in Jerusalem into a tool of the government in order to prevent the expansion of the Palestinian population in the Holy City. What happens when a Palestinian adds on a room "illegally," let alone builds an illegal home? Bulldozers are sent to wreak their devastation. On two previous occasions the Dari family's home has been demolished. When a delegation from Rabbis for Human Rights met with the mayor to protest the city's draconian policy, he claimed that as a Zionist he supported the city's right to exploit its building plans in order to limit the number of Palestinians residing in Jerusalem. If one were to peruse the minutes of city council meetings from the early 90s, where former deputy mayor Avraham Kakhila states that the municipality's policy is to expropriate lands from Arabs in order to build Jewish neighborhoods, and if this is not possible then to "paint the areas green" so that that Arabs cannot build, one might surmise that Lupolianski is merely enforcing a historical precedence. In actuality, the mayor is extending this historical travesty with a vengeance, by signing one demolition order after another to guarantee limited Palestinian growth in east Jerusalem. THE OR Commission, which investigated the events of October 2000 when 13 Israeli Arabs were killed during riots in the north, determined that Arabs build without permits not because they are criminals, as Lupolianski holds, but because of systematic discrimination by Israeli governments. The Commission added that if there is a principle that Jewish neighborhoods, particularly those in the territories, are allowed to expand to accommodate natural growth, the same principle should apply to the Arab sector. On one of my ritual morning walks, I strolled through Mea Shearim. I inquired of a few families if they had an official permit from the city for the rooms that they added to their homes. Not a single one could produce one. And yet, no demolition orders were carried out. It should be incumbent upon the Municipality to take action against all those who violate the law, be they Jewish or Arab. But as former city official Haim Miller said, "I don't sign demolition orders for Jews, only for Arabs." In our meeting with the mayor, he seemed to justify this prejudiced view, again in the name of Zionism, because his understanding of Zionism apparently is to look after Jewish needs even at the expense of fairness. Following such logic, Lupolianski has no problem in setting forth his building plans for the city so that they ignore the fact that the land where the Dari plot sits was owned by the village of Issawiya. Nor does he have any moral reservations that the city has reduced the 12,000 dunams that belonged to the village before 1967 to a mere 670 dunams today. Lupolianski claims he is upholding the law. But, international law requires an occupying power to look after the needs of those under occupation. If the mayor does not view the Arab areas of Jerusalem as occupied territory because Israel has officially annexed them, then international law requires the State to look after the needs of all its residents - not just the Jewish residents. Ahmed Musa Dari is a simple and humble man who wants only to provide a permanent shelter for his family. As a religious organization, we in Rabbis for Human Rights urge the mayor, a religious man, to place his outrageous stance in the context of the Jewish prohibition against eifah v'eifah (double standards). If we do not a put an end to the city's bigoted policy, then we will make a mockery of the universal message of Succot, confining one segment of the population to live in temporary shelters, forcing them to endure an endless state of homelessness, instead of providing them with a permanent shelter - an everlasting succa. The writer is a former head of Rabbis for Human Rights.

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