(photo credit: REUTERS)
Since 1996 the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies has brought some 700
Israeli, Palestinian, Jordanian and international undergraduate and graduate
students together on its Kibbutz Ketura campus, where they have been provided
with the tools needed to learn how to live and to work with each other. We
expect our graduates to take the message of environmental cooperation beyond the
academic framework into the field and put what we teach into action.
number of years ago, a group of our Israeli and Palestinian graduates began
working together in the Palestinian village of Sussiya south of Hebron. These
Arava Institute alumni have been working to improve the sustainability of the
village, to raise the level of environmental awareness of both adults and
children, and to introduce biogas technology to the villagers; a technology that
turns organic waste into a source of clean energy.
Recently, we were
shocked to learn of the intention of the Israeli military to demolish the
village of Sussiya and destroy the homes of our friends. We are aware that the
buildings in the village were built without the proper building permits. There
will be those who say that if we ask an illegal Palestinian community not to be
destroyed we should make the same demand to save an illegal Israeli settlement.
The difference is that because 95 percent of Palestinian requests to build in
Area C are rejected there is an unequal application of the law and so in reality
almost every Palestinian building is illegal; that is not the case with Israeli
buildings, most of which are given permits to be built. So that when the Israeli
government rules that an Israeli building is illegal, it is illegal.
CAN Israel claim the right to force strict planning policies on people it
doesn’t want as citizens, while at the same time allowing its settlements to
grow? The residents of Sussiya are a vulnerable population.
Palestinian residents of Sussiya live without running water, electricity or
A number of organizations, including the Arava Institute,
have stepped in to try to assist the villagers to try to provide the population
with clean renewable energy technology for their energy needs.
force against a helpless, weak civilian population stands in opposition to
Jewish and humanitarian values. The brilliant Israeli Torah commentator Nechama
Leibowitz notes that 36 times the Torah reminds the Jewish people, “You shall
not oppress a stranger, for you know the feelings of the stranger, having been
strangers in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 23:9).
This message is elaborated
on when the Torah tells us, “There should be one law for you and for the
resident stranger; it is a law for all time throughout the ages” (Numbers
15:15). One of the main goals of Zionism is the reintegration of power into the
hands of the Jewish people after 2,000 years of lacking power and being at the
receiving end of those who did.
The 36 times we are reminded about our
former status when it comes to power is a cautionary voice from our tradition.
As my mentor, Rabbi Jack Cohen of blessed memory, the former director of Hillel
at the Hebrew University taught, “The miracle of Sinai was that human beings
came together to found a society not based on exploitation, but based on justice
and taking care of the vulnerable.”
The Jewish state faces many real,
serious and difficult challenges at this time. We have not been given this task
on a silver platter, yet at the same time if Zionism is to fulfill the vision of
Israel as a democratic state influenced by the best of Jewish values, then when
it comes to the situation in Sussiya I ask that the Civil Administration of the
Defense Ministry cancel the demolition order and continue to work to find a
non-violent solution for this village; Palestinians who have demonstrated the
desire and willingness to work with Israelis.The writer is a faculty
member of the Arava Institute and the author of
Einstein’s Rabbi: A Tale of
Science and the Soul. This article represents the view of the author and does
not represent the views of the Arava Institute.