(Gershon Elinson/Flash90)
Palestinian tree planting

“They are not rabbis and they are not for human rights,” says prominent Israeli rabbi about progressive NGO Rabbis for Human Rights.

By Sheri Oz, United with Israel

The NGO Rabbis for Human Rights (RHR) has announced a new event. Advertised as a follow-up to their month-long organization of volunteers who helped Palestinian Arab farmers harvest their olive orchards, they plan to plant seedlings alongside Palestinian farmers at a number of locations in the Shechem (Nablus) region in Samaria.

The event is to take place on the Jewish festival of Tu B’Shvat , which this year falls on January 14, 2022.

Also called the ‘New Year of the Trees,’ Tu b’Shvat (the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Shvat) is commonly celebrated in Israel by planting trees. But this year is a “Shmita” year, the final year of a seven-year cycle, during which no planting is permitted according to Torah law.

In their promotional material, the NGO writes that they will hold a Jewish ceremony for the festival. Linking the planting with Tu B’Shvat in a Shmita year seems to fly in the face of the spirit of Jewish rabbinic law on this matter even if planting would be permitted in some particular plots of land.

While RHR is vague about the exact locations, they report that they operate in Area C, an area under Israeli control and, therefore, it can be assumed that no planting is permitted this year, as per Jewish law. This means that RHR is violating the Shmita year, a fact confirmed by Rabbi Amichai Eliyahu, Chairman of the Israel- based Association of Communal Rabbis and a fellow of the Gesher Institute, in a message to United with Israel.

RHR alleges that Jewish settlers in Judea and Samaria daily harass Arabs in Area C (Jews are not permitted to enter Areas A and B), damaging property and sometimes causing bodily harm. They claim that olive trees were destroyed this year and therefore the Tu B’Shvat campaign aims to “rehabilitate damaged groves and support the planting of new trees.”

All acts of vandalism and violence are abhorrent. However, leftwing organizations such as RHR try to make it appear as if Jewish settler violence is a pervasive problem that only they and other like-minded organizations can tackle and that the solution is for Israel to cease the so-called “occupation”.

It is not true that Jewish settler violence is pervasive and, in fact, police report a 60% reduction in so-called price-tag-attacks (violence against property) this year in Judea and Samaria along with an increase in indictments handed down. At the same time, they report that a fair number of accusations against settlers proved to be baseless.

For some reason, the anti-Israeli NGOs ignore Arab violence against Jewish residents of Judea and Samaria that do, in fact, reportedly occur on a daily basis.

Over 2020-2021, the European Commission granted more than 500K Euros to Breaking the Silence, another leftwing anti-Israeli organization, to bring the issue of settler violence to the attention of the Israeli public and lawmakers. This makes their “human rights” activism suspect and it should be known by it proper intent – political activism.

It appears that RHR falls into the same category as Breaking the Silence – a politically motivated organization using “human rights” as a cover story. With their Tu B’Shvat event, they are even perverting a Jewish festival for political purposes.

This is not a new phenomenon as RHR tree-planting campaigns have been going on for 20 years. Supporting this project, the NGO Children of Peace claims that the tree-planting campaign takes place “across Israel and ‘Palestine’ in the name of peace.” However, aside from 2016, in which RHR held a Tu B’Shvat ceremony in a low-income Beit Shean neighborhood in 2016 and a small planting event in the Katamon neighborhood in Jerusalem, the campaign is carried out in Palestinian Arab villages, at least some of which are illegal outposts.

Perfecting the Art of Exploitation

Regavim, an NGO that monitors illegal seizure of land on behalf of the Palestinian Authority (PA), told UWI:

“The PA and its supporters and funders have perfected the art of exploiting loopholes in the archaic system of law that is still in force in Judea and Samaria. They rely on a combination Ottoman Land Law, EU-funded anti-Israel lawfare, and the Israeli High Court of Justice to carry out de facto annexation of the areas of Judea and Samaria recognized under international law as under full Israeli jurisdiction – and the Israeli government continues to pretend that it’s not happening.

“Participants in these “humanitarian” agricultural annexation projects are fueling the flames of Palestinian intransigence, unilateralism and  rejectionism, paving the path to the hell of violent conflict with olive trees and good (or not so good) intentions.”

Rabbi Eliyahu made the following statement:

“I am not impressed by Rabbis for Human Rights: they are not rabbis (for example, planting trees on Tu B’Shvat) and they are not for human rights. There are many positive ways in which to help Palestinians within their own lives but what RHR does consistently is encourage the murderous anarchy and the harm committed against innocent people – innocent Palestinians. Theirs is a dictatorial regime that kills those who do not fall in line.

“I have never heard RHR deal with such issues. They have one role – to vilify the State of Israel while presenting themselves as if they are pluralistic and liberal and enlightened. In fact, this is a propaganda ploy that was used by the communists of Russia who told everyone how moral they were.”

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