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This Palestinian Village Needs A Yom Kippur Miracle

Yom Kippur is Judaism’s — and my own — holiest day. It is a day of both repentance and possibility, where we are called to reflect on who we are and who we aspire to be. As I have gotten older, I have found myself reflecting not only on myself, but also on my community. There are numerous areas where we could stand to do better, but one in particular stands out for me right now: the role that the American Jewish community can and should play in preventing the demolition of Palestinian villages in the West Bank.

That might sound like an obscure issue, but it shouldn’t be. What’s happening to many Palestinian communities in the West Bank goes against all of our values and seriously undermines the better and more secure future we want for Israel.

The situation the Palestinian village of Susya faces today is an urgent example. By October 1st, according to several reports, the Israeli Ministry of Defense will ask the High Court of Justice to give it permission to evict Susya’s residents from their homes and demolish the village.

Why? If the village is demolished, the Jewish settlement nearby of the same name will be able to expand and consolidate.

This should matter to American Jews because demolishing Susya will further entrench the Israeli presence on territory that should become part of a future Palestinian state. This would deliver the latest blow against the prospects for a two-state solution – the only solution to the conflict that ensures a democratic homeland for the Jewish people.

Supporters of Susya’s demolition claim that destroying the village is about building permits, not land. That is an obfuscation. It would be almost impossible for Susya to be built legally, as evidenced by the fact that upwards of 90% of Palestinian requests for permits are denied.

In contrast, Israeli settlement outposts– which are also built without permits– typically face little scrutiny and are often connected to Israeli infrastructure, like power and water supplies and are retroactively legalized. The Israeli government itself continues to expand settlements. A recent report indicated that they will soon move forward with plans to to build 2,000 new homes in settlements in the West Bank.

Susya’s residents have faced multiple threats and instances of demolition and displacement since 1986. Most recently, buildings in Susya were demolished in 2011, displacing 87 people. When the village faced threats of demolition in 2015, the US State Department spoke out, indicating that such actions would be incredibly damaging. In 2016, when Susya faced a looming demolition decision again, the State Department again weighed in to help shield it. Vitally, so did American Jewish groups like the Union for Reform Judaism and J Street.

Now, the threat of demolition is once again looming, with a decision expected within days. The proximity of this decision to Yom Kippur should only intensify the call to action for American Jews. As Rabbi Arik Ascherman wrote in a stirring [op-ed]( about demolitions, “Just as we are taught that we cannot ask God for forgiveness before making amends with our fellow human beings, I knew I could not stand before the heavenly court before first standing before the earthly court where the fate of many villages is decided.”

Yes, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is complex and confusing. But the moral and political questions at stake here are crystal clear. Demolishing Susya, and other West Bank villages like it, would cause irrevocable harm to the Palestinians who live there. And it would not make Israelis more secure. Quite the opposite, it would do lasting damage to the prospects for peace and for Israel’s future as a democratic homeland for the Jewish people. Such an unambiguously dangerous policy must be met with fierce, widespread opposition.

Ultimately, this decision will be made by the Israeli government – but the American Jewish community could make an impact. Unlike in recent years, we are faced with a US administration and State Department giving a tacit green light to settlement expansion and home demolitions. That’s why the Jewish community’s opposition to demolition must be loud and and unambiguous. We care about what happens in Israel and the occupied territory, about the human toll of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on all peoples, and about working towards a better future.

Any Jewish institution or leader that seriously supports the two-state solution and Israelis’ and Palestinians’ rights to live in dignity should take a stand. So should all of us who, as individuals, will head into services this weekend to reflect on what we will do this year to better ourselves and our world. If we are truly committed to teshuva this Yom Kippur, then we must speak out for Susya.


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