Rabbi Arik Asherman, Executive Director of Rabbis for Human Rights, once said:"Parallel to the peace process, Israel committed human rights violations in the occupied territories, destroying homes and cropland, expropriating land, and treating ordinary Palestinians like criminals. With every violation, more Palestinians lost faith in the peace process until frustration spilled over into uprising. American Jews and Israelis don't realize what is going on because they have not seen what we have seen." In an effort to remedy the issue of lack of knowledge, this week Rabbi Asherman, along with Rabbi Jeremy Milgrom, coordinated activities of about 75 persons who met in Jerusalem. Many of the participants were American Jews, but there were other people from various European countries. One of the basic goals of the week was to plant olive trees in the Palestinian villages where the Israeli Occupation Forces had destroyed them. It wasn't easy work to begin with, and the blessing of the winter rains made it all the more difficult; nevertheless we planted olive, almond and other fruit bearing trees in various villages in this land. Although this may seem hard to believe, some 30,000 olive trees, along with over 130,000 fruit trees and vines have been uprooted since October 2000, risking the livelihood of Palestinian farmers for years to come. The Israeli Occupation Force often uses "security" as an excuse for collective punishment, and settlers engage in vigilante actions to seize even more Palestinian land. In the village of Der Istiya, the Israeli Army uprooted 1,500 trees after an Israeli settler was injured by a stone. Direct action by the Rabbis for Human Rights and Israeli activists helped bring the case to Israel's high court, where the army admitted only ten trees needed to be removed for security reasons! Besides tree planting, on Friday we went to the hills south of Hebron where the cave dwellers of the Yatta area had experienced the destruction of their dwellings when the Israeli Occupation Forces brought in huge Caterpillar bulldozers to collapse the roofs of the caves, fill in the wells and terrify the people who had been making their living by subsistent farming for themselves and their flocks. One young Israeli woman who had joined us for the day was overwrought by what she saw and heard there. It has been the mission of the Rabbis for Human Rights to be the voice of conscience, bringing human right violations to the attention of the Israeli public and pressuring the Israeli authorities for redress for all in this land. We who planted olive trees are grateful for the experience, even though many participants will be trying to process their experiences of "unreported news" for a long time. The American Jews are returning with the "unreported news" of what is happening in Israel, for now they have seen a bit of what the Rabbis have seen. They will soon be sharing their experiences with their congregations...no easy task is ahead of them. Sr Mary is an Ursuline nun working in Jerusalem
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