Rabbis for Human Rights (RHR) is known for offering uncompromising criticism of past and present Israeli governments based on their human rights performance. Yet, for over a decade, the Jerusalem-based organization has also published an annual report celebrating the positive developments in the field of human rights in the country

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The Nativ HaAvot outpost, which the Supreme Court ordered to be evacuated because it was partly built on Palestinian landCredit: Courtesy of Peace Now
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This year, for the first time, Rabbis for Human Rights started soliciting contributions from the public for its report about positive human rights developments, also referred to as ‘Harvest of Rights’ (or ‘assif’ in Hebrew), and is planning to enhance public participation in next year’s review. With the help of the public, RHR sought to bring to light even more instances where the honoring of human rights in Israel trumped their systematic violation. The findings will be published, engaging more people in promoting awareness of these important developments and ultimately serving as an advocacy tool for the continued promotion of human rights and human dignity.

“We have two goals in opening the process to the public,” says Rabbi Levi Weiman-Kelman, the president of RHR. “The first goal is to demonstrate that even during an extremely challenging time for human rights advocacy in Israel and around the world, positive developments are possible. The second goal is to give a wider and fuller picture of the situation in Israel that will complement and round out our uncompromising criticism over human rights violations and shortcomings by Israeli authorities, demonstrating that while we face challenges, we are succeeding in our difficult yet rewarding work!”

The review also acts as a sort of “spiritual harvest,” which is why it is published after Yom Kippur and before Sukkot. Just as the Jewish people celebrate the creation of the world, seek personal and collective atonement and observe the commandment to rejoice during these holidays, so too is the goal for the human rights-focused organization. In this way, the document not only celebrates the positive human rights developments in Israeli society and in the areas under Israeli rule, but also catalogues the specific achievements of the organization over the past Jewish year.

Rabbis for Human Rights views itself as a caring contributor to Israeli society and believes it is critical that emphasis be placed not only on the negative but also on the positive. Human rights successes do not just happen. Rather, they are the fruit of tenacious and on-going struggles which teach that individuals and groups still have considerable ability to make a difference. The challenge of these current times for human rights makes the gains even more meaningful.

Following are some of the positive human rights developments excerpted from last year’s review:

Humanitarian aid

The IDF worked in many areas, extensively and continuously, to provide humanitarian aid to Syrian refugees suffering under the Assad regime and other elements in the Syrian Golan Heights. Extended aid included assistance to the White Helmets; the provision of food, clothing, and medical assistance to those in need; and the evacuation of over 800 individuals in need of immediate rescue over the summer.

This work was very commendable. However, it is important to point out that in the Gaza Strip – still under Israeli responsibility as the power that exerts peripheral control over that territory – many residents are suffering from a humanitarian crisis. In this case, Israel is not helping enough and often even impedes living conditions. It is unacceptable that in a place where Israel is largely responsible for the lives of the residents, it acts in a less worthy manner than in a place where it has no liability beyond humanitarian goodwill.

Pride and anti-discrimination march

This year also saw a record number of LGBT parades in Israel and a record number of marchers in Tel Aviv against discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation. Unfortunately, the surge in solidarity was undercut by legislation that placed selective obstacles on surrogate parenthood and specifically targeted gay male couples and men in general.

Palestinian human rights

Even in the present climate of providing cover to radical settlers attempting to seize Palestinian land, the Israeli High Court, in response to a petition by the landowners and Peace Now, ordered the evacuation of the outpost Nativ HaAvot, which was then implemented. The outpost was partly built on a strip of vines on Palestinian owned land, and its location next to additional Palestinian private land was also problematic due to the common but illegal practice of blocking Palestinian land access when there is proximity to an outpost.

As a human rights organization, Rabbis for Human Rights is less concerned with the fact that the outpost was built illegally according to the laws of the State of Israel, and more with the fact that its construction involved theft of land belonging to other human beings and facilitated blocking the access to their land. The complaints about trespassing onto private land were submitted as far back as the outpost's establishment in 2001, so claims of good faith or ignorance about the status of the land by the settlers or their representatives have no factual basis. This was made clear to all of the parties at the time of the initial trespassing. It is certainly possible to envision Jewish settlement in Judea and Samaria as equal neighbors to the Palestinians, but not under a discriminatory military regime and not through theft.

RHR also managed to return private lands of Palestinians after they were defined as part of a plan to expand the settlement of Shima. After the State refused to recognize the fact that these were private lands of Palestinian residents of Samu’, RHR petitioned the Israeli High Court, and two years later the land was returned to its owners.

Raising disability allowances

The recent increase in disability allowances is a welcome step in the right direction. However, the allowances were not raised to a level that enables a dignified life; not all groups of disabled people received the raise; and the linkage of the allowances to the average wage will begin only in 2022. This means many more years of erosion of allowances. Nevertheless, even though the raise is not enough, it is still a positive trend.

Access to education for single parents

Six years ago, RHR discovered that single parents who receive income supplements can study for undergraduate degrees but must check in with the employment office where they might be sent to work at a job that interferes with their schooling. Following pressure by Rabbis for Human Rights, in February 2018 the Knesset passed regulations that set the conditions for an exemption from appearing at the employment service for such parents.

Rabbis for Human Rights invites people to tell them about examples of positive human rights developments in Israel and in Palestinian territories ruled over by Israel. Send contributions to dover@rhr.israel.net. For more information about RHR, go to rhr.org.il.