Rabbi-activist faces charges for interfering with IDF soldiers in West Bank

Rabbi Arik Ascherman is an American-born Israeli rabbi and human rights activist who is known for his work with Rabbis for Human Rights, an organization that advocates for the rights of Palestinians, Bedouins, and other marginalized groups in Israel and the occupied territories. He has been involved in several campaigns to protect Palestinian olive trees, prevent home demolitions, and challenge land confiscations. He has also been attacked and arrested several times for his activism.

On October 10, 2023, Rabbi Ascherman was driving in the central West Bank, near the village of Wadi a-Siq, when he saw a Palestinian shepherd who was trying to pass through a checkpoint manned by two IDF soldiers. He decided to intervene and help the shepherd, who he said was being prevented from reaching his destination by the soldiers. He got out of his car and approached the soldiers, while filming the encounter with his camera. He accused the soldiers of “trying to do terrorism here” and blocked their way with his body. He also pushed one of the soldiers with his hands and body about 15 times, according to the indictment.

How did the authorities react?

The soldiers called the police, who arrived at the scene and arrested Rabbi Ascherman. He was taken to a police station and interrogated for several hours. He was then released on bail and banned from entering the West Bank for two weeks. He was also given a copy of the indictment, which charged him with two counts of violating the law that requires citizens to allow public servants to perform their duties without harassment, and one count of committing an assault that causes bodily harm. He denied any wrongdoing and said he had a recording of the incident that would prove his innocence.

What is the context of the incident?

The incident occurred three days after Hamas launched a massive rocket attack on Israel, triggering a war in Gaza that lasted for 11 days and killed hundreds of people on both sides. The West Bank also witnessed a surge of violence, as Palestinian protesters clashed with Israeli forces and settlers, and Israeli raids targeted suspected Hamas cells. Many Palestinians also faced restrictions on their movement and access to their land, as Israel revoked their work permits and imposed closures and checkpoints. Human rights groups also reported that several Palestinian communities in the West Bank were facing harassment and expulsion by Israeli settlers and soldiers, who destroyed their crops, tents, and water sources.

What are the implications of the case?

The case of Rabbi Ascherman is one of many examples of the tensions and conflicts that exist between Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank, where Israel maintains military control and settlements that are considered illegal by most of the international community. It also raises questions about the role and responsibility of human rights activists, who often face criticism and hostility from both sides for their involvement in the conflict. Rabbi Ascherman said he was motivated by his Jewish values and his commitment to justice and peace, and that he would continue to stand up for the rights of the oppressed, regardless of the consequences.

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