I have spent this summer volunteering for an organization called Rabbis for Human Rights. Founded in 1988, it is the only organization known to be a rabbinic voice in Israel explicitly dedicated to human rights. Over 100 rabbis and rabbinical students, which represent the organization, have banded together with a mission of “informing the Israeli public about human rights violations and pressuring State institutions to readdress these injustices.” RHR works within 4 main fields: human rights work in occupied territories, challenging land confiscation in occupied territories, socioeconomic justice work in Israel, and promoting human rights education in Israel.
My journey with Israel/Palestine, I guess one might say, simply began with the fact that my dad’s side of the family is Jewish. Jewish traditions were never a part of my life but I had known for quite some time I had Jewish family lineage. Though what truly sparked my interest in this part of the world is the conflict. I, just like many others, started to learn about it in the classroom.
I read and re-read articles related to the conflict as well as researched on my own. One of my professors also helped to so-call “fuel the fire” in terms of my interests pertaining to the conflict. The deeper I dug into the conflict the more and more I became obsessed with the idea of going to Israel. And one day I decided, “Well, I have one more co-op left so I am going to Israel…some how, some way” and never thought twice about going somewhere else.
My work has been filled with both office and fieldwork. I am quite a busy bee; not many days go by where I am not doing something related to work. In the office I mainly work on donation work from entering and writing thank you letters to doing research. I have also helped the grants director finish a large project in which RHR paired with Breaking the Silence, another organization here in Jerusalem. The type of fieldwork depends on the season. Because it is the dry season, we aren’t helping much in the way of agricultural work. So whenever I go out to the field, I walk with Palestinian shepherds to make sure that the military doesn’t harass them while herding their sheep or goats. Two projects related to the West Bank that I have been involved in is rebuilding a road. This road that we helped to rebuild is the only road that a specific Palestinian village is able to use to get to any medical help, if needed. Another project is the summer camp involving Bedouin children teenagers.
For 3-4 hours several times per week for a two-week duration, we play games, do arts & crafts and teach the children and teenagers English words.
Having this opportunity to co-op in such a conflict-ridden zone has challenged many views and definitions I previously had before coming. Life here, especially close to the territories, is full of tension and uncertainties. I could only study so much in the classroom. But just as our language program states, immersion truly is the key to understanding a subject like a language, culture or conflict and has shown me a side that no article or newspaper could have shown. A newspaper, book, or article most certainly couldn’t have explained the emotional rollercoaster I went through after witnessing the stabbing of a 16-year-old girl at the Gay Pride Walk in Jerusalem or the feeling of being segregated and treated like an animal going through a checkpoint or the conversations I’ve had with both Israelis and Palestinians about the conflict or falling in love with such a screwed up part of the world…