Reform Rabbi Seeks Olive Owners

Reform Rabbi Arik Asherman was in the center of a dispute– some say he caused it – regarding Jewish olive harvesting in Samaria Monday.

Hillel Fendel , | updated: 9:27 PM

Olive harvest
Olive harvest
Israel news photo

Reform Rabbi Arik Asherman was in the center of a dispute regarding Jewish olive harvesting in Samaria Monday. Some say he caused the dispute. 

Erez Ben-Saadon of Rechelim, between Shilo and Ariel, who planted trees in the area in question 13 years ago, told Arutz-7 what happened:

“We were harvesting our olives peacefully as we have been doing for 13 years, when suddenly Asherman happened by – and then everything blew up. He started making phone calls to the Civil Administration, and the police, and to Arabs, persuading the latter that the land was theirs and that they should protest… In the end, they all agreed that the trees were not theirs and that they did not plant them, but they said the land was theirs. We asked them to show us deeds, and they said the land belongs to someone else… Finally they said it belonged to their nearby village of Kariyut, and not to any specific person… The Civil Administration people said that since there was no dispute about the trees, we could continue to harvest the olives.”

The incident occurred a day after Ben-Saadon arrived at the site to find that 50 of his olive trees had been harvested and then destroyed, apparently by Arabs.

Asherman, who heads the Rabbis for Human Rights organization, had a slightly different version of today's events. He was contacted today by Arutz-7, and the following is the spirit of what he said:

“A year ago, I happened to be driving by the area, and I saw Jews harvesting olives. I called the Civil Administration, and it was decided that both the Jews and the Arabs would have to bring proof of their ownership of the land, if such existed, within two weeks. Neither of them did so. Today I was driving by again, and again I saw the Jews harvesting. Again I called the Civil Administration and Arabs from Kariyut. No one among the Arabs claimed that it was their land.”

Asked if he encouraged the Arabs to claim that the land was theirs, he said he did not. Later, however, he acknowledged that he encouraged the Arabs to produce proof of purchase.

Reminded that the Arabs had failed to do so a year earlier, and that there was therefore no basis for assuming that private Arab property was being taken by Jews, and asked why he felt the need to intervene, Asherman said that it is very likely that it is in fact Arab land, but the Arabs do not trust the Israeli legal system and therefore don’t bother to produce proof of ownership. He was obvously not aware of the lawfare being waged by the PA and leftist organizations who use local Arabs to file suits constantly in the Israeili Supreme Court. 

Asked if this was not a classic case of the Jewish People claiming a piece of their historic homeland that is not owned by any private interests, presenting a "win-win" situation of "Jewish land returning to the nation, without harming private interests," Asherman said that this does not jibe with most interpretations of international law on the issue, and said again that he believes that the plot is owned by Arabs even though they did not produce proof when asked to do so.

He dismissed the response that Israel's legal system has produced many victories for Arab land claims, beginning back in the mid-1970’s, and that therefore this was not likely to be the reason that the Arabs in this case did not produce proof of ownership.

David Hi'Ivri, director of the Liaison office of the Regional Council official in Samaria, told Arutz-7, “He calls himself a peace activist, but in fact he does the opposite, stirring up controversy where there is none. Asherman is a provocateur...

Asherman was further asked: “If it happens that Israel leaves Judea and Samaria, will you then continue your struggle to seek out Arab owners of land in Tel Aviv and other areas in which they lived before 1948?”  Asherman introduced his response with remarks about compromise, but the phone connection was lost and the conversation could not be resumed.

Ben-Saadon said that he heard that earlier in the day, before the above-mentioned incident, Asherman had been at the site of a fire in Eli, “and Civil Administration officials told me that Asherman said that Jews started it.” Asherman categorically denied this, adding that possibly someone in his office had said as much.

Ben-Saadon mocked claims by the Arabs that they would never harvest the fruits of trees that were not theirs: “Just this past Sabbath, we woke up to find our olives stolen…”

Jews’ attempts to claim plots in the Land of Israel not privately owned have also been successful of late in Gush Etzion.