Each year at Rosh Hashana, we take stock of our actions from the past year. This year, we have additional reason to take stock as we head into the Days of Awe and the season of repentance: this is the 50 year of the occupation.
In Jewish tradition, the 50 year has special status. It is known as the yovel (Jubilee) year. In rabbinic writings the yovel is compared to Rosh Hashanah, with both set aside as time to reflect before beginning anew. The yovel consists of three major features: liberating slaves, setting free the land, and releasing all debts.
It is hard to conceive of a year in which yovel is more needed than the 50th anniversary of Israel’s rule over the West Bank and Gaza. Over this past half century, we have seen the occupation not only devastate Palestinians but also corrupt Israeli society. This past year alone, we have witnessed rising settler violence against Israeli Arabs and Palestinians, the Israeli military, and Peace Now and other activists, as well as land theft and vandalism.
The poison of occupation has metastasized to the highest levels of the Israeli political system. In order to bolster the occupation, Netanyahu’s government passed the Legalization Law, which retroactively legalizes Israeli civilian construction in the West Bank built on privately owned Palestinian land, in violation of both Israeli and international law. For the sake of stifling protest against the occupation, Netanyahu’s government passed the Entry Law, which bans entry to Israel by anyone who supports boycotts of either Israel or the settlements. This doesn’t just stifle debate; it is yet another step in the attempt to erase the boundary between Israel and the West Bank.
The toll the occupation has taken on Israeli society is perhaps exemplified by a video shot in Hebron in August, showing settlers from Kiryat Arba shouting the foulest sort of vulgar hate speech over a loudspeaker at their Palestinian neighbors. This, coming from people who should be rachmanim bnai rachmanim.... – compassionate children of compassionate parents.
Let's set ourselves free from the slavery of occupation – an occupation that oppresses another people and endangers Israelis while shaming Jews worldwide.
Let’s liberate the land, as we are called to do during the yovel, by negotiating a two-state solution that would establish internationally recognized borders for the State of Israel.
It is time to be released from the heavy debt of occupation, which keeps us fearful, corrupts our culture and our religion, and sets us at odds with the world. "...you are only temporary strangers and residents with me (Lev. 25:23)." The 50th year reminds us that freedom doesn’t reside in having a particular piece of the land, but in setting borders for the sake of peace.
This Rosh Hashana, we cannot be silent. Enough is enough!
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Rabbi Alana Suskin
P.S. The term we use for the yovel originates in the blast of the shofar that heralds its beginning. This Rosh Hashanah, as we hear the blasts of the shofar calling us to be awoken into the period of repentance, let us resolve that this year, we will free the land, release our debts, and free ourselves from the enslavement of occupation to be at peace with our neighbors.