Tension is continuing to mount in Israel over a string of recent Palestinian stabbing attacks and an intense crackdown by the Israeli government. Since October 1, at least 58 Palestinians have been shot and killed by Israelis at the scene of attacks or during protests in the West Bank and Gaza. Israeli police say 10 Israelis have been killed in Palestinian stabbings or shootings. Meanwhile, video has gone viral of a masked Israeli settler armed with a knife attacking Rabbi Arik Ascherman, the co-founder of the group Rabbis for Human Rights. The incident took place after Ascherman tried to film Israeli settlers setting Palestinian olive trees on fire in the West Bank village of Awarta outside of Nablus. The video shows the masked man grabbing a knife out of his back pocket, then repeatedly lunging at the 55-year-old rabbi, who was attempting to retreat. The masked man also kicked and punched Ascherman while making threatening gestures with the knife. The settler eventually ran away. We speak with Rabbi Arik Ascherman, who co-founded Rabbis for Human Rights in 1988. For over a decade the group has dispatched volunteers to protect the Palestinian olive harvest.
AMY GOODMAN: We go now to Israel, where tension is continuing to mount over a string of recent Palestinian stabbing attacks and an intense Israeli government crackdown. Earlier today, Israeli forces shot dead a Palestinian man who the army said had stabbed and wounded a soldier at an intersection near the town of Hebron. A day earlier, Israeli border police shot and killed a 17-year-old girl. Police said the girl approached officers with a knife, but a witness told CNN the accused assailant was a terrified schoolgirl who raised her arms, saying, “I don’t have a knife.” Since October 1st, at least 58 Palestinians have been shot and killed by Israelis at the scene of attacks or during protests in the West Bank and Gaza. Israeli police say 10 Israelis have been killed in Palestinian stabbings or shootings.
Meanwhile, video has gone viral of a masked Israeli settler armed with a knife attacking the co-founder of the group Rabbis for Human Rights, Rabbi Arik Ascherman. The incident took place after Rabbi Ascherman tried to film Israeli settlers setting Palestinian olive trees on fire in the West Bank village of Awarta outside of Nablus. The video shows the masked man grabbing a knife out of his back pocket, then repeatedly lunging at the 55-year-old rabbi, who was attempting to retreat. The masked man also kicked and punched the rabbi while making threatening gestures with the knife. The settler eventually ran away. Rabbi Arik Ascherman joins us now from Jerusalem, again, co-founder of Rabbis for Human Rights in 1988. For over a decade, the group has dispatched volunteers to protect the Palestinian olive harvest.
Rabbi Arik Ascherman, welcome to Democracy Now! First of all, how are you?
RABBI ARIK ASCHERMAN: Well, I’m alive, so that’s a good start. And thank God. You know, there’s a traditional blessing that one blesses after having been saved from a very dangerous situation, in synagogue, and this last Shabbat, this last Saturday, I blessed that blessing, and then immediately took my turn, as we have different members, guarding the synagogue, because we’re also concerned about Palestinian violence. And that’s part of reality. And yet, somehow, we have to remember to stay human and to remember our humanity. And I think one of the things that many of our volunteers that come out to the olive harvest are so grateful for is, in the midst of all this craziness, reminding ourselves and everybody else that there really is another way.
AMY GOODMAN: Your right arm is bandaged. What happened?
RABBI ARIK ASCHERMAN: Well, this is—you know, everything happened so fast, I just don’t know what happened. But apparently, for those of you who have seen the video, when I’m kind of being kicked at and having stones thrown at me and the—
AMY GOODMAN: Before you—before you tell us—
RABBI ARIK ASCHERMAN: —knife being, you know, slashed at me—
AMY GOODMAN: Before you tell us that—
RABBI ARIK ASCHERMAN: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: —explain exactly when this happened and what you were doing, talking about the olive harvest and where you were.
RABBI ARIK ASCHERMAN: Sure. So, as you said, for some 13 years, Rabbis for Human Rights has been accompanying Palestinian farmers to get their olive trees. When we started back in 2002, we were being shot at, threatened. Several of our volunteers had their heads cracked open. It was very violent, with the security forces doing nothing. As a result of our High Court victory, Israeli High Court victory in 2006, the fact is that many farmers are getting to lands that they couldn’t get to for two, five, 10, even 15 years, and now, by court order, the army is protecting them to get to those places.
So on Friday, there was actually—the army was out there protecting farmers in a coordinated harvest to their trees right underneath the homes of some of the outposts belonging to be settlement of Itamar. After the harvest was finished—actually, the army actually shut it down quite early for some reason. From below, from far away, we saw Israelis coming to steal olives. We called the police. We called the army. An army unit eventually gets there, but the people escape. And in the next-over wadi, we see a fire break out. At that point, the army and police aren’t answering me anymore, or my Palestinian field worker, Zakaria Sadeh, who was the person who filmed the video you’ve seen. And so I went up to get a better standpoint, both to direct the security forces to get there and to film.
While I’m focused on these—some Israelis, and the fire is still quite far away, another masked Israeli surprises me from the side, pulls his knife, throwing large rocks at me, kicking. I’m also trying to protect the journalist that was with me, as you can see in the video. And at one point, because I’m trying to back down while facing him and it’s very steep, I do lose my balance. That’s probably how I broke my finger. And then I have no point—no choice but to engage him, because he could have easily crushed my head or stabbed me. I’m not exactly—my son knows much more about martial arts than I do, and I did everything wrong.
So, eventually, he was on top of me, and he could have killed me easily. And I’m wondering to this day why he didn’t, whether he just wasn’t a killer in his heart, at least not of Jews, whether he never intended to do anything but scare us, whether he was concerned about the cameras, or whether he had a moment of what we call tshuva, of hearing an inner call, that caused him at that last moment to make a change in his plans, or maybe even as our—this week’s Torah portion tells us the story of Abraham and Isaac, a voice in his head saying, “Don’t do it.” But for some reason, although he could have murdered me easily, he instead ran away.
AMY GOODMAN: We can’t see if he’s speaking, because he has a black mask over his face, but what language was he speaking? Was he speaking to you? And what was he saying?
RABBI ARIK ASCHERMAN: He was speaking Hebrew. He didn’t speak much. There wasn’t really a time for dialogue. I was saying to him, “You are desecrating God’s name. You’re desecrating the Torah.” He’s saying, “How can you be wearing a kippah?”—a Jewish religious head covering—How dare—you know, get out of here. You shouldn’t be here,” this kind of stuff. But mostly he was speaking with his knife and not with words.
AMY GOODMAN: If you—
RABBI ARIK ASCHERMAN: But he was speaking Hebrew. He—
AMY GOODMAN: So can you explain, were Israeli security forces in the area? What would have happened if you had been a Palestinian?
RABBI ARIK ASCHERMAN: Well, I suspect, if I had been a Palestinian, things would have ended quite differently. I think—you know, who knows? But he had—
AMY GOODMAN: It looks like we just lost the feed to Jerusalem. Rabbi Arik Ascherman is the president and senior rabbi of Rabbis for Human Rights. On Friday, he was attacked by a knife-wielding Israeli settler in the West Bank. So, we’ll have to leave it there. You can go to our website, especially for radio listeners, and you can look at the video that has gone viral in Israel of Rabbi Ascherman being attacked.