Prof. David Shulman won Israel’s most prestigious prize. He’s giving the prize money to one of Israel’s most dedicated — and persecuted — activist groups. Here’s why.
I often get comments, specifically from family members, that I never write anything positive about Israel. So here is something positive.
Prof. David Shulman, Renee Lang Professor of Humanistic Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, who just received the Israel Prize in Religious Studies for his work on Indian languages and culture, decided to donate his prize money (NIS 75,000, or about $20,000) to Ta’ayush, the group of Israeli activists who engage in non-violent direct actions to assist and protect the livelihood of Palestinian residents of the South Hebron Hills against the various hazards of occupation. (Full disclosure: I have been active with Ta’ayush since 2008, know David, and am all also a fan of his writing on Israel/Palestine, for example see here.)
Shulman, who has been active with Ta’ayush for the last 15 years, explains in this video what exactly the group, which was founded at the start of the Second Intifada and has been the target of right-wing incitement in recent months, does.
I think it’s interesting to note that most of the Israeli media outlets who covered the story characterized Ta’ayush as a “left-wing organization,” (Haaretz in Hebrew), “anti-Israel” (Arutz Sheva) and Haaretz English originally called it “pro-Palestinian” but then changed it to “Israeli group that helps Palestinians.”
I haven’t seen a single outlet call it what it is: an activist group doing humanitarian work in the West Bank. (Ta’ayush has just opened a new “front” of activism in the Jordan Valley.)
Ta’ayush, as David notes in the video, is not an organization, but a loose-knit group of people who dedicate their Saturdays to activism that affects the reality on the ground for Palestinians who live in Area C and have no representation or rights. You could call it “left-wing” inasmuch as it champions human rights and dignity and opposes Israel’s military occupation.
It is not anti-Israel, unless you think that being pro-Israel means supporting systematic violence and harassment of Palestinian civilians, depriving them of infrastructure and water, of security and schooling, and of the right to a basic livelihood. As for “pro-Palestinian,” this has a zero-sum connotation that it could be “anti-Israel” or somehow against Israeli interests, which is absurd. I assume that is why Haaretz English decided to change it.
Shulman’s donation to Ta’ayush will help pay for the group’s two primary expenses: legal fees for the activists who are constantly being arrested, the cases they build against the state, and the gas it requires to drive activists from Jerusalem to the South Hebron Hills every week.