The Roadmap

Avi Dabush - Rabbis for Human Rights

IMG-20221106-WA0001 (1) (1)

The Morning of October 7th

On the morning of October 7, Avi Dabush was at his home in Kibbutz Nirim when he awoke to a massive barrage of rocket fire, just about a mile from the Gaza border. Within 15 minutes he and other members of his small, tightly knit community were trying to comprehend the notifications on their phones: terrorists had infiltrated the area. Soon after, they understood they were actually inside his kibbutz, and he could hear RPG’s exploding outside and voices speaking in Arabic. 

Avi, the Executive Director of Rabbis for Human Rights whose entire adult life has been dedicated to social and political justice, quickly hid in his safe room with his wife.

“We were under attack for many hours till the army came, something like eight hours after,” he says from his temporary refuge, a hotel room in Eilat. He’s been living there with hundreds of other displaced Israelis since two days after the assault on the once lush, well maintained kibbutz. Five of his fellow kibbutz members were murdered, and five others taken hostage into Gaza, two of whom are still there.

“But most of us are alive,” which he calls a miracle.

These days, along with his job at Rabbis for Human Rights, Avi has his hands full as the coordinator on behalf of the kibbutz for the families of the hostages and those who were murdered.

Remebering a Different Gaza

Avi remembers Gaza in another, very different era. He grew up in Ashkelon, and Gaza was where he’d go with his family to shop in open-air markets, sit on the beach. He even went to a dentist there. 

His was a religious, right-wing home, and in the early 1990s he went from protesting the Oslo peace accords to supporting them. He had become so disillusioned with the violence and the rhetoric against Oslo, culminating with the assassination of then Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin in 1995. He began with environmental and social activism, before moving towards human rights and peace work. 

“I say about October 7, my roadmap changed, but not my values and my destination,” says Avi. He still seeks a diplomatic solution, but no longer thinks Hamas could ever be a partner in that. “And of course, peace in the region in the reconciliation perspective, is more needed than ever.”

Rabbis for Human Rights - The Roadmap

Rabbis for Human Rights, which was founded in 1988 in response to the human rights violations taking place as part of the occupation of Palestinian areas. It strives to promote social and economic justice in Israel and to infuse Jewish tradition in the struggle for human rights. 

The group has called for a ceasefire from the first week of the war.  As the head of an organization like Rabbis for Human Rights he says it makes total sense to call for a ceasefire. As a father and a person, especially one who survived October 7, he says, is harder.

Rabbis for Human Rights is not just focused on declarations, but also action.

Helping protect Palestinians during the olive harvest season each fall is one of their flagship projects. Normally 1,000 Israeli volunteers come to the West Bank to help the families and farmers harvest.

The few that were able to volunteer were usually kicked out by the army soon after arriving. Their role is to be nothing less than “human shields” against extremist settlers. It’s brave work. They have had several volunteers brutally beaten in recent years while trying to protect Palestinians. Extremist settlers are known for trying to disrupt the harvests with violence (uprooting trees, attacking people, setting fires), but this year far fewer RHR volunteers were able to come because of the war, and settler violence is on the rise.

Communities in Great Need

During these difficult days, the organization has pivoted to humanitarian aid. They have been providing thousands of boxes with food and first-aid kits to the most marginalized communities in Israel: Bedouin communities living in unrecognized villages in the Negev and asylum seekers, most of them from Eritrea and Sudan in central Israel.

While there has been an outpouring of support for evacuees from the south and north like himself, these communities are, as he says, “in great need.” Many have lost work because of the war and they are not eligible for government support. They also have been providing some aid in West Bank villages, also cut off from jobs so many of them relied on for income in Israel.

They have also been very active working with Israel’s poor, doing what they can on a practical level to help. Because so many have lost work during the war, they have been having trouble paying their bills and some were having electricity cut off. RHR worked with the authorities to get their power turned back on. 

Avi and his colleagues have also been focused on their educational work, especially with pre military academies, where they speak to young people doing a gap year before the army about human rights, from both a universal but also a Jewish perspective. “We believe that religions can be part of the solution, and not only the problem … we have to preserve our values in these days even more than ever.”

Dina Kraft

Writer and Journalist

Dina Kraft is a writer and journalist based in Tel Aviv.  She is the Opinion Editor for Haaretz English and co-author of My Friend Anne Frank. She has written from the region for over two decades for The New York Times, The Christian Science Monitor and The Los Angeles Times, reporting on Israeli and Palestinian politics, culture and society.

Dina is drawn to stories featuring unlikely connections, dual narratives and the impact of conflict and crisis on ordinary lives. She hosts the podcast “Groundwork” and previously “The Branch”, which tell the stories of relationships between Jews and Arabs, Israelis and Palestinians.

Dina is a long-time foreign correspondent who began her overseas career in the Jerusalem bureau of The Associated Press. She was later posted to AP’s Johannesburg bureau where she covered southern Africa. She’s also reported from Senegal, Kenya, Pakistan, Jordan, Tunisia, Russia, and Ukraine