State-Backed Persecution

Ha'aretz Newspaper Editorial
October 11, 2009

The methods of harassment and persecution used by the ultra-Orthodox organization Yad L'Achim against innocent, law-abiding Israeli citizens goes beyond the limits of legitimate activity by a civilian body and borders on unlawful. The organization, which has deployed a dense net of activists across the country and the world, is proud of "rescuing" Jewish men, women and children from the "claws" of other faiths and belief systems using coercive and dubious tactics.

Particularly serious is the fact - revealed by Yuval Azoulay in the October 2 edition of the Hebrew-language Haaretz Magazine - that behind the threats, the spreading of harmful rumors and harassment are not only the thugs of Yad L'Achim, but top Interior Ministry officials.

The officials, including Amos Arbel, head of the Population Administration in Tel Aviv, received information on the private lives of individuals described as "members of a messianic cult." On the pretext of counteracting "missionaries" who had "acted against the Jewish people," these officials trampled on people's basic rights.

It's hard to believe - a government agency tasked with delivering public services to citizens (mainly granting permits) is persecuting people for their opinions and beliefs while leaning on an extremist, violent organization. The infuriating interrogation of the university student Barbara Ludwig for alleged missionary work and the fact that her personal file (which was supposed to be classified) was transferred to Yad L'Achim is a blatant violation of Israel's Basic Law on Human Dignity and Liberty.

The organization's shady links with the establishment are not new - for years, its activists have provided information to rabbinical courts seeking to stick their hands into sensitive cases at the Social Affairs Ministry. More than once the group has enjoyed the assistance of ultra-Orthodox politicians such as Menachem Porush, who as deputy social affairs minister in 1991 wrote to a court pleading for mercy toward the group's activists who had kidnapped an orphan from relatives who were "not religious enough." But the Interior Ministry employees' collaboration with the group outdoes even that abhorrent precedent.

The government must call its employees to order immediately, to explain to Interior Minister Eli Yishai that he is not responsible for maintaining the purity of the Jewish race according to the formula of ultra-Orthodox zealots, and that any collaboration with Yad L'Achim is, in effect, a grave instance of persecution.

Amos Arbel, head of the Population Administration in Tel Aviv ... is persecuting people for their opinions and beliefs...

Menachem Porush ... wrote to a court pleading for mercy toward the group's activists who had kidnapped an orphan from relatives who were "not religious enough"

The government must explain to Interior Minister Eli Yishai that any collaboration with Yad L'Achim is, in effect, a grave instance of persecution.

Arad persecution.

Have a short and brutal year", was the 'greeting' Yoyakim got from an anonymous caller, on the Jewish 2009 New Year, Rosh-Hashanah. The man on the other end of the line hung-up the phone after that. since then, quite a few
things happened:

One of the main leaders in the hate-filled harassments against the believers in Arad for the last 5 years, the chief Ashkenazi Rabbi of Arad, died just before 'Yom Kippur'. He is the one who stood in front of Poly Sigulim's private house in 2004
with 250 demonstrators and compared the believers in Yeshua to Israel's worst enemies.

About 3 weeks ago, around the same time, on the 24th of September, 2009, Rebecca and Barry Punchard, a believing couple here in Arad, who have been sticking their necks out for the Sudanese refugees, were on their way again to help these people in Arad. These Sudanese are very much despised in this little town, for taking all the jobs around, mainly in the hotels, as cheap labour, and unfortunately, are being accused of anything and everything except for murder.

Barry and Rebecca have been helping them, since they were cheated many times by real estate agencies for instance, who have threatened not once to throw a Sudanese family out of the apartment for supposedly not paying their bills. On this day, the 24th of September, Rebecca was going to translate for a group of Sudanese women who were trying to get to the Mayor, who had promised on TV to help them in the past, to stop them from being thrown out of an apartment, which they were using as a kindergarten. Rebecca had also invited a TV reporter. He couldn ‚ ¹t come and asked them to film instead of him.

This is where the whole mess started. It is hard to put it all in order, since so many things happened so quickly and horribly, but we will try and be concise.

Rebecca and the group were met by the police, including the head of the police, who found out somehow that they were going to the Mayor. They were told very sternly that they were not allowed to demonstrate.

Still they were going to try and talk with the Mayor. At the Town Hall they were met by the police again, who this time were very angry and told them to leave. Rebecca tried to talk to the head of the police, who in the past seemed very nice, to try and explain the urgency of the matter for the mothers, whose kids would not have a place to gather in the mornings while mothers are at work. The response was very stern again, and so they left. What Barry and Rebecca weren't realizing was that the funeral march of the chief Arad rabbi, who died, was supposed to pass in that very area. It seems like an unfortunate co-incidence.

They arrived at the kindergarten, only to find out their stuff was already being thrown out by someone who came to renovate. Barry Punchard was there with a friend, filming. They had not been there for a few minutes, when a whole load of policemen swarmed in.

Sudanese women were dragged out of the kindergarten by their hair. One of the police men was making racist remarks about the Sudanese. There were cries and screams. A big guy dressed in civilian clothes stood in front of Barry and demanded the camera. Barry refused. He was pushed violently. Some Sudanese women came to his help, screaming in distress, and they were beaten. In the local news papers police claims one of the Sudanese women beat the chief of police with some kind of a board. Barry was taken to the police station, but not before he managed to hand the camera over to Rebecca. Rebecca gave the camera to a friend that was there, but the police demanded it off him. Rebecca was told to make her own way to the police station, since she had her little toddler and her 9 year old daughter with her. She was threatened they were going to deport Barry for supposedly not having a valid visa. She put her daughters in the care of her friend, and made her way to the police. Some Sudanese were arrested, including a pregnant woman [9th month], who was put in hand cuffs. At the police station, Rebecca saw Barry cuffed hand and foot. Barry testifies he was beaten again at the police station, while he was cuffed. She tried to talk to him but was aggressively told to stay away.

While she was investigated, a police man erased out of her mobile phone clips she managed to film of what happened. She was then arrested for incitement to terror and violence. She insisted on making contact with a lawyer. They tried to put her off by telling her it was a 'long procedure'. Finally she managed to make contact. Barry was made to sign a statement in
Hebrew, a language he does not understand. Since Barry suffers from hernia, he was taken to the emergency to be checked. His hernia wasn't hurt by the beating, but they took him cuffed hand and foot to the hospital, like a criminal. While he was in jail, Barry was made to take off his hernia belt again and again. He now suffers from pain because of that.

We were just on our way up North when all this was happening. Yo-Yakim got a call, demanding he comes and takes 'his friends stuff' from the police station'. When Yo-Yakim said he was up North, the policeman wished him a good time and put the phone down. We frantically tried to make contact with Barry and Rebecca, but of course, they couldn't talk with us. They were both taken to jail. Rebecca testifies the jail was horrible. She was put into a dark room. When her eyes got used to the dark, she saw old food on the beds, garbage over flowing. The toilet was dirty, the towel was mouldy, the sheets were filthy, and the mattresses were full of bed bugs.

A woman in the cell said no one came to clean in the five days she had been there. It was cold, but Rebecca tried to remember she was there because she helped other people. She also thought of the chances she had during the day, to tell the people who handled her along the way to the jail, and asked her why she was being arrested, about the ill treatment the Sudanese are suffering.

The next day she was put before a judge, who wasn't convinced that she was justly put in jail. The policeman representing the police, the same one who made racist remarks against the Sudanese, said he had a letter which he had not read yet from the Mayor's secretary, which would surely support his case. He handed it over to the judge to be read. The judge smiled a little and asked the policeman if he knew what he had just done. He then asked the policeman to read the letter. In it, the secretary of the Mayor was describing Rebecca's good deeds and practical help for the Sudanese. The judge described it as an excellent civilian example.

The police claimed at the court they didn ‚ ¹t know at all whether they were holding on to Barry ‚ ¹s video camera which had the whole event documented.

Rebecca was released to house arrest for five days, Barry was released to house arrest on bail by Pastor Howard Bass from Beer-Sheva for twelve days. Barry, who is 67, has a hard time digesting all of this. In the past, Barry went to the most remote places in Russia to bring Jewish people to the promised land. Now this.

In actual fact, the police were helping the owner of the flat that the Sudanese were renting, to throw them out, which is against the law. We were expecting things to get worse. We were not expecting it to come from those who are supposed to keep order. Now we are witnessing very negative articles in the local newspapers with twisted information claiming some kind of conspiracy between the "missionaries" and the unwanted Sudanese work seekers" (they don't call them "refugees" any more).

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