Using force against a helpless, weak civilian population stands in opposition to Jewish and humanitarian values.

Since 1996 the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies has brought some 700 Israeli, Palestinian, Jordanian and international undergraduate and graduate students together on its Kibbutz Ketura campus, where they have been provided with the tools needed to learn how to live and to work with each other. We expect our graduates to take the message of environmental cooperation beyond the academic framework into the field and put what we teach into action.

A number of years ago, a group of our Israeli and Palestinian graduates began working together in the Palestinian village of Sussiya south of Hebron. These Arava Institute alumni have been working to improve the sustainability of the village, to raise the level of environmental awareness of both adults and children, and to introduce biogas technology to the villagers; a technology that turns organic waste into a source of clean energy.

Recently, we were shocked to learn of the intention of the Israeli military to demolish the village of Sussiya and destroy the homes of our friends. We are aware that the buildings in the village were built without the proper building permits. There will be those who say that if we ask an illegal Palestinian community not to be destroyed we should make the same demand to save an illegal Israeli settlement. The difference is that because 95 percent of Palestinian requests to build in Area C are rejected there is an unequal application of the law and so in reality almost every Palestinian building is illegal; that is not the case with Israeli buildings, most of which are given permits to be built. So that when the Israeli government rules that an Israeli building is illegal, it is illegal.

HOW CAN Israel claim the right to force strict planning policies on people it doesn’t want as citizens, while at the same time allowing its settlements to grow? The residents of Sussiya are a vulnerable population.

The Palestinian residents of Sussiya live without running water, electricity or infrastructure.

A number of organizations, including the Arava Institute, have stepped in to try to assist the villagers to try to provide the population with clean renewable energy technology for their energy needs.

Using force against a helpless, weak civilian population stands in opposition to Jewish and humanitarian values. The brilliant Israeli Torah commentator Nechama Leibowitz notes that 36 times the Torah reminds the Jewish people, “You shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the feelings of the stranger, having been strangers in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 23:9).

This message is elaborated on when the Torah tells us, “There should be one law for you and for the resident stranger; it is a law for all time throughout the ages” (Numbers 15:15). One of the main goals of Zionism is the reintegration of power into the hands of the Jewish people after 2,000 years of lacking power and being at the receiving end of those who did.

The 36 times we are reminded about our former status when it comes to power is a cautionary voice from our tradition. As my mentor, Rabbi Jack Cohen of blessed memory, the former director of Hillel at the Hebrew University taught, “The miracle of Sinai was that human beings came together to found a society not based on exploitation, but based on justice and taking care of the vulnerable.”

The Jewish state faces many real, serious and difficult challenges at this time. We have not been given this task on a silver platter, yet at the same time if Zionism is to fulfill the vision of Israel as a democratic state influenced by the best of Jewish values, then when it comes to the situation in Sussiya I ask that the Civil Administration of the Defense Ministry cancel the demolition order and continue to work to find a non-violent solution for this village; Palestinians who have demonstrated the desire and willingness to work with Israelis.

The writer is a faculty member of the Arava Institute and the author of Einstein’s Rabbi: A Tale of Science and the Soul. This article represents the view of the author and does not represent the views of the Arava Institute.