Celebrating Passover – From Slavery to Tyranny

Seven years ago, on March 27, 2002, on Passover eve, Abdel-Basset Odeh walked into Park Hotel in Netanya and blew himself up, killing himself and 30 people (140 injured). I can understand how this may leave the general public in fear, come Passover. The right thing to do would be to tighten security checks in public places, I suppose. Israel has a security guard at every door, to every public building, anyway. It’d be easy to give a general order to search me more thoroughly without a warrant, as I venture to the mall. But this ain’t Switzerland- as the Israeli euphemism excusing unaccountability goes- so what do we do?

Taking Our Cues from Pharaoh

"Israel plans to deploy mass police forces in and around Jerusalem on Wednesday ahead of a traditional public prayer for the Jewish holiday of Passover. Police will be deployed in the Old City near the Western Wall and in ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods. Hundreds of police and border guards will also be stationed on roads leading into the city and elsewhere." [Ma'an]

And we also decided to impose a week-long general closure on the West Bank:

"The closure will be lifted at midnight on Saturday, April 18th, the army said. It noted that the lifting of the closure would be carried out in accordance with security assessments." [Ha'aretz]

Let us not forget that the IDF is the most humane army in the world and as such:

"People in need of medical treatment will still be permitted to cross into Israel, the IDF said. It added that the passage of humanitarian aid as well as medical personnel, NGO members and other officials would be authorized by the IDF District Coordination and Liaison offices. In addition, the army said, commercial crossings will remain open for the passage of supplies into the West Bank."

Yes, I was being sarcastic. The reality of that picture, as you know, is murky, to say the least. Humanitarian aid goes through arbitrary laws of scrutiny, check points leave pregnant women to give birth in ambulances, cabs and ditches, and the commercial supplies are Israeli production, leaving Palestinians to pay for their own occupation

Two Days Earlier…
This Saturday an "axe-wielding terrorist" murdered a 13 year old boy and injured a 7 year old boy, in the settlement of Bat Ayin. The IDF (not the police) was on the scene doing what it does best:

"In the ensuing manhunt Israeli forces overran the village of Safa, imposing a curfew and raiding houses. According to witnesses, more than 50 military vehicles continue to patrol the village. Villagers say at least 28 Palestinians have been detained and taken to an unknown location. There were also reports Israeli troops were firing in the air and that Israeli forces also invaded the nearby town of Surif." [Ma'an]

"IDF forces arriving at the scene began searching the nearby Palestinian villages, using trackers, helicopters and the Shin Bet security services."

But here’s the kicker:

"A self-proclaimed Palestinian armed group calling itself the Imad Mughniyya Brigades, after a slain Hizbullah leader, claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement received by Ma’an. The group said that the operation was in response to the "crimes committed against Palestinians by the occupation."… It has also been revealed that the father of the 7-year-old victim is Ofer Gamliel, who is serving a 15-year prison sentence for attempting to bomb a Palestinian girls school in Jerusalem in 2002. He and his co-conspirators were known as the "Bat Ayin Militia.""

What Do You Need a Closure, When You’ve Got the Laws of The Wild Wild West?
What does this story have to do with the closure? On Passover day, a group of settlers attacked the Village of Safa:

"… at least twelve Palestinians were wounded after an attack by Israeli settlers on a West Bank village. The settlers smashed car windows and damaged homes before fleeing. Israeli soldiers then arrived at the scene and shot at demonstrating Palestinian residents. Nasri Sabarneh of the Beit Ummar council said one of the victims was seriously injured.

    Nasri Sabarneh: "When the Israelis came, they started firing live bullets and tear gas. As a result, seven residents were injured, one of them was eighteen-year-old Thaer Nasir Adi, who was hit by live bullets in the neck and is now undergoing an operation at the Al Ahli hospital."" [Democracy Now!]

"No soldiers were wounded in the incident. Earlier on Wednesday, at least 17 people were wounded during clashes between dozens of settlers from a settlement where a terrorist killed an Israeli teenager last week and Palestinians in a nearby West Bank village.Sixteen Palestinians were wounded in the incident near the settlement of Bat Ayin, one seriously, and one Israeli was lightly hurt. The violence erupted when a group of settler youths began throwing stones at Palestinians on the outskirts of the village of Safa, who threw stones back in return. The settlers had earlier left a prayer service held on a nearby hilltop in memory of Shlomo Nativ, 16, who was killed by an axe-wielding Palestinian on Thursday. An IDF spokeswoman said the violence started when Palestinians threw stones at the settlers. She said soldiers fired live bullets at the legs of some stone-throwers." [Ha'aretz]

That’s right, trap them on the outside and beat them on the inside- that’s an Israeli specialty. But as always, there’s more. You see, this attack was no surprise to Israeli authorities:

"Security sources said on Thursday that right-wing extremists are likely to attempt to avenge the terror attack in the West Bank settlement of Bat Ayin… IDF, Shin Bet and police have stepped up security, fearing residents of Bat Ayin or the neighboring settlements might assault innocent Palestinians or sabotage properties in indigenous villages. The sources emphasized that there has been no concrete information about pending vengeance. They said it has become customary for some settlers to take the law into their own hands in the wake of terror attacks in the West Bank."


A Word On Jewish Tradition
On passover, the idea is to celebrate the Jewish people’s freeing from the cruel Egyptians (yes, more historical proof that Arabs have always wanted to kill us). The Haggadah is a religious text that sets out the order of the Passover dinner tradition. It’s read out loud, in turn, by the sitters at the table- adults and children. The idea, of course, is to tell on to our children. The Haggadah is riddled with tales of victimization and heroism, which support Israel’s modern take on justice and humanitarianism. The sickness of Israeli society can be read in these following passages:

"… Seder night celebrates our freedom from Pharaoh’s oppression, but, in one of its most poignant moments, it also commemorates the tragedy that befell the Egyptians. As we recount the ten plagues that decimated Egyptian society, we spill a drop of wine for each plague, to remind us of the Egyptian blood that was spilt. The act of spilling the wine compels us to retain our humanity when we might understandably forget it. As we whoop with joy that we achieved our freedom, we are commanded to feel sad at the loss of human life amongst our enemies. We do not deny that this loss of life was necessary, but neither do we rejoice in that necessity…

To my mind, when we consider recent events in Gaza, we have no option but to transform the spilling of the wine from ancient ritual to contemporary commentary… In addition to the drops of wine that we spill in sadness at the necessary loss of Egyptian life 3,000 years ago, we must also spill a drop of wine in sadness at the necessary loss of Gazan life 3 months ago.

To spill wine for Gazan life is not to deny the justness of the war, or to suggest that we should not do the same thing again when Israel’s security is threatened. Sadness over our enemies’ deaths need not come at the expense of our own convictions. But the spilling of wine for Gazan life may help save our own humanity. Recent revelations about soldiers’ T-shirt slogans that show utter contempt for Palestinian life show just how far we have to go to re-educate ourselves.

This moment in the Seder should become more than ancient ritual: It should become commentary on the contemporary situation.

It should remind us that, even if the war in Gaza was necessary, even if Palestinian civilian casualties were unavoidable, even if we will need to do it all over again in the future, we must never, never, feel joy at the death of our enemies. The ideal situation is one in which we are free and they don’t die: that is what we strive for.

This Seder night, we should celebrate our own freedom; pray for Gilad Shalit’s; commemorate the Israelis who have died to safeguard our country; and spill a drop of wine to mourn the Palestinian blood that we have spilled in order to keep ourselves free. Our humanity and our Judaism demand nothing less."

Obviously our humanity and our Judaism demand nothing more, either.

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