A Liberation Story?

By Miriam R. Asnes

At our family’s Passover seder last Saturday, we read the story of the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt. We recalled how God’s mighty hand smote the Egyptians and we rejoiced that His outstretched arm ushered our ancestors through the parted Red Sea, “out of the house of bondage.”

Our seders are usually characterized by hours of lively discussion—we talk about how, as we celebrate the Jews’ liberation from slavery, we should fight for the liberation of other peoples from oppressive regimes. In the past, to put this idea into practice, we gave money to Russian and Ethiopian Jews who were immigrating to Israel. During the war in Bosnia, we sent money and clothes to the victims, and we supported Nelson Mandela’s release from prison and the end of apartheid in South Africa.

But this year, we were silent. We were silent because we knew that while we were reading about the Egyptians enslaving the Jews, today the roles are somewhat reversed. This year, we hesitated to find parallels of our struggle for freedom in this modern context because we knew that we would not find ourselves in the familiar position of victim, of the courageous Israelite men and women battling for freedom. Today, we are the Egyptians.

Last Tuesday, Israeli bulldozers demolished 30 homes in the Khan Yunis refugee camp. The reason given by the Israeli government was that snipers were firing from these homes. Fifty families, approximately 500 people (according to the Palestine Center for Human Rights) are now homeless, and 27 were wounded, one killed, in the indiscriminate shelling that accompanied the demolitions.

On Passover, we eat charoset, a mixture of apples, wine, nuts and honey to remind us of the mortar that the Israelites had to use to build storehouses for the Egyptians. At our seder this year, the charoset reminded us of the buildings that were being torn down in the West Bank and Gaza and of the settlements that are expanding in violation of the Fourth Geneva convention. We were also reminded of the mortar shells that Palestinians are firing on those Jewish settlements.

This time, instead of frogs and locusts and hail, we have snipers and suicide bombers and Molotov cocktails. And while terrorism and mob violence are reprehensible actions, not glorious acts of God, Israel should take them as signs that there is an imbalance of power that it as a nation has the ability to remedy. Until Israel ceases its latest military campaign of closure and terror and treats the Palestinians in the territories and within Israel as dignified human beings, the plagues are not going to stop.

In the Passover story, when the Egyptians try to follow the escaping Israelites across the sea, God causes the parted waters to return, drowning all of the Egyptians. There is a midrash, a legend, that when the Israelite women began to dance at the shore of the sea in praise of God, the angels in heaven also started to dance. God turned to them and asked, “Why are you dancing? Why are you celebrating? I have just drowned hundreds of my people.” Neither side of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict deserves the fate of the Egyptians. Why should we wait until the death of the first-born to realize our mistakes? Too many have died already.