Adam Horowitz: Let My People Go

posted at "Mondoweiss"

This year at Passover it is Palestinians who are demanding 'Let my people go!'

Yesterday Phil posted a piece I had published in the Philadelphia Daily News. Below is the full unedited version. As Passover begins tonight and the massacre of Deir Yassin is remembered tomorrow, let us all rededicate ourselves to working for liberation and freedom for all.

Through the ritual of the Seder, Passover tells the story of the Pharaoh's oppression of the Jews in ancient Egypt and their eventual emancipation from slavery. It is a time of reflection, and after the recent war in Gaza many Jews are asking - who are the slaves and who is the Pharaoh?

The war saw over 1,417 Palestinians killed, over 900 of whom were civilians. This is opposed to 13 Israelis. In addition, the Israeli attack laid waste to Gaza destroying schools, United Nations facilities and homes. The facts of the invasion are still coming to light including Israeli soldiers own stories of defiling Palestinians homes with racist graffiti and following orders to intentionally kill unarmed civilians. The war in Gaza is not only a devastating event for Palestinians but also the moral challenge of our time to the American Jewish community whose communal leadership supported the onslaught publicly and loudly. This year, Passover gives us a chance to reflect on this war, our history and our responsibility.

Gaza has led to a growing acknowledgment of Israel’s brutal treatment of Palestinians throughout its history. This year by coincidence the beginning of Passover also falls near an important anniversary - Deir Yassin Day. Deir Yassin was a Palestinian village destroyed by Zionist militias on April 9, 1948. During this massacre more than 100 men, women and children were killed. As word of the Deir Yassin massacre, and others like it, spread through Palestine many residents fled their homes out of fear, expecting they would be able to return after the fighting subsided. Within a year of the massacre, Deir Yassin, which had been emptied of Palestinians, was re-populated with Jewish immigrants and its name was erased from the map. During the war of 1948 that ended in the establishment of the state of Israel, over 530 Palestinian villages were similarly destroyed and all Palestinian refugees, whether their homes were destroyed or not, have been prevented from returning. For Palestinians this history is known as Al Nakba, Arabic for “The Catastrophe.”

Passover is a story of freedom that has resonated through the ages for many people as a story of redemption and liberation. It also helps form the core of the Jewish ethical tradition which exhorts us to stand for justice and in solidarity with the oppressed - "You shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the feelings of the stranger, having yourselves been strangers in the land of Egypt" (Exodus 23:9). And yet, to tell the story of Passover in the same way after Deir Yassin and after Gaza is to be willfully blind. Jews are not only the slave - but also the Pharaoh. We need to be able to tell this story.

After Gaza it is irresponsible for us to only view ourselves through the lens of victimhood; we must also take responsibility and grapple with our reality as oppressors.

The Passover Seder is about learning and teaching - using the stories of the past to understand our place in the world today. The story of Egypt is told and remembered through ritual, questioning and story telling. This year a group of Jewish activists in Philadelphia are using the Seder ritual to wrestle with the Jewish history of being both slave and Pharaoh. On April 7 and 8 the organization Philadelphia Jews for a Just Peace are holding “From Deir Yassin to Gaza: an 18 hour Passover Vigil” outside the Israeli Consulate in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. This event will combine a memorial to Deir Yassin, a Passover ritual remembering the past as well as a teach-in, and discussion. Philadelphia Jews for a Just Peace is holding this event to understand the past and take responsibility for its legacies in the present.

This vigil will not elide the complexities of our history, but engage with them. Not stuck in the role of perpetual victim or heartless oppressor this event offers a model of the discussion the Jewish community needs to be having right now - what is our response when we are the ones being told “Let my people go?” Asking this question, and taking responsibility to act, are the first steps on the path of compassion, accountability and justice.

Posted by Adam Horowitz