Palestinians look on from the balcony of their home as Israeli settlers celebrate the annual Purim parade on February 24 in the occupied West Bank city of Hebron.
(Photo: Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Images)
When I was a kid celebrating Purim there was two costumes for girls and three for boys. Girls could be either a maid or Esther, and boys were the King, Mordechai, or Haman. Each class of students in our Conservative Hebrew school performed a segment of the Megillat Esther, the religious book that is story behind the festival of Purim. Then after we would pile into the shul for an interactive narration of the Megillat (boo, hiss!). At the close of the reading the rabbi would ask questions about the story, and if we answered correctly he gave us a Dixie cup of Manischewitz.
Always up for a challenge, I used to read the story in advance to prepare for the games, often having to use two hands to later recount the number of answers I got right. “On this day we remember the tale of our heroine Esther, who refused to do what to save her people?” (“she fasted for three days and then invited the king to a feast!”) There was no racism, no Iran (the modern day location for the Book of Esther), no reverence of Jewish nationalism, and Esther–the queen and the best character in the play–saved everyone.
By contrast last week for Purim settlers in Hebron celebrated a mélange of secularism and nationalism. The ideological vanguard of the Jewish state donned not just five, but an array of costumes on Sunday, February 24, including such jingoistic outfits as a “soldier” and an “Arab,” according to the reels of pictures posted online. Living inside the protection of H2, the Israeli-controlled area of the West Bank city, settlers enjoyed a street parade that went off without a hitch, all while black smoke from clashes with the Israeli military darkened the sky. The clashes started days before for the annual Open Shuhada Street demonstration, organized by Palestinians against Oslo’s splitting of the city.
For days following last week’s march, life in Hebron was miserable with skunk gas causing vomiting and nausea.
To me, it is bizarre when settlers—especially the zealots on the front lines of Judaizing the West Bank—secularize Jewish holidays. Taking another step back I am equally floored that a non-religious parade for a religious holiday functions as an act of conquest over Palestinian urban space.
My Jewish education was just that, a study of Judaism not Zionism. Sure Israel was loved, but not outright and not enough to ever once demonize the Palestinian population. I know that last bit seems improbable, but it’s true. In class, we spent our days practicing prayers and learning the ever-so-detailed ways to observe our traditions. “And how many times do we bow in the teffilah?” (Four, it’s four times!).
This is not to say my unnamed Hebrew school loved Palestinians. In fact, we never were taught Palestinians existed until Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated and someone had to explain who Yasser Arafat was and why he’s part of the story. I can recall our mournful Israeli instructors devastated over the loss of Rabin. He was their JFK; he was their John Lennon.
Perhaps ignoring the native population was crime of omission, a denial of the full truth. That’s how I viewed it when I first learned about the Nakba, where 750,000 Palestinians were forcibly expelled from their homeland. “How could they not tell us this happened!” I lamented in my teenage years. But later my mourning over concealing Nakba found closure as I learned about how other peoples’ Jewish education hinged on political support for whatever Israeli administration was in power.