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Passover in the era of permanent Jewish occupation

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This is part of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. To read the entire series visit the archive page.

As Passover arrives once again, the occupation continues, fifty years now and counting, with no end in sight. For all practical purposes, the Israeli occupation of Palestine is permanent. How can Jews celebrate Passover in such a context?

That “celebrate” seems out of place in such a situation seems obvious. Are Jews called instead to commemorate Passover as a false flag, a deflection, a ritual that may even work against the freedom story Jews are commanded to recall?

Writing in Haaretz, Salman Masalha, a Druze Israeli, cautions that in Israel, Passover’s liberation theme must be viewed in the context of the closure, robbery and murder Palestinians experience before, during and after the holiday season. Masalha states it quite simply: “While households in Israel prepare for the Festival of Freedom, Palestinian households also need to prepare: With the advent of Jewish holidays they are obliged to remain under siege.”

Jews of Conscience in the United States have taken Masalha’s understanding to heart with their various revised narrations of the Passover story. Instead of liberation for Jews, Jews of Conscience see Passover now as the antithesis of what it is supposed to be. So during Passover this year many Jews of Conscience are reinterpreting the Ten Plagues visited upon the Egyptians in the Israelite struggle for freedom in Egypt. They will recite instead the Ten Plagues of Occupation and the Ten Sacred Acts of Resistance to Israel’s oppression of Palestinians.

While this counter-narrative of the Exodus has been gaining momentum over the years, I wonder if we have reached the Exodus revision limit. True, these counter-narratives are fantastic, poignant and colorful, with, among other additions, non-Jewish texts used to feature our new Jewish landscape of power and oppression. Even Diaspora Palestinians are invited to Passover and attend. This expansion of the Exodus story is important. It reflects and represents a turning point in Jewish history.

Yet the stubborn fact of the continuing occupation is more than troubling. Is it time to move in another direction? Jews of Conscience, like the British blogger, Robert Cohen, call for a further revision of the Passover telling. Why not abandon the Exodus story itself and simply catalogue Israel’s abuse of power and the international community’s condemnation of Israel’s crimes against humanity?

Perhaps it’s time Jews of Conscience to reach beyond the proverbial conference, movement and Seder closer, ‘We Shall Overcome.” It isn’t obvious that we shall overcome, Not at all.

Should Passover now be seen as an act of mourning and contrition?

Perhaps the preface to the Seder should be stated starkly: “What we, as Jews, have done to you, the Palestinian people, is wrong. What we, as Jews, are doing to you, the Palestinian people, is wrong.” Though confession won’t end the occupation, it states clearly the context of whatever Passover narrative follows.

Regardless of the particular telling, our Passover confession is a judgment on Jewish history and the present. It will remain for the future.

For confession is a witness that something has gone horribly wrong. Holding up that witness, in a stark and unadorned way, is the only forward.

When the Passover telling itself becomes a deflection, we have no other choice but to fare forward into the unknown. Dwelling as we Jews do this Passover, in the abyss of injustice, wonderful Passover Seder’s won’t do.

Marc H. Ellis

Marc H. Ellis is Professor of History and Jewish Studies and Director of the Center for the Study of the Global Prophetic. His latest book is Finding Our Voice: Embodying the Prophetic and Other Misadventures.

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8 Responses

  1. Marnie on April 10, 2017, 1:46 pm

    “How can Jews celebrate Passover in such a context?”

    I can’t. I’m pretty sure that will be mansplained/ziosplained by the trolls to mean one or all of the below:
    a) I’m not a jew, what jew doesn’t celebrate the feast of freedom?.
    b) I don’t live in israel.
    c) I’m antisemitic?

    But my feeling about jews, in israel particularly, who’ll be ready to lounge, stuff themselves, drink too much and sing, horribly, Go down Moses and laugh and be merry may be because of one or all of the below:
    a) They have no heart.
    b) They have no fear of the Lord their God.
    c) They have no sense of irony.
    d) They do not believe they will be judged.

  2. talknic on April 11, 2017, 3:35 am

    According to the Israeli Government, Israeli military was occupying territories “outside the State of Israel” on May 22nd 1948

    Israeli Government statement

    On May 22, 1948 UNSC S/766 the Provisional Government of Israel answered questions addressed to the “Jewish authorities in Palestine” was transmitted by the acting representative of Israel at the United Nations.

    Q): Over which areas of Palestine do you actually exercise control?

    A): “At present over the entire area of the Jewish State as defined in the Resolution of the General Assembly of the 29th November, 1947. In addition, the Provisional Government exercises control over the city of Jaffa; Northwestern Galilee, including Acre, Zib, Base, and the Jewish settlements up to the Lebanese frontier; a strip of territory alongside the road from Hilda to Jerusalem; almost all of new Jerusalem; and of the Jewish quarter within the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem. The above areas, outside the territory of the State of Israel, are under the control of the military authorities of the State of Israel, who are strictly adhering to international regulations in this regard. The Southern Negev is uninhabited desert over which no effective authority has ever existed.” … ” the Government of the State of Israel operates in parts of Palestine outside the territory of the State of Israel

    “international regulations” at the time say;

    Laws and Customs of War on Land (Hague IV); October 18, 1907 Art. 42 SECTION III
    “Territory is considered occupied when it is actually placed under the authority of the hostile army. The occupation extends only to the territory where such authority has been established and can be exercised.”

    • dgfincham on April 11, 2017, 8:37 am

      “the military authorities of the State of Israel… are strictly adhering to international regulations”.

      Is this the biggest lie in diplomatic history?

      • talknic on April 12, 2017, 3:07 am

        Zionists have been practicing the art of lying for so long, it seems to be all they know

  3. Kaisa of Finland on April 11, 2017, 6:25 pm

    Each time I see the picture above, I just want to say: “Israel, Israel, look what you have become.. “

  4. Eva Smagacz on April 15, 2017, 10:29 am

    I tried to make comment about Passover, was moderated, so resubmitted after careful re-edit only to be moderated again. I give up.

  5. MHughes976 on April 15, 2017, 4:36 pm

    I see, Eva, that you and I are venturing into the lions’ den of the Economist comments section. Perhaps we could find a way of backing each other up!

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