While we can rejoice and chant “Next year in Jerusalem!”, at our Passover seders, we must remember that this year in Jerusalem we are holding another people under the iron boot of oppression.
What could be more tragic, disappointing, and utterly shameful than the kidnapping and murder of the three Israeli teenage boys this past month? For the answer, we can turn to Haaretz, which reported on Tuesday—the day after the bodies were found—that “Five Palestinians were attacked, and two of them needed medical treatment” by far right Israeli activists. In some cases, Arabs, or those who looked Arab, were pulled off the street or out of restaurants and attacked brutally in vengeance. This coming all after Israel spent the last month tearing the West Bank (and especially Hebron) apart in search for the missing boys, arresting close to 500 Palestinians, and killing at least five, including Palestinian children themselves. To make matters even worse, the night of July 1st, a dead Palestinian teenager’s body was found lying in the woods outside Jerusalem in what has widely been viewed as an attack of retribution (although the jury is still out on this one). So, all in all, twice as many Palestinians were killed, and over 150 times more Palestinians were taken away from their families in response to this heinous crime.
In response to these traumatic events, the actors always act the same and the same stale lines are repeated on both sides. For most Israelis, the other are all “terrorists”; for Palestinians, “imperialists”. The truth, though, is a bitter pill to swallow for both solidarity movements. The truth is that kidnapping, murder, and harassment are but a blip in the greater context of this conflict, and effectively mean nothing new. The tragedy of this conflict lays in the vast human suffering for both sides which pulses through the paradigm of the Israeli occupation; whether it is an Israeli family suffering from rocket attacks or Sderot, or Palestinians facing the daily humiliation and oppression of military rule. But beyond the surface level suffering, there is a hidden undercurrent, a disturbing trend which may be one of the biggest long term casualties of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Being raised Jewish, I was taught of a long history of suffering and oppression at the hands of foreigners and the lesson of the Holocaust, “never again”, was carved into my brain. The communal tale of suffering, and insistence on preventing humanitarian tragedies would be heartwarming and positive – if the community preaching those values sought to actually uphold them. But for many Jews, within and outside Israel, the consciousness of and resistance to human suffering ends at the green line; for them “never again” doesn’t apply to Palestinians. Am I comparing the Holocaust to the occupation? No. The Holocaust is by far the worst humanitarian tragedy in human history; however, one would assume the main victims of such genocide would be extra sensitive to any attempts to humiliate, dehumanize, or oppress another people. Sadly, for the Jewish community, this is not the case.
The Jewish leadership tells us as kids that everything is fine; that Israel is the land of milk and honey; that Israel is a “villa in the jungle”; or that Palestinians deserve all the hardships they suffer. Yet, all of this sounds like the kind of rhetoric used in any rigid, anti-intellectual, and ideologically blind society to defend the human suffering that it enables. When an IDF soldier shoots a boy for throwing stones, when settlers pillage and destroy Palestinian property on a daily basis, when soldiers perform drills in civilian areas in the dead of night to instill fear in the local population: everything is not alright. While no people have a right to oppress others, the Jewish people have a historic duty to always treat others with the respect and dignity that we didn’t receive for the vast majority of our history. The last 70 years have treated us historically well: Western society has opened up and embraced Jewish culture, a Jewish state was resurrected in our historic homeland, and international anti-semitism has been consistently low. This doesn’t excuse us, and even indicts us terribly, for our treatment of the Palestinians.
The occupation of the Palestinian territories is a growing stain on not only Israel and Zionism, but on the entire Jewish community, culture, and history. As long as we are responsible for the suffering of another people, we cannot rest easy or relax. The occupation is the systematic rebellion against our entire history, and engulfs all Jews in an ever growing web of international hostility. If we aren’t diligent, and respect our own moral values, within one fell swoop we could lose everything. When ancient Judah fell, moral corruption was widely seen as the deciding factor (although it had more to do with outsides powers); tomorrow, if the same thing happens, we may lose not only our state and homeland, but we’ll have lost ourselves as well. While we can rejoice and chant “Next year in Jerusalem!”, at our Passover seders, we are ignoring the very critical fact that this year in Jerusalem we are holding another people under the iron boot of oppression.