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Questions for Seder Night

On Lockdown:

Rabbi Ismail used to say: Anyone who doesn’t say these words on the night of closure has not fulfilled his obligations. These words are: robbery, siege and bitter herbs.


Salman Masalha ||

Questions for Seder Night


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.

You are probably deliberating and asking yourselves how this (Monday) night is different than any other night. Well, on this night, as on many others, no one can leave or enter. A decade comes and a decade goes and the occupation stands forever. While households in Israel prepare for the Festival of Freedom, Palestinian households also need to prepare. For many years the Palestinians have had to accept the fact that with the advent of Jewish holidays they are obliged to remain under siege.

On this backdrop, it seems worthwhile to address those in charge of Jewish traditions. They apparently haven’t paid attention to the fact that over the years further traditions have been added to the holidays, becoming part of the Zionist experience. These new traditions are those of robbers, occupiers and thieves. One tradition has stood out and become entrenched over the last decade – the tradition of laying siege and closure to the sons of Ismail. Thus, as the House of Israel turns its attention to getting rid of leaven, purifying the Passover dishes and preparing for the seder night, the House of Ismail, revolted by the customs of the occupation, prepares for the night of closure about to be imposed on them, lest they disturb the Festival of Freedom.

Should one even mention the obvious? Liberty is indivisible, and a nation’s freedom cannot be complete if this involves the subjugation of another people. Such subjugation negates the freedom of the oppressor, which will always remain tarnished.

For the Palestinians, this night has not changed since the Zionist occupation. This night is all bitter herbs and closures. On every other night Palestinians eat and drink while seated or while traveling – tonight they are closed in.

On their Festival of Freedom Jews are instructed, in each generation, to retell the story of the Exodus. The Exodus in those distant days is compared to the recent one from Europe. This is how, since the “return of the sons to their borders,” as described by Jeremiah, the country has seen no peace. The exodus from Europe of one nation became the exodus from Palestine of another. The seder night in these parts became a night of closures over there. And the Zionists are agonizing over the Jewish-democratic-demographic conundrum. As in the Haggadah, the Zionists ask themselves what God has done by taking them out of Europe.

New traditions connected to Jewish holidays have also arisen among the sons of Ismail. Thus, Palestinians are urged to retell the story of their exodus – the more telling the better. Furthermore, in each generation every Palestinian should see himself as someone who left Palestine.

Rabbi Ismail used to say: Anyone who doesn’t say these words on the night of closure has not fulfilled his obligations. These words are: robbery, siege and bitter herbs. Robbery, since the Zionists stole our forefathers’ homes in Palestine; siege, since the Zionists have laid a siege on us; bitter herbs, since the Zionists made our forefathers’ lives bitter.

The questions asked by the House of Israel pile up as difficulties for the House of Ismail. This is why Palestinians say to themselves: We therefore must condemn, curse, batter, speak out, wonder, tell and damn the ones who gave us and our forefathers all these troubles, leading us from freedom to slavery, from our land to bondage, from joy to sadness and from light to darkness.

So what can we say? Hello to the lords of the land / installing fences with a heavy hand / hello to those eating kosher or not / hello to the head minister / Benjamin son of Ben-Zion / who makes it difficult with his excuses / forgetting what being Jewish means / instead of one law for all / for the stranger, bless the Lord / he makes different ones / without fear of retribution from above.

So, a generation comes and a generation departs, and this night remains unchanged. All residents of this land, Jews and Arabs, are bound to look for any way of escaping total destruction. We should also wish for a “next year in the Land of Palestine and the Land of Israel, all of us free.” May the Redeemer come to both our nations.
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Haaretz, April 10, 2017

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