For over a thousand years, Jewish people throughout the world have commemorated their escape from Egypt and the pharaohs with the observation of the Passover holiday. The name’s origins lie in God’s orders to the Jews when he sent down the angel of death to smite all the first sons in Egypt. If they put lamb’s blood on their doorframes, the angel would pass over their houses.
The first two nights of the seven-day festival are highlighted by the ritual meal, the Seder. (I have always contended there are two Seders to ensure family peace; couples go to one set of parents one night, the other set the second.) Throughout the evening, the story of the exile is read, and foods symbolizing aspects of the journey are eaten – unleavened bread called Matzoth represents that they were in such a hurry there was no time to wait for the bread to rise, salt water symbolizes the tears shed on leaving their homes, and bitter herbs express the bitterness of the journey.
After these and other foods are eaten and the story is told, there comes the final ritual event of the evening. All of those assembled stand facing east, raise a glass of wine, and proclaim “Next Year in Jerusalem!” For Jewish people scattered across the continents of the world, this statement epitomized their longing to return home out of exile. Like Moses and the Israelites, they saw themselves as wandering the desert searching for their promised land.
One can only imagine the poignancy of these words for people walled up in the ghettos of Europe in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance; or even worse, those people trapped in the camps of Nazi Germany or the soulnessness of Stalinist Russia. How empty they must have sounded echoing off the walls of Auschwitz and Belsen.
The creation of the modern state of Israel in 1948 was supposedly the answer to the years of exile. When the creation of the Israel was first being discussed, the first geographical location that was considered was actually where modern day Uganda is located. However, it was obvious that any Jewish homeland would have to include Jerusalem, as it is the heart and soul of their faith.
There was a slight problem. There happened to be people living there already. Some of them were Jews who had continued to live there through the years of conquerors dating back to the Romans, and others were Arab who had lived there since the time of Mohammad and before.
Both groups of people, along with Christians, consider Jerusalem their holiest city. For the Jews, the Wailing Wall is the last remaining piece of the great Temple. For the Muslims, The Dome of the Rock is the holiest Mosque in the world, because it’s here that Mohammad is said to have ascended into heaven.
The months leading up to the declaration of statehood were marked by acts of terror aimed against both Arabs and Jews. The Stern and Irgun gangs of Zionist terrorists blew up a major hotel in Jerusalem and wiped out a whole village of Arabs, which would have been within the boundaries of the new state of Israel. Whether it was true or not, Arabs, justifiably, inferred from these attacks that they would not be welcomed in Israel.
When the first war of survival was won by Israel, the Muslim population became the displaced. When they left Israel looking for succour in the arms of their fellow Arabs they were turned away by all except Jordan. They were allowed to set up camps in the territory bordering the new state.
It was not until 1967 and the six-day war that the present day boundaries of Israel were created. In what was called a preemptive strike to prevent war, the Israeli armies occupied the territories now known as the West Bank and The Gaza Strip, including East Jerusalem. These incursions created the massive amounts of refugees that flooded the camps in Lebanon and Jordan.
The Gaza Strip, which is the territory being ceded to the Palestinian Authority, was part of the original cease fire agreement between Israel and the Arab nations in 1950. Home to the Palestinians who fled Israel after its creation in 1949, it remained under Egyptian rule until 1967.
Since the war of 1967, Israeli settlers have been forming armed enclaves in the Gaza Strip. Sometimes in opposition to government policy, other times with their tacit support. The current prime minister of Israel, Ariel Sharon, was a proponent of the settlements, but has since changed his tune.
Although it is not often reported in our press, the majority of Israelis support the withdrawal of the settlers from the Gaza Strip. These settlers have long been seen as provocateurs that make life more difficult for those living in the rest of the country. Ariel Sharon has finally bowed to the demands of the majority of his people and world pressure to finalize complete Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, settlers and military, paving the way for Palestinian autonomy.
Israeli soldiers and police have spent the last few days delivering eviction notices to all of the settlements in Gaza. Thousands of settlers and their supporters have tried to thwart them through a variety of means such as tire fires and physically obstructing them with human blockades.
Like many other people of Jewish descent, I have often struggled with the costs involved with the creation and maintenance of Israel. How can our people justify treating any other people in a manner similar to that which motivated the creation of Israel? Our continued ghettoization of Palestinians is reprehensible and irresponsible.
Just over sixty years ago, the majority of the world turned a deaf ear to the cries for help issuing from Europe as millions of our family members were exterminated in the camps. How can we turn a deaf ear to the cries for assistances from our neighbours, especially when we were responsible for their plight.
The suicide bombers and the Hamas rocket attacks are not going to stop no matter how security conscious Israel gets. Instead of continually meting out retribution against innocents, why not isolate the terrorists from the rest of society by acting in a manner which in no way can be construed as coercive?
Ridding the Gaza Strip of all illegal squatters is a first step. Pressure must be kept up on Israeli governments to continue to treat its new neighbours with respect. We need to take the words “Never Forget” and start applying them to others as well as ourselves. We insult the dream of “Next Year In Jerusalem” if can’t carry out that simple task.
REF: ME, BMcK