By Joharah Baker – Jerusalem
I have lived in the Old City of Jerusalem for almost 11 years now and this time of year has never ceased to amaze and disturb me all at once. This week marks major holidays for the world’s first two monotheistic religions. For Christians, Easter falls on April 12 and 19 for the western and eastern denominations respectively. For Jews, Passover begins on April 8 and lasts seven days.
The festive mood is unmistakable in the ancient alleyways of Jerusalem’s walled city. Throngs of Christian delegations from around the globe retrace the Way of the Cross, or the Via Delarosa, some singing hymns at each station, others praying quietly in reverence of the torturous trek taken by Jesus Christ over 2,000 years ago in the name of all humanity. Yesterday, April 5, marching bands paraded through the streets to celebrate Palm Sunday, adults and children alike standing on the sides of the street, cheering them on and holding sweeping palm leaves in a reenactment of Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem.
The Jewish presence was just as palpable. Young and old Orthodox Jews rushed to the Western Wall to pray as others stocked up on foods for the holiday. No leavened bread is allowed because according to tradition, when the Jews left Egypt they did so in such haste they could not wait for their bread to rise. Passover is mainly a holiday of remembrance, of how the Jews suffered and were supposedly spared death by God in Egypt but were forced to leave in return. I am not Jewish, so I cannot speak first handedly. However, what I do know about the holiday is that on Seder night, observant Jews spill ten drops of wine, each representing the ten plagues that befell the Egyptians during their enslavement of Jews. The dropping of the wine is to remind Jews of their own humanity and the suffering of others, even those who enslaved them.
I cannot help but think the irony of the situation is too stark to overlook. As Jews remember a past they claim is wrought with slavery and suffering and injustices done to them by the Egyptians and others, they have failed to acknowledge the suffering they have created for the Palestinians. If Jerusalem is to serve as the microcosm for this entangled conflict, one only has to take a step back to see how unholy the intentions of those who rule have become.
Jews from anywhere around the world observing Passover are free to observe it right here, in the holy city of Jerusalem. They will have no problem entering Israel or crossing a checkpoint. "Free access" is for Jews only this year, because apparently, only for them is freedom of worship so highly valued.
Christians may not be as lucky. Those fortunate enough to live in Jerusalem can freely retrace Jesus’ footsteps. Christians from other parts of the world are also free to visit Jerusalem as long as they are here only to celebrate Easter. A word about visiting or even knowing Palestinians, desire to travel to the West Bank, or God forbid, showing solidarity with the Palestinians might just get you an "entry denied" stamped on your passport – Christian holiday season or not. Palestinian Christians in the West Bank or Gaza are also banned from entering Jerusalem during Easter week unless granted a "holiday permit" by Israeli authorities. Otherwise, the Via Dolorosa and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher will remain geographically close but for all other purposes, light-years away.
Let’s not forget Gaza, either. It has only been a few months since Israel ended its Cast Lead Operation in the Gaza Strip, leaving a sea of destruction behind them. Until today, whole families sleep on the rubble of their homes or in makeshift tents set up directly beside them. Basic necessities trickle into Gaza at rates that would suffice only if the overcrowded Strip were a fraction of its current population. Families are torn between mourning for those they lost – some like the Samouni family lost 29 members in Gaza’s invasion – and trying to scrape by to keep their children fed. Testimonies of Israeli soldiers purposely targeting innocent Palestinian civilians during their offensive have recently surfaced in the media. Disturbing reports and pictures of T-shirts with dead Palestinian babies and pregnant Palestinian mothers used as target practice have been splashed across newspapers and the internet, shaming the Israeli army before the world. From the looks of it, the concept of spilling wine for the enemy in order to save one’s own humanity has been lost, buried deep in the traditions of a past long gone.
Even some Israelis who attempt to make amends and adhere to the age-old tradition of Passover, the sentiment is not quite complete. In a Haaretz editorial on April 5, Alex Sinclair writes, "In addition to the drops of wine that we spill in sadness at the necessary loss of Egyptian life 3,000 years ago, we must also spill a drop of wine in sadness at the necessary loss of Gazan life 3 months ago.
To spill wine for Gazan life is not to deny the justness of the war, or to suggest that we should not do the same thing again when Israel’s security is threatened. Sadness over our enemies’ deaths need not come at the expense of our own convictions."
Almost there, but not quite.
It is justifications like these, that put Israel’s so-called security concerns above all else, including the lives and livelihood of innocent Palestinians, which is seemingly the missing link between the first Sedar meals and those of today. It is Zionism, unheard of in the early days of Judaism, which has transformed the majority of Jewish Israelis into a people who believe nothing is more sacred than their own perceived security. "The end justifies the means," Niccolo Machiavelli wrote in the early sixteenth century. Zionism’s forefathers no doubt read "The Prince" from cover to cover.
And so, this year, like so many before them, the Palestinians must continue to suffer under the rule of a Jewish state that prides itself on its ancient liberation from servitude while at the same time oppressing another people in much the same way. No doubt, there will be Jews around the world this Passover who do contemplate what Israel is doing in its name. This is necessary, like Sinclair said, for the preservation of owns own humanity. The same can be said of any other religion and people. Muslims and Christians alike must practice what they preach if they are to truly embrace the values they espouse. However, in this situation, on this day, the contrast is nowhere more striking than it is in Jerusalem. I cannot speak for God Himself, but I sincerely doubt this is what he had in mind for his Holy Land.
– Joharah Baker is a Writer for the Media and Information Program at the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH). She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. (Published in MIFTAH – www.miftah.org)