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Reimagining Passover

by Majed Abusalama

Every year on Passover eve, I sit down at Seder with the Haggadah, the story of the liberation of Jews from slavery in Egypt. I try to escape my thoughts, but I cannot: the Jewish Passover is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians. I wonder how the Jewish people can celebrate, when securing their freedom has meant robbing Palestinians of their own independence for over seven decades.


I have many dear Jewish friends who have joined me in protesting Israeli criminality against Palestinians. We see Passover as a call that transcends the freedom of one particular race or religion. It is an annual reflection on freedom as a universal right, which many Israelis have failed to understand.


When thousands of Jewish settlers invade Hebron during Passover, accompanied by Israeli occupation soldiers, one has to wonder about the indoctrination that allows them to rob Palestinians of something as basic as dignity. Why don’t they have any desire to understand the people they are harassing and displacing?


I lived in the Gaza “ghetto” for most of my life. I regularly questioned my own perception of freedom, dictated by my life experiences, and now I do the same under lockdown in my current home in Berlin. Here, I do not have to worry about how to manage social distancing, let alone secure my basic human rights, as I would if I still lived under the thumb of Israeli apartheid.


A decade ago, I was young, curious and perhaps naive. To relieve the misery and hopelessness of the Gaza blockade, I began to believe in the possibility of liberal coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians, without understanding the necessity of first achieving decolonization and equality. I am now grateful that my vision has changed to reject any liberal notion that fails to place full freedom for everyone in the Holy Land (and beyond) at the center, and that instead prioritizes the occupiers’ need for comfort and security. I grew up and rooted myself in freedom and justice, the values I learned to not give up for any price.


In demonstrations, I carry a sign that states “Ignorance is a choice.” I do not support a liberation that requires me to co-exist with a brutality that has “cleansed” Palestinians from our own streets, requiring us to accept severe restrictions and collective punishment so that Israelis can celebrate their holiday free of our mere presence. From what I know of the Jewish faith and traditions, this is a clear betrayal of the religion’s values.


This afternoon, I met a Jewish friend at an ice cream shop. I greeted her with “happy Passover,” and invited her to celebrate the day with a treat. I felt we could celebrate freedom together because we have co-resisted Israeli colonialism and oppression, along with censorship and silencing by the German state, for some time now.


She told me she was meeting Jewish comrades for a Passover dinner. The organization Jewish Voice for Peace has invited Jews worldwide to place an olive on each Seder plate as a symbol of the right to self-determination of the Palestinian people. JVP also is calling on its members to establish alliances with Palestinians against apartheid. This beautiful tribute is a reclamation of Passover, an intersectional and symbolic act that will offers me hope.


I have many difficult memories from which I cannot escape. I cannot escape images of Palestinian refugees and our longing for liberation, and of Gaza and the many Palestinian Bantustans in the middle of Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Israeli authorities recently dumped Palestinians with COVID-19 symptoms by the side of the road like trash to protect Israeli Jews, regardless of Palestinian wellbeing. But last night, I imagined millions of Jews sitting together at the same table, celebrating freedom from slavery and oppression with an olive on each plate. Such a strong vision is vital for keeping alive our imagination of a future for Palestine.


I understand Passover as a call to imagine a radical future, like that articulated by the revolutionary anti-Zionist organization Matzpen, which brought together Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs in the 1960s. Passover should be a call for the liberation of all people.


We deserve a liberation that offers absolute justice and equality to my people, a freedom that will allow me to sit with all my scattered family at one dinner table, a freedom that will allow me and my siblings to see our younger brother for the first time in at least six years, along with his beautiful daughter—my niece, who I have never met. do not know when I will ever be able to meet her. We deserve a liberation that allows us to celebrate Passover in a free land where none of us is considered a “chosen” over any other.


Remembering the thousands of Palestinians who sacrificed their lives to secure our freedom on our land, I realize that they taught us the real meaning of Passover. Our Palestinian Passover will be celebrated when our exodus ends, we can return to historic Palestine and the world realizes it must accept a resolution to the conflict that is inclusive of everyone–including the hundreds of thousands of scattered, displaced refugees.


Now, in my thoughts, I am no longer locked down in Berlin. I am thinking instead of the people in the refugee camps of Moria and Lesbos, Gaza, Hebron and Kashmir. I hope that all of us can find it in our hearts to have greater empathy and compassion for refugees around the world, and to advocate for the emergence of a better future after this pandemic.


Majed Abusalama is an award winning journalist, scholar, campaigner and human rights defender who grew up in Jabalia refugee camp in Gaza and is now based in Berlin. This article was first published on the We are not numbers Website. Reproduced with the author's permission.


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