Thursday, April 17, 2008

¡No Pasaran!

A sad irony is that Israel's celebration of Passover, the Festival of Freedom, includes blockades of Palestinians in the West Bank as well as the continuing blockade of those in the Gaza Strip. The Israel Defense Ministry announced earlier today that starting this evening until the end of Passover, Palestinians would not be allowed to pass through army checkpoints, except for the most urgent of humanitarian reasons. While it is thoughtful of Israel's government to include Palestinians in its holiday plans, this measure will have the effect of reducing yet further the trickle of traffic among the fragments of territory under Palestinian control in the West Bank. Such blockades are typically part of Israel's celebrations of its major holidays and are a significant aspect of the humiliations and discrimination that Palestinians suffer under Israel occupation. The traffic of Jewish settlers in the West Bank will, of course, not be restricted during the holidays.

Such legal discrimination brings up an interesting issue, related in another way to Passover. The Torah enjoined the Israelites to consider strangers and sojourners among them as their legal equals, reminding them that they were once strangers in Egypt. "You should have one law for yourselves and the stranger amongst you." (Exodus 12:49; Leviticus 24:22) This argument for equality seems based on empathy and the idea that people would choose that all be treated equally, if they did not know what fate held in store for them, viz., the choice under philosopher John Rawls's veil of ignorance. However over the decades of Israel occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, Israel doves and human rights activists have rarely quoted this Biblical claim to the settlers and annexationists. Even such a selective reading of the Bible would on its face support annexation and invite responses with the Biblical verses that proclaim the entire Land of Israel the patrimony of the Jews. Besides it is rather absurd to call the Palestinians strangers in the land. The doves see Zionist polemicists who have argued that case as preparing the grounds for further expulsions of the Palestinians from west of the Jordan -- the ethnic cleansing that Israelis euphemistically call transfer. So the lesson of Passover, which has come in many places and traditions to symbolize freedom, cannot be applied unambiguously to the case of the Palestinians whose freedom has been denied by Israel. That leaves a bitter taste in my mouth.

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