Fleeing in fear, unleavened bread, and bitter herbs…something to think about this Passover…While the Palestinians still await their “deliverance” in hunger from modern day Pharaoh!

Of Passover, Exile, and  Deliverance

By Mike Odetalla

The Jewish holiday of Passover is once again fast approaching…

As the Jews of the world and particularly those that live in Israel get ready to celebrate the Passover holiday or Pesach, I cannot but help draw an analogy of this holiday and my experience during the 1967 war. This holiday commemorates the departure of the Israelites from Egypt. Pesach marks the birth of the Jewish people as a nation led by Moshe (Moses) over 3000 years ago. This is as much a celebration of their spiritual freedom as the physical liberation from slavery. In their haste, the Jews had no time to let the dough sit and rise. Rushed as they were, the Israelites did not have time to bake their bread, nor prepare any food, and the dough they kneaded did not have time to rise. The Children of Israel wrapped up their dough and their leftover matzah and bitter herbs in their clothing, placed the bundles over their shoulders, and walked joyfully out of the land of Egypt. The dough was baked in hot sun and eaten along with the bitter herbs. Passover marked the freedom of the Jews from slavery.

As a child, I remember hearing tales from the elders, particularly those that became refugees, of how they were forced to flee their homes, lands, and villages. They were forced to leave in such a hurry, taking with them only what they could carry, leaving behind most of their belongings. Many lifetimes worth of hard work and memories was left behind in those homes and villages which were eventually looted and destroyed in a deliberate and systematic manner by the Zionists!

As I look at the black and white pictures of long lines of Palestinians who were forced to flee their lands, I cannot help but equate Pharaohs army with the Zionist army as they chased my people from their ancestral homes! The Israelites made camp and began celebrating their freedom from Egypt after crossing the Red Sea, while the Palestinians were given tents and told to wait for their eventual return from their exile! More than 700,000 Palestinians were driven from their homes, destitute and suffering from hunger and thirst, they were left to the elements, their only shelter were the flimsy tents that were donated by the International community!

The Mukhiamat, which means “tent cities” in Arabic, were supposed to be temporary housing for the Palestinian refugees. They were promised by the International community and the UN through the passing of UN Resolution 194, that all they would be able to return to their homes as soon as possible. In fact, as a condition for entry into the UN, the newly declared State of Israel had to agree to UN Resolution 194! More than 60 years later, the “temporary” solution to the Palestinian refugee’s plight is still ongoing! The “tent cities” have grown and become squalid ghettos, the tents having been replaced by cinder block hovels with corrugated tin roofs!

Today, I can’t help being mindful that we Palestinians have our own experiences with the unleavened bread – as is celebrated by the Jews who commemorate their exodus and freedom from Pharaoh. Except, of course, we commemorate our Nakba (catastrophe of being dispossessed) and entry into our own Diaspora. The Palestinian women, which included my mother, anxious to feed their children, would slip into nearby abandoned homes looking for any kind of food to feed us. Once they returned with flour, water, sugar, and olive oil. They kneaded the dough and immediately baked it over a fire covered with the metal lid of a barrel, the lid providing the surface upon which the bread was baked: there was no time to wait for the dough to rise as we were in constant fear and flight as we lived in and moved from cave to cave in the surrounding hills.  The unleavened bread was eaten with Za’tar, a somewhat bitter herb that grows wild in the Palestinian hills.

As an adult, having shared the Jewish holiday of Passover, with my friends, I am drawn by  powerful but ironic parallels between the Palestinian experience of running away in fear into the wilderness, chased by an army, looking for freedom, eating unleavened bread as we ran. For me, Pharaoh’s army was the Israel Defense Forces and we; the Palestinians were the persecuted Jews. I remember a particular meal of stale bread, which we found outside of an abandoned home, and the green onions that my mother pulled from the garden. She fed me this with a sip of stale water to wash it down.

While Jews in Israel celebrate their freedom, they continue to oppress and imprison others. The unleavened bread is now eaten with the leaves of organically grown lettuce which serves as the “bitter herbs” and is grown in many Jewish only colonies, built on the stolen lands of the Palestinians.

While Jews around the world recite the traditional Passover prayer “may all those that are hungry eat”, before they commence their feast, those that are truly hungry in Gaza are NOT allowed to eat due to the inhumane closures and suffocating blockades imposed on them by the Israelis! In fact, thousands of Gazans had their homes, fields, and lives utterly destroyed and decimated by the Israeli army forcing them once again to brave the elements in tents while the Jews of Israel celebrate and feast, Gazans a mere few hundred yards away are being starved as if they existed in an entirely different universe…

Fleeing in fear, unleavened bread, and bitter herbs…something to think about this Passover…While the Palestinians still await their “deliverance” in hunger from modern day Pharaoh!



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