Let's Invite Abbas to a Seder
The Passover Seder is an occasion when Jewish people around the world remember their history. That complex past, embracing both suffering and happiness, is symbolized in the Seder service by the mixture of bitter horseradish with sweet parsley, representing spring and renewal. The collective memory is of ancient persecution, exile, pogroms, the Holocaust, perpetual anti-Semitism, present-day terrorism but also one of emancipation in democratic countries and the creation of the State of Israel. Above all, this story depicts the liberation of people 3,300 years ago from slavery and subjugation in the Egypt ruled by Pharoah to liberation, freedom, and sovereignty in a land promised to them.
The central part of the Seder is the asking and the response to four questions about the nature and significance of the festive ceremony, and the traditions observed and different foods that are eaten on the occasion. Those answers recall the struggles of Jews in their desire to be free: the coming forth from Egypt, and the struggle and rebellion against the Romans who destroyed the Second Temple. The memory of those struggles against persecution and discrimination is still echoed in the challenges today requiring the struggle against discrimination and anti-Semitism, the response to those who refuse to acknowledge the legitimacy of the State of Israel or who deny or minimize the relationship to the area of the Middle East that is still disputed, and also the answer to the bigoted and biased boycotters of Israel.
At the heart of the Seder story is the escape of Jews from bondage to a life of freedom and political sovereignty. For Israel today, and for the hopes of peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors, the four questions asked in the Seder can be boiled down to one: in spite of the incontestable evidence, why will Palestinians not accept the historical relationship of Jews to the area of Palestine, and why do they so strongly oppose the sovereignty and the legitimacy of the Jewish State?
The sovereignty of Israel is manifested by its political independence, by the revival of the Hebrew language in popular use as well as for religious purposes, as well as by unexpected contemporary features such as becoming skilled in military defense and security, by its accomplishments as a country of innovative high tech, with world-class great universities, and even by unexpected production of oil and gas. Yet, Palestinian leaders to this point have not only refused to accept that sovereignty and the existence of Israel in real rather than in perfunctory form, but also denied what the Seder story tells in abundance, the historic relationship of the Jewish people to the land.
As in the Seder ceremony, there is need for the story to be told again of the bonds that unite the Jewish people and tie it to the land, a bond illustrated in recent years by the ingathering into Israel of Jews from Ethiopia and India. The recital of those bonds should also be heard by members of the international community, and by those who look favorably on or advocate the fallacious Palestinian Narrative of Victimhood.
The true international understanding started with the Balfour Declaration on November 2, 1917. This was letter from British Foreign Minister Arthur Balfour to Lord Rothschild stating that the British government views “with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.” This Declaration was then incorporated into both the Peace Treaty of Sèvres and the Mandate for Palestine.
The Treaty of Sèvres of August 10, 1920, establishing peace between the Ottoman Empire and the Allies of World War I, implemented the result of negotiations that had started in London and continued in the San Remo Resolution in April 1920. Article 95 of the Treaty, implementing that Resolution, laid down that a Mandatory, to be appointed, would be responsible for putting into effect the Declaration originally by Britain and “adopted by the other Allied Powers, in favor of the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.”
Based on the San Remo Resolution and on Article 22 of the Covenant of the League of Nations, the Mandate for Palestine, given to Britain by the League on July 24, 1922 and put into effect on September 329, 1923, was the basis for the administration of territory, an area that was formerly part of provinces of the Ottoman Empire. The preamble to the Mandate repeated the words of the Treaty of Sèvres “in favor of the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.”
International agreements after World War II went further. The crucial event was the UN General Assembly 181 (II) Resolution of November 29, 1947, the so-called partition resolution, passed by a vote of 33-13-10. It called for the ending of the Mandate for Palestine no later than August 1, 1948. More importantly, it called (article A, 3) for the creation of “Independent Arab and Jewish States and the Special International Regime for the City of Jerusalem.”
Therefore, the international community called for the creation of a Jewish State that came into existence on May 14, 1948. The Arab-Israel conflict resulted from the refusal of Arab leaders and governments to accept the partition resolution. This refusal was proclaimed even before the resolution. The General Secretary of the Arab League, Azzam Pasha, was quoted on page 9 of the Egyptian newspaper Akhbar el-Yom of October 11, 1947 as saying, that if a Jewish state is established and a war were to occur it “would lead to a war of extermination and momentous massacre that history will record similarly to the Mongol massacre or the wars of the Crusades.” In the same fashion, the Syrian president and the Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini both spoke of the eradicating of Zionism or the annihilation of Zionists.
The contrast between the two sides could not be clearer. Chaim Weizmann, the longtime Zionist leader and president of the Zionist Organization who became the first president of Israel on February 1, 1949, wrote to David Ben-Gurion on May 30, 1948 that it is “the profound desire of our people to establish relations of harmony and mutual respect with their fellow Arab citizens, with the neighboring Arab states, and with all other nations.”
The Arab leaders refused to create a Palestinian state, let alone acknowledge the international recognition of a Jewish State. They, especially the Palestinian leaders, still refuse that acknowledgment and in addition deny the significance of Jewish history. President Mahmoud Abbas, who presumably has never attended a Seder, speaks of ‘illusions and legends” that Jews use in referring to their history in Jerusalem, and of the “alleged” Jewish temple there. Palestinian spokespeople even deny the validity of the artifacts with Jewish symbols that have been found near the Western Wall in Jerusalem. Why do those spokespersons persist in arguing that the claims of historical or religious ties of Jews with Palestine are incompatible with the facts of history?
Can there possibly be a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, begun by the refusal of the Arabs to create a Palestinian state and by their wars and continual military aggression against Israeli civilians, if the distortion of Jewish history is not only kept alive but continues to be disseminated through Arab education? President Abbas should be invited to a Seder.
Michael Curtis is author of Jews, Antisemitism, and the Middle East.