From my family’s Haggadah*:
The sages speak of four kinds of children who view the Seder in four different ways and so ask different questions:
The wise child asks: What does this all mean? This child should be taught about the details of the Seder. Talk with this child about the nature of freedom and justice and about the need to act to transform the world.
The isolated child asks: What does this mean to all of you? and in so doing isolates him or herself from the community of the Seder. This child should be answered by saying: Join us tonight. Be fully here. Listen closely. Sing and read and dance and drink. Be with us, become a part of us. Then you will know what the Seder means to us.
The simple child asks: What is this? This child should be told: We are remembering a long time ago in another land when we were forced to work for other people as slaves. We became a free people and we are celebrating our freedom.
Then there is the child who is too young to ask. We will say: Sweetheart, this wondrous evening happens in the spring of every year, so that we may remember how out of death and sorrow and slavery came life and joy and freedom. To remember the sorrow we eat bitter herbs; to remember the joy we drink sweet wine. And we sing of life because we love ourselves and each other and you.
Passover 2011 has come and gone, but President Obama’s recent speech on the Middle East and subsequent attempts to coddle Benjamin Netanyahu (met with recalcitrance on the latter’s part), not to mention Bibi’s speeches to congress and AIPAC, have raised some questions about Jewish attitudes on redemption and liberation. The always-excellent Max Blumenthal interviewed delegates to the AIPAC convention and produced a cringe-making video highlighting their ignorance. I think we have some children to add to the list.
The Child Who Thinks Palestinians Have Chosen Occupation
“They’ve had an opportunity to have their own state, should they want that.” “They’re not living under occupation because of Israelis, they’re living under occupation because of themselves and their brethren.”
This child should be made aware of Palestinian objections to the sundry “states” on offer over the course of the last century. For starters, when the British crown imposed a mandate on Palestinians in 1922, the terms did not include the words “Palestinian” or “Arab” nor the political rights of people so described, though it did mention the national rights of the Jewish people and the establishment of a national home for the same in Palestine. This child will likely bring up the proposals put forth in 1948, 1967, and by Ehuds Barak and Olmert. For the reasons why these proposals were justifiably unpalatable to the Palestinians, this child should be referred to the writings primarily of Edward Said and Rashid Khalidi.
The Child Who Thinks Might Makes Right
“We already won. We have the state and they don’t.”
This child should be asked to consider the applicability of this argument to the worldwide historical expulsions of Jews that he is so fond of raising as a shield any time Israeli depravity is noted. This child should also be made aware that “It’s your land? We fought a war, and we won! IT’S OUR LAND!” is a strong candidate for Worst Sentiment Ever, objectively. However much allowance the Jewish Bible makes for the conquest and enslavement of another tribe, the world’s moral atmosphere has moved beyond the period when this idea was tolerable to anything like a majority of people, and this child would do well to awaken himself to that state of affairs.
The Child Who Is Unclear About His Views on Democracy
“The only democracy in the Middle East.”
This child should be prompted to consider the ease with which he switches from democratic glorification (in the case of Israel) to democratic denigration (in the case of Egypt, a democratic government which could conceivably halt the peace treaty between the two nations). If democracy is the ideal, Israel will have to cope with the democratic aspirations and wills of regional neighbors hostile to its occupation of Palestine and risk a diminution of national security. If, on the other hand, democracy is anxious-making, Israel loses its claim to moral authority, and is stuck relying strictly on religious appeals, which are ineffective on those of us who believe that religion is a central problem in the region, rather than something to which to aspire. (Additionally, it will have to respect the democratic will of the Palestinians, even when it produces leadership as unsavory as Hamas’).
The Child Who Cannot Distinguish Palestine from Pakistan
“They’re gonna do a trade with the Pakistanis back and forth until they reach an agreement.”
This child should be instructed that Palestine is not the same thing as Pakistan and should be informed of an exciting website called Wikipedia, where can be found details on many of the factors that differentiate them. Furthermore, this child should only be taken as seriously on matters of importance to Palestinians as should a believer in goblins and unicorns on the topic of biology. Lastly, this child should be given a copy of Robert Dreyfuss’s Devil’s Game, which outlines how the US-Israeli-Saudi-Pakistani alliance fostered the growth of Hamas, Hizbollah, the Taliban, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Penninsula and other such unseemly Islamist organizations as, it was thought at the time, an antidote to secular leftist pan-Arab thought. (Whoops.)
The Child Who Denies the Existence of the Occupation
“I don’t believe they’re living under occupation. It’s a loaded question, and I won’t answer that.”
This child should be shown photographs of soldiers with machine guns and grenades, patrolling the marketplaces of Palestine and asked which country’s soldiers he would prefer to monitor his activities and frisk and detain him and his friends that would similarly not count as an occupation. He should also be referred to relevant doctrines of international law and to words uttered by George W. Bush (“There should be an end to the occupation that began in 1967.”) and Ariel Sharon (“You cannot like the word, but what is happening is an occupation — to hold 3.5 million Palestinians under occupation”).
The Child Who Brings Up American Indians as a Metaphor
“Seconds ago, you said – and correct me if I’m wrong – that the land of Israel or that Palestinian area belongs to you, right? Okay, now, I suppose you would also say that California, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona belong to Mexico.”
This child should be told that he has the metaphor backwards. In it, the Indians are the Jews, i.e. a population with thousands of years of claim to the land, overcome by a different people who, having exerted dominance over the land for only a few hundred years, haven’t got meaningful claim to the land. This child should be notified that it is incumbent upon him willingly to sacrifice his family’s home so that an Indian can live there. In point of fact, almost all the suppositions he is making are wrong, Arabs having lived in that land for thousands of years and have committed against the Jews nothing like the genocide visited upon American Indians. If anything, the point his metaphor makes is about the complexity of history and the consequent worthlessness of reviewing this history toward solving the problems on the ground.
The Child Who Insists that Life Is Great for Arabs Living In Israel Proper
“Arabs in Israel have a higher standard of living than anywhere else in the Middle East.”
This child should be told of the pressure Israeli Arabs face to leave, especially in Jerusalem.
The Child Who Professes that Jewish Endurance of the Holocaust Grants Jews a State
“We’re not gonna go and walk out of the gas chambers and not have a place to live. You have to understand that. If you can’t accept that, there will never be peace. Unfortunately.”
This child should be asked, “Why isn’t the Jewish homeland annexed from Germany?” If he moves to religious arguments, the Islamic and Christian significance of Jerusalem should be explained to him. Presumably, he knows about the Wailing Wall, but he should be asked to identify the Dome of the Rock and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and then asked to reconsider religion as a basis for the establishment of a state.
The Child Who Thinks That Israeli Violence against Palestinians is Self Defense
“So once the Palestinians value their own lives over killing Jews, there will be peace.” “You cannot equate moral equivalence between a guy shooting you and someone shooting back.”
This child should be provoked to issue a sound argument for why Palestinians haven’t any right to defend themselves. That or he should have to make the case that they haven’t they got anything to defend themselves against. He should be asked about just war theory: have an occupied people no recourse against occupation? He is right in asserting that attacking civilians is vile and despicable (as Hamas is for disagreeing), but he should be notified that all Palestinians are civilians, because Palestine is not a state and can therefore not raise a military. He should be asked whether striking out against an occupying army isn’t a form of self-defense.
* * * *
If only we could have this conversation between people who didn’t work themselves into a frenzy immediately, dayenu.
*The text recited at the Seder on the first two nights of the Jewish Passover.
J.A. Myerson, Executive Editor of the Busy Signal, is the Artistic Director of Full of Noises and a teaching artist with Urban Arts Partnership. He writes primarily on American Politics and Human Rights. Follow him on Twitter.