The "Four Sons" of Passover and the Middle East conflict

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Meretz USA wishes you and your family and friends a most joyous Festival of Freedom.

As I was making preparations for this year's Passover Seder, I took to wondering what the Haggadah would be like if, instead of the story of the Exodus, it sought to relate the history of the Israeli-Arab conflict.

With this in mind, and with the Passover holiday almost upon us, here is the revised section on the "four sons" ("four children"), with the questions they might ask and the kind of answers we might give them.

The "Chacham" - the Wise, Inquisitive Child: What does she ask?   "The Israeli-Arab conflict seems to be a complex, dynamic, multi-dimensional issue, filled with political, religious, cultural, historic and military aspects, both local/regional and global in nature.  How can I possibly learn enough to know everything there is to know?"

To this child we would say: Realize first that, as in any conflict, different participants tell different stories.  Historical narratives agree on some points, but vary widely on others.  So please do read, and go to lectures and discussion groups, and seek out individuals involved in the conflict to collect their oral histories.

But don't forget that a true understanding of the conflict stems not from amassing a series of "facts", but from the art of weaving: Integrating and synthesizing all the different, often contradictory, perspectives into a reasonable understanding of "the situation". 

And accept the fact that this task of weaving is an ongoing one, that there will always be new information and points-of-view to synthesize.  And be humble, because you will never know "everything".
The "Rasha" - The Wicked (or, perhaps, Alienated) Child: What does he ask?  "The Israeli-Arab conflict seems way too complicated and way too many miles away for me to care. Besides, those people over there seem hopeless.  All they do is fight.  Why do you bother?" 

To this child we would say: Remember that there was a time, not too long ago, when Israel did not exist; and that, for centuries, there was no Jewish homeland and Jewish life was characterized by discrimination and punctuated by periodic outbursts of violent persecution.

So not only do many of us have family and friends who live in Israel, but Israel - despite the reality of war there - still serves as a safe haven for Jews the world over who might need to escape maltreatment by the State, or flee a spasm of popular anti-Semitism.  And Israel, with its 5.5 million Jews, remains - despite the disproportionate power wielded by the Orthodox rabbinate - a powerful engine for the ongoing renaissance of Jewish culture across the globe.

That's why I bother.
The "Tam" - The Simple, Uninformed Child: What does she ask?  "The Israel-Arab conflict seems really complicated.  Can you break it down for me? Is there an 'Israel-Arab Conflict for Dummies'?"

To this child we would say: Although you might not want to become an expert on the subject, you should nonetheless shun the temptation of simplistic answers.  The conflict is not a cowboy Western filled with "good guys" and "bad guys".  Those, on either side, who make it look that way, are only adding to the fear and distrust that fuels the enmity.

So try to learn, a bit at a time, and don't be embarrassed if you don't yet know what the Peel Plan proposed or when Sheikh Izz ad-Din al-Qassam lived.  It takes time to carefully unravel the complexity, but the knowledge gained is truer and more inspiring than the adoption of rote slogans.

And remember, too, that such learning is not as important as staying focused on the values that will one day help end the conflict: That co-existence is superior to domination; that non-violence is preferable to the use of armed force; that all people, even "the other side", are human beings with certain inalienable rights.
"Sheh'Aino Yode'a Lishol" - The child who doesn't know enough, or is too apathetic, to take an interest and ask
To this child we would say: Wake up!  There's a whole world out there beyond PlayStation, iTunes, or Major League Baseball.  And even if you don't think it matters, it does.  The world is more interconnected than ever, and what goes on "over there" will have an impact on how you live "over here". 

So even if you don't care right now about Israelis or Palestinians or their neighbors - though hopefully you'll grow to - don't forget that the United States has a strategic interest in a stable, peaceful Middle East based on a just and comprehensive resolution of all disputed issues.

Happy Passover to you and yours!

Ron Skolnik
Executive Director
Meretz USA


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