In our March women’s conference, I taught a session on remembering rightly. As Passover and Pascha (Easter) approach, I would like to share some thoughts on our conflict and situation. These holidays have shaped the history of the world and our understanding of God’s sovereignty and intervention in our lives. Passover and Pascha teach us many things, including ways to remember well. How can we remember our history, communally and individually, in light of the Exodus and Resurrection? This is something we must all think creatively about as we seek God’s will for our lives. Coming to a proper understanding of what has happened to us and the redemptive plan God has for us will allow us to follow God more wholeheartedly, and serve others with more compassion and understanding.
Passover and Pascha are important events in the reconciliation process as they are times of commemoration that both the Israeli and Palestinian communities recall and value. Throughout the journey of reconciliation Palestinians and Israelis are challenged with the burden of memory, particularly with regard to our historical narrative, a topic we have shared with you in the past. We do not compare pain, but we discuss the most painful parts of our histories in order to understand one another. On the Israeli side, the Holocaust and Jewish suffering cast a looming shadow over Jewish history. This suffering, combined with the many wars Israelis have suffered from, and the threats they feel to this day shape Jewish identity. On the Israeli side, the Holocaust and the existential threat they perceive have influenced memory in Israeli education, culture, and foreign affairs. On the Palestinian side, the past 100 years have been marked by suffering, from the world wars and how they played out in this land, bringing death and devastation, to the Nakba and the expulsion of hundreds of thousands from their homes and lands, to the betrayal of Palestinians by surrounding Arab countries, to the ongoing occupation that continues to this day. These events have profoundly impacted Palestinian identity, also, in terms of education, culture, and relation to the other. Both Israelis and Palestinians have acquired a victim mentality, which impacts many aspects of both communities’ everyday lives, and the relationship between the two groups.
In the session with the women, we reflected on recent writings by Miroslav Volf as well as from our curriculum regarding remembering well. When we reflect on painful history, we often encounter situations where our pain hinders us from seeing other people’s pain. Sometimes we do not want to acknowledge other people’s pain because we feel that it will somehow diminish the legitimacy of our grievances. We often see this in our conflict. Many times, Palestinians have great difficulty coming to terms with the Holocaust and recognizing the legitimate suffering of the Jewish people; they are afraid that recognizing these terrible things would somehow lessen their cry for justice in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. On the other hand, Israelis are often unwilling to recognize the suffering they have caused the Palestinian people, as they fear that this would lessen their claim to the land. When the other’s pain is presented before either of these parties, it is often met with denial, explanation, and justification; rarely do we see a willingness to come to terms with the other’s pain.
Both sides suffer from a victim mentality that causes us to develop a fatalistic view about life. We often focus on remembering the dark moments of history rather than the positive moments. We actively recall moments of collective suffering more often than moments of collective success and joy. When we study remembering rightly we discuss the shortcomings of memory. We cannot remember everything, so what we remember is significant. We are not just shaped by memories; we ourselves shape the memories that shape us. And since we do so, the consequences are significant. Because we shape our memories, our identities cannot consist simply in what we remember. This is significant because what we or our society choose to remember of traumatic events in our past, influences how we think and what we do. Memory can be manipulated for political ends, and we can be drawn into blaming others for our suffering. Consequently, we can sometimes find ourselves legitimating others’ suffering due to our own suffering. We can lose our ability to look at our neighbor’s pain and recognize our complicity in causing them pain. Unfortunately, humans have a great capacity for justifying their actions against others. It is easier to justify our actions than to take responsibility for them.
To bring this back to where we are right now, as we approach the celebration of Passover and Pascha, we should reflect on how we are encouraged to remember these two salvific acts of history. Exodus tells us the story of the children of Israel suffering in slavery in Egypt. Interjected into the middle of that is an active God who hears the cry of his people and who intervenes on their behalf. He delivers them from Egypt and declares that he did so by his mighty hand and outstretched arm, and not due to their ability or righteousness. We see here a God who acts on behalf of the unworthy, who hears the cry of his people, and who seeks to deliver. At the last supper, Jesus sat surrounded by his closest friends, eating and drinking together. Breaking bread is one of the holiest acts one can partake in with another. Yet soon these very same friends would betray or abandon him. When Jesus was handed over to the authorities and crucified, he chose to remember the humanity of those who crucified him, the humanity of those he died for, entreating God to forgive them, for they did not understand the gravity of their actions. When resurrected, he sought the renewal and restoration of his friends, forgiving them for abandoning him, encouraging them to embrace their God-appointed path. Both of these events speak of God’s deliverance, but they also require a personal response from us. When the Exodus is recalled in the Bible it is often phrased “remember that you were strangers in Egypt” and many times, it is coupled with injunctions to be kind to the strangers in one’s own land. Likewise, God’s forgiveness toward us requires of us to forgive others. As we celebrate these two holidays, let us remember God’s deliverance of us both individually and communally, and reflect on God’s challenge to us as a result.
Wishing you all a blessed Passover and Pascha,
Salim J. Munayer