Ruthie Blum in Israel Hayom:
It was a few months into the First Intifada – on the eve of the Passover Seder – when my 5-year-old asked me to remind him whether “Pharaoh was the Hitler of Pesach or Purim.”
His question was as apt as it was precocious. It made me laugh to hear it, though it should have made me cry. Had he been trying to make sense of his history, the query would have been merely adorable. In this case, however, it was tragic, because what he was pondering was still alive and well in his own immediate surroundings. Indeed, when our car was pummeled with rocks on the way home to Jerusalem from Bethlehem one day, he got a taste not only of what the past looked like, but what the future held for the Jews, in general, and for him – up close and personal.
What it held for the Jews was a series of new Pharaohs and Hitlers attempting to annihilate them. What it held for him personally – other than no longer visiting towns with hostile Arab populations – was virtual house arrest, listening for air raid sirens and then running into a sealed room to don gas masks until Saddam Hussein’s Scud missiles had landed and it was safe to resume watching cartoons.
What it held for him personally was the sound and sight of death and destruction on a daily basis – within his earshot and among his peers.
What it held for him personally was fear of riding the bus to school.
What it held for him personally was visit after visit to hospitals and cemeteries.
What it held for him personally was years in the military, learning more how to avoid killing innocent Arabs than defending innocent Jews.
What it held for him personally was learning, first-hand, what his Jewish ancestors had contended with generation after generation.
When he got a furlough for Passover in his second year in the Israel Defense Forces, he was very happy. Coming home for the holiday was not a given, and he was among the lucky ones allowed to enjoy a Seder with his family, instead of having to read the Haggadah in the mess hall with his fellow soldiers.
The thrill was short-lived, however. News of a major terrorist attack made its way to our table – somewhere between the matzah ball soup and the macaroons – just as it was spreading across the country like wild-fire.
The year was 2002 – exactly 10 years ago today, according to the Hebrew calendar. (The secular date was March 27.) The location was the Park Hotel in Netanya, where hundreds of mostly elderly vacationers were gathered to celebrate their people’s freedom from enslavement. As they were eating, drinking, and making merry, a suicide bomber entered the premises and blew himself up smack in the midst of the dining room.
Blood and body parts were everywhere, covering tablecloths and food-laden plates. In an instant, screams of horror and moans of pain replaced joyful singing.
Thirty people were killed that evening, and 140 others were wounded, many seriously. It was what would be deemed the worst such attack of the Second Intifada – no small feat, considering all the other carnage perpetrated by Palestinians during that period. It is the event that sparked then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to launch Operation Defensive Shield two days later – in an attempt to destroy the Arab terrorist infrastructure in Judea and Samaria. It was during this military incursion that Yasser Arafat – the Hitler of both intifadas – was placed under siege in the Muqata complex in Ramallah. Considered successful by some standards, Defensive Shield did not put a stop to suicide bombings in Israel’s population centers. In fact, three years later, Sharon orchestrated the disengagement from Gaza, after failing to keep terrorists out. All that maneuver accomplished, however, was to displace Jews, and pave the way for incessant missile strikes on the part of Hamas and other proxies of the Hitler in Tehran.
Tonight, as we Jews in Israel and the Diaspora sit down to recount our release from the bondage of ancient Egypt, let us pause for a moment to contemplate our contemporary condition. While engaging in the ritual of thanking God for our freedom, let us ask ourselves whether we have actually achieved it. Those who were killed in the Park Hotel a decade ago lost their lives solely because they were Jews. This is what makes their plight no different from that of their forefathers. It is what makes my son’s question as relevant today as it was when he was in kindergarten, 25 years ago.
Is it not about time we begin to acknowledge that freedom from all the Pharaohs and Hamans and Hitlers and Arafats and Ahmadinejads is an ongoing internal and external battle that has yet to be won?
Ruthie Blum, a former senior editor at The Jerusalem Post, is the author of a book on the radicalization of the Middle East, to be released by RVP Press in the spring.