Israeli-Palestinian 'Freedom Seder' in Hebron Aims to Affirm 'Commitment to Liberation' Amid 'Bitterness of the Occupation'

The event is set for April 4 – the same day U.S. civil rights activists held the first Freedom Seder, after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.

An Israeli flag hanging on a house as a settler looks at Palestinians in Hebron, in the occupied West Bank, March 27, 2018
Mussa Qawasma/Reuters

A large-scale "Freedom Seder" is being planned in the West Bank city of Hebron by a coalition of Israeli and Palestinian activists, with the goal of reaffirming the “commitment to liberation” and protesting “the dispossession and violence of the occupation.”

Jointly organized by All That’s Left: Anti-Occupation Collective, in partnership with the Palestinian group Youth Against Settlements, the event will take place at the YAS community center on Tel Rumeida in Hebron, during the Passover holiday.

The timing of the event is doubly meaningful, explained Daniel Roth, of All That’s Left. First, he noted, this year’s Passover holiday marks 50 years since the first settlers came to Hebron to celebrate the week-long festival in 1968, and began what Roth called "the process of dispossession of Palestinian land and homes under occupation in Hebron.”

In 1968, that Rabbi Moshe Levinger, a leader of the Jewish settlement movement, got permission from the Israeli government to spend Passover with group of his supporters in Hebron, part of the Palestinian territory that Israel had captured a year earlier during the Six-Day War. But at the end of the holiday, they refused to leave. This paved the way for the establishment of what is perhaps the most controversial of all Israeli settlements: the compound located in the heart of Hebron.

In addition, Roth emphasized, the Hebron Freedom Seder will be taking place 49 years to the day after the original Freedom Seder, which was held on April 4, 1969, a year after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. The event, which was held in a black church in Washington, D.C., and drew some 800 people, forged a connection between the biblical saga of the Israelites' liberation from slavery from Egypt and the U.S. civil rights movement and protest against the Vietnam War.

The upcoming Hebron seder, Roth said, "is rooted both in ancient and modern Jewish tradition. It is a liberation seder based on the ancient Jewish tradition of old, focused on a journey to freedom and woven into the Freedom Seders in the modern era. We’ll be celebrating our Jewish story of liberation and reaffirming our commitment to liberation here and now.”

While organizing the event, he added, “it has been very exciting for me to share this part of my Judaism with the Palestinian partners we work in solidarity.”

All That’s Left, founded in 2013, describes itself as “a collective unequivocally opposed to the occupation and committed to building the Diaspora angle of resistance.” Members of the organization, Roth explained, include Israelis, Diaspora Jews and foreign nationals with a variety of political affiliations and beliefs, all working together.

The group has cooperated in the past with the seder’s hosts, Youth Against Settlements, a Palestinian organization led by high-profile Palestinian activist Issa Amro, which “seeks to end the building and expansion of illegal Israeli settlements through nonviolent popular struggle and civil resistance.”

“It means a lot to us that Israelis who have changed their way of thinking stand together with us – the people of Hebron and the Palestinian people,” said Izzat Adel, a spokesman for Youth Against Settlements.

Adel estimated that between 60 and 80 people are expected to gather for the April 4 event, among them former Knesset speaker and Jewish Agency chairman Avram Burg whose mother survived the infamous 1929 Hebron massacre, in which 67 Jews were killed by Arabs who believed rumors that Jews were planning to take control of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount.   

In addition to planning the Hebron event, the organizers have written, compiled, and designed a set of readings that “weave together the Jewish liberation tradition at the center of Passover and our collective commitment to the struggle for liberation for the Palestinian people living under occupation here and now.”

The readings, available online for use at seders around the world, adapt holiday traditions to the anti-occupation message. When eating the bitter herbs, for example, participants state that they do so because they “refuse to look away from the bitterness of the occupation and we commit ourselves to ending this injustice.” An alternative list of the Ten Plagues includes settlements, checkpoints, curfews and imprisonment, and the Four Sons become the Ally Child, the Oppressor Child, the Oppressed Child and “the one who we pretend simply doesn’t know enough to ask” but in fact “sees and chooses to look away.”