Ten Plagues

For the Israeli snipers, who, behind concrete barricades, shot into an unarmed Palestinian demonstration in Gaza, killing fifteen people and wounding nearly a thousand on the eve of Pesach.

It is said that the God of the enslaved Hebrews visited ten plagues upon their Egyptian overlords in order to compel Pharaoh to set the Hebrews free. At the Seder each year, we spill a drop of wine from our cup as we list each plague, to diminish our joy, for even the suffering of the enemy diminishes us.

But as the echoes of bullets ring in Gaza, as mothers, sisters, friends and children weep, as the martyr posters are pasted on the walls, let us consider the plagues that colonizers visit upon ourselves. Perhaps it is insensitive to even to consider this, as the blood of the colonized pools in the streets. But until we recognize the damage, we can never heal from it, never stop inflicting it and enacting it on others.

  1. Dehumanization

We cannot see the colonized as fully human, for to do so would be to admit that we continually violate our own standards for decent human behavior, that we have become thieves and murderers.

  1. Arrogance

Convinced of our superiority, our worthiness and entitlement, we are not bound by any consideration for others or rules of common human decency.

  1. Separation

We cannot be in relationship with those whose full humanity we cannot admit, and so we miss out on connections with complex, rich, creative and amazing human beings, who might have been our friends.

  1. Fetishing of our victimhood

We are, and always have been, and always will be, the ultimate and only victims. And so we desecrate the legacy of those who truly were victims and weaponize their real suffering.

  1. Self-justification

We have a million reasons why every blow and bullet and restriction is completely justified, why we had to do it, how they made us do it, why we had no choice. And so we voluntarily abandon our own agency.

  1. Group-think

We reinforce one another’s justifications, draw a tight circle around our own and convince one another of our righteousness. And so we lose the ability to see clearly beyond the bounds of our tight circle, and respond to the wider world around us.

  1. Paranoia

Having made the colonized into monsters in our imagination, we become fearful, seeing dangers and enemies everywhere. We become convinced that ‘they hate us’ because deep in our secret hearts, we know we have behaved hatefully.

  1. Cruelty

We cannot empathize with our victims, cannot let ourselves imagine what they must be feeling, and so we become ever more unfeeling and cruel. Cruelty seeps like a caustic acid into every aspect of our lives, eating away compassion, eroding every institution of care, until we become the monsters we fear.

  1. Lies

Lying to ourselves, to one another and the world, we lose our ability to tell truth from falsehood.

  1. Injustice

When we accept injustice, we perpetrate it, and trap ourselves and everyone around us in an unjust world.

This is what empire requires of us, how it warps us under its heavy boot, stomping out our compassion and all that is good in us. It is not the provenance of any one people, it is what we all become when we choose to hold the whip, to commandeer the lands and bodies of another, for it is what the job demands.

Here is my prayer, on this Passover night when we celebrate liberation—that we can liberate ourselves, can put down the lash and sniper’s rifle and the sneer, taste the bitter herb of remorse, let salt tears cleanse our palate and begin our long  journey to the Promised Land, which despite what the texts tell us can never truly be taken by conquest, but must be shared.

Let us not just spill the wine, but commit to drinking the anti-venom, to seeing the full humanity, the beautiful diversity, the challenging complexity of those we have oppressed. Then will our arrogance become humility, our separation become connection, as we free ourselves from our own victimhood, free the energies we have devoted to self-justification and endless reinforcement of our self-righteousness, and truly pursue righteousness. Our inflated fears will fall away, our cruelty turn to compassion, and truth and justice, pillars of smoke and fire, will become our guides.

When truth is acknowledged and justice done, then can the land fulfill its promise, and flow no longer with blood but with the milk of healing and the honey of peace.


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