Tag Archives: Neturei Karta

‘A Jew, Not A Zionist’: Interview with Rabbi Meir Hirsch, leader of Neturei Karta Palestine

reprinted from my MondoWeiss article here

(image from http://www.palestinemonitor.org/?p=1652)

Last week I interviewed Rabbi Meir Hirsch, leader of Neturei Karta Palestine, at his home in the Orthodox neighborhood of Mea Sharim in Jerusalem. Mea Sharim is a tight, crowded maze of a neighborhood with windy, dirty, dimly lit streets. Walking down a cobblestone pathway at night, with Orthodox men, women and children hurrying by on all sides, with cats scurrying in and out of dumpsters, with a yeshiva to the left and a kosher slaughterhouse to the right, one can sometimes get a flashback to a past life in an 18th-century Russian shtetl.

In the few blocks around Rabbi Hirsch’s home, the Neturei Karta stronghold in the center of Mea Sharim, one starts to see Palestinian flags scrawled on the walls, with slogans like ‘No Zionists Allowed’, ‘Zionism is Dying’ and ‘Arabs are Good’ graffiti’d in Yiddish, then crossed out, then graffiti’d again. Rabbi Hirsch’s doorbell reads ‘A Jew Not a Zionist’.

An excellent interview detailing Rabbi Hirsch and Neturei Karta’s political views can be found here-http://www.palestinemonitor.org/?p=1652. Also be sure to visit Neturei Karta’s website, www.nkusa.org!

When did your family come here?

Meir Hirsch: I am the fifth generation in this land. My family came 150 years ago from Russia. Then, Aliyah as a term, like Zionism, did not exist. People outside of Israel aspired to get to Israel in order to better worship God. When Mea Sharim was made 145 years ago, it was a wilderness at first! There were animals roaming around, people had to lock their doors!

When the Orthodox community saw waves of European secular Zionists coming, how did they feel?

The Balfour Declaration of 1918 made the people here, especially the orthodox families, very upset. There was an objection from the ultra Orthodox community, which was the majority, specifically in Jerusalem but in other parts as well. Jacob Israel de Haan was a secular Jew who became religious, and came here from Poland. He came to Palestine and at first he went to the Mizrahi movement, but was not content with their version of religion and connected with [WHO] the Chief Rabbi of the ultra-Orthodox. Because of his diplomatic connections he almost got the Balfour Declaration canceled- he had connections with Arabic leaders and British leaders. The Zionist leaders, because they saw that he was about to succeed, decided to assassinate him. When he was coming back from Maariv (evening) prayer, they shot and killed him. That led to the foundation of the Neturei Karta movement to continue to resist the Zionist movement.

De Haan was trying to make a bi-national state?

He was trying to undo Zionist aspirations towards statehood. The Zionists were progressing with their project and the Arabs were very much worried that the Zionists were trying to take their land. He met with King Abdallah of Jordan who promised him that Jews would have no problems living in Jordan or wherever he may rule, as long as they didn’t have any aspirations for political dominance.

Could you call de Haan a cultural, rather than a political Zionist?

He was anti-Zionist! He was completely detached from Zionism. All along Neturei Karta has been completely detached from Zionism in any form.

Where does the name come from?

Neturei Karta means ‘Guardians of the City’, it is an Aramaic term from the Talmud. It basically means to guard the city from Zionism entering the culture.

I lied to you, I actually know where the name comes from! [Taken from www.nkusa.org- Neturei-Karta is the Aramaic term for “Guardians of the City. The name Neturei-Karta originates from an incident in which R. Yehudah Ha-Nassi (Rabbi Judah the Prince) sent R. Hiyya and R. Ashi on a pastoral tour of inspection. In one town they asked to see the “guardians of the city” and the city guard was paraded before them. They said that these were not the guardians of the city but its destroyers, which prompted the citizens to ask who, then, could be considered the guardians. The rabbis answered, “The scribes and the scholars,” referring them to Tehillim (Psalms) Chap. 127. (Jerusalem Talmud, Tractate Hagiga. 76c).] So the Zionists in this metaphor are the armed guards of the city, and Neturei Karta represents the scribes and scholars who keep the truth alive?

Well in the passage, the armed guards were the Romans who had conquered Jerusalem, so they actually were the ‘destroyers’.

A (Hirsch’s wife, who wished not to be named): This passage is referring to the time of the destruction of the Second Temple. Then, the scribes and the scholars literally were the guardians of the city in that, through the merit of their Torah learning, they watched over the city. But the name ‘Neturei Karta’ does not mean they are guarding over the city physically, but ideologically- they are guarding the city of Jerusalem from the ideas of Zionism.

MH: There were also ‘destroyers’ of the city who were not Roman. In the time of the 2nd temple’s destruction, there were a group of Jews called Beriyonim, the ‘Bullies’, the family of Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai. They resisted the Romans, they decided not to surrender to the Romans at all. They were called Haruvei Karta, the Destroyers of the City. While everyone else accepted the Romans, they were adamant about not surrendering. And that is why the Romans destroyed the Temple, because of this resistance.

There’s a growing movement of reform and secular Jewish opposition to Zionism, in Israel and around the world. What is the relationship between this movement and Neturei Karta’s Orthodox opposition to Zionism?

The difference is that secular Jews are opposed to Zionism for humanitarian ideals which are basically Gentile, while Neturei Karta’s objection to Zionism, though it is also because of the humanitarian ideas, is drawn from religious commands. This is why our objection is much stronger, because it is based on religion.

The secular and reform anti-Zionist movement shares with Orthodox opposition a valorization of diasporic Judaism, but for different reasons- secular Jews feel happy and productive in their various countries, whereas for the Orthodoxy diaspora is our God-given lot until the coming of Messiah….

There is a similarity, but there is a fundamental difference because again, the Orthodox argument is based on a divine command to stay in the diaspora, while the secular Jewish ideas are based on humanitarian values.

What’s the difference between humanitarian moral ideas and divinely commanded moral ideas?

In Syria people are resisting the totalitarian regime. A humanitarian person would object to what’s going on, and would care about what’s going on there. However, in Israel the state is using religious symbols to justify oppression. For example its name, Israel, is the name given to Jacob in the Torah. Whereas anyone would care about humanitarian catastrophes going on in Syria, this is the basis of Neturei Karta’s objection to the religious aspect of Israel’s crimes.

Would you compare the State of Israel to the Jewish people’s sin of worshipping the Golden Calf?

It is much worse than worshipping idols, because while you are worshipping the Golden Calf, you are a Jew who worships wrongly, who worships other Gods. But Zionism comes in order to fundamentally remove the roots of Judaism, it aims to destroy the Jewish people.

A: Zionism claims the Jews need a nationalistic state, they need a land and a language like all other countries. Jews are not based on a land and a language, they are based on following God’s commandments, whether they live in Russia or England or anywhere.

I want to ask about the Three Oaths. (Talmudic passage cited by religious Jews as forbidding a Jewish state in Palestine)

One of them is ‘do not rebel against the nations of the world’- when the Jewish people are in diaspora, they should not rebel against the powers-that-be. The second one is ‘do not go up the wall’. ‘Go up’ is ‘aliyah’. There is no problem with living in the land of Israel, but Jews should not make a pilgrimage, we should not go there en masse. The third one is do not hurry the end- there should be redemption at the end of days, but there is nothing we can do to rush it.

I am curious- one of the Three Oaths is that Jews should not rebel against the nations of the world. Many revolutionary Communists, socialists, anarchists, etc. of the 19th and 20th centuries were Jewish. Were they violating the Oath by rebelling against states?

That is true, but the ones who did that were not Jews. They were fully secular, and therefore not part of the Jewish people anymore. So it was not against the divine command anymore, because they did not do it as Jews.

It is often said that the Messiah will come only and exactly when the world falls completely to pieces. Is the existence of Israel and its effects upon the world a sign that, because things are getting so bad, the Messiah will come soon?

We are not prophets, so we do not know! According to the Torah, the Zionist State of Israel should not exist, so it will be unmade.

The Book of Joshua details the migration of the Jewish people out of the desert into the land of Israel, and their slaughter and expulsion of the land’s inhabitants. What do you think of those who justify the modern-day creation of the state of Israel by citing this biblical precedent?

Because Zionism is coming to destroy the Jewish people, they have no right to do this. Attempting to come and use a Biblical ideal to justify their actions is blasphemous, it is like mixing light and dark.

Some religious Zionists say that Palestinians are descended from Amalek, the so-called eternal enemy of the Jewish people. What do you say to this? [Deuteronomy 25.17-19- “Remember what Amalek did to you on the way as you came out of Egypt, how he attacked you on the way when you were faint and weary, and cut off your tail, those who were lagging behind you, and he did not fear God. Therefore when the Lord your God has given you rest from all your enemies around you, in the land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance to possess, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven; you shall not forget.“]

This is brainwashing propaganda by the Israeli Zionist media machine. It has nothing to do with Torah. Zionists are actually Amalek! The Chofetz Chaim said that he who goes against Judaism is from the seed of Amalek! And so therefore Zionists are from the seed of Amalek.

Something else I’ve heard is that the Arab world hates the state of Israel because of a deep-seated Muslim hatred of Jews, turning the Israel-Palestine conflict into a ‘holy war’ between Islam and Judaism.

This is a very big distortion of history. If you go throughout 3000 years of history, the big persecutions of Jews were always in Christian, not in Muslim countries. The classic example is the deportation from Spain, where Jews, deported from Christian Spain, found refuge in Muslim countries. But you don’t have to go that far- in the Holocaust time, Jews found safe havens in many Muslim countries.

How is Neturei Karta received by the rest of the Orthodox community?

Almost all Orthodox Jews reject Zionism, and this is why almost none of them enlist in the army. Although many receive funds from the government and involve themselves in the politics of the Zionist state, they reject Zionism’s ideals. The impression is that Orthodoxy supports Zionism but this is not true. They cooperate, they go hand in hand with it but they do not agree with it ideologically. They have gotten used to it. But the difference between them and Neturei Karta is that we desire to have contact with Muslim people and Palestinian leaders.

How old were you when your father visited Yasser Arafat in Ramallah? What was it like?

I was 15 or 16. Even when Arafat was living in Tunisia my father went to him and explained that Judaism and Zionism are two opposite ideas, and that Neturei Karta aims to support the right of Palestinians to receive their national home in Palestine. I met Arafat in Ramallah and the Gaza Strip. It was very important for me, and a few days later, when Arafat spoke at the UN, he said he knew the difference between Judaism and Zionism. This was very important for me.

Were you or your father condemned by the Jewish community for this?

Of course there were objections, by settlers for example, to these meetings, but of course we don’t really care.

So you are carrying on your father’s message!

Yes.

Why is this important for you?

Zionist actions are creating a lot of hatred against the Jews, and it is important for us to make it very clear to Palestinian leaders that true Jews are anti-Zionist, to try to prevent as much as possible this misunderstanding.

There are some Orthodox Jews who simply ignore the State of Israel, refuse to pay taxes, etc. but Neturei Karta actively vocalizes and demonstrates opposition. What is the importance of this?

It is very important to be active against Zionist actions, because they are harming both Jews and the rest of the world. So it is important to maintain vocal opposition, to dispute the Zionist agenda and make it understood that the Zionists are not really the Jewish voice.

Do you go to the Kotel (Western Wall)?

Never.

Why not?

Because it has been occupied by the Zionist state, and I do not recognize this occupation.

It must be difficult for you, because it is one of the holiest places in Jerusalem!

It is hard, because it is only five minutes away from here by foot!

What do you think of international Neturei Karta members who refuse to even set foot in Israel for the same reason?

It is equally important, I believe, to be able to declare opposition from within here, to speak out against Zionist actions.

Do you think that the State of Israel will disappear and become another stain in Jewish history, like Sabbatai Tzevi or any other idol worship in the past?

Exactly.

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Interview with PFLP Leader Abed Al Aleem Dana

a longer version of my Electronic Intifada article here

Abdel-Alim Da’na is a PFLP leader who is also a professor at Palestine Polytechnic University in Hebron, teaching Palestinian history, human rights, and the Hebrew Language. He has been imprisoned by Israel for 17 years since the 1970s. Myself and fellow ISMer ‘Alistair George’ went to interview him in his beautiful home in Hebron. Here he is posing with what he affectionately refers to as his ‘Freedom Flotilla’, which he made over a 3 week period while behind bars!

Abdel-Alim Da’ana with a model ship he built while in Israeli prison.

He is a man with decades of revolutionary experience organizing and resisting, who spent four years in the same prison cell with Ahmad Sa’adat. He told us about Marxist-Leninist education in prison, PFLP’s philosophy and views on Hamas’s Gilad Shalit deal and the Arab Spring, the collaboration between PFLP, the Black Panthers and Neturei Karta in the 1970s (though he couldnt say much about that), and much more.

 

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How long were you in prison?

I spent 17 years in Israeli prisons. In 1972 I spent more than one year, and in 1975, they gave me 17 and a half years. I was released by an exchange of prisoners between PLO and Israel in 1985. I spent ten years and two months in jail. Then they arrested me in the First intifada, the first uprising, and I spent four years without a trial, an administrative detainee. Then I spent about one year or more, and then in 2004 I spent one and a half years.

The Israeli management inside the prisons is very difficult, and they mistreated us inside the prisons. Dozens of people inside the prisons were absolutely crazy, I saw many go crazy because of the very bad conditions inside the prison. I wrote about more than two hundred detainees who died inside the prisons. And I wrote in 1989 about the social situations and political situations about the Intifada detainees, and this is research I did inside the prison. And now I want to publish another book, but I haven’t the money. But I will publish it if I get enough money! And I have written many essays about the prisoners inside the prison.  I wrote a book about the 94 prisoners who died inside the prisons, and I am going to continue to speak about the other men who died inside the prisons because some of them were killed because of interrogations, and some of them were not given suitable treatment.

And you must believe me that the situation is very difficult, very hard and we see that, because we are inside the prisons, everything is confiscated, including our freedom, and we haven’t enough food, our family can’t visit us inside the prison freely, and they mistreat our families when they visit us.

We organized ourselves inside the prison. Every political organization makes their systems and law. There were Fatah, PFLP, DFLP, and these were the three main organizations. All the organizations do their best so as to find books. At first we hadn’t books, we hadn’t newspapers, we hadn’t papers or pens so as to write, but we smuggled many things like these. Also, once we smuggled books into prisons, we smuggled papers and pencils and we copied the books by hand to give to our friends.

The first thing we did when we entered the prison was put an end to illiteracy. Everyone when they enter the prison must learn to read and to study. Some people when they enter the prison cannot read or write, and we put an end to their illiteracy. Some of them are very famous journalists now, some are poets, some are writing in the newspapers and writing research. I have many names of these people who couldn’t read or write, and now they are very respectable members of Palestinian culture, men in the Palestinian Authority and writers of all sorts. For example, Fadel Unis (sp?) wrote many tales, he is a very famous author! For example, Mohayed Abdeh Samad (sp?), he wrote three books! Faheed Al Haj, he wrote five researches about the prison, and when he entered the prison he could not read or write at all! Now he is a famous researcher. Hundreds of people who entered the prisons are now working with the Palestinian Authority.

About 70% of Palestinian writers and cultural people were once in prison. You must know that from 1967 to now, more than 800,000 people entered Israeli jail! Now in the West Bank there are about 3 million people, and 1 and a half million in Gaza. You can see that in any house or home, in any family, they have a prisoner. More than 90% of our people, their son or their neighbor or their relative entered the Israeli prisons.

We have many educational programs inside the prison, for example the leftist organization, like PFLP or DFLP, has a program in philosophy, political economy, Lenin’s books, and all of the Marxist-Leninist texts. It is a part of our culture.

So you took illiterate prisoners and started to teach them Marx and Lenin and philosophy and economic theory inside the prison?

Yes. All of the books we have inside the prison we smuggled them, and we gave money to the guards and police so as to bring the books for us.

What happens if they find items that have been smuggled in?

They confiscate it, but we have many copies, the prisoners have many branches. We have a book in every branch. If they confiscate one, we have others inside other sections. And we have many hunger strikes, and are used to struggling inside the prison to make our life possible. For example, the first hunger strike was in 1970, this strike was to put an end to Israeli mistreatment of our prisoners. The guard or the policemen said ‘Issa, come in!’ He beat him. Why? ‘Because I don’t like him!’ And when you speak to the guard, you had to say ‘please sir, ok sir’ and you had to bend your head. We saw that they are treating us very ugly, very inhumane. This was the first hunger strike. And we succeeded in this hunger strike in 1970, to put an end to the guards’ mistreatment of prisoners.

And then we called to bring us newspapers. They at first brought us a newspaper called ‘It Al Anbar’, it was reported by Israel intelligence, by Shabak. We wanted to change this. Another time in 1956 Ashkelon prison had a big strike, they continued with this strike for forty eight days, so as to bring freely Arab magazines and Arab newspapers and Arab books inside the prisons.  And the Israelis consented to bring in the books! We called this very important for the prisoners, it changed our lives. Then we made other hunger strikes and other struggles against Israel. Everthing we have taken from Israel is not given to us by the authorities, it is by our own strikes.

We have also inside the prisons magazines, very simple magazines we wrote by hand. For example Fatah has one or two magazines inside the prison, and also PFLP has a magazine. Sometimes we call it Al Hadaf- The Goal. We wrote these magazines by hand, with pencils, and some people put drawings in the magazines, and some prisoners wrote poems, some wrote tales and short stories.

Did you also write about political theory and philosophy inside the magazines?

Yes of course, we wrote about political theory and philosophy inside the magazines, and political economy, many Marxist-Leninist essays inside these magazines. And we also had essays where we discussed our situations inside the prisons, and our relationship with other organizations.

Did you write about news inside these magazines?

We did not have radio transmitters, we were smuggling transistor radios but the Israeli authority considered it very dangerous. We put them inside the cells, and they discovered some of these, but some they did not. In September 1985 we had a hunger strike in Ijnaid [sp?] jail, we continued it for 13 days. The police minister discussed with us about this hunger strike. I and Jibrin Al-Joob [sp?] and Salam Eid Dawardat [sp?], we had six representatives of the prisoners, we discussed our demands and we forced them to permit us to bring a radio. And this made a revolution inside the prisons!

We had many other demands and we forced Israel to give us these demands. Some were big strikes, some were only one prison or a few prisons, but we had some strikes for all the Israeli prisons. We forced Israel to give us many things, for example Hebrew newspapers and Hebrew magazines- they brought the Jerusalem Post from 1970 onwards. We used this to learn the Hebrew language! And everyday we translated the Hebrew magazines. I myself had already graduated from the university in 1971, but I read very very much, and studied hundreds of books in many branches of culture inside the prison, and I taught the Hebrew language to other prisoners. Now I teach this language inside PPU and Hebron University!  And I improved my English language inside prison.

The education rates inside the prisons is very high. This is true for all the Palestinian people. It is like France and like Germany, we are literate people and people of culture. The rate of the girls until grade 11 who study is more than boys, in all of Palestine! We are a highly educated people, and for this we are proud, and we do our efforts to put an end to illiteracy. Now, as the United Nations reports, Palestinian people are one of the highest educated people, the rate of Palestinian people who are educated is 90%, more than any Arab country and many countries in Asia and Africa! This makes us proud about our people.

I was wondering about the education committees in prison. Are they organized by parties? Does PFLP only educate prisoners inside the PFLP? Are different parties exposed to other’s political ideas?

We do some lectures with everyone listening and discussing. Some from Fatah make  a lecture about their situation, and some from PFLP- we do many things with each other. But sometimes, because we have a leftist wing, we also have our own left culture. And some Fatah members have also their programs about national culture.

Does everyone read the magazines?

Yes, but everyone prefers to write in their own magazine. But inside Tulkarm prison, we had one magazine, and we all wrote in it, it was a very good magazine.

What Marxist-Leninist books did PFLP teach the prisoners?

Philosophy. All the Lenin books. Das Kapital.

All of Das Kapital?

Yes! It was large, and very difficult, but we studied it. Engels- ‘The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State’. I explained this book more than ten times, I am very admired of this book, it is very important. We also read Das Capital- because we studied political economy, we were dependent on it. Also Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks. And we read Guevara, and many Marxist Leninist theoreticians.

What is the value for the PFLP of teaching that to prisoners?

Philosophy is explaining about the world, all the world, philosophy gave us all the ideology about the world and about how ideologies have been born.  And philosophy explains the truth of life. For this reason it is important.

And to teach the prisoners about resistance and revolution in the past and in other countries, does this help the prisoners understand how the Palestinian resistance is part of the revolution all over the world?

Yes, we consider ourselves a part of the international revolution. We did not have relations with the world revolution because we are inside the prison, but we are with any movement that struggles for its freedom, for its liberty, and we support all the movements all over the world who want to determine themselves and their own people.

How much of an inspiration is the Arab spring for the Palestinian people?

I say it is a very good revolution and a very civilized revolution, and this reflects that the Arab people want to live in a democracy like other people all over the world, to elect their governors and dismiss them! We are proving ourselves as Arabs. I do not look on us as Palestinians in one sense, I look on us as Arabs. We are all speaking Arabic, from Morocco to Amman, we are all speaking Arabic and Islam is our culture, and we have cooperated with each other on many many things. We have the same culture, the same happiness. Imperialism divided us, because when we are divided it can exploit us, and exploit our wealth. And dividing us gives imperialism the opportunity to exploit these divided countries. All of the Arabs are with us as Palestinians, because we know we are under occupation. Our catastrophe is that the world believes in Israel and Israel lies.

Historically, if you want to know, Israel established a state 1000 years before Christ, and this state continued about two hundred years, about two percent of Palestinian history! Because of this they say they have a historical right to establish their own state. They haven’t any kind of historical right! If they have rights, we have as Arabs a right to establish our own state in Spain because we stayed there seven hundred years, or Sicily because we had an authority in Sicily more than four centuries! And then we have the authority as Arabs to establish dozens of states, until we reach to China, because we stayed there hundreds of years!

But the interests of the Jews and the interest of imperialism were very close to establish a state in Palestine. Palestine is between Africa and Asia, and when they put a state in Palestine they divided the Arab countries who live in Africa and the Arab countries who live in West Asia. It is very strategic for imperialism to control the Suez Canal. But when the Jews established the state hundreds of years before Christ, they established it on 10% of Palestine. Now they have occupied all of Palestine! Even if they have historical rights to have a state here, why did they take all of it? They have no historical right. Our catastrophe is that the West believes Israel’s lies, and the Arabs and Palestinians do not have the propaganda to persuade the world that this land is ours! But the West is not looking for the truth, they look only for their interests in Palestine or in the East.

What kind of state does the PFLP envisage or fight for now?

We believe in a Palestinian state in the occupied territories, in Gaza and the West Bank, with Jerusalem as its capital. But we have to return the Palestinians to their homes, to their villages! We have UN resolutions giving the Palestinians the right to return to their homes, but Israel refused. And ultimately we have to establish a secular state in all of Palestine, where everyone, every religion and every ethnic nation have rights to their literature and have rights to be elected and to elect, like every other democratic state!

What is PFLP’s belief about Abu Mazen’s (Mahmoud Abbas’s) call to statehood in the UN?

Yes, we support this. It is in the Palestinian’s interest for the US and the UN to accept a Palestinian state.

In the past there have been people like Nasser who believed that the whole Arab world can unite against imperialism. Do you think that with the Arab Spring that might happen today?

The Arab Spring revolutions are a kind of Gamal Abdel Nasser strategy, because all their revolutions call to dismiss Israeli occupation from the occupied territories, and the uprising people believe in Palestine. And they know that Israel is not established against Palestinians, it is established to weaken the Arab world, so that imperialism and capitalism can exploit all the wealth in the Arab world! The Arabs who are torn and not united will see that their interest is to make a union between them. They begin to know now that Israel is not against the Palestinians, but against the Arabs, and also against world peace.

Israel’s policy of mass imprisonment attempts to break the political resistance and will of the Palestinian people, but prison life increases political resistance and revolutionary will…

Israel can arrest hundreds of people, thousands of people, but in spite of that Israel cannot put an end to the revolution and Palestinian resistance! Since 1967 Israel has been arresting people, but it cannot end the resistance. Israel has imprisoned millions of people under the collective punishment of occupation, it has put many obstacles against Palestinian people in every branch of life, but our people resist, like any other people all over the world who are living under occupation and tyranny. Israel has mistreated all the prisoners and detainees, but we have a soul. We do not enter prison because we rob or rape or anything, but because we resist the occupation authority, because we resist Israel’s procedures against our people.  And the people support the prisoners in demonstrations, in protesting, and support them by money, and by visiting the families of prisoners- these prisoners are the heroes of our people. And the prisoners who enter these prisons live in a national atmosphere and a resistance atmosphere.

So it’s against Israel’s interests to send Palestinians to prison, because they are creating a culture of resistance! It’s backfiring!

Of course, it is very bad for Israel! But Israel can’t do anything! They are thinking that ‘when we put them inside the prison, we end the resistance’. Instead, this imprisonment created hundreds, thousands of resistant men and youth.

I want to ask about your life, how did you get involved in political activism when you were younger, and why did you join the PFLP?

It is my ideology, the ideology of the PFLP is suitable for me. It is rational thinking, it is logical thinking. I was in the university, and I was very affected by the students and our lecturers, and by the revolution atmosphere. This effected me and thousands like me, and I resisted the Israeli occupation authority.

And then you became a teacher, inside and outside of prison! Did you teach every day?

We had classes every day except Friday. But we had many lecturers inside the prison. Sometimes I taught philosophy, sometimes political economy.

From the 1990s onwards, religion became a large part of Palestinian resistance, and now you have many people turning to Hamas’s fundamentalism instead of PFLP secular leftism. Why?

You see, the Marxist-Leninist theory failed. Not because it is wrong, but because its applications failed. For example, the Soviet Union failed to apply this theory, and this effected many leftist organizations. The people want to search for other ideologies to explain the world and to struggle against imperialism and colonialism, and of course Israel. And for them, the religious ideology serves to explain all the difficulties that they face.

How does the PFLP feel about Hamas?

It considers Hamas as a national organization that struggles against occupation. But we have many differences with it, because it explains the world and situations not like us, you see. And it is not considered a historical resistance organization. It began in 1987, but we have leftist national organizations that began a half century ago!

What do you think of Hamas’ prisoner deal?

We appreciated this bargain, yes.

But PFLP was holding a large hunger strike at the same time!

When we began the hunger strike we did not know that there would be a bargain between Hamas and the Israel authority, and it is not in the interest (of the hunger strikers). If they knew there was going to be an agreement, they would not have begun the strike. But in spite of this the strike was not bad, it ended solitary confinement.

Do you think that the Palestinian people will have an Arab spring, or another intifada?

This is a difficult question! We are under the Palestinian Authority and under the occupation, and Israel interferes with everything in our life. But we are struggling democratically in the occupied territories. It is difficult to think about an intifada, because we have direct occupation. We are facing the Israeli soldiers only at the checkpoints. But if there is still a direct occupation, we must have the third and fourth intifadas until they are dismissed from the occupied territories.

Do you know Ahmad Sa’adat?

I spent four years with him in Tulkarim prison, inside the same cell! He is a friend of mine.

There is widespread torture by the Israelis in prison, were you subjected to any torture?

Yes of course, they used all kinds of torture. Of course it is illegal, but they are looking for their interests. More than 200 died inside the prisons. More than 50 of them died under hard interrogations. They use all kinds of torture, all kinds.

Did you spend time in solitary confinement, in isolation?

Yes, if you do anything they consider illegal in prison, they put you in isolated cells. In interrogations I spent more than 100 days inside isolated cell without anybody, and they used all kinds of torture to take information from me. Not only I, but many persons, many detainees.

Why were you arrested?

Because I resisted the occupation, and in 1972 I organized the students in the West Bank to resist the occupation. And I made contact between an Arabic and Israeli organization to resist the occupation authority, and some of them have been arrested from the Israeli side, and some escaped outside the country.

Do you mean Matzpen?

Not Matzpen, with the Black Panthers, we helped each other organize and cooperate with many things against the occupation. Also with some Haredim, some very religious men who believe that establishing a Jewish state is against God’s will. They consider Zionism  as against Judaism and against God’s will. Neturei Karta and other organizations. To prove they were with us, for example, they brought weapons for us. I did not use it, but they smuggled weapons to us to prove they were with us to resist against the Israeli occupation. We cooperated with them in many branches of struggle. To press magazines, they brought us instruments.

The Black Panthers sung many songs, one of their songs went “I went to the labor office, so as to work. They asked me, ‘where are you from?’ I said, ‘From Morocco!’ They said ‘get out!’ I went to the labor office, so as to work. They asked me ‘where are you from?’ I said ‘From Poland!’ They said ‘Ah yes! Bring him a cold drink!’”

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Neturei Karta and the Revolutionary Intelligentsia

Neturei Karta is a group of anti-Zionist, ultra-Orthodox Jews who pray for the ‘peaceful dismantling of the State of Israel’. Descended from the Orthodox Jewry who, for hundreds of years before the advent of Zionism in the 1900s, lived in peaceful coexistence with Arabs in Palestine, they base their opposition to Zionism not only on the rich tradition of written and oral Jewish prophecy- which says, among other things, that Jews should not settle in the land of Israel until the coming of the Messiah, and that at no time during the Diaspora should Jews return en masse to the land and settle it by force- but also on their clear perception that the human rights abuses committed by Zionism run directly counter to Jewish ethics and morality.

From the USA branch’s website-

‘Neturei-Karta is the Aramaic term for “Guardians of the City”. The name Neturei-Karta originates from an incident in which R. Yehudah Ha-Nassi (Rabbi Judah the Prince) sent R. Hiyya and R. Ashi on a pastoral tour of inspection. In one town they asked to see the “guardians of the city” and the city guard was paraded before them. They said that these were not the guardians of the city but its destroyers, which prompted the citizens to ask who, then, could be considered the guardians. The rabbis answered, “The scribes and the scholars,” referring them to Tehillim (Psalms) Chap. 127. (Jerusalem Talmud, Tractate Hagiga. 76c).’

Before we take this quote and apply it to the modern world, we should be clear that, according to Neturei Karta and all Orthodox Jewry, the ‘scribes and the scholars’ are primarily the rabbis and students who pour over the collected body of Jewish writings and, above all, the Torah, those who follow what is written in the Pirke Avot (Sayings of the Fathers)-

“Ben (son of) Bag Bag said: Turn the Torah over and over for everything is in it. Look into it, grow old and worn over it, and never move away from it, for you will find no better portion than it.”

Much of Neturei Karta’s condemnation of the state of Israel is founded on principles of Torah and Judaic eschatology which are foreign to us; their primary opposition to the State of Israel is founded not on its grossly imperialistic human rights violations, but on its infidelity to the true dictates of the Torah (the former, for them, derives from the latter). Nonetheless, they share with secular anti-Zionism the universal moral imperative, and the desire for a liberated, secular, democratic Palestine. Accordingly, this parable can take on meaning for us beyond its Torah context. We can apply it not only to contemporary discussions of the State of Israel, but also to the modern State as such, the capitalist cosmo-polis that threatens to engulf the planet; we can distill from this parable a drop of insight touching on the general question ‘What is to be done?’, in reference both to this particular manifestation of imperialism (Israel), and to imperialism as such. What is to be done? that is, how shall we resist? What is resistance in this day and age?

In this parable, who are the ‘scribes and scholars’, who are the ‘city guard’, and what is the ‘city’? A simplistic, surface-level bourgeoisie reading would suggest that the ‘city guard’ refers to the modern police and army, (in the case of Israel, the Israeli police force, the IDF, Mossad, Shin Bet, etc.), while the ‘scribes and scholars’ of the city refer to the lawmakers and judges, and, in a broader sense, the bourgeoisie academics and journalists, the entire literate cosmopolitan public- from the politicians who spit out policy, to the state-worshiping intellectuals who scrutinize its details while, implicitly or explicitly, paying lip service to the ideological power structures of the State (in the case of Israel, the entire ideological apparatus, from the Supreme Court and the Knesset in Israel proper, to the entire gamut of international Zionist apologist intellectuals- Dershowitz, Joan Peters, etc).

The parable’s message, according to this bourgeoisie reading, is that the ‘guardians of the city’, the preservers of the social order, are not its police, who guard its walls with brute force, but its lawyers and judges, its intellectuals, who maintain the symbolic social order by controlling, interpreting, defining, and proscribing its laws. The fountain of law flows from the lofty heights of the latter down into the guns of the former. The lawmakers write the laws, and the cops enforce their dictates. The real guardians of the social order, those who truly protect and constitute the life-blood of the social body, are not those who enforce social policy with a strong arm, those who stand in as the physical representation of its laws; rather, the strength of the city is actually ensured by those who generate the laws, those who protect and transmit the ideas and ideologies that knit the social body together.  The ‘scribes and scholars’ constitute the Mind of the State, while the ‘armed guards’ stand in as its inert and obedient Body.

But we see the flaw in this interpretation when we ask- how, then, according to this model, are we to understand that the armed guards of the city are ‘not its guardians, but its destroyers’? The police are not the destroyers, but the executors and enforcers of the written law of the state. If we are to claim that lawmakers and judges are the true guardians of the city, it does not make sense to say in the next breath that the police ‘destroy’ the city that these lawmakers guard; quite the contrary- the police, in modern societies, seem to get along just fine with the lawmakers! Nor can we be content with interpreting this parable to mean merely that the ‘purity’ of the written law of the state, as it flows from the fountain pen of the court, is ‘imperfectly’ carried out on the street, is compromised or tainted by the corrupt cops, who enforce it according to their own whims. The disparity between the ‘scribes and scholars’ and the ‘city guard’ in this parable runs deeper than this- the latter destroy what the former guard. There is clearly a moral cut that runs between the two, whereby they work not in harmony but in direct opposition. The ‘scribes and scholars’ preserve the city from the destructive hands of the city guard; if it were up to the latter, there would be no city left to guard. How can this be, if the former write the city laws, and the latter guard the city walls? Who are the ‘scribes and scholars’, if not the bourgeoisie lawmakers and intelligentsia, and what is the ‘city’ that they guard, if not the concrete city and its body of social law?

The bourgeoisie reading of this parable erroneously believes that the ‘scribes and scholars’ ‘guard the city’ by serving as its state-sponsored lawyers, judges and apologist intellectuals, developing and upholding its ideological banner, and thereby fortifying its oppressive social order. The parable does not speak of these folks at all. The ‘scribes and scholars’ of this parable play no role in the fortification of State power.

In truth, the ‘scribes and scholars’ can only be those within society who critique its power structures, those who ‘speak the truth to power’, those intellectuals and writers who, in every generation, denounce those elements of oppression within the social order that stifle the potential of the people. These writers and speakers work alongside social activists, on the ground, as part of a single concerted effort, embodying in written form the ‘theory’ that animates, as well as the poetry that gives voice to, the movement. These writers and thinkers leave traces of their spark both in the lofty heights of academia (though much of what is ‘up there’ is too far removed from the ground to serve much use, and ends up calcifying into lifeless refuse), and in the innumerable daily publications by which the innumerable NGOs of the world document the innumerable human rights abuses that occur every day. In the present struggle, the written word that ‘speaks the truth to power’ does not exist sequestered on a plane apart from the concrete, practical political fight for justice; it is the very effulgence of this battle itself, its lasting expression, cast off its breathing back like a shell, left behind to remain imprinted on the temporal skin of cultural memory.

For as long as humanity has left written traces of its existence, we find the marks of this spark- its roots lie back in the prophetic lamentations of religious texts that cry for social justice, speak for the poor and downtrodden, and decry the corruption that men of power unleash upon the world; closer to the modern age, as the opportunities for social change become more tangible and practical, we find a myriad of social movements that blossom, unleash their clarion call into the world, and wither in time, leaving their skeletal remnants as testament and sign, from which future generations draw inspiration, receive vision and become firm in footstep.

By speaking words of dissent and leaving written traces of protest, these ‘scribes and scholars’ maintain in history a revolutionary flame that illuminates the past and casts its light forward into the future. Thanks to this unbroken chain of resistance, held firm through the generations by revolutionary remembrance, we can stand at our ‘point’ on (what we imagine to be) a historical time line, look behind us, and see signs and signals left by those who came before, little lights flickering on the dark hillsides of the past that give us hope in our struggle. It is our job, as the precious few ‘scribes and scholars’, to answer to the revolutionary struggles of those who have come before us in time; for if we do not give testament to the bones of the oppressed, their memory will be covered over by the oppressors, past and present, who, in the interest of the perpetuation of their own power, would happily erase the record of injustice from the historical register (ironically, this very logic is used to justify the State of Israel in the name of holocaust remembrance; more on that below). The archive is a battleground, and, in the words of Walter Benjamin, “Whoever until this day emerges victorious, marches in the triumphal procession in which today’s rulers tread over those who are sprawled underfoot. The spoils are, as was ever the case, carried along in the triumphal procession. They are known as the cultural heritage…a lineage [Abkunft: descent] which [one] cannot contemplate without horror. It owes its existence not only to the toil of the great geniuses, who created it, but also to the nameless drudgery of its contemporaries. There has never been a document of culture, which is not simultaneously one of barbarism.” (Theses on the Philosophy of History)

Just as the ‘scribes and scholars’ are a far cry from the bourgeoisie judges, lawyers and apologist intellectuals of the State, so, too, do they guard a ‘city’ which is a far cry from the city whose walls are patrolled by armed guards, whose laws are enforced by armed policemen. The ‘city’ of the parable, the ‘karta’, refers not to the established State with its army and its laws, but rather to the productive, communal social body as such, the democratic space of plurality as it exists both tangibly- before and between us- and ideally- beyond us, as the democratic ideal towards which we strive. The ‘guardians’ of this city are certainly not the policemen who maintain law and order, nor the lawmakers who proscribe law and order, but are rather the visionaries who speak this ideal of justice to the people, who remind the human community of its moral shortcomings and its innate possibilities.

The true ‘guardians of the city’ guard a city that is not perceptible by the senses in space and time; the ‘scribes and scholars’ of each generation dwell with suspicion, distrust and outright condemnation in earthly cities, which anyway are guarded perfectly well by paid armed guards. The city guarded by the ‘scribes and scholars’ is of an entirely different nature- it is a vision of a social structure wherein humans live in democratic peace and equality, and, as a transcendent corrective ideal, it translates into immanent critique of oppressive social structures which fall far short of justice. The City is To Come, because as a human community here on planet Earth we are still divided by bloodshed and strife. Nonetheless we whisper to each other words of hope, that this City is possible, and one day may come.

In the Diaspora, observant Jews pray to God three times a day, saying, among other things-

‘And To Jerusalem, your city, may you return in compassion, and may you rest within it, as you have spoken. May you rebuild it soon in our days, as an eternal structure, and may you speedily establish the Throne of David within it.’

Orthodox Judaism is unflinching in its belief that ‘Jerusalem’ refers to the actual piece of land at the eastern end of the Mediterranean; Zionism has warped this into the political belief that Jews must now rush over there and drive out its inhabitants; but in the course of the Diaspora, many Jews, Orthodox and secular alike, have expanded the signifier ‘Jerusalem’, which in Hebrew means ‘abode of peace’, to refer not to any particular city, but to the vision of a peaceful, just, and mutually equal human community as such. The ‘Throne of David’, also, refers to the Messiah, who upon his arrival will, among other things, unite the human community in a singular peace. (Of course, there are many problematic aspects to the Jewish concepts of Jerusalem and Messiah which unquestionably prefer the Jewish people over others, but as a secular humanist Jew who believes in the universal human community, I reject these elements. If, as the Orthodox (and many secular Zionists) will claim, I have sinned before God by forgetting the special lot of the Jewish people, then perhaps my soul will not be rejoined with my body in the World to Come, when all the righteous will be resurrected to study Torah for all eternity. My bad!)

Judaism is suffused with this spirit of revolutionary remembrance, though it often runs as an undercurrent beneath the surface of revealed tradition, and is today almost completely submerged under the colossus of Zionism. As Joel Kovel says in his book Overcoming Zionism, ”Judaic being can conduce to universality and bring forth emancipation. We should regard this as its priceless potential, if not always a legacy. However, emancipation has always, indeed necessarily, occurred in reference to a critique of, and a standing away from, the established order, including the order of Judaism itself. The Prophetic tradition within the Old Testament is certainly one of the great gems given to the world by the Jewish people, and an example of this. By definition oriented to an as-yet-unfulfilled future, it is therefore grounded in critique of the given. The prophet is one of the people but stands outside the city and reminds it of its falling away from the universal that is God’s true being.” (22)

Neturei Karta, and the handful of other ultra-Orthodox, anti-Zionist groups that exist, represent an attempt, at the Torah level, to redeem the religious essence of Judaism from the clutches of Zionism; but Western, secular Jews who critique Israel and Zionism in word and deed also have an important role to play as ‘guardians of the city’, in this case, of the prophetic, critical, anti-establishment legacy of Judaism. The radical kernel of Judaism can be reaffirmed, in the name of the prophets, by wresting the monopoly over the Jewish legacy away from the clutches of the Zionist enterprise. Joel Kovel- ”a multiple linkage and dissolution is involved: casting off the identity of the Jew as Zionist who is to redeem Israel and restore its glory, and in the process, undoing the linkage of Zion to capital and Western imperialism” (7).

The irony, in relation to the state of Israel, is that Israel was founded in 1948 on the imperative to ‘never forget’ the Holocaust, and now, in the name of precisely this sort of ‘remembrance of the oppressed’, it continues to pump its ideological life-blood from the corpses of the six million Jewish victims of Nazi Germany. Its Zionist apologists portray themselves as precisely those ‘guardians of the city’ who fight to protect the remembrance of past oppression from the clutches of the ‘armed guards’, the Islamo-fascists who today are enemies of Western ‘freedom’. Israel, then, is portrayed as the physical embodiment of the morally virtuous City of Peace, upheld by the ‘scribes and scholars’ who protect the remnant of justice in the world. Zionism has usurped for its own purposes a stale image of Judaism’s revolutionary, prophetic function, and uses it to bolster its banner of State power.

This sort of trick is emblematic of all postmodern, decentralized, disembodied, omnipotent, immanent forms of societal oppression- even the ground on which one could stand outside of and critique the existing order seems swallowed on all sides by that order, so that one has nowhere to turn; even the voice of resistance, which speaks different tongues in different ages, itself blares out of the megaphones, and is emblazoned on the banners of, the very social structure against which one must nonetheless speak. Regarding the Holocaust, Zionism has twisted remembrance of the oppressed into a new oppression, and perversely uses the former as the weapon of the latter, creating, out of the specter of anti-Semitism, and inscribing, on the fabric of the moral weight of history itself, a seemingly impenetrable shell to house the parasite within.

On December 12, 2006, Rabbi Yisroel D. Weiss of Neturei Karta gave a speech in Tehran, Iran at the controversial ‘International Conference to Review the Global Vision of the Holocaust’. Largely denounced by the Western intellectual community as a hotbed of Holocaust denial, the conference aimed in its own words to open a space “for suitable scientific research so that the hidden and unhidden angles of this most important political issue of the 20th century becomes more transparent”, to, in the words of the Foreign Minister of Iran, “create an opportunity for thinkers who cannot express their views freely in Europe about the Holocaust”. While I can currently pass no judgment on the conference (I have only given a cursory glance at its Wikipedia page), it is safe to say that its very existence highlights the fierce political, social and moral battle over the memory of the Event. Zionists would claim that the Holocaust itself, as well as this conference, as well as any attempt at all to criticize Israel, constitute examples of “a document of culture, which is simultaneously one of barbarism”; while others would claim that Zionism itself constitutes such a document of culture, as it manipulates the memory of the Holocaust to justify the existence and actions of a brutally oppressive military regime and imperialist monster. Here are the words of Neturei Karta rabbi Yisroel Weiss-

“Now maybe I can say that at the discussion of the holocaust, I may be the representative, the voice of the people who died in the holocaust because my grandparents died there. They were killed in Auschwitz. My parents were from Hungary. My father escaped and his parents remained. He wasn’t able to get them out of Hungary and they died in Auschwitz as were other relatives and all the communities that they knew. So to say that they didn’t die, to me you can not say that. I am the living remnant of the people who died in the holocaust and I am here, I believe sent by God, to humbly say, simply to speak to the people here and say, “you should know that the Jewish people died, and do not try to say that it did not happen. They did die.” There are people throughout the Jewish communities, still alive in their seventies and eighties and every one of them will tell you their stories. It is something which you can not refute, but that being said, it doesn’t mean that the holocaust is a tool to use to oppress other people. And that is the most new unfortunate piece of the holocaust, why the holocaust is such a bad word, because the holocaust is being used today to oppress another people….The main people who are suffering anew from the holocaust today, would be the Palestinian people…The holocaust is being manipulated and abused by a movement that refers to themselves as the Jewish nation, that usurped the name of the Jewish nation. The Jewish nation after World War II was very weak and the people who were in power, who were non-religious, people who were far from God who decided for convenience sake that they wanted to use the word “Judaism”, they wanted to use the Star of David, they wanted to use the Bible to be able to gain a materialistic gain: the state of “Israel”. They decided that they are going to use the holocaust to be able to reach their goal of having a nation…There should be Nuremburg trials on the actions of the Zionists. Not only that, but the irony is, they said “as more Jews die then we will get more land because the more the bloodshed, then the nations will feel guilty and the nations will give us land”. After World War II they went to the nations and said “you must give us land”. They were given the land. Therefore they use the word “holocaust” because they demand that, that is one of the reasons to give them land. And they are afraid that if you talk about the holocaust, you will be able to find the truth: that they are guilty just as the Nazis are…Jews were killed, but they died to sanctify God’s name. Their souls went up in purity and they don’t want to be brought down now to rebel against God. I am here to speak the cry of the dead of the holocaust: “We do not want to be used, to be soiled, to rebel against God with our blood. We do not want the state of “Israel”. We don’t want that our blood should be used and tainted for the state of “Israel”, which is a steady rebellion against God. We want a speedy and peaceful dismantlement of the state.”“

Like all struggles against oppression, that against Zionism is fought not only on the ground, in the present, but in the past as well. It is a battle over the past, where the tides of ideology turn in line with our changing comprehension of the timeline of events that have led us to this moment. We see this not only with regard to the Holocaust, but also with regard to the Nakba (disaster), the name given to the ethnic cleansing of 1948, the primitive accumulation by which Zionism drove out the Palestinian inhabitants of this land to secure for itself the territory necessary for the Jewish state. A major battle was won in the 1980s, when a New School of historians from the right and the left (Benny Morris, Ilan Pappe, and others) unearthed into the public light something which had long been denied by Zionist historians- that the Arabs did not leave of their own free will in 1948, that they were actually brutally driven out by their oppressors. Folks on the ground, not least the actual victims of the Nakba, had long known this to be the case, but for the first time the entire literate public was forced to remember that which for decades had hovered over the precipice of obscurity.

In our struggle, we must remember that those who struggled before us, struggle anew alongside us today; we must struggle in the name of the wellspring of resistance that bubbles just beneath the surface of the officially recognized, bourgeois picture of history. For as we struggle against oppression, we inherit, we give voice to, we carry the flame of a struggle that long precedes us, and will continue long after we are gone. The ‘scribes and scholars’ of every generation play a vital role in guarding, carrying, and transmitting this revolutionary inheritance.

“The danger threatens the stock of tradition as much as its recipients. For both it is one and the same: handing itself over as the tool of the ruling classes. In every epoch, the attempt must be made to deliver tradition anew from the conformism which is on the point of overwhelming it.” – Walter Benjamin, ‘Theses on the Philosophy of History’

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