Friday, October 9, 2009


Marek Edelman is an odd choice of hero for any state. As an intelligent man with a drive to fight injustice he was in perennial conflict with powerful interests. He led the Jewish forces in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, he was a leading voice of dissent against Poland's Communist government, and a fierce critic of Palestinian terrorism. He was also an avowed anti-Zionist, a socialist, and a supporter of the Palestinian resistance, which is why it is initially surprising to see Edelman's passing mourned by many of the same people whose work he devoted his life to resist, particularly high American and Israeli officials.

However, Dr. Edelman is more than the most popular anti-Zionist terrorist, err freedom fighter, in Israel, he is a symbol of tremendous moral authority, a symbol many would like to put to their own use. Many Zionists see their work as a continuation of resistance to NAZI atrocities, by praising him they associate themselves with that symbol.

Its not the first time repressive governments have tried to hijack the memory of his actions. The Polish government tried to get him to participate in festivities celebrating the fortieth anniversary of the Uprising, he rebuffed them saying to do so “would be an act of cynicism and contempt” in a nation “where social life is dominated throughout by humiliation and coercion.” During the 2002 trial of Marwan Barghuti Edelman infuriated many in Israel with a letter addressed "To all the leaders of Palestinian military, paramilitary and guerrilla organizations. To all the soldiers of Palestinian militant groups," in which he condemned suicide bombings, but also affirmed his support for the Palestinian resistance, to whom he bequeathed both his moral authority and the legacy of his struggle, which in his view they were the heirs of. Israeli academic Israel Gutman typified the indignant reactions when he protested that "Edelman has been filled with hate for Israel for years," and "At the time, he claimed that Begin and Shamir has massacred Arabs."

But now Edelman is gone, he can no longer rebuff the attempts at hijacking the legacy of his actions to legitimize repression. Edelman is no hero to the Israeli government. He was a ruthlessly pragmatic opponent of oppression, irrespective of who was oppressed. While Edelman was comparing his struggle to that of the Palestinians Israeli generals where analyzing the Stroop Report, the findings of the NAZI general who repressed the revolt, for ideas of how to deal with the Intifada. When Benjamin Netanyahu eulogizes Edelman and the American embassy mourns his passing it is not because they admire him, Marek Edelman's spirit lives on in their worst enemies, but because he is finally no longer able to rebuke efforts at using his heroism as a basis to legitimize repressive governments. Marek Edelman is dead, but his spirit, embodied in his actions and words, is immortal, something no propagandist can suppress.

Marek Edelman's open letter on the occasion of the trial of Palestinian leader Marwan Barghuti:
To all the leaders of Palestinian military, paramilitary and guerilla
To all the soldiers of Palestinian militant groups:

My name is Marek Edelman, I am a former Deputy Commander of the Jewish Military organization in Poland, one of the leaders of the Warsaw Ghetto Insurrection, In the memorable year of the insurrection - 1943 - we were fighting for the survival of the Jewish community in Warsaw. We were fighting for mere life, not for territory, nor for a national identity. We
were fighting with a hopeless determination, but our weapons were never directed against the defenseless civilian populations, we never killed women and children, In a world devoid of principles and values, despite a constant danger of death, we did remain faithful to these values and moral principles.

We were isolated in our fight, and yet the powerful opposing army was not able to destroy these barely armed boys and girls.

Our fight in Warsaw lasted several weeks, later we fought in the Underground and in the Warsaw insurrection of 1944.

Yet nowhere in the world can a guerilla force bring conclusive victory, nowhere can it be defeated by weapon-full armies, Neither can your war attain any resolution. Blood will be spilled in vain and lives will be lost on both sides.

We have never been careless with life. We have never sent our soldiers to certain death. Life is one for eternity. Nobody has the right to mindlessly take it away. It is high time for everybody to understand just that.

Just look around you, Look at Ireland. After 50 years of bloody war, peace has arrived. Formerly deadly enemies have set down at a common table. Look at Poland at Wales and Kuron, Without a shot being fired, the criminal communist system has been defeated. Both You and the State of Israel have to radically change your attitude. You have to want peace in order to save the lives of hundreds and perhaps thousands of people, and to create a better future for your loved ones, for your children. I know from my own experience that the current unfolding of events depends on you, the Military Leaders. The Influence of political and civilian actors is much smaller. Some of you studied at the university in my town- some of you know me. You are wise and intelligent enough to understand that without peace there is no future for Palestine, and that peace can be attained only at the cost of both sides agreeing to some concessions.
-Marek Edelman, Zurich, 10. August 2002


Don Emmerich Jr. said...

Very eye-opening. Thank you for this article.

And thank you for all your articles. You're truly an excellent writer, my friend. Keep up the great work.

Bar Kochba said...

Edelman was a member of the anti-Zionist socialist Bund organization before the War. It is not like he lost faith in Israel after "its atrocities". He was anti-Zionist before the War and was anti-Zionist after.

The majority of those who fought in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising were Zionist. Edelman has no more credibility simply because he survived while the others did not. The leader of the uprising, Mordecai Anilewitz was the head of the Shomer Hatzair, socialist Zionist organization. The second group involved in the uprising was Betar, the Revisionist Zionist group. Don't slander their legacy and perversely use their heroism as an opportunity to slander the Jewish State.

Young Activist said...

The Bund did oppose Zionism from the beginning, quite appropriately, on the basis that it was unacceptable for Jews to capitulate to racist attitudes and separate themselves from their communities. However, Herzl and subsequent Zionist leaders were all actively supporting ethnic cleansing as a tactic in establishing the state. The heirs to the small strain of Zionist thinkers who proposed cooperation with the native inhabitants would be today described as anti-Zionists, perhaps best embodied by Noam Chomsky.

Divorced from Edelman's affiliation with the Bund and his opposition to Zionism however, he did offer principled criticism of Israeli atrocities.

The claim you make is interesting though. Namely because many Zionists consider the creation of the state an extension of the Warsaw resistance, however you here seem to argue that as the state was not created at this point there is no basis for the partisans to have a principled stance regarding Israeli atrocities, and given that all of the leaders save Edelman died in the uprising they could not offer such opinions.

It is easy to oppose oppression when you are oppressed. Standing up for justice there is often little more than a display of nationalism, but Edelman is heroic because he fought his entire life against oppression no matter who the victim was. In this Edelman embodied one of the most admirable and enduring characteristics of Jewish thought. The state was not a continuation of Warsaw, Warsaw was a continuation of the Naftali Botwin Company, and their heirs are those who resist atrocities, not those who wrap them in the flag and celebrate them

Bosnian said...

Being an anti-Nazi fighter it's only natural that he should be anti-Zionist too.