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Warsaw Ghetto leader writes to Palestinians

ROME, Aug. 11 (JTA) — The last surviving leader of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising has called on Palestinians to halt their attacks on Israeli civilians and start talks with Israeli leaders. But Dr. Marek Edelman’s appeal — published last week as an open letter in Poland’s leading newspaper, Gazeta Wyborcza — has drawn criticism from some Jews because Edelman never used the word “terrorism.” He also appears to evoke comparisons between today’s Palestinian gunmen and the outnumbered Warsaw Ghetto fighters who made a brave but futile fight against the Nazis in 1943. “There is no need for such a comparison,” Pnina Frymer-Greenspan, who fought under Edelman in Warsaw, told the Israeli daily Ha’aretz. “It pains me. I also think its very problematic that he does not call them terrorists.” She did, however, back Edelman’s call for negotiations. Edelman, 81, addressed his letter not to Palestinian politicians, but “to all the commanders of Palestinian military, paramilitary and guerrilla organizations; to all the soldiers in Palestinian combatant organizations. “My name is Marek Edelman; I am the former vice commander of the Jewish Fighting Organization; I am one of the leaders of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising,” he went on, establishing his credentials both as a Jew and as a guerrilla fighter. To some observers, Edelman appeared to fault the Palestinians on their tactics, rather than their goals or ideals. He recalled how in 1943, “we fought for the life of Jewish society in Warsaw. We fought solely for life, not for territory and not for national identity . . . our weapons were never aimed at a defenseless civilian population. We did not kill women and children.” Nonetheless, he said, “To this day, urban guerrillas have never been victorious anywhere in the world, but neither have the armies against which they fought ever won. “The war you are fighting will also lead to nowhere,” he wrote. “Once again, blood will be spilled needlessly and people on both sides will lose their lives.” Edelman obliquely criticized the Palestinian use of suicide bombers, saying that the ghetto fighters “never gambled with our lives. We never sent our soldiers to a certain death; after all, you only live once. A man must not take another’s life. It is time for everyone to understand that.” Edelman is a prominent figure in Poland because of his World War II history and his more recent years as a political activist. From his youth, he was a member of the Bund, the Marxist Jewish party that opposed Zionism, and after the Holocaust he chose to remain in Poland, which he considers his homeland and where he still lives. “He is a venerable and controversial figure, known for his distance to Zionism,” said Stanislaw Krajewski, the Warsaw consultant for the American Jewish Committee. A cardiologist by profession, Edelman was an active supporter of Poland’s anti-Communist Solidarity movement in the 1980s. Since the fall of communism, he has taken prominent stands on human rights issues. Despite his anti-Zionism, he has visited Israel several times. “This open letter falls squarely within the scope of Edelman’s earlier lines of action; he continues to feel involved in world events,” Rudi Assuntino, who edited an Italian book on Edelman in 1998, told JTA. “It is important to note that it is almost in the form of a manifesto, and that he addresses the heads of the Palestinians combatants directly.” In his letter, Edelman urged Palestinians and Israelis alike to look to the lesson of Northern Ireland, where a peace accord was recently signed, and to Poland, where the communist regime was ousted “without a single shot being fired.” In interviews following the publication of his appeal, Edelman said a strong mediator “with an international moral authority” had to be found to moderate Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. He said he had initiated contacts with “three or four” such people, but would not reveal names.