The Rabbi and Corporal Hijack

Nov 26, 2023
Profiles with Islamic and Jewish symbols.

I met Rabbi Kurt Stone on a bus trip in Europe in 1985, when I was immediately struck by his journalistic pedigree – he covered the Patty Hearst arrests live on radio from underneath a car as bullets flew above.

But it was his over-arching gentleness and patience, to say nothing of his encyclopaedic knowledge, that led to a friendship and intermittent correspondence across the years and the continents.

Kurt is something of an American institution: writer, professor, lecturer, historian, medical ethicist, ordained rabbi and occasional actor. He is the author of two seminal works on the US Congress and has published more than 900 political essays: The K.F. Stone Weekly.

I met Mussa Hijazi after a mid-life career change took me into legal practice a decade or so ago. I operate only in good, clean crime, whereas Mussa, who runs a thriving practice, steps daily into the minefield that is civil and commercial law, in which he is exceedingly effective. When a family member of mine needed a fighter in a recent commercial transaction against a mightily rich and unreasonable adversary, with the lawyers to match, all my colleagues spoke as one: “Get Mussa!”

During the first Intifada, Mussa, born here but raised in the West Bank from ages 3 to 15, was a young teenager throwing those celebrated painted stones described by Colum McCann in the novel Apeirogon. Those stones that sold for $100 when early 1990s Palestinian riot paraphernalia became popular among a small clique of Japanese teenagers (a soldier-signed IDF plexiglass shield could fetch $150).

Mussa, who came back to Australia about 18 months into that first Intifada, doesn’t mince words in his legal negotiations and, like Kurt, has great stores of endurance.

So, trying to understand Gaza, and believing in the judicial maxim that the best way to get to the truth is to have powerful arguments put on both sides of the question, I turned to Kurt and Mussa.

In his Weekly post from November 13, Kurt writes, “Like many Jews, it truly hurts, bothers and worries me that Israel has taken such savage reprisals against the people of Gaza. Yes, I support Israel’s right to defend itself and its citizens by going after and eliminating the murderers of Hamas. And yet, I feel like that parent who chastises the child by saying “But we expect more of you.”

“So what is to be done and how can we get across to the growing masses of those who support the “poor oppressed Palestinians” against the “genocidal Israelis?”

“One possible answer is to teach history; to open the minds, hearts and souls of those who protest in the streets with a handful of crucial facts to ponder.”

His post included a video from an unknown young Yemini man under the title “Hypocrisy for ‘Pro-Palestinians’.”

Its text, in part: “To those raising the Palestinian flag [in worldwide protests], where were you when ISIS was launched in the name of Islam and beheaded tens of thousands of Arabs in Libya, Syria and Iraq?

“Why didn’t you take it to the streets and raise their flags and condemn the terror and call for ceasefire?

“Where were you when Arab dictators and terrorists killed hundreds of thousands of Arabs in Syria and Libya?”

The unknown young Yemeni spoke of the terror and loss of 400,000 lives in his country and suggested that the reason for condemnation now and not in the cases he cited was “Jew hatred, or as I like to call it, hatred.”

Kurt reckons this video “just about says it all”, concluding “All I can get is that those who whole-heartedly support the Palestinians against the military might of the Israelis, ponder what this young man has to teach . . . and learn a bit of history. It just might save the world from the planet’s most catastrophic collision.”

Mussa shared notes with me that he had prepared ahead of a recent rally. Initially to be his own speech, they were picked up instead by a family member. The notes included:

“Make no mistake what is being committed in Gaza is a genocide, it is displacement, it is ethnic cleansing, it is collective punishment, it fits every definition of crime under any law. It is a crime against humanity and whilst we allow ourselves and those that represent us to remain silent, we are complicit, and we will end up on the wrong side of history …

“This is not a religious war. Zionists are not Jews. Zionism and Israel are simply a colonial project that built a country at the cost of the Palestinian people …

“We must all, regardless of colour, religion, creed, ethnicity or anything else that differentiates us, stick to what we have in common, that being our humanity …”

Mussa speaks with great forbearance of the Australian ignorance of the Palestinian cause.

“When I first arrived back here, I quickly realised … if you identified as Palestinian … you were assumed to be a terrorist,” he wrote. “I was a member of the Army Reserves here for some five years. I did well, I think, and moved up the ranks. For the purpose of military exercises often there was a need for someone to play ‘the enemy’.

“I found myself being tasked with that. When I moved up the ranks, I became known by many in the regiment, including senior command, as Corporal Hijack! (a riff on his name, Hijazi).

“Of course, those were the days of the PLO who were like Hamas is today: designated a terrorist organisation – until, that is, Yasser Arafat was given the Nobel Peace Price.”

Israel, he believes, needs to realise that the US and the West generally are not its friends.

“Even the lobby groups in the US which help with ensuring the billions in aid are not their friends,” he writes. “There are people, Zionists and others, who have profited and continue to profit from Israel living in a constant state of fear and insecurity.

“Israel needs to appreciate that it is not the Palestinians who committed the genocide against the Jewish people and it is not the Palestinians that profit form the situation that has been allowed to continue for 75 years.”

Powerful arguments on both sides certainly, and considerable historical truth from both, too, but what to do going forward?

I asked both men for their best pitch in 150 words.

Mussa: “There are three ways this will end.

“1. Israel succeeds in wiping out Gaza, and I do not mean Hamas, I mean all of Gaza, by killing the entire population or pushing some into Egypt.

“2. The Palestinians with the support of others (unlikely while despots remain in charge of the surrounding countries) manage to wipe out Israel.

“3. Israel accepts that it needs to sit down with Hamas, or whoever is in charge, and negotiate on matters including ending the apartheid regime and allowing Palestinian refugees the right of return. Yes, that will mean that Israel can no longer be a “Jewish state” but, seriously, does anyone believe in 2023 you can have a thriving liberal democracy where peoples’ rights are decided by which god they believe in?

“Peace with the Palestinians will automatically bring peace with surrounding nations. Such a country will not only thrive but be the envy of the Middle East, and the world.”

Kurt: “High atop the Jaffa Gate – the main portal of entry into the old city of Jerusalem – there is an inscription fraught with prescient historic meaning: “There is no G-d without Allah, and Abraham is loved by G-d.

“These 12 words should remind us of the long and complex history of Muslims and Jews, Israelis and Palestinians. Never forget that Father Abraham had two sons, Isaac and Ishmael, and two grandsons: Jacob and Eisav. The Bible tells us that despite being brothers, there was a deep rift between the two sets of kinsmen, which ultimately planted the seeds of a lethal struggle which exists to this very day.

“Both sides – Israeli and Palestinian – know one another very well; at a certain level, neither side accepts the humanity of the other. As a result, everyone suffers.

“To my way of thinking, what is required now, today, is for the Muslim side of the family to join with the Jewish side in order to guarantee the removal of Hamas from Gaza, and set about the task of saving the lives of both the Children of Isaac and Ishmael and the children of Jacob and Eisav.

“For this is, at root, a family matter . . .”

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