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The Dahlan factor – by Dr. Joseph Massad

Editors Note: Al Jazeera English has once again removed an article by Columbia University professor Joseph Massad hours after publishing it. The article, “The Dahlan Factor,” appeared for several hours on the Qatar-based broadcaster’s website this morning at this link, but was later removed without explanation (the full article is republished below).


Dr. Joseph Massad

The recent resurrection of Mohammad Dahlan by several Arab governments, Israel and the US is a most important development for the future of the Palestinian cause, Palestinian Authority (PA)-Israel negotiations, and Hamas-ruled Gaza. Dahlan is viewed, by many Palestinians, as the most corrupt official in the history of the Palestinian national movement (and there are many contenders for that title).

Dahlan, it would be recalled, was the PA man in charge of Gaza after the Oslo Accords were signed, where he commanded 20,000 Palestinian security personnel who were answerable to the CIA and to Israeli intelligence. His forces would torture Hamas members in PA dungeons throughout the 1990s.

His corruption, at the time, was such that he allegedly diverted over 40 percent of taxes levied against the Palestinians to his personal account in what became known as the Karni Crossing Scandal in 1997.

Dahlan, who has been accused repeatedly by both Hamas and Fatah of being an agent of US, Israeli, Egyptian, and Jordanian intelligence, would attempt to stage a US-organised coup against the democratically elected Hamas government in 2007 in Gaza, an attempt that backfired on him and ended with his eviction from the Strip (I had forewarned about the coup several months before it occurred).

A simultaneous coup led by Abbas and his Israeli- and US-backed security forces in the West Bank was successful in dislodging the elected Hamas from power. Dahlan retreated to that mainstay of US and Israeli power, namely the PA-controlled West Bank, where he began to hatch new plots with his multiple patrons to undermine not only Hamas but also Abbas, whose position he begrudged and coveted.

Indeed the Americans and the European Union (the latter on US orders) began to pressure Abbas to appoint Dahlan as his deputy, making it clear that they would like to see Dahlan succeed Abbas. Abbas resisted the pressure and refused.

In the meantime, Dahlan, has been accused by Hamas and the PA of allegedly plotting several assassination attempts that targeted several Palestinian officials, including Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyyah and Fatah ministers in the PA. Accusations that he persistently denied.  His involvement in the 2010 Mossad assassination of a Hamas official in Dubai included having two of his Palestinian death squad hit men (later arrested by Dubai authorities) assist in the operation, a charge he also denied. His personal wealth was conservatively estimated in 2005 by an Israeli think tank at $120m.


Once Dahlan’s schemes became too obvious to ignore, Abbas stripped him of power and chased him out of the Ramallah Green Zone in 2010. He moved to Mubarak’s Egypt and later, following the ouster of Mubarak, to Dubai (and on occasion Europe) where he remained until his more recent resurrection by the heirs of Mubarak who now sit on Egypt’s throne.

A man for all patrons

Dahlan’s power lies in his ability to serve the agenda of multiple patrons. For the Israelis, he is a ruthless, corrupt power-grubbing man who would do their bidding obediently were he to come to power in Gaza or the West Bank. Both the Americans and the Israelis see him as especially willing to sign on an American-sponsored Netanyahu deal without equivocation.

For the Egyptians and the Gulf monarchies (and he is said to be a business partner with a Gulf ruler), he would look after their interests and obey their orders by eliminating any resistance to a US-imposed Palestinian final surrender to Israel and by eliminating Hamas once and for all.

For the Egyptian coup leaders, whose coup replicated Dahlan’s 2007 Gaza coup, except successfully, he could rid them of Hamas, which they see as an extension of the power of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), and render their relations with Israel even closer than they already are. Dahlan’s most important role, however, is the one that the Americans need him for, namely, to replace Abbas should the latter fail to sign on to the final surrender that Barack Obama and John Kerry have been cooking at the behest of Netanyahu in the past few months.

Just as George Bush Jr and Bill Clinton terminated the services of Arafat after the latter proved unable to sign off on the final Palestinian surrender demanded of him at Camp David in the summer of 2000 (an inability that would arguably cost him his life at the hands of Abbas or Dahlan – depending on which of the two you talk to – acting at the behest of the Israelis, and very likely the Americans), Obama will terminate the services of Abbas should he fail to sign the US-sponsored surrender. Indeed, even if Abbas does sign such a deal, as he is approaching his 80th birthday, Dahlan will be needed and ready to take over after his death.

It is in this context that Egyptian army top brass recently visited Israel for a whole week while the Egyptian private TV station Dream (owned by a Mubarak businessman ally, Ahmad Bahgat) aired an interview with Dahlan in which he attacked Abbas, in yet another effort to delegitimise the latter.

Dahlan was offered the support of the rightwing Egyptian businessman Naguib Sawiris (infamous for his cutting off cellular phone lines in Cairo during the Egyptian uprising in January 2011 on the orders of Mubarak’s security apparatus), who sang Dahlan’s praises (as well as those of Mohammad Rashid, aka Khaled Salam, a former Arafat aide and another allegedly corrupt embezzling fugitive) as one of the most honest businessmen he ever worked with and then proceeded to denounce Abbas as a “liar”.

Indeed Sawiris, who has previously had business investments in Israel, went as far as claiming that had Palestine had “three men” like Dahlan, “it would have been liberated by now”.

Meanwhile, after months of closure of the borders with Gaza and harassment of Palestinians in Egypt by the heirs of Mubarak, the daughter of late Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser, Huda, who, like the rest of her siblings, had already paid abject public obeisance to the coup leader, published a letter to Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyyah, accusing him and Hamas of terrorism targeting Egyptian soldiers in Sinai.

Moreover, with the elimination of Syria as a refuge for the exiled Hamas leaders, the Saudis and the UAE are tightening the grip on Qatar, the new base for the exiled Hamas leadership and the sponsor of the MB. They are also hoping that some of the concessions Iran would pay for its new modus vivendi with the US would include abandoning support for Hamas.

The takeover plan

As an Egyptian court has recently joined Israel and the US in banning Hamas from the country and considering it a terrorist organisation and as the Israelis have threatened openly this week that an invasion of Gaza will be necessary, the plan for a Dahlan take-over is hatching slowly but surely. This is viewed as such a threat that Abbas dispatched his supporters and cronies to the streets of Ramallah to prove to the Americans and the Israelis that he still commands much support in the West Bank.

The competition between Abbas and Dahlan is essentially one where each of them wants to prove that he can be more servile to Israeli, US, Egyptian, and Gulf interests while maintaining legitimacy and full control of the Palestinian population.

The details of the plot are not clear. They could involve an invasion of Gaza from the Egyptian and the Israeli sides (and Egyptian officials have already threatened to carry out such an invasion a few weeks ago), a coup of sorts in the West Bank, and even assassinations of Haniyyah and/or Abbas.

All bets are off at the moment, as Abbas, like Arafat before him, is offering complete obedience to US and Israeli diktat and will go much farther than Arafat did, but he understands too well that he would lose all legitimacy and control were he to sign the final humiliating surrender that the US and Israel are insisting on. Dahlan of course will have no such worries.

As for Hamas, which, unlike the MB, is a resistance movement and not a political party, it cannot be rounded up or crushed so easily, and the entry of Dahlan into Gaza, let alone the West Bank, will usher in a civil war that could likely end in his defeat yet again, short of a full Israeli invasion of Gaza to return him to power (Dahlan has also been accused by the PA of collaborating with the Israelis in their 2008 invasion of Gaza and has recently been accused in aiding the ongoing counter-revolution in Egypt).

The same scenario would be repeated in the West Bank.

The future of the Palestinian people is in danger and the enemies of the Palestinians surround them inside and outside Palestine. The Obama-Israeli-Egyptian-Gulf plans for liquidating their cause and their rights continue afoot.

However, just like past corrupt Palestinian leaders were unsuccessful in liquidating the rights of the Palestinians and their cause, the Israeli and US betting on the Dahlan horse will only increase the resolve of the Palestinian people and their supporters that Palestinian resistance will only cease after the final liquidation of Israeli state racism and colonialism in all its manifestations throughout historic Palestine.

Hilf al-Fudul

Hilf al-Fudul (Arabic: حلف الفضول) was an alliance or confederacy created in Mecca in the year 590 AD,[1] to establish justice for all through collective action, especially for those who where not under the protection of any clan. Because of Muhammad’s role in its formation, the alliance plays a significant role in Islamic ethics. Because fudul commonly means “virtuous” the alliance is often translated as League of the Virtuous.[2]

Historical background

The pact, or hilf in arabic, take place at the return of the Fijar War, the battle take place in the montht of Shawwal month and the Hilf al-Fudul in the following Dhu l-Qa’da. Montgomery Watt note that the result of the war was the control of the the commercial road between Yemen and Al-Hirah by the Meccans. [3]

The principle of hilf was set previously by Hashim ibn Abd Manaf as a way to set up new alliances between merchants of similar power, were they Meccans or strangers, which allowed to form alliance outside of Mecca and modify the balance of power in trade inside Mecca. Hilf sometimes resulted in formation of new tribes, as it happens with the Banu Fihr. [2] Those transformations reshaped the traditional tribe socialisation and the social relations in Mecca. [5]

The Trigger

A Yemeni merchant from Zabid had sold some goods to al-As ibn Wa’il al-Sahmi (the father of Amr ibn al-As). Having taken possession of the goods, the Qurayshi refused to pay the agreed price, knowing that the merchant had no confederate or kinsman in Mecca whom he could count upon for help. The Yemeni merchant, instead of letting it pass, appealed to the Quraysh to see that justice was done.[4] But due to al-As ibn Wa’il’s preeminent place among the Quraysh, they refused to help the Yemeni merchant. So the merchant went to the mountain Abi Qays to recite poems asking for justice.


Al-Zubayr ibn ‘Abd al-Muttalib, Muhammad’s uncle, is believed to have been the first to call for a pact.[6] Muhammad, the future prophet of Islam, took part in the ‘hilf’. A few clans met in Dar al Nadwa, a building north of the Kaaba, the gathering place of the clan’s leader (malaʾ), where they decided to take defense of the Yemeni merchant and recover his loss. A meeting was hosted at the house of Abd Allah ibn Jad’an.[7] At the meeting, various chiefs and members of tribes pledged to assist anyone who was treated unjustly, to collectively intervene in conflicts to establish justice and to defend people who were foreigners in Mecca or who were not under the protection of a clan:[8]

To make the pact imperative and sacred, the members went into the Ka’aba and poured water into the receptacle so it flowed on the black stone. Thereupon each man drank from it. Then they raised their right hands above their heads to show they would stand together in this endeavor.[4] The pact was written and placed inside the Ka’aba, the place where the participants believed it would be under the protection of God.[9]

They succesfully retrieved the goods from al-As ibn Wa’il. That pact marked the beginning of some notion of justice in Mecca, which would be later repeated by Muhammad when he would preach Islam.[10] Another aspect of the pact was that it would open up the Meccan market to Yemenite merchants, who were hitherto excluded.[3]

The Clans involved

The following clans joined this pacte : Banu Hashim, Banu Zuhra, Banu Muthalib, Asad and Banu Taym. Montgomery Watt note the continuity with the precedent conflict for Qusay‘s succession. It opposed the same clans, grouped in hilf al Muthayyabun, to the Banu Makhzum and the Banu Sahm, who grouped in the Ahlaf. At the exception of the Banu Nawfal and the powerful ‘Abd Shams (Banu Umayya), whose success make them now closer to the Ahlaf.

For M. Watt, with the control of the trade road with the Yemen by Makhzum and ‘Abd Shams following the Fijar war, the lesser clans was going to be excluded of commerce with that country if Yemeni merchants stopped to come to Mecca. Which would explain the necessity for them to defend the Yemeni merchant. He also note that the same clans will still be in conflict until the Battle of Badr, where all Meccans leader belonged to the clans opposed to hilf al fudhul.[2][3]


Later on, after proclaiming Islam, Muhammad still acknowledged the validity and value of the pact, despite most of its members being non-Muslim.[8] 

In the time of the first Umayyad caliph Mu’awiya, the governor of Medina al-Walid ibn Utba ibn Abi Sufyan (‘Abd Shams), who was a nephew of the caliph, committed an injustice to Husayn ibn Ali. Husayn threatened to take the case to the members of Hilf al-Fudul. As influential Meccans like Abd Allah ibn al-Zubayr (Assad), al-Miswar ibn Makhrama (al-Zuhri) and Abd al-Rahman ibn Awf (al-Taymi) swore to help Husayn in agreement with the pact, the Umayyad governor stepped back, afraid of the possible consequences.[12] · [13]


  1. ^ Guraya, Muhammad Yusuf (1979). “JUDICIAL INSTITUTIONS IN PRE-ISLAMIC ARABIA”Islamic Studies18 (4): 338. ISSN 0578-8072.
  2. Jump up to:a b c Ibrahim, Mahmood (Aug. 1982). “Social and Economic Conditions in Pre-Islamic Mecca.” International Journal of Middle East Studies
  3. Jump up to:a b c Watt, W. M. Muhammad: Prophet and StatesmanOxford University Press
  4. ^ Wolf, Eric R. “The social organization of Mecca and the origins of Islam.” Southwestern Journal of Anthropology 7.4 (1951)
  5. ^ OBAIDULLAH FAHAD (2011). “Tracing Pluralistic Trends in Sīrah Literature: A Study of Some Contemporary Scholars”. Islamic Studies50 (2): 221. JSTOR 41932590.
  6. ^ Najeebabadi, Akbar Shah. The History of Islam. Darussalam publishers. p. 101
  7. ^ Chelhod, Joseph (Nov. 1991). “La foi jurée et l’environnement désertique.” Arabica38(3): 301.
  8. ^ Peterson (2006),
  9. ^ Caetani, Annali del Islam, paragraphes 146 et 147 et notes
  10. ^ By M Th Houtsma. E.J. Brill’s First Encyclopaedia of Islam, 1913-1936. p. 307

The Passover Controversy in the East and West, David Rudolph

Cambridge University 2004 (unpublished) source :

Second century Gentile churches followed two calendar traditions concerning Passover. Almost all of the churches in Asia (where Paul devoted much of his ministry [1 Cor 16:8, 19; Acts 19:10, 26), as well as churches in Asia Minor, Cilicia, Syria, Judea (until c. 135) and Mesopotamia, observed Passover in accordance with the Jewish calendar, on the fourteenth day of the first month, the month of Nissan (Eusebius, Hist. eccl. 5.23.1; 5:24:1; Athanasius, Syn. 2; Epiphanius, Pan. 70.9.8-9; 10.3-5; Theodoret, Haer. Fab. Comp. 3.4; see Cantalamessa 1993:128b).1 Far from being a minor schismatic group, Gentile Christians who celebrated Passover on Nissan 14 stretched across a vast geographic region that represented the heartland of apostolic Christianity.

By contrast, the churches in the West—in Italy, Greece (including Corinth), Spain, Britain, Gaul (which included the present-day area of France, Belgium, the south Netherlands, south-west Germany)—observed Passover on the Sunday following Nissan 14 (Eusebius, Hist. eccl. 5.23.1; Vit. Const. 3.18). These churches retained the name pa¿sca (Passover)2 but they moved away from celebrating Passover on the same day as Jews, with Jews and in the manner of Jews. Little by little, they de-Judaized Passover.

When did the split between East and West over the dating of Passover occur? According to Epiphanius (Pan. 70.9.2), who sought to answer this question, most of the churches in the East and West until c. 135 followed a common tradition of observing Passover when the Jerusalem church did, on Nissan 14.3 The Jewish overseers (e˙pisko/pwn) of the Jerusalem church were instrumental in determining the proper date of Passover for the Gentile wing of the church:

For this was their chief and entire concern: the one unity, so that there would be no schisms or divisions…Now altogether there were fifteen bishops from the circumcision, and it was necessary at that time, when the bishops from the circumcision were being ordained in Jerusalem, for the whole world to follow them and celebrate the feast with them, that there might be one accord and one confession, one feast celebrated; this was the reason for their solicitude which gathered the minds of people into the unity of the church. <But since the feast?> could not be celebrated <in this fashion?> for such a long time, by God’s good pleasure in Constantine’s reign the matter was <set right> for the sake of harmony (Epiphanius, Pan. 70.10.3-5; trans. Amidon 1990:274; critical edition: GCS [Holl/Dummer] 3.243; cf. Eusebius, Hist. eccl. 4.5-6).

Epiphanius comments that the unifying influence of the circumcised overseers ceased during the reign of Hadrian when all Jews, including Christian Jews, were expelled from Jerusalem (c. 135).4 The subsequent two centuries, from the Hadrianic exile until the Council of Nicaea (c. 325), was marked by controversy in the church over the dating of Passover:

In a word, there was great confusion and fatigue, as many of the scholars know, during the times when a tumult arose in the preaching of the church concerning the debate about this feast, and in the time of Polycarp and Victor, when the East and the West in their dissension did not accept letters of commendation from each other, but at certain other times as well, and in the time of Alexander bishop of Alexandria, and Crescentius, each of whom is known to have written to the other and quarreled, and down to our own times. <The church> had continued in this troubled state since the time following the circumcised bishops. Therefore the <bishops> from every place gathered at that time and having investigated the issue carefully, ruled that the feast should be celebrated with unanimity, according to what was fitting to the date and the rite (Epiphanius, Pan. 70.9.8-9; trans. Amidon 1990:273-74; critical edition: GCS [Holl/Dummer] 3.242).

Epiphanius mentions Polycarp (bishop of Smyrna) and Victor (bishop of Rome), two secondcentury church leaders who agreed on the importance of celebrating Passover but differed strongly over when the church should celebrate the festival. Victor was furious that the churches of the East continued to observe Passover on Nissan 14 and he threatened to excommunicate the Asian dioceses unless they conformed to the Passover tradition in Rome.5 In response, the bishops in the East gathered together and appointed Polycrates, the bishop of Ephesus, to reply to Victor.

Polycrates’ Letter to Victor

Polycrates wrote to Victor in c. 191 from Ephesus, the city from which Paul wrote First Corinthians (1 Cor 16:8). The letter is preserved for us in Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History (c. 311),6 and we may assume that Eusebius came across it when he catalogued the library at Caesaria. Eusebius introduces the letter with editorial comments:

At that time, no small controversy arose because all the dioceses of Asia thought it right, as though by more ancient tradition, to observe (parafula¿ttein) for the feast of the Saviour’s Passover (pa¿sca) the fourteenth day of the moon, on which the Jews had been commanded to kill the lamb. Thus it was necessary to finish the fast on that day, whatever day of the week it might be. Yet it was not the custom to celebrate in this manner in the churches throughout the rest of the world, for from apostolic tradition they kept the custom which still exists that it is not right to finish the fast on any day save that of the resurrection of our Saviour. Many meetings and conferences with bishops were held on this point, and all unanimously formulated in their letters the doctrine of the church for those in every country that the mystery of the Lord’s resurrection from the dead could be celebrated on no day save Sunday, and that on that day alone we should celebrate the end of the paschal (pa¿sca) fast…but the bishops in Asia were led by Polycrates in persisting that it was necessary (crhvnai) to keep the custom which had been handed down to them of old. Polycrates himself in a document which he addressed to Victor and to the church of Rome, expounds the tradition which had come to him as follows:

Therefore we keep the day undeviatingly, neither adding nor taking away, for in Asia great luminaries (stoicei√a) sleep, and they will rise on the day of the coming of the Lord, when he shall come with glory from heaven and seek out all the saints. Such were Philip of the twelve apostles, and two of his daughters who grew old as virgins, who sleep in Hierapolis, and another daughter of his, who lived in the Holy Spirit, rests at Ephesus. Moreover, there is also John, who lay on the Lord’s breast, who was a priest wearing the breastplate, and a martyr, and teacher. He sleeps at Ephesus. And there is also Polycarp at Smyrna, both bishop and martyr, and Thraseas, both bishop, from Eumenaea, who sleeps in Smyrna. And why should I speak of Sagaris, bishop and martyr, who sleeps at Laodicaea, and Papirius, too, the blessed, and Melito the eunuch, who lived entirely in the Holy Spirit, who lies in Sardis, waiting for the visitation from heaven when he will rise from the dead? All these kept the fourteenth day of the Passover according to the gospel, never swerving, but following according to the rule of the faith. And I also, Polycrates, the least of you all, live according to the tradition of my kinsmen, and some of them have I followed. For seven of my family were bishops and I am the eighth, and my kinsmen ever kept the day when the people put away the leaven. Therefore, brethren, I who have lived sixty-five years in the Lord and conversed with brethren from every country, and have studied all holy Scripture, am not afraid of threats, for they have said who were greater than I, ‘It is better to obey God rather than men.’

He continues about the bishops who when he wrote were with him and shared his opinion, and says thus:

And I could mention the bishops who are present whom you required me to summon, and I did so. If I should write their names they would be many multitudes; and they knowing my feeble humanity, agreed with the letter, knowing that not in vain is my head grey, but that I have ever lived in Christ Jesus.

Upon this Victor, who presided at Rome, immediately cut off from the common unity the dioceses of all Asia, together with the adjacent churches, on the ground of heterodoxy, and he indited letters announcing that all the Christians there were absolutely excommunicated. But by no means all were pleased by this, so they issued counter-requests to him to consider the cause of peace and unity and love towards his neighbours. Their words are extent, sharply rebuking Victor. Among them too Irenaeus, writing in the name of the Christians whose leader he was in Gaul (Eusebius, Hist. eccl. 5.23.1–5.24.11 [Lake, LCL]).

It is notable how many apostles, bishops and heroes of the faith Polycrates mentions who observed Passover on Nissan 14. Moreover, it is significant that he refers to them positively as stoicei√a (Eusebius, Hist. eccl. 5.24.2), the term Paul uses in Galatians 4:9 (cf. Gal 4:3; Col 2:8, 20) to refer to some kind of calendar-related enslavement. We may conclude that Polycrates, who ‘studied all holy Scripture,’ did not interpret Paul’s comments in Galatians 4:9-10 as precluding the Christian observance of Passover.

Striking also is the language of ‘oughtness’ used in reference to celebrating Passover. Neither Polycrates nor Victor considers the dating of Passover to be a matter of indifference or adiaphora. Neither is flexible on this issue. On the contrary, both bishops consider the celebration of Passover to be a matter of obeying God and deviation from their received traditions to be heterodoxy:

  1. According to Eusebius, Polycrates believed that it was ‘necessary (crhvnai) to keep (diafula¿ttein) the custom’ (Eusebius, Hist. eccl. 5.24.1).
  2. Polycrates quotes Acts 5:29 concerning the celebration of Passover on Nissan 14, ‘…for they have said who were greater than I, “It is better to obey (peiqarcei√n) God rather than men”’ (Eusebius, Hist. eccl. 5.24.7). For Polycrates and the bishops of Asia,
  3. observing Passover on Nissan 14 was not only a good tradition, an ancient tradition and an apostolic tradition. It was a matter of obeying God.
  4. Polycrates writes that the tradition of observing Passover on Nissan 14 is ‘according to the gospel…according to the rule of the faith’ (Eusebius, Hist. eccl. 5.24.6). Victor excommunicated all the churches of the East because he believed that observing Passover on the proper date was essential. Similarly, Polycrates and all the bishops of Asia were willing to be excommunicated by Victor rather than violate what they believed to be God’s will (Eusebius, Hist. eccl. 5.23.2-4). Why did Polycrates and the bishops of Asia consider the celebration of Passover on Nissan 14 to be mandated by God? Support for their position came from the laws of Passover in Exodus 12 (read at Melito’s Passover seder [Melito, Peri Pascha 1]) and the example of Jesus in the gospels (Eusebius, Hist. eccl. 5.24.6; Hippolytus of Rome, Against All the Heresies). In addition to these authoritative texts, a living chain of apostolic tradition existed in the person of Polycarp (bishop of Smyrna), who lived from c. 69-155.7 Polycarp served as a bridge between the apostolic and post-apostolic period. He knew John and the other apostles and testified that they observed Passover on Nissan 14 (Eusebius, Hist. eccl. 5.24.16). Polycarp passed on this tradition, which he learned from the apostles, to Polycrates’ generation of bishops in Asia. This chain of apostolic tradition (John → Polycarp → Polycrates and the bishops of Asia) is historically plausible and not disputed by Victor, bishop of Rome. The traditional place of John’s burial in Ephesus would have also been a perpetual reminder of the apostolic origin of the tradition.

Irenaeus’ Testimony About Polycarp

Irenaeus (bishop of Lyons in Gaul), who followed the Roman dating of Passover, explains that the Asian tradition of observing Passover on Nissan 14 originated, at least in part, with the apostle John. Irenaeus knew this because he personally knew Polycarp (John’s disciple) when he was a boy:

For while I was still a boy I knew you in lower Asia in Polycarp’s house when you were a man of rank in the royal hall and endeavoring to stand well with him. I remember the events of those days more clearly than those which happened recently, for what we learn as children grows up with the soul and is united to it, so that I can speak even of the place in which the blessed Polycarp sat and disputed, how he came in and went out, the character of his life, the appearance of his body, the discourses which he made to the people, how he reported his intercourse with John and with the others who had seen the Lord, how he remembered their words, and what were the things concerning the Lord which he had heard from them, and about their miracles, and about their teaching, and how Polycarp had received them from the eyewitnesses of the word of life, and reported all things in agreement with the Scriptures (Eusebius, Hist. eccl. 5.20.5-6 [Lake, LCL]; Irenaeus, Haer. 3.3.4).

According to Irenaeus, Polycarp always celebrated Passover with John and the other apostles on Nissan 14. After becoming the bishop of Smyrna, Polycarp sought to convince Anicetus (the bishop of Rome) to observe Passover on Nissan 14 as the apostles did:

…and when the blessed Polycarp was staying in Rome in the time of Anicetus, though they disagreed a little about some other things as well, they immediately made peace, having no wish for strife between them on this matter. For neither was Anicetus able to persuade Polycarp not to observe it [Passover on Nissan 14], inasmuch as he had always done so in company with John the disciple of our Lord and the other apostles with whom he had associated; nor did Polycarp persuade Anicetus to observe it [Passover on Nissan 14], for he said that he ought to keep the custom of those who were presbyters before him (Eusebius, Hist. eccl. 5.24.16 [Lake, LCL]; cf. 4.14.1; Irenaeus, Haer. 3.3.4; Jerome, Vir. ill. 17).

Anicetus did not claim to follow apostolic tradition as the basis for Rome’s Passover dating, the Sunday after Nissan 14. Rather, he claimed to follow the tradition of the ‘presbyters before him’ who, according to Irenaeus, went back only as far as ‘Pius and Telesphorus and Xystus.’ These were the bishops in Rome just before, during and after the Jerusalem church went into exile (Eusebius, Hist. eccl. 4.4-6; 5.24.14). Eusebius (in the fourth century), on the other hand, held that the Roman dating of Passover originated with the apostles, but he provides no line of transmission to substantiate his claim (Eusebius, Hist. eccl. 5.23.1; 5.24.14, 16). Not unexpectedly, later sources attribute the tradition to Peter and Paul.


 1 ‘The Quartodeciman [Passover on Nissan 14] controversy, which continued for over two centuries in Asia Minor (Canon no. 7 of the Synod of Laodicea, ca. 350), testifies with clarion voice to the perennial desire of many Anatolian Christians to maintain the Jewish heritage of the Christian observance of Easter/Passover’ (Oster 1992). Athanasius (Syn. 2) writes in the fourth century that ‘the Syrians, Cilicians, and those who dwell in Mesopotamia dissented from us and kept the Pascha at the same time as the Jews’ (trans. Cantalamessa 1993:162).

2 The term ‘Easter,’ with reference to the Christian festival, is first attested in the writings of Bede (eighth century). Many scholars today anachronistically use the term when rendering pa¿sca (or its equivalent) in English translations of patristic texts (even Acts 12:4 in the King James Version mentions ‘Easter’). This has unfortunately contributed to the mistaken notion that the early church abandoned the name ‘Passover’ for ‘Easter’ or instituted a completely new Christian festival.

3 Epiphanius quotes the Regulation of the Apostles, which he considers to be a reliable source, ‘You shall not calculate, but celebrate the feast whenever your brethren from the Circumcision do. Keep it together with them…Even if they err, do not be concerned’ (Epiphanius, Pan. 70.10.2, 6; trans. Cantalamessa 1993:73-74; critical edition: GCS [Holl/Dummer] 3.243; cf. Boyarin 1999:13; L’Huillier 1996:21). Epiphanius rejects the Audian interpretation of the Regulation that ‘Keep it together with them’ refers to Christians celebrating Passover with non-Christian Jews. However, he acknowledges that ‘the Circumcision’ (Jewish Christian overseers in Jerusalem until c. 135) observed Passover on Nissan 14 and led the whole church in following this practice. Epiphanius’ account would explain how such a large geographic segment of the second century church, in all of Asia and much of Asia Minor, came to accept and maintain the practice of celebrating Passover on Nissan 14. The account is also consistent with the Torah-observant ethos of the early Jerusalem congregation (Acts 21:17-26) and what we know of the later Jewish Christian ‘Nazarene sect’ (cf. Eusebius, Hist. eccl. 4.5; Epiphanius, Pan. 29.7.1- 8). Moreover, John, one of the pillars of the Jerusalem church, is reputed to have observed Passover on Nissan 14 (Eusebius, Hist. eccl. 5.24.16). It makes the most sense, in our view, to assume that the decline of Jerusalem (Jewish) leadership in the church (from c. 135) cut lose an already existing tendency to de-Judaize Passover in the churches of the West, around the time of Xystus’ bishopric in Rome (Eusebius, Hist. eccl. 4.4-5; 5.24.14). Cf. Holl 1927:218ff.; Richard 1965:260-82; 1961:179-212; Huber 1969:56ff.

4 See Eusebius, Hist. eccl. 4.5-6.

5 Dissension existed in the church of Rome over the dating of Passover. Prior to Victor, during Eleutherius’ bishopric (c. 174-189), a presbyter by the name of Blastus, and ‘many of the Church’ who followed him, called into question the Western dating of Passover, ‘…there is Blastus, who would latently introduce Judaism. For he says the Passover is not to be kept otherwise than according to the law of Moses, on the fourteenth day of the month’ (Pseudo-Tertullian, Haer. 8; cf. Eusebius, Hist. eccl. 5.15; 5.20.1).

6 The source documents quoted in Hist. eccl. 5.23–25 are generally held to be reliable. Petersen 1992:317-21 raises the problem of inconsistencies in Eusebius’ editorial comments but concludes that the revisions are superficial.

7 Polycrates was about thirty years old when Polycarp died.


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The Enigmatic Jerusalem Bolshevik: The Memoirs of Najati Sidqi – Salim Tamari

(his books are available below)

The subject of these memoirs, Najati Sidqi (1905-1979), is almost forgotten in the annals of the Palestinian national movement: even within the Left, there are few who remember him. Yet at one point, Sidqi was a foremost figure within Palestinian and Arab communism. A leader within the trade union movement, he represented the Palestinian Communist Party (PCP) in the Comintern, was one of the few Arab socialists to join the anti-fascist struggle in Spain, and contributed significantly to the political and cultural journalism of the Left in Syria, Lebanon, and Palestine. 

Now, thanks to Hanna Abu Hanna’s meticulous editing-and his extensive annotations and glossary– we possess a valuable record of what went on behind the scenes of Syrian and Palestinian partisan activities and a vivid account of how Arab socialists and communists lived in the Soviet Union during the Stalin era. 

At various stages of his career, Sidqi was privy to personal (and sometime intimate) contacts with Joseph Stalin, Nicolai Bukharin (author of the Soviet Constitution) and one of the founders of the Comintern), Jorge Dimitrov (the leader of Bulgarian communists), Dolores Ibaruri (the legendary leader of the Spanish Republican movement), George Marchais (leader of the French Communist Party), and with Khalid Bagdash (the Kurdish leader of Syrian Communist Party with whom Sidqi had chronic and bitter disputes over their divergent assessments of Islam and Arab nationalism). He witnessed the arrest and execution of Gregory Zinoviev and Bukharin, the fall of Madrid to Franco’s forces, and the rise of the Nazi movement in Berlin. He was also an eyewitness to the entry of the British army to Palestine, the exile of King Faisal from Damascus, and the exit of the French army from Syria and Lebanon. 

An important significance of these memoirs is that they shed light on an overlooked aspect of political life in Jerusalem. During the Mandate period, the city was known for the factional rivalries between the two leading Jerusalem families (the Nashashibis and the Husseinis) and their respective political parties, as well as for being the seat of the colonial government. But, in general, political life was the domain of Haifa and Jaffa, with their trade union activities, radical politics and left-wing journalism. 

Sidqi sheds light on the earliest appearance of left-wing politics in Jerusalem – and his own participation in it, first in the context of attempts by Jewish radical groups to break with the Zionist movement and then in the attempt by Arab socialists to ‘infiltrate’ traditional groupings such as the quasi-religious Nebi Musa processions (see excerpts below). Sidqi also highlights the degree of mobility with which left-wing activists, and presumably other militants, moved from one city to another and the relative ease with which they smuggled themselves across the border to Syria and Lebanon. Only four years before the setting of these memoirs, Syria, Mount Lebanon, Palestine, and Transjordan were part of one Ottoman domain with no borders between them. 

Sidqi published a fragment of his ‘public’ memoirs in 1968.1 The current memoirs are supposed to expose the ‘secret’ and clandestine aspect of his political history. Yet they leave many questions unanswered and several issues unresolved, that the editor, himself a veteran of Palestinian socialism, could have clarified. For example, why did the young Sidqi join the communist movement in the 1920s when his sympathies were clearly nationalist? And why was he expelled from the movement in the 1940s? Why did his older brother Ahmad, a party militant who lived with him in Moscow, become a state witness against Sidqi when he was arrested by the British Police during the Mandate – a crucial factor in his imprisonment? But, above all, the personal dimension in Sidqi’s life is missing from the memoirs. 

In Abu Hanna’s introduction, we learn in a schematic manner about Sidqi’s biography, but the diarist’s own rendition of the memoirs remains wooden and enigmatic. It is as if his clandestine Bolshevik militant life style kept him from disclosing his intimate thoughts for fear of posthumous exposure. Sidqi was born to a middle class Jerusalemite family in 1905. His father, Bakri Sidqi, was a teacher of Turkish who later joined Prince Faisal in Hijaz in the campaign against the Wahhabi movement. His mother was Nazira Murad, from a prominent mercantile family in Jerusalem. Najati spent his childhood in Jeddah and Cairo, later moving with his family to Damascus when Faisal was proclaimed king. In the early 1920s, he returned to Jerusalem and worked in the Department of Post and Telegraph where he joined the nascent PCP, at the time dominated by Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe and leftist Zionists. 

In 1921, he was sent by the Party to study in Moscow at the KUTV (the Communist University of Toilers of the Orient), where he became acquainted with the Turkish poet Nazim Hikmat and members of the Nehru family. His university thesis was on the Arab national movement from the Unionist Rebellion against the Ottoman State to the formation of the National Bloc. This short dissertation, which is attached to the memoirs, sheds some light on the kind of scholarship that was conducted at KUTV, and etablishes Sidqi as a minor Marxist scholar (although it is quite possible to surmise, as Abu Hanna suggests in his introduction, that the available manuscript–which he collected in fragments from three different sources–is incomplete). 

In Moscow, Siqdi married a Ukrainian communist who remains nameless, faceless, and voiceless throughout the diaries. Paradoxically, the only time we hear her in the memoirs is when she is arrested by Lebanese gendarmes during one of the family’s escapades, when she is veiled in disguise and only bows her head in answer to their questioning. Similarly his son and daughters – one of whom became a prominent doctor in the Soviet Union — are mentioned only in passing. 

Having completed his academic training, Sidqi returned to Palestine – or rather was sent to participate in Arabizing what was essentially a Jewish party. During the thirties, he was arrested by the British police and spent three years incarcerated in Jerusalem, Jaffa, and Akka. The Comintern had him smuggled out of the country in the thirties to Paris where he edited the Comintern’s Arabic journal The Arab East, which was distributed clandestinely in North Africa and the Mashriq. Eventually, the French authorities closed the journal, presumably because of its anti-colonial tone in Algeria. In 1936, the Comintern sent Sidqi to mobilize Moroccan soldiers against Franco. (In the early days of the fascist rebellion, it must be recalled, a significant section of Franco’s army that landed in Malaga was formed of Moroccon mercenaries, while the bulk of the International Brigades that fought on the side of the republic were European leftist volunteers. It was against this background that the communist movement had a movement had an interest in approaching the Moroccans). Siqi lived within the ranks of the Republican movement in Barcelona and Madrid, disseminating leaflets in Arabic to the North African militias of the fascist movement. (One can imagine how ineffective these leaflets were, given Sidqi’s Palestinian Arabic and the low level of literacy among Franco’s rural Moroccan troops). At the beginning of 1937, he was sent to Algeria to set up an Arabic radio station, his own idea, to broadcast anti-Franco propaganda to the Moroccan fighters – a mission that failed for some inexplicable reasons. At this stage, the Comintern ordered Sidqi to relocate to Lebanon where his journalistic career in the left-wing newspapers flourished. 

It was in this period that his relations with Khalid Bagdash became so strained that Sidqi was eventually expelled from the party. Abu Hanna suggests that the main reason for the expulsion was his opposition to the Hitler-Stalin non-aggression pact in August 1939, but this is not clear from Sidqi’s own narrative. In fact the author’s assessment of his differences with the Bagdash supporters is symptomatic of a striking political naivete that prevails throughout the diaries. He claims, for example, that the pact was welcomed by the party loyalists because it signified a rapprochement between international communism and German national socialism; he opposed the treaty because it was ‘a fake agreement, meant to gain time [for Stalin]’ (page 165-166). It is more likely that the opposite was true: the pro-Soviet Arab communists supported the agreement, perhaps with some hesitation, because they wanted to give the Russians a reprieve from their global isolation. It is extremely unlikely, as Sidqi claims, that they were sympathetic to the ideological affinity between the two movements. 

Eventually, Sidqi comes out as an Arab nationalist with socialist sympathies. His break with the Comintern and Bagdash did not turn him against the Left. Rather, he pursued a successful career in literary criticism and broadcasting in Lebanon and Cyprus. By the time of his death in Athens in 1979, he had produced a dozen books on Russian literature, plays, and volumes of literary criticism. One of his books An Arab who Fought in Spain about his experience in the anti-fascist struggle was falsely published under Bagdash’s name – an episode that inflamed Sidqi against both Bagdash and the Party. Another work Nazism and Islam, which he published to mobilize traditional Muslims against the Nazi movement, was translated to English and received citations from the French and British Governments. The book became a decisive factor in his expulsion from the party (p. 167) since – according to Sidqi– it relied too much on Islamic texts for the tastes of his secular party colleagues. Notwithstanding these reservations the Najati Sidqi Memoirs make a significant contribution to Palestinian biographic literature and present historians with a valuable glimpse into the formative stages of Arab and Palestinian socialism of the pre-war period.

Bolshevism Arrives in Jerusalem 

In the following translated excerpts from the diaries, Sidqi traces his own involvement with the Bolshevik movement in Jerusalem in the 1920s when he was a civil servant in the Mandatory Government. 

The Jewish immigration to Palestine brought to this country ideologies, customs, and a life-styles that was at variance with the Arab Palestinian environment. At the beginning of the 1920s we began to hear about Bolshevism, anarchism, Marx, Lenin, Trotsky, and Hertzl. We also encountered workers movements among those Jewish immigrants, such as the Histadrut – the trade union of Jewish workers – the ‘Fraktsia’, the left opposition inside the Histadrut, the Poaleh Tsion Party, and the Kibbutzim, the quasi-socialist encampments of new immigrants. 

Leftist immigrants began to agitate among the Arabs. One of the first demonstrations they led was in the streets of Jaffa during the May Day parade of 1921. They raised red flags in the Manshiyyeh quarters, and shouted slogans in Hebrew and [broken] Arabic. The Arab inhabitants stared at them in wonderment, unable to figure out what these workers were shouting, or what they were wanted from them. 

I was at the time [1921] a young man employed in the department of Post and Telegraph in Jerusalem, which was located in the old compound of the Italian Consulate, across the street from Barclays Bank today [1939], that is, it was located at the borders separating the Arab areas from the Jewish areas outside the city walls. 

The Postal Department included employees from both groups, and a variety of ethnicities and life-styles. You would observe local inhabitants wearing Arab dress, Ashkenazi Jews wearing coloured velvet coats, and fur hats; Halutsim (‘pioneer’ Jewish immigrants), males and females, wearing shorts; Sephardim (Arabized Jews who originally came from Spain); and Kurgis – the remnants of Babylonian exiled Jews from the eighth century BC. 

In the department we used to associate with Jewish immigrants either as work mates or through socializing. Many of us patronized a small café behind the building where Barclays Bank is located today. It was owned by a Russian Jew of robust build, who always wore white trousers with a black shirt on top, with its buttons opened on the left shoulder. He used to shave his head with a razor to keep his head cool during the summer, and had a trimmed beard and huge moustache curled in the Russian manner. The waitress was a blonde and attractive Polish woman with reddish cheeks, and blue eyes. 

In this café my mates and I would congregate in the evening, and socialize with its foreign customers. I recall from those days a Tsarist captain with a white beard, who claimed that the Bolsheviks seized his ship in Odessa; and a young municipal employee whose father was Russian, and his mother was Arab; an immigrant painter who used to sketch the customers for few piasters; an elegant lady who always dwelled about her lost real estate in the Ukraine, and scores of immigrant youth who would buy soda water to dampen their thirst in the summer. 

I remember in this environment the frequent debates that revolved around Jewish immigration and Arab resistance; of Jabotinsky’s rebellion, of Tell Hai in northern Palestine… ; of the rebellion in Jaffa [1921]; and of armed clashes between Jews and Arabs in Jerusalem after Jabotinsky led his followers to the Wailing Wall. Many of these debates where accompanied by ideological discussions which were translated to us by those immigrants who knew colloquial Arabic. I learned that socialism aims at establishing the authority of workers’ councils, and that anarchism does not recognize the authority of the state, and that it aims at the self-government of people through syndicates. I also learned that Bolshevism (we did not use the Arab word for communism – shuyu’iyya – in those days) established a socialist state in Russia through revolution and the Red Army. 

Those discussions struck me as strange, and rather divorced from our local concerns. We were preoccupied then with the unknown future, with British occupation, and with the Balfour Declaration. From our parents we learned that the British and the French had arrived ostensibly to liberate us [from Ottoman rule], and that Lawrence was the friend of the Arabs, and that the rebellion of [Sherif] Hussein ben Ali was aimed at establishing a unified Arab state. We grew up in this atmosphere… the colonial and Zionist hordes where seizing Palestine, while international doctrines where permeating our impressionable thoughts. We were ready to hear anything, and accept any preposition to lift the nightmare of the new occupation that succeeded Turkish rule. 

In the Postal Café I befriended a group of Russian new immigrants who belonged to the Fraktsia, and to the Palestine Workers Party. Their propaganda was centered around the following themes: 

First, that British colonialism was the enemy of both Jews and Arabs, and that its policy was based on the principle of ‘divide and rule.’ 

Second, those Jewish immigrants were composed of a well-off bourgeoisie and of poor workers, and that Zionism was a bourgeois movement, which benefits wealthy Jews only. Jewish workers have an interest in allying themselves with international socialism, and will eventually get rid of their masters. 

Third, that Arab effendis are opportunists who collaborate with the colonial authorities, and are undependable as allies. 

Fourth, Only a workers’ party for all Palestinians will be able to reconcile the interests of working people from both peoples, and to radically solve the Palestinian problem. 

Those were new and intriguing notions to me, which led me to reflect on them deeply. Some of these immigrants would invite me to their club behind the German hospital in Jerusalem. There I learned about the arrest of their comrades in Egypt, and the death of one of the militants, a Lebanese Arab, in prison after a prolonged food strike. They used to distribute an Arabic newspaper – al-Insaniyya – published in Beirut by Yusif Yazbek. They also gave me a pamphlet in Arabic by Prince Kropotkin on anarchism. 

We used to meet alternatively in the club, and the Shniller forest. Occasionally we met in the hills of Ratzbone. One day, at the end of 1924, when I was only 19, my comrades asked me if I would be interested in travelling to Moscow to study at the university without paying for travel, education, or my living expenses. I did not hesitate for a moment in accepting this offer. They asked me to prepare for travel within six months. 

I started by taking private lessons in elementary Russian from a young Russian immigrant who knew some Arabic. He taught me the alphabet, and some basic rudimentary conversational skills. During this period the group invited me to their youth conference in Haifa, where I was elected to the central committee of the Party’s Youth section. That was my formal initiation into the Bolshevik movement in Palestine. Since that day I was expected to attend all the clandestine meeting of the movement, and to distribute the party’s leaflets and brochures. 

In that period I became active in the Nebi Musa festival. This celebration was originally established by Salah ed Din al Ayyubi, together with the festival of Nebi Rubin in Jaffa, hoping that it will remind people of the Islamic conquests. Party supporters raised me on their shoulders. I had a kuffiyyeh and iqal as headgears, and wore dark glasses. I was elevated among the banners of the religious sects, in the midst of drums and trumpets, and village songs and dabkes. I shouted some slogans that came to my mind. The comrades raised the Red Flag, and a huge slogan saluting the struggle for independence. The demonstrators were delirious with excitement, and the word spread: The Arab Bolsheviks have arrived!! 

This event led the British authorities to instigate a campaign to arrest me. Informants were spreading conflicting information about me. Some claimed that they saw me covered in a woman’s abaya, with a black veil on my face; another claimed that he saw me in the Christian quarter dressed as an orthodox priest with a longish beard; a third one said that the beggar who sleeps in the Dark Gate leading to the Haram compound is also another disguise, and so on. All these rumors compelled the CID to look for an up to date picture of me. They brought in a young acquaintance of mine and had him describe my features to a police artist. They distributed copies of the sketch to security personnel. Within days they had arrested a schoolteacher, a real estate broker, and a travelling textile peddler. They eventually released them all.

Salim Tamari is the research director at the Institute of Jerusalem Studies and chairman of the JQF Advisory Board.

Original paper :

“The Memoirs of Najati Sidqi”, edited by Hanna Abu Hanna , Beyrouth, 2001., pdf (arabic) :

The book “Nazism and Islam, do they agree ?” pdf in arabic :