Mount of Olives, Jerusalem
Jacob Israël de Haan (31 December 1881 – 30 June 1924) was a Dutch-Jewish literary writer, jurist and journalist who was assassinated in Jerusalem by the Jewish paramilitary organization Haganah for his anti-Zionist political activities and contacts with Arab leaders.
De Haan was born in Smilde, a village in the northern province of Drenthe, and grew up in Zaandam. He was said to be one of eighteen children and received a traditional Jewish education. His father, Yitzchak HaLevi de Haan, was poor and worked as a hazzan and Shochet. His sister, best known under her married name Carry van Bruggen (née, Caroline Lea de Haan), became an important Dutch author.
De Haan worked as a teacher and studied law between 1903 and 1909. He wrote in socialist publications and various other magazines during these years. He was a friend of Frederik van Eeden and Arnold Aletrino, Dutch authors of the Tachtiger school.
In 1904, while living in Amsterdam, he wrote the novel Pijpelijntjes ("Lines from De Pijp"), which pretends to be a thinly veiled version of his own gay life with Aletrino in Amsterdam's "Pijp" working-class district. The homo-eroticism of the book, shocking to readers in the early 20th century, led to his dismissal from his teaching job and social-democratic political circles. Aletrino and Johanna van Maarseveen, de Haan's fiancée, bought almost the entire print run of the book, to keep a lid on the scandal.
In 1907 he married van Maarseveen, a non-Jewish doctor, but this marriage is likely to have been platonic; they separated in 1919 but never officially divorced. A second novel, Pathologieën (1908, "Pathologies"), again contrary to the mores of its day, described the sorrows and joys of a sadomasochist relationship. However, this book went largely unnoticed, as did De Haan's prose sketches. He published five volumes of poems between 1914 and 1921 that brought him some acclaim.
In 1912 de Haan made some trips to Czarist Russia, and he visited a number of prisons there, in order to study the situation of political prisoners in Russia. He published his shocking findings in his book "In Russian prisons" (1913). He also founded a committee, together with Dutch writer Frederik van Eeden and Dutch poet Henriette Roland Holst, which aimed at collecting signatures for the sake of inducing especially Russia's then allies France and Great Britain to exert pressure on Russia for alleviating the fate of the prisoners. In a publication of Amnesty International he was, because of these activities, described as "a precursor of Amnesty International".
Around 1910, De Haan developed an interest in Judaism, the Land of Israel and Zionism. This seems to have begun as a result of the mass imprisonment of Jews in Tsarist Russia, suspected of Bolshevism, and his work to free them. According to historical records, de Haan went to Russia armed with a letter of recommendation from the Queen of the Netherlands and was able to negotiate leniency for his Jewish clients. His work for Russian Jews lasted two years and made him keenly aware of the evils of anti-Semitism.
De Haan rapidly became more religiously committed. He was angered by Zionist refusals to cooperate with Arabs. He wrote extensively on the subject of Israel and Zionism even before he moved there in 1919, when he settled in Jerusalem, teaching at a new law school and sending articles to the Algemeen Handelsblad ("General Trade Journal"), one of the most important Dutch daily newspapers, and the De Groene Amsterdammer ("The Green Amsterdam Weekly"), a liberal weekly.
At first he aligned himself with religious Zionism and the Mizrachi movement, but after meeting Rabbi Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld leader of the Haredi Jewish community, he became the political spokesman of the Haredim in Jerusalem and was elected political secretary of the Orthodox community council, Vaad Ha'ir.
In one of his poems he asks himself whether his visits to the Wailing Wall were motivated by a desire for God or for the Arab boys there.
He endeavoured to get an agreement with Arab nationalist leaders to allow unrestricted Jewish immigration into Palestine in exchange for a Jewish declaration forgoing the Balfour Declaration. During this time it is alleged that he continued to have relationships with men, including Arabs from east Jerusalem.
The secular Zionist establishment would not allow the established Haredi community in Palestine to be represented in the Jewish Agency in the 1920s. In response, the Haredim founded an Agudat Israel branch in Jerusalem to represent their interests in Mandate Palestine. The leader of the Haredi Jews in Palestine at the time, Rabbi Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld chose de Haan to organize and represent the Haredi position as their foreign minister, on a diplomatic level equal to that of the secular Zionists. When Lord Northcliffe, a British publisher, was about to visit the Middle East, de Haan went to Alexandria in Egypt to present the case of Palestine's Haredim before he reached Palestine.
In August 1923 De Haan also met with the Hashemite leader Emir Hussein bin Ali seeking his support for the Old Yishuv (the pre-Zionist Jewish community in the Holy Land), and explaining the Haredi Jewish opposition to the Zionist plans of founding a state, and supporting the establishment of an official Palestinian state in Jordan within a federation. He made plans to travel to London in July 1924 with an anti-Zionist Haredi delegation to argue against Zionism.
De Haan was assassinated in Jerusalem by the Haganah on the early morning of 30 June 1924. As he exited the synagogue at the Shaare Zedek Hospital on Jaffa Road, Haganah member Avraham Tehomi, who was dressed in white, approached him and asked him for the time, then shot him three times and ran away from the scene. De Haan died minutes later. Final responsibility for ordering the assassination was attributed to Zionists alarmed by his political activities in favor of a settlement with Arab leaders. According to journalist Liel Leibovitz, while the identity of exactly who ordered the assassination is unknown, "there’s little doubt that many in the senior Zionist leadership in Jerusalem knew about the proposal to kill de Haan—and that none objected."
The 1985 publication of De Haan: The first political assassination in Palestine, by Shlomo Nakdimon and Shaul Mayzlish, revived wider interest in his assassination.
Nakdimon and Mayzlish were able to trace Tehomi, then a businessman living in Hong Kong. Tehomi was interviewed for Israeli TV by Nakdimon and openly stated that Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, who later became the second President of Israel (1952-1963), ordered the assassination: "I have done what the Haganah decided had to be done. And nothing was done without the order of Yitzhak Ben-Zvi... I have no regrets because he (de Haan) wanted to destroy our whole idea of Zionism." Tehomi denied allegations that De Haan's assassination was related to his homosexuality: "I neither heard nor knew about this", adding "why is it someone's business what he does at his home?"
According to Gert Hekma, Zionists spread a rumour he had been killed by Arabs because of his sexual relations with Arab boys.
de Haan was buried on the Mount of Olives. His funeral was attended by hundreds of Haredim, along with Zionist and British representatives. Following the funeral, many Haredim ventured into the city center to confront Zionists, and were barely restrained by the police.
The headquarters of Agudath Israel received condolences from the Palestine government, the French and Spanish consuls in Jerusalem, and various cables from around the world. In New York, Ultra-Orthodox Jews circulated Yiddish leaflets praising De Haan and condemning "Torahless Zionists, who use violence to enslave the pious.” The British authorities offered a reward for information leading to the arrest of the killer, but Tehomi was never caught. A young pioneer named Yaakov Gussman was briefly detained by the British police on suspicion of carrying out the assassination, but released for lack of evidence.
The assassination caused shock in Palestine and Europe. Senior Zionist leaders, among them David Ben-Gurion, blamed each other. There was widespread speculation as to the identity of the assassin, with the theories postulated including him being a Zionist, a Haredi enraged over the revelations of De Haan's homosexuality, or an Arab lover.
De Haan's murder is considered the first political murder in the Jewish community in Palestine. His activities were perceived as undermining the struggle for the establishment of a Jewish state, but the assassination sparked a controversy and was harshly condemned by some.
German author Arnold Zweig published a book in 1932 based on De Haan's life called "De Vriendt kehrt heim" (English title "De Vriendt Goes Home"). The Israeli writer Haim Beer's book "Notzot" (1979, translated into English as Feathers) also has a character based on De Haan.
In Neturei Karta circles De Haan is considered a martyr, killed by secular Jews while protecting the Jewish religion, nevertheless, most Haredim recoil from his homosexuality, his religious questioning and his attempted coalition with the Arab nationalists against his fellow Jews. During the 1980s, the Neturei Karta community in Jerusalem tried to change the name of the Zupnik Garden to commemorate De Haan.
Although De Haan's fame waned after his death, his works have been published and reprinted in a fairly constant stream. Even under the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands, David Koker managed to publish his Brieven uit Jeruzalem ('Letters from Jerusalem') in a little book. In 1949, a committee was founded with the object to publish a collected edition of the poems, which duly followed in 1952. A 'Society Jacob Israël de Haan' furthered other publications: philosophical aphorisms and letters, and a memoir by his sister Mies de Haan. In the 1960s two attempts at a biography were published, and after 1970 an actual De Haan-revival brought with it a flood of publicity. Many of his publications about law and significs have been reprinted, as were his novels, and his earlier prose has been rescued from obscure magazines. Dozens of bibliophile editions honoured his poems and prose sketches. Many magazine articles and other publications about his life were published, and generated heated debates. A large volume of his correspondence (only of the period 1902-1908), published in 1994, shed a bright light on his life, but a full-scale biography has yet to be written.
Through the years, in the Netherlands there have been projects, festivals and theatre productions commemorating Jacob Israël de Haan's work and life. A line from De Haan's poem "To a Young Fisherman": "For friendship such a limitless longing...", is inscribed on one of the three sides of the Homomonument in Amsterdam.
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