Israeli-Palestinian politics, coming to a town near you
Issues of Israeli-Palestinian politics are coming to a town near you! It's Israeli Apartheid Week again and with 155 events planned to rally against the Israeli state, there's sure to be either a fuming pro-Palestinian or pro-Israeli around the corner. It's hot, like a red beret, with the youth, you know. But if it's all too much, you can catch Simphiwe Dana – and maybe a protest and counter-protest – for free! By GREG NICOLSON.
The late Former President Nelson Mandela's words echoed though Johannesburg's Workers' Museum on Sunday. Images of the exploited and oppressed marked the walls. The Marikana strikers before and after their massacre were on two walls; footsoldiers in a system of racial capitalism, those who built the country but could never advance beyond the ladder's first rung, on the others.
“Our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.” Mandela's words featured on t-shirts and in speeches. They gave credence to accusations that the Israeli state is an example of a heinous system, the Apartheid State.
The 10th annual Israeli Apartheid Week commences this week. Supported by 75 South African organisations with 155 events planned, it's going to be the biggest one yet, said organisers at the launch on Sunday. The Workers' Museum saw speaker after speaker (someone from the audience even forced his way to the front to have his say). The campaign seeks to increase awareness of the nature of the Israeli state, which organisers believe fits the definition of Apartheid, the plight of Palestinians, and boost support for the Boycott, Disinvestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel.
Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu started Sunday's event as a supporting statement he sent was read out. “I have witnessed the systemic humiliation of Palestinian men, women and children by members of the Israeli security forces. Their humiliation is familiar to all black South Africans who were corralled and harassed and insulted by the security forces of the Apartheid government,” said Tutu.
Palestinian Ambassador Hafiz Nefal said Israel does not support peace talks and continues to erect settlements on the West Bank and in Jerusalem, continues the siege on the Gaza Strip and has increased security checkpoints and the arrest of political prisoners. “All these activities make it clear that Palestinians are under a regime that can possibly be described as worse than the South African Apartheid regime. Thus, it makes pure sense to increase the solidarity with the Palestinian people,” said Nefal.
Miko Peled, a former Israeli army general who's written a book, The General's Son, on the issues at hand was billed as a special guest. “You cannot talk about Palestine without talking about South Africa,” he said, adding that this generation would be defined by the fight for Palestine. “The struggle has to focus not as some people try to do on some kind of elusive peace process... but the end of Zionism, just like we had to fight for the end of Apartheid for there to be change.”
The event was supported by structures of the Tripartite Alliance. Cosatu's second deputy president Zingiswa Losi commented, “It remains a test of our humanity and is a stain on our conscience that in this century and this day we are still witnessing Apartheid.” It being election season, she tied the relevant issues into 7 May: “We must do it for the fighting people of Palestine too. Their struggle is our struggle. Their victory is our victory.”
She was highly critical of the Democratic Alliance's (DA) position on Palestine and presumably meant that voting ANC is a vote for Palestinian freedom.
Over the phone, DA spokesperson Mmusi Maimane said the party supports a two-state solution consistent with the UN's position. On comparisons to SA's Apartheid state, Maimane said, “Similarities can be drawn in that it requires a negotiated settlement.” The DA is not endorsing any events of the week but Maimane said as a liberal organisation members can take their own positions on deciding whether to support or attend events. (Some members of the Tripartite Alliance criticised the DA when stories emerged after its brief union with Agang SA that it had taken funding from billionaire Nathan Kirsh, who is linked to building the wall separating Israel and the West Bank.)
The ANC is one of the 75 organisations supporting Israeli Apartheid Week and resolved at its Mangaung conference to strengthen support for Palestinian solidarity. “The ANC is unequivocal in its support for the Palestinian people in their struggle for self-determination, and unapologetic in its view that the Palestinians are the victims and the oppressed in the conflict with Israel,” said Obed Bapela, chair of the party's NEC subcommittee on international relations, this week.
The South African Communist Party also supports the campaign and in a statement this week said in 1973 “the UN adopted the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid (ICSPCA). According to ICSPA, Apartheid involves 'inhuman acts' committed for the purpose of 'establishing and maintaining domination by one group' over another, and systematically oppressing them.” It added, “No human being deserves the devastation of life and the atrocities experienced by the Palestinian people who are denied a fundamental right to have a viable state in peaceful co-existence with the other communities of states.”
The issue seems particularly to have caught the attention of young activists and politicians, who were the driving force behind Sunday's launch. Suraya Dadoo, who recently released Why Israel? a South African perspective on the issue, said international solidarity helped liberate South Africa when locals were silenced. “Now as young South Africans we are compelled to speak out against an Apartheid system that we know exists somewhere else... To put it very simply, it's time for us to pay it back.”
Basheera Surty, 27, is from Runners for the Freedom of Palestine, whose members take part in marathons while carrying the Palestinian flag. It will hold various runs this week to raise awareness. During the Johannesburg Nike run, she got into a debate with an Israeli citizen, arguing that although she's South African, it's important to show international solidarity. There are many ways at university campuses that youth can engage in the issue, from protests, runs, to film events and discussions, she said.
Israeli Apartheid Week national convenor Muhammed Desai pointed out the movement's focus on BDS, which, as former South African Ambassador to Israel Ismail Coovadia said earlier in the afternoon, reflects the international sanctions campaign against SA. It's moving at “supersonic speed”, said Desai. “You have the University of Johannesburg terminating its relationship with Israel. You have Reggies toy stores terminating its relationship with the Jewish National Fund. You have Karsten Farms, a South African agricultural company, that used to have a relationship with Israel terminating that relationship.” Having clear targets and making an impact (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has deplored the movement) makes it “energising”, said Desai.
The battleground is often at university campuses, he added, where the pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli lobby groups both try to influence students. Neither the Israeli Embassy, the South African Zionist Federation, nor the Stop BDS group could be reached before deadline. But online there's much criticism of Israeli Apartheid Week.
African Christian Democratic Party President Kenneth Meshoe says the accusation that Israel is an Apartheid state is “inaccurate”, “malicious”, aims to demonise Israel and belittles the suffering of black South Africans. He says, “As a black South African who was born under Apartheid in the administrative capital of South Africa, Pretoria, I know what Apartheid is. I experienced it. My parents experienced it. But having been to Israel on a number of occasions, I know that nothing is happening in that country that I’ve seen or read can be compared to Apartheid in South Africa.” Services are not racially segregated and if Mandela was in Israel he would never have had to take up arms, says Meshoe in a video encouraging people to go and see for themselves.
A website, www.israelapartheidweek.co.za, agrees. An introductory video warns, “During Israeli Apartheid Week radicals around the world will try to subvert South African history. They will attempt to distort the true meaning of Apartheid by diminishing its horrors and using the history of Apartheid for their own selfish political gains.” The site says we should focus on issues in Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and other Arab countries while supporting Israel's peace process. “No one trusts the organisers of Israel Apartheid Week,” the video continues, with images of rockets being fired. “Most people understand that Israeli Apartheid Week is merely a tactic to destroy Israel and wipe Israel off the map,” it warns.
But it's not all doom and gloom. As part of the campaign, Simphiwe Dana will give a free concert at Wits University on Friday evening, while numerous other events, including one addressed by ANC Deputy Secretary General Jessie Duarte (ok – that's pretty gloomy), will take place across the country. DM
Photo: Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) speaks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the Monroe Room of the State Department in Washington September 2, 2010. REUTERS/Jason Reed