Gaza: Letter to President Zuma (+ Jewish response)

In response to the SA government’s statement, we at Kairos Southern Africa sent the following letter to the South African president:

20 November 2012

Honourable President Zuma

Re: The Republic of South Africa government’s response to the present killing of people in Gaza

As we write to you, over a 100 people have already been killed in Gaza, many of them civilians. We would want all violence to stop immediately.

According to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) Israel “has the right, and indeed the duty, to respond in order to protect the life of its citizens but the measures taken are bound nonetheless to remain in conformity with applicable international law.” However the killing of civilians and inflicting of damage to their property are not allowed for under this law. Moreover, what should be clearly understood and articulated is that although the acts of violence by Palestinians and its impact on Israel should not be minimized, Israel’s overall power and security are not threatened by these acts. Israel is a military super power in the region.

We want to state that we hold Israel primarily responsible for inducing the current flare-up of violence in Gaza. Besides the killings and the damage to property and infrastructure inflicted upon the people of Gaza, there are also the effects of Israel’s military occupation (Gaza’s land, sea and air space are controlled by the Israeli military forces, turning Gaza into the world’s largest prison). Demolitions, water and land confiscations, the expansion of settlements and many other forms of illegal oppression are continuing at full speed in the West-Bank and in East Jerusalem. Nothing can excuse decades of systemic crimes and multiple violations of international laws being committed by the state of Israel in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Some Gazans are involved in shooting home-made “rockets” into Israel, and while we disapprove of this, it is a reaction of an oppressed people to the much greater violence inflicted on the people of Gaza by Israel and also in response to Israel’s ongoing and systematic violence against the Palestinian people.
We believe that South Africans are morally obliged to support another people who suffer from a similar crime against humanity which can, in terms of international law, be described as apartheid (United Nations 2002). Therefore, as citizens of this country and as people of faith who hold all life dear and believe in human dignity for all, we do not regard a statement of condemnation as sufficient.
Israel’s ambassador in South Africa should be informed that South Africa strongly disapproves of what is happening in Gaza at the moment and be told to ask his government to stop the violence against civilians and their property in Gaza immediately.  Too many people have already been killed and our government should give Israel an ultimatum: if one more civilian is killed, the Israeli ambassador will be sent back to Israel and our ambassador will be recalled.

We also call on our government and civil society to instigate broad-based boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) on Israel until it ends its oppression of the Palestinian people in Gaza, the West Bank and in East Jerusalem, and until Israel abides to the international humanitarian law, the international human rights law and applicable rulings and resolutions of the International Court of Justice and the United Nations’ Security Council.

South Africa benefitted from the world’s solidarity during the apartheid years. We now have a moral
obligation to take the lead and call on the world to cut ties with Israel as an Oppressor. We as South Africans know very well that the acts of an oppressor injure not only the oppressed, but the oppressor too, and the oppressors’ partners or allies as, for example, Christians in the United States of America confessed recently with regard to the role the United States played (or failed to play) in both the Holocaust and in Israel-Palestine. Therefore we believe that our request will ultimately also be in the interest of Israel. South Africa should not be guilty of a violence of complacency, as it will impact on our psyche too. We should uphold our values of ubuntu whereby we are all interconnected and speak up on behalf of the Palestinians.

In the words of the Jewish scholar, Mark Ellis (2011)2:

“(t)he ethnic cleansing of Palestine is among
the defining moments of contemporary Jewish history[…]Israel will not stop itself. Palestinians cannot stop Israel. Many Jews and Palestinians want a way beyond this endless violence.”

We sincerely hope and pray that you will heed this urgent message seriously. We want the people of Gaza and those from the rest of the occupied Palestinian territories as well as the hundreds of
thousands of Palestinian refugees in other countries to feel a strong sense of support coming from South Africa. We also want South Africa to take the lead and inspire other governments. Above all, we want to remember the pain of apartheid and the freedom we were granted. Human dignity for all is possible. South Africa’s voice should be crystal clear.

Yours faithfully

(On behalf of Kairos SA leadership team: Rev Moss Ntlha, Dr Stiaan van der Merwe, Ms Dudu Mahlangu-Masango, Ms Marthie Momberg, Rev Dix Sibeko)

On writing a letter such as the one here, I am always prepared to receive the usual flood of outrage from those who regard all Muslims as terrorists, all Jews as threatened and all Christians as irrelevant.  (What about the rest?) Anyway, this time, I got a heart-warming response from a South African Jew, Paul Hendler:

Dear Marthie, I received the above from Carol. I noticed your name on the Kairos SA letterhead. Whether or not you participated in writing this document, I was truly inspired by its following a path that incorporates humanitarian law with an understanding of political power, domination and oppression of one nation by the state that claims the defence and security of another nation as its  sole priority. The language is powerfully simple so that a child could understand what is being communicated.

There is no glorification of violence here, but a call to protect all lives from the dangers and risks of destruction and tearing apart of the flesh, through an appeal to international law against barbarism by either side. At the same time the important point is made that while the state of Israel is not under threat, individual Israeli citizens clearly are, and particularly so the entire government of Hamas ad well as a significantly larger number of Palestinians, who when they are not being bombed are being squeezed and prevented from living in freedom by the stranglehold blockade.

This document seems to represent liberation theology at its best as it negotiates the difficult path between the universal values and the particular national liberation struggle. Of the three western religions, I am mainly aware of Christianity giving birth to this liberatory strand of thought – there are strands of this in American Jewry, although not in SA’s likud-befok Jewish community. And maybe my ignorance is doing a disservice to Islam. But then a significant segment of Christian churches took the same stance in SA. It is interesting – enriching – that a Jewish boy from Paarl is inspired by the writings of Christians (including this Afrikaans lady) about the political and ethical issues in Palestine/Israel.

Regards, Paul.


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