South Africans on their return from the oPt: “We owe it to ourselves to act”

“We owe it to ourselves to act against Israel’s occupation and extensive abuses

they said. A civil society delegation of eleven South Africans visited Israel and the Occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem between 21 – 29 October 2014.

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Media release:

The delegation included former anti-apartheid activists Barney Pityana, Vusi Pikoli and Firoz Cachalia; civil society leaders Vuyiseka Dubula, Brad Brockman and Adila Hassim; politician Mbali Ntuli; author and political analyst Christi van der Westhuizen; and activists Adaiah Lilenstein, Bruce Baigrie and Keren Ben-Zeev.

We met Israeli and Palestinian civil society organisations, activists, politicians and local people to discuss the different dimensions of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Regrettably we were unable to enter Gaza due to the time constraints caused by the stringent permit conditions.

Based on our visits to Tel Aviv, East Jerusalem and the West Bank, our observations are the following:

Israeli and Palestinian leaders agreed on a two-state solution in the Oslo Accords of 1993, in which a five year process would have culminated in an independent Palestinian state encompassing the West Bank and Gaza. The visit made it clear to the delegation that Israel’s military occupation and expanding settlement of the West Bank and East Jerusalem is eroding the viability of the two-state solution.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAInstead of finding the Palestinian Authority in charge of the West Bank, the delegation realized the Israeli government and the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) are in control of military and civilian affairs of the Palestinian population. Soldiers are seen everywhere. The West Bank is dotted with a network of military checkpoints, surveillance cameras, watch towers, segregated roads and a very high concrete wall that cuts across the territory annexing parts of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem (part of the Palestinian territory according to international law), to Israel. Palestinians’ movement is restricted through a permit system and IDs that relegate them to residents, as opposed to citizens. We witnessed Palestinians being herded through checkpoints in a system that is no better than cattle pens.

Palestinian civilians are under military law, which is discretionary and arbitrary and they rely on the institutions of the Israeli occupation for most services, as the Palestinian Authority has limited powers. Israeli military courts are run by soldiers and traffic offences are tried by military courts, which have no system of due process and do not comply with the rule of law. People resisting the occupation are also tried in the military courts. They are detained in terms of military codes and face random decisions and postponing of their cases or procedures such as “administrative detention”, which potentially leaves them imprisoned for indefinite periods without access to proper legal representation. Interrogation and torture are routinely used. Applications for permits to leave the West Bank for work and other purposes have to be made to the military administration. In contrast, Israeli settlers in the West Bank are under civilian law and enjoy all basic rights like their fellow Israeli citizens. The Israeli cabinet is currently considering a bill to restrict the independence of the court.

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In most of the areas that the delegation visited – East Jerusalem, Jordan Valley, Hebron and villages outside of Ramallah – we saw how settlements work on the ground. The number of settlers in the West Bank including East Jerusalem currently stands at over 515 000. The Jordan Valley has huge agricultural settlements in a water-scarce area. We were shocked to find out that Israeli settlers are allocated on average 6 times the amount of water than Palestinians whose usage is limited to 23 litres per day in some areas . Palestinians also on average pay three times the price for their water. Palestinians cannot build their homes, improve their access to water or engage in agricultural activities freely. In East Jerusalem and Hebron we saw how religious zealots physically displaced Palestinians with the support of the military. Many settlements include military bases. Soldiers and settlers are both armed, leaving Palestinians unprotected in the eye of violent acts of settlers.

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Between 2004 and 2014, 517 Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem have been demolished, leaving 2028 people homeless, over half of whom were minors. During the delegation’s visit, the Israeli government announced the construction of another 1000 settler homes in East Jerusalem, the internationally recognised future capital of the Palestinian state. The delegation met with families physically displaced by Israelis who have invaded their homes, while soldiers were patrolling the area.

It has become clear to us through our visit that the settlement process and the mass dispossession and displacement of Palestinians are directly opposed to the goal of a two-state solution. It seems to be aimed either at the forcible transfer of the Palestinian population, which amounts to continuing ethnic cleansing or at the very least, the containment of Palestinians in a system of fragmented cantons. Violent suppression of demonstrations against dispossession and displacement is backed up by draconian military law.

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Palestinians are criminalised even when resisting the occupation without force and a staggering one-fifth of the population of the West Bank has been incarcerated since 1967. There are currently 6200 political prisoners.

The delegation’s visit to the Ofer military court revealed that these courts operate on the presumption of guilt in a hopelessly unjust administrative process controlled by soldiers. This is confirmed by the conviction rate of 99.7% .

Particularly abominable is the Israeli Defence Forces’ targeting of Palestinian children. An estimated 2 500 Palestinian children have been arrested between 2010 to mid-2014 . Approximately 400 children were between the ages of 12 and 15 years but some were as young as 5. Children are subject to torture and interrogation. Intimidation includes threats of sexual violence. While the delegation was in Hebron, an 11-year-old child was arrested by the military on his way to school and held without his parents or any legal representation for hours. We heard many accounts and were shown footage of these abuses.

It became clear to the delegation that Israel and the West Bank form one territory that is fragmented through a system of regulation and physical control through which resources such as fertile lands, water and state revenues are extracted for the benefit of Israeli citizens at the expense of Palestinians. These steps deepen the poverty and economic marginalisation of Palestinians. In Hebron we even saw how shops and market places are shut down in service of the grand design of the Israeli security state.

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Across class and geography, the Palestinians we met were clear they would be willing to live peacefully side by side with Jews, either in two states, a bi-national state or one state. As a nation which struggled and continues to struggle for justice, peace and human rights we have a particular responsibility to speak out on injustice where it is evident. As such, we call on South Africans, Israeli citizens and the global community to support the transition to a just and peaceful resolution that recognises Palestinians’ claims to human rights.

The delegation calls for:

  • An immediate end to the military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, which remains under illegal blockade, and the removal of all settlements.

  • The Israeli government as well as Palestinian ruling factions to uphold the rule of law and to respect and protect Palestinians’ human rights under international law. All political prisoners must be released.

  • Support for the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel until international law is observed. Israeli society continues to largely be complicit in the maintenance of the Occupation and Israeli politics remains dominated by the right and ultra-right parties. Thus the international community must make the occupation economically, politically and morally costly for Israel until it is dismantled.

  • The South African government to consistently apply all relevant legislation, including the Foreign Military Assistance Act.After we have seen the reality on the ground in the occupied Palestinian territories, we hereby express our solidarity with the Palestinian people in their struggle for self-determination.

 

During the eight days the delegates met and interacted with both Israeli and Palestinian civil society members and with political representatives in Israel and Palestine. Among other activities, the group visited the Jordan Valley to understand the politics of water and its impact on Palestinian farmers; they observed military court proceedings in the West Bank and participatee in a workshop in Ramallah to share South Africa’s experience of advancing human rights and social justice. The delegation will host report back events upon its return.

The fact-finding mission was facilitated by Open Shuhada Street South Africa and the Heinrich Boell Foundation. This statement represents the delgation’s personal views and not necessarily the official positions of any organisations.

Adaiah Lilenstein
Adila Hassim – Section 27
Prof. Barney Pityana
Brad Brockman – Equal Education
Bruce Baigrie – Open Shuhada Street
Dr. Christi van der Westhuizen – Author and political analyst
Prof. Firoz Cachalia – Wits School of Law
Keren Ben-Zeev
Vusi Pikoli
Vuyiseka Dubula – Treatment Action Campaign & Sonke Gender Justice

Media liaison: Layla Al-Zubaidi, 082 885 7878 or layla.al-zubaidi@za.boell.org

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