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Wits University, South Africa: Morals or Money?

The University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) in Johannesburg is becoming embroiled in increasing controversy over its decision to charge students for having protested against an Israeli-embassy funded concert on the 12th of March 2013.

The charge against the #Wits11 includes nine students who are official Wits University Student Representative Council (Wits SRC) members.

Wits University’s Management publicly confirmed that its is under “financial pressure” from the Israeli lobby to charge its students. Wits University’s Vice Chancellor, Professor Adam Habib, in a Business Day article, admitted that his university has come under financial “pressure from donors who support Israel,” and that, “there have indeed been some individuals who have threatened to withdraw their donations.”

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During the apartheid struggle, Wits was known for its active resistance against apartheid and its commitment to end the regime.  Now the university’s management seems to not apply the same principles with regard to resistance against Israel’s regime of oppression of the Palestinians.

In what is being described as a blow to the principles of “transparency and administrative justice”, Advocate J.A. Woodward S.C, who is presiding over the trial of the 11 Wits University students, “kicked-out” and prevented representatives of the media as well as members of the public from attending the #Wits11 trial.  The students  after a submission of “prejudice” was made by legal representative, Mr Joesph Mothibi, on behalf of Wits University’s Management (find more info here: http://tinyurl.com/ppqke8q).

SABC TV news coverage: www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Ks-Cytfh6U

Business Day newspaper coverage: http://tinyurl.com/k4f3ck6

THIS IS HOW THE STORY HAS UNFOLDED TO DATE
(information by BDS South Africa):

[09 July 2005]After years of Israeli aggression, Apartheid policies and ongoing violence, Palestinians call for a boycott of Israel as a non-violent method to bring Israel in line with international law and respect basic human rights. The Palestinian boycott of Israel is modeled on the successful boycott of Apartheid South Africa.

[29 August 2012]The University of the Witwatersrand’s Student Representative Council (Wits SRC), the university’s official student body, unanimously passes a boycott of Israel resolution in line with policies of the Progressive Youth Alliance (PYA).

[19 February 2013]Announcements are made that an Israeli-embassy funded concert is to be hosted on the 12th of March at Wits University. Media reports as well as the official Wits University advertisement confirm the financial involvement of the Israeli Embassy in the hosting of the concert.


[22 February 2013]
In light of the 2012 Wits University SRC’s boycott of Israel resolution, the Wits University’s SRC formally writes to members of Wits University’s Management explaining that the hosting of such an Israeli performance on Wits’ campus is in violation of the cultural boycott of Israel as well as Wits University SRC’s own support for and endorsement of the cultural boycott of Israel. Wits University’s Management fails to respond to concerns raised by students.

[10 March 2013]The African National Congress (ANC) Youth League calls for a boycott and protest of the upcoming 12th of March Israeli concert at Wits University stating that:“we call on all students to boycott the [Israeli] concert as it only seeks to normalise apartheid Israel. No one must be seen singing with apartheid, particularly in South Africa where we have seen what apartheid policies can do.”

[12 March 2013]Wits University students, including members of Wits University’s SRC, protest the Israeli concert on their campus with the concert subsequently –and successfully– being cancelled. During the protest students are dragged on the ground, pushed against walls and assaulted by the pro-Israeli concert goers. Audience members of the Israeli concert verbally abuse the Wits University students shouting:“you monkeys go back to the jungle”. One of the Israeli-concert goers threatens to “kill” the student protesters and another physically hits a student with a broom.

[March 2013]The Israeli lobby begin to pressure Wits University’s Management to punish the student protestors using terms such as “barbaric” (used by Israeli musician, Yossi Reshef), “Muslim agitators” (used by pro-Israeli Professor Zaidel-Rudolph), “hooligans” (used by David Saks the Associate Director of the SA Jewish Board of Deputies), “a pack of baying hyenas frantic for blood” (used by editor of the SA Jewish Report), “thugs”, “savages”, “monkeys” and other expletives to describe the student protestors.


[08 March 2013]
The Young Communist League of South Africa (YCL) is one of the first organizations to indicate that Wits University’s Management is acting under pressure –and interference– from the Israeli lobby, specifically the SA Jewish Board of Deputies, to punish its students.


[08 April 2013]
Exactly one month later, Wits University’s Management admits to being in discussions with members of the Israeli lobby, including the SA Jewish Board of Deputies.


[16 April 2013]
Wits University’s Management, under pressure from the Israeli lobby, charges 11 students for protesting the 12th of March Israeli concert and appoints Joseph Mothibi from the corporate law firm, Norton Rose Fullbright, to represent the university in bringing charges against the students. Mothibi, is a director at Norton Rose Fullbright and specializes in representing clients from the mining, gaming and manufacturing industries. Tasneem Essop, one of the charged students commented in a press release:Vice Chancellor, Professor Adam Habib, is again wasting precious institutional funds to charge us students for practicing our constitutional right to protest. A right that he has a lot to say about in public, but fails to implement at his university. We demand that these unfair charges being brought against us students under pressure from the Israeli lobby be immediately dropped.”


[21 May 2013]Wits University’s Management publicly confirms that its is under “financial pressure” from the Israeli lobby to charge its students. Wits University’s Vice Chancellor, Professor Adam Habib, in a Business Day article, admits after a long silence, that indeed his university has come under financial “pressure from donors who support Israel,” and that, “there have indeed been some individuals who have threatened to withdraw their donations.”



[16 July 2013]
Members of the media and public are “kicked out” of the trial against the #Wits11 and the trial is subsequently postponed to August 2013. 

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Support for the #Wits11 grows despite Israeli lobby pressures
South African anti-apartheid struggle stalwarts, leaders of major South African trade unions, members of civil society and several organizations have all come out in overwhelming support for the 11 Wits University students (the #Wits11) and their demand that charges for protesting against the 12th of March Israeli concert be immediately dropped. Supporters of the student protesters include former Robben Island prisoner, Ahmed “Kathy” Kathrada [http://tinyurl.com/bp4sbzu]; General Secretary of COSATU, Zwelinzima Vavi [http://tinyurl.com/pemu9ln]; trade unions including the South African Democratic Teachers Union (SADTU) [http://tinyurl.com/qeozzpj]; the National, Education, Health and Allied Workers Union (NEHAWU) [see: http://tinyurl.com/d4oqaqo]; and several organizations including the South African Students Congress (SASCO), the Young Communist League of South Africa (YCL) [http://tinyurl.com/c876mlj], the African National Congress Youth League (ANC YL), the Wits All Residence Council [http://tinyurl.com/nntow2b], the Wits Postgraduate Association [http://tinyurl.com/nnfyt6f] amongst others. Ahmed Kathrada said in a recent speech: “Our University students, supported by our trade unions and civil society organizations are making it abundantly clearer by the day that [Israeli] apologists are not welcome in our country.”

Lend your support to the #Wits11
The #Wits11 are –rightly– remaining unapologetic for their protests against Israel. These student protestors remind us of how Apartheid South Africa’s rugby and cricket teams were once protested, disrupted and prevented from playing in Perth, London and other cities of the world due to South Africa’s apartheid policies and practices (see: www.youtube.com/watch?v=y3Idu4mXO34). Support the #Wits11 by sending a message of support to them, direct your message to administrator@bdssouthafrica.com and we will pass it on (you can also follow the students on Twitter using hashtags #Right2Protest and #Wits11).


BOYCOTT, DIVESTMENT AND SANCTIONS AGAINST ISRAEL IN SOUTH AFRICA (BDS SOUTH AFRICA)
Office 915 | 9th Floor | Khotso House | 62 Marshall Street | Johannesburg
PO Box 2318 | Houghton | 2041 | Johannesburg
T: +27 (0) 11 492 2414 | F: +27 (0) 86 650 4836
W: www.bdssouthafrica.com | E: administrator@bdssouthafrica.com
www.facebook.com/bdssouthafrica | www.twitter.com/bdssouthafrica

BDS South Africa is a registered Non-Profit Organization. NPO NUMBER: 084 306 NPO
BDS South Africa is a registered Public Benefit Organisation with Section 18A status. PBO NUMBER: 930 037 446

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Will South Africans boycott Israeli settlement produce?

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South Africa is the first African country to ban the false labelling of Israeli settlement goods. This is what the new wording looks like:

Settlement-good-labels-South-Africa-2013

(Photo by Open Shuhada Street.)

Ahava Dead Sea Cosmetics (sold in Truworths, Stuttafords and Foschini), Sodastream (sold in Pick & Pay Checkers and Spar) and Hishtil nursery plants and others can no longer use “Produced in Israel”.

Shoppers can now make informed choices, and they may also demand that Israeli settlement products be removed from shelves.  Traders who refuse to remove it, will face stiff penalties.

But will  South Africans make a moral choice when buying?

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I know from my own experience that many people simply don’t know that:

  1. the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza are Palestinian territories occupied by Israel;
  2. Israel’s illegal settlements in these areas use Palestinian resources (land, water, etc.) to produce products sold to the benefit of Israel; and
  3. both of the above area against international law: (1) Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jersusalem, Gaza are illegal, and (2) using the resources of occupied territory (Palestine) for the benefit of the occupier (Israel). It is also against South Africa’s consumer protection act to label produce incorrectly.

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When the announcement was made earlier in 2013, BDS South Africa supported the country’s Department of Trade and Industry’s decision to change the labels, but they remarked:

The wording of these special labels needs to be made clearer and BDS South Africa will be meeting with the Department of Trade and Industry in the course of the next few months to strengthen the wording of these special labels. However, BDS South Africa welcomes the DTI taking action against these Israeli settlement goods and companies. BDS South Africa further calls on the DTI and the South African government to now initiate a complete ban on Israeli settlement goods and companies.

Click here for the full BDS SA PRESS STATEMENT of 11 April 2013

It is important to realise this act by South Africa is in line with the actions of many international businesses and churches that boycott produce from Israeli settlements.

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The United Nations Human Rights Council, in an official report published earlier in 2013, confirmed the illegality of Israel’s settlements and also called on governments and private corporations to start considering economic and political sanctions against Israel for its illegal settlements enterprise. 

“Boycotts by ordinary people make it possible for international civil society to hold Israel accountable for its violations of international law and assist – in concrete ways – to put an end to Israel’s occupation and apartheid policies. We are calling on all South Africans to join us in the international boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel campaign by boycotting products such as Sodastream, Ahava and all others Israeli goods sold in South Africa”. (Mbuyiseni Ndlozi, BDS South Africa).

 

He is Jewish, South African, and against the demonisation of Palestinians

Cape Town’s pro-Human Rights and its Zionist communities are known for their hot debates in the local newspapers.  Ben Levitas is one of the regular writers.  Here Dr Paul Hendler – a Jewish friend – answers Levitas in a wonderful letter:

Cape Argus 12 April 2013:

Ben Levitas (“Israel’s apartheid label is a slanderous fabrication”, Cape Argus, March 13) should know that Israel’s apartheid label is based on a 302-page Human Sciences Research Council (www.hsrc.ac.za) study of Israel’s policies.

Apartheid

Notwithstanding Israel’s classification of the occupied Palestinian territories – the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza – as unoccupied, international law regards them as being under ‘belligerent occupation’, which is intended to be temporary.  However Israel has occupied the West Bank for 46 years and Gaza is still under siege.

The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) (1965) provides the basis for, and the International Convention for the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid (‘Apartheid Convention’) (1973) as well as the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (‘Rome Statute’) (1998) define, apartheid as an international crime, not as it was practised in South Africa, but as a system that denies people’s right to life and liberty; imposes conditions to cause the physical destruction of a racial group; implements measures to prevent a racial group from participating in the political/social/economic/cultural life of society; divides the population along racial lines; exploits the labour of a particular racial group, and persecutes organisations and people opposing apartheid.

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Levitas argues that the Israel/Palestine conflict is primarily a religious one, hence the situation cannot be analogous to apartheid. In the occupied territories, the HSRC study finds that ‘Jewish’ and ‘Palestinian’ identities are socially constructed as groups distinguished by ancestry or descent as well as nationality, ethnicity, and religion, and therefore meet the requirement of ‘racial groups’ as referred to in international law.

The study assumes that not all the six aspects of apartheid as defined above have to be identified in an existing system to conclude that it is an apartheid system, but that there should be a sufficient number, which in combination constitute a systematic regime of racial oppression. It concludes that Israel practices apartheid in the occupied territories through the following activities –

  • extra-judicial killings, torture and a separate legal system;
  • restrictions on the right of full development of Palestinians as a group such as those on their freedom of movement, place of residence, nationality, work and so on;
  • impeding Palestinians’ education and running a segregated education system;
  • restricting Palestinians freedom of expression and opinion as well as their freedom of peaceful assembly; dividing the West Bank into racial cantons, extensive appropriation of Palestinian land for exclusive Jewish use; and
  • arresting, imprisoning and banning the travel of Palestinians, and targeting Palestinian parliamentarians, national political leaders and human rights defenders.

Israeli-war-on-Gaza-enters-sixth-day

Levitas argues further that there are two hostile states, Israel and Palestine, and that Israelis need to protect themselves. The study acknowledges the merit of Israel’s claims for security. It notes that the devolution of power to the Palestinian National Authority and Legislative Council (created through the Oslo Accords) has been only partial, and that Israel retains ultimate control. It concludes that Israel’s security actions are disproportionate to its security needs, their primary purpose being to prevent Palestinian opposition to racial domination.

Levitas’ argument that it is the countries ‘hosting’ the Palestinian refugees who are guilty of perpetuating apartheid demonstrates a cynical opportunism in its denial of the role of Zionism in creating the refugees. In this regard, I recommend Benny Morris’ 2004 interview with Haaretz (http://www.counterpunch.org/shavit01162004.html).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe illegal Israeli Wall built on Palestinian land

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA demolished Palestinian house in East Jerusalem

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Levitas’ criticism of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel for ignoring anti-semitism is inaccurate – BDS South Africa commemorated the Holocaust in January and is opposed to anti-semitism and all forms of racism within and outside of its ranks. In arguing that the BDS campaign apportions all the blame to one side Levitas neatly sidesteps the crucial point that the systematic implementation of a colonial policy by Israel oppresses the Palestinians’ right to self-determination.

I write as a Jewish South African who stands against the demonisation of the Palestinian people, and for an objective account of the facts of their circumstances.

 Paul Hendler, Stellenbosch

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Dr  Paul  Hendler is the Director of a business that enables sustainable human settlements in South Africa that are socially and economically just and viable.  

To me Paul is a living example of that kind of justice and human dignity that is not only directed to the “own”.  It is great to hear his voice in public.

Click to read Hendler’s reply to Levitas in the Cape Argus, 12 April 2013.

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Press statement: Jewish South Africans during Pesach/Passover

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South African Jewish people reflect on their own freedom versus those of others as they are about to prepare for the Passover of 2013:

The festival of Pesach (Passover); our freedom is unfulfilled while others are oppressed

25 March 2013 / 14 Nisan 5773

As Jewish people around the world prepare for the festival of Pesach (Passover) that commences this evening (Monday 25 March), Stop The Jewish National Fund (StopTheJNF South Africa) would like to wish all who hold dear the values of freedom, liberation and justice a “Chag Kosher v’Sameach”

While Jewish families around the world recall the enslavement of our ancestors, we recognise that celebrations of freedom will always be tainted by bitter tears when there are people who remain oppressed. Members of StopTheJNF South Africa are particularly pained that since the establishment of Israel in 1948, Jewish people will be celebrating ‘freedom’ whilst complicit in the oppression of the Palestinian people. Further we recognise that our own authentic freedom will remain unfulfilled while the  Palestinians are denied theirs. In this light, as Jews of conscience, we will continue to speak out against injustices committed by Israel in our name: the brutal siege of Gaza and an occupation of Palestinian lands which sees the ongoing dispossession, humiliation and brutalisation of the Palestinians.

We also note the suffering of the Syrian people who are being butchered in a savage civil war, the murder and rape of countless women in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the deprivations of the Tibetan people denied their national and religious rights by China – these are just some instances of the denial of basic freedoms which we condemn and will remember as part of our Pesach celebrations.

Allan Horwitz for “StopTheJNF South Africa”. StopTheJNF South Africa is an organization initiated by Jewish South Africans committed to justice and rights for the Palestinian people and Jewish Israelis.

For more information, contact StopTheJNF National Spokesperson, Allan Horwitz:

082 512 8188

stopthejnf.rsa@gmail.com

www.stopthejnfsa.org

The new South African pass book

“On Monday, 21 March in 1960 police opened fire, without order, on a crowd that had gathered at the Sharpeville station to protest pass laws, stipulations that required Africans to carry books and produce them for law enforcement officials on request; 69 unarmed people were killed and another 180 were injured.” (Cape Town Magazine.com)

A friend and colleague, Seth Naicker reflected on these words and asked if we have reason to celebrate human rights on 21 March 2013:

Today while we enjoy our public holiday, we must be in tune with the origins of this day March 21st- a day impacted by the painful and traumatic loss of life captured in the title “Sharpeville Massacre 1960”.

human-rights-mural-pic

Today we live in a democracy where people can move freely without the dehumanising process of being regulated  by a pass book or as it was known back then ‘dompass’-meaning stupid pass.

However while the dompass is no longer required in our post Apartheid and 2 decade old democracy, we must ask ourselves:

•what is modern day dompass?

•what access is denied to people and upon what bias?

•who are the gate keepers regulating the dompass and who is trying to get in?

•am I gate keeping or am dompass burning.

I still see the dompass when people have to ask for access to what is their human right! The right to quality education, the right to work, the right to eat, the right to shelter, the right to speak, the right to disagree etc.

We have walked a long road to Freedom as a nation, but the journey is far from over and the quality of the Freedom is still riddled and gated with modern day dompass injustices.

 May ours hearts and pursuit of justice, equality and human rights continue to beat  in our every breath that we take and every step that we make, remembering that our human rights are resting on the shoulders of people who were had to fight and die for us to acquire our right to humanity.

 A blessed human rights day!

 Seth Naicker.

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Press statement: SABC/SAFM cancellation of programme with Prof Qumisyeh

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13 March 2013

PRESS STATEMENT:

 The Palestine Solidarity Campaign notes that the SABC and SAFM arranged to present a phone-in programme and debate between a distinguished visiting Palestinian activist, Prof. Mazin Qumsiyeh, and a representative from the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD), who undertook to present the Zionist perspective on Israel’s policies toward Palestinians. This was to have taken place just after the 9h00 news on SAfm on Tuesday 12 March 2013.

At the last minute, after having originally agreed to take part, the SAJBD withdrew its agreement and refused to participate. The programme was immediately cancelled by the SABC on the grounds that the SAJBD had been invited to ensure “balance” and that, following the withdrawal of those who would put the Zionist perspective, this “balance” no longer existed.

This is not the first time that Zionists have used this tactical ploy to silence those who disagree with them. In order to do this, it is of course necessary that the public platform would be provided by someone who sympathised with the Zionists and who thus could be trusted to play their shabby game with them. The obvious intention is to violate the constitutional right to the freedom of expression, freedom of the press and other media, and the freedom to receive or impart information or ideas while at the same time claiming to be seeking “balance”.

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign is completely unafraid to confront Zionists in any public debate – a debate which the SAJBD is clearly desperate to avoid. We believe that their evasive tactics further highlight the parallels between apartheid and Zionism. These are apparent at every turn and stone.

On its part, the SAJBD reveals itself – yet again – to be too craven to face in public, in front of an open microphone, or in any other form or venue those who wish to present the reasons why Zionism and the Zionist policies of Israel are racist, oppressive, and a violation of the fundamental human rights of the Palestinians.

Moreover, the action of withdrawing from a programme it agreed to take part in is itself a clear political statement. The SAJBD has had to rely on the SABC to provide it with cover to skulk behind, even though by its own act the SAJBD has itself forfeited any right to a claim of “balance”.

Further, the SABC is revealed as having not yet freed itself from its squalid role as the apologist for, and would-be sanitiser of, apartheid. It used to make the same bogus claim to “balance” when silencing those who opposed what the whole world condemned as a crime against humanity – just as it has now done in the case of Zionism.

None of this is surprising. In 2007 the SABC and the South African Jewish Board of Deputies entered into a formal ageement which – in summary – empowered the SAJBD to censor how the SABC presented affairs concerning the Middle East.

Racism in general, and Zionism in particular, cannot cope with the searchlight of democracy. The SAJBD is seeking to protect itself from being exposed by its critics, and thereby to sanitise Israel by attempting to subvert rights protected by the South African constitution. One of the most visible victims is the SABC itself, which is content to render meaningless in practice what it claims to be its editorial policies in its published Editorial Code. We point to statements it makes to the effect that it avoids promoting discrimination in its programmes on the grounds of political persuasion, and that it seeks balance by presenting relevant views on matters of importance.

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign condemns the cancellation of the interview with Proof. Mazin, and demands that the SABC honour the obligations and duties it boasts of.

ISSUED BY THE PALESTINE SOLIDARITY CAMPAIGN, SOUTH AFRICA

Contacts for further comment:

 Martin Jansen 0828702025 or Mercia Andrews 0823683429

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Qumisyeh’s Peace Plan/ South African public broadcaster cancels interview

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“What is your Peace Plan?” they asked Prof. Mazin Qumsiyeh.  His answer consisted of four words.

On Monday 11 March 2013 Qumsiyeh’s public talk in Stellenbosch started by mentioning his own interwoven family history with ties to people in various cultures and religious groups – including Jewish links.

MaasaraQumsiyeh

Mazin is an American citizen. Five years ago he returned to Palestine where he now plays an active role in civil society in addition to his academic career in genetics and zoology.

When asked what his “Peace Plan” is, he said it consists of four words:

HUMAN RIGHTS and INTERNATIONAL LAW.

I couldn’t agree more.

In the end one would hope for HUMAN DIGNITY too.

After his talk at the Faculty of Theology (and the great introductory talk by Bonga Mbenenge and his remarks on human dignity), a few of us accompanied Prof Qumsiyeh to the nearby lush green botanical gardens.  What a gift it was to share this day in such great company!

Public broadcaster cancels radio talk:

The next morning Qumsiyeh had an appointment for an interview on SAFM (a  South African public radio station that broadcasts nationally), but it was cancelled at the very last minute.

Why? As stated in the Palestine Solidarity Campaign’s letter (PSC letter to SABC station manager the Jewish Board of Deputies who first insisted to be part of the discussion in the name of “balance in a sensitive issue” withdrew the evening before the show – and so South Africa’s public broadcaster cancelled the show.

The next morning, Terry Crawford-Browne  took Prof Qumsiyeh to the studio.  Says Crawford-Browne:

The SABC’s security record for the day will confirm that Mazin Qumsiyeh and I signed in at 08:45. The receptionist’s computer monitor confirmed that Mazin was expected.   The sound engineer on duty can confirm that he took us into a studio, and contacted Johannesburg to advise that Mazin was in the studio.  He was then hugely embarrassed to tell Mazin that the programme had been cancelled.

To call the matter between Israel and Palestine in need of “balance on a sensitive matter” displays in my opinion either ignorance or a disregard of international law, human rights and the gross violations thereof by Israel in its occupation of Palestine.

Why not give someone from Palestine a voice? Surely the public can phone in and ask any questions they want?  I think this was an attempt to silence a strong voice who speaks the reason of inclusion and dignity for all in the Middle East. I am deeply ashamed that my country’s public broadcaster’s decision.  In fact, the South African Palestinian Solidarity Campaign called this censorship by the SABC/SAFM:

“unlawful and unconstitutional, violating South Africans’ rights to freedom of expression and access to information.”

See also the PSC Media Statement

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Professor Mazin Qumsiyeh (http://qumsiyeh.org/aboutqumsiyeh) is a Palestinian American of Christian background and was raised in Beit Sahour, the biblical Shepherd’s field just outside of Bethlehem, where he continues to live and work.

Mazin now teaches at Bethlehem University and Birzeit University in molecular genetics and other biology related courses. His worthy blog: http://popular-resistance.blogspot.com/ is informative and analytical regarding the Palestine/Israel conflict.

His academic career started with his Ph.D. in Zoology from Texas Tech University. His later training was in genetics and he served as Associate Professor of Genetics and director of cytogenetic services both at Duke University and Yale University. During his 24 years in USA, he served on the faculties of these Universities.

He has traveled extensively in Jordan, Israel/Palestine, North Africa, East Africa, Europe, and America conducting scientific work and research, and has published over 120 scientific papers in areas ranging from Zoology to Genetics and two books: Mammals of the Holy Land and Bats of Egypt.

As an activist with Palestinian liberation movements, Mazin has served on several organizations’ Boards, authored books and published views and commentaries via the Internet and on websites.

mazinQumsiyeh being arrested in Al-Walaja 6 May 2010*

*The illegal Israeli Wall confiscates fertile Palestinian land (and the livelihood of families) in Al Walaja, a village in the district of Bethlehem. Most Palestinian men have been detained at least once – often for acts such as protests or stone throwing and often without a formal complaint.

A debate between Jews on land rights in Palestine & Israel: Dr Paul Hendler, an Ambassador & Jennifer Harris

Ever heard a discourse on Palestine/Israel that asks for a “balanced approach” by taking “the other side” into account as the situation between Israel and Palestine is “very complex”? 

Such a viewpoint is usually expressed in terms of “truth”, “peace” and “reconciliation”.  All of this sounds very reasonable, doesn’t it?

On the surface yes, and for many years, these arguments convinced me too.  But that was before I knew that the Palestinians have only 22% left of the land allotted to them by the United Nations in 1948, and before realising that endless talks about complexities without practical peace initiatives create the space for a continued land grab by Israel.

Palestinian loss of land 1946-2005

Not all Jews agree on the same “facts” or on what “peace” and “truth” entail, for example:

  • On the one hand there is Zionism – a fundamentalist position of Judaism that advances exclusion and separatism.  Many Christians endorse this paradigm in the debate on Israel-Palestine and hence feel that Israel is so special that it may ignore international laws and rulings by bodies such as the International Court of Justice and the United Nations. They talk “peace”, “truth”, “facts” and “balance” and say all of the land that used to be a British Protectorate in 1948 (called Palestine) rightly belongs to Israel.
  • On the other hand there are Jews who do not approve of Israel’s  oppression of the Palestinians and the associated illegal occupation and of their land.  They use verified facts from declared sources to remind us of the death and displacement of millions of Palestinians as part of Israel’s institutionalised, systemic oppression, and that the oppression and the land confiscation continue to this day.

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fleeing-1948-nakba-palestine_0061948:  Fleeing Palestine during the Nakba (the Catastrophe)

Dr Paul Hendler, for example, has some strong views on the Palestinians’ struggle to humanize themselves…

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My name is Paul Hendler and I live in Stellenbosch. I am a Jewish South African who is against the demonization of the Palestinians by mainstream Zionism and for a rational discussion about the facts that characterize the history of the Palestinian people’s struggle for freedom and national self-determination.

 It was on this basis that I responded to a letter by Jennifer Harris (Cape Times 4 January) who purported that the facts showed that the Jewish Zionists were the conciliators and the Palestinians the savages against whom the Jews were left with no option but to fight (against their will or preferred option).

I am familiar with this view: I grew up with it in our community in Paarl and was to some extent imbued with it while participating in the Zionist (Habonim) youth movement during the 1960s.  But even then something wrankled and didn’t ring true about this narrative and I embarked on a search for the true circumstances of the 1948 flight of these people into a semi-permanent refugee status ever since, reading both Zionist literature and literature critical of and in opposition to Zionism. My journey has uncovered more and more questions about the veracity of the Zionist myth – the purpose of this blog piece is to demonstrate why I say this.

I hold the view that there is a truth independent of Zionists or Palestinian views and that reasonable people (on both sides) should be able to debate the facts to start defining this truth.  (I also argue that this is a precondition for a serious non-violent strategy to resist Zionist oppression and domination of Palestinians).

My experience, however, has been that mainstream Zionists get intensely defensive whenever deeper questions are raised and attempt to shut up the questioner by vilifying his/her character; it’s as if they have to stop the investigation into the roots of the flight of the majority of the Palestinian people into refugee status. My investigations indicate that the rigorous historical research and analyses has tended to be conducted by Palestinian scholars and anti-Zionists (or critically Zionist) Israeli Jews.

Here is Jennifer Harris’ letter to the Cape Times:

J Harris letter to Cape Times

…to which Paul replied as follows:

07 January 2013

Jennifer Harris (letters, 04 January 2013), a mediation specialist, needs to do a lot more homework on the facts surrounding the 1948 Naqba. She claims that Israel was established where 8,6% of land was Jewish-owned, 3,3% Israeli Arab-owned, 16,9 absentee Arab owners (who got out of the way while invading Arab armies intended to destroy Israel) and 71,2 per cent by the mandatory power, which was allocated to Israel as legal heir. She concludes “the contention that the bulk of the land had belonged to Arabs has no foundation in reality”.

The magisterial work, “All that Remains – the Palestinian Villages Occupied and Depopulated by Israel in 1948”, edited by Walid Khalidi, (1992) (the Institute for Palestine Studies, the Galilee Centre for Social Research and Birzeit University)  referred to the Palestine Index Gazetteer and Village Statistics 1945: a Classification of Land and Area Ownership in Palestine (Palestine Government) to demonstrate that Palestinians owned between 42 and 98 per cent of land – in nine of 16 districts this was more than 75 per cent, in six between 42 and 75 per cent and in one (Beersheba) 15 per cent. Zionists owned between three and thirty-nine per cent – in eight districts between less than one per cent and five per cent, and between 14 per cent and thirty-nine per cent in the remainder. The mandatory government ownership varied between one and 23 per cent in 15 districts – in Beersheba it owned 85 per cent of the land.

Ms. Harris is perpetuating a Zionist myth that the “people without a land returned to the land without a people”, and parading this as Truth.

“All that Remains” chronicles the occupation and depopulation by Palmach (later IDF) brigades of 418 Palestinian villages located within the pre-1967 borders of Israel, based partly on IDF archival sources, partly on eye witness accounts, whereby coordinated moves by the brigades through a swathe of villages per region, resulted in attacks on villages (which were often resisted), the expulsion of most of the inhabitants and the dynamiting of their homes shortly thereafter. IDF documents describe these operations in the north (near Galilee) as “cleansing” of the countryside – presumably to Judaise these areas.

There are also narratives of those who fled before this lot could befall them, but besides Husseini’s pro-Nazi and anti-semitic calls there is no evidence of widespread calls from neighbouring Arab states for the people to flee – if anything, there were calls to stay and although Arab Liberation Army irregulars (largely volunteers) entered Palestine to defend the villages they were no match for the Zionist forces. As Israeli historian Illan Pappe (“The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine”), David Gilmour (“Dispossessed”) and Benny Morris (“1948”) have demonstrated there had already been 250 000 to 300 000 expelled in early 1948 prior to the declaration of the State (May). Morris, himself a Zionist, in a frank interview with Haaretz (2004), confirmed the violence inherent in the expulsion of the refugees and justified this as historically necessary in the conflict between civilized Israelis and ‘barbarous’ Palestinians. Pappe has referred to detailed evidence in Ben Gurion’s diaries (in Hebrew) which show him regarding the Palestinian peasants, small farmers and villagers as the real enemy of the Zionist project. Churchill famously said: “the truth is incontrovertible; malice may malign it, ignorance undermine it, but in the end there it is.”

In the end, 750 000 Palestinians lost their homes, their livelihoods, and largely their identities, although they forged a new identity through their national liberation struggle against Zionist colonization. Finding a just peace between Palestinians and Israelis, and one which can be pursued through non-violent means, will perforce require negotiation and possibly mediation – if Ms. Harris would like to contribute to that process she would make a good start by getting her facts right.

Dr Paul Hendler

Stellenbosch.

A week later, the Israeli Ambassador to South Africa replied as follows in the public domain:

Cape Times Article by Israeli Ambassador

After this reply, Paul could not leave the matter there.  Here is his response to SIX POINTS made by the Israeli Ambassador:

I would like to provoke debate in response to the ambassador of Israel’s article  (Cape Times, 14 January), which responded to my letter (Cape Times, 9 January). The Israeli ambassador makes six points, all of which can be disputed in good faith by reference to at least some of the crucial “facts”.

When there is a dispute about the facts it is useful to delve behind the data to examine how it has been constructed in order to assess its credibility.

Point One – “The oft-quoted 750 000 refugees is a grossly exaggerated figure for propaganda purposes”:

Walid Khalidi’s “All the Remains” (see my letter of 9 January) sets out in some detail a method for calculating the number of Palestinians depopulated from some urban centres in nine districts (which constituted the area that became the State of Israel), parts of Jerusalem 418 rural villages, and also the number of Bedouin that became refugees:

Figures Palestinian Refugees

It appears that the sources the Ambassador refers to might not have projected the population growth rates between 1944 and 1948 and not have included the Bedouin refugees in their count.

Point Two – “The Palestinians fled because they were exhorted to and then to return behind the expected victorious invading Arab state armies, and having driven the Jews into the sea to confiscate their possessions and land.”

There is a bona fide dispute about the calls to leave. Gilmour’s “Dispossessed” (1980) refers to Khalidi’s “From Haven to Conquest: Readings in Zionism and the Palestine Problem until 1948” which refers to Dr Erskine Childers’ (son of Ireland’s fourth president, BBC correspondent and UN civil servant) examination of British and American monitoring of Middle East broadcasts throughout 1948 (available in British Museum), which could not find a single order or appeal to evacuate Palestine from any Arab radio inside or outside Palestine, but that there were appeals for civilians to stay put. (http://zionism-israel.com/his/Palestine_Nakba.htm questions whether it was technically possible to research the content of all broadcasts, which is an interesting question and which could be addressed). Gilmour points to a March 1948 Arab Higher Committee letter to the Egyptian and other Arab governments resolving that it was not in the interests of Palestinians to leave the country. Gilmour also refers to Geofrey Furlonge’s “Palestine is my country” (1969) that Jerusalem leaders Hilmi and Khalidi forbade people to leave the city without a permit.

Even if there were widespread calls by leaders for the population to leave, this does not necessarily constitute the reason why they left: it is reasonable to ask why a settled rural population would suddenly uproot itself in response to calls from foreign urban political elites hundreds (if not thousands) of kilometers away, with whom few of them were acquainted.

Point Three – “The Palestinians title to these lands is questionable and in any event they were migrants first and foremost in search of better opportunities rather than communities with deep roots in the land of Palestine.”

The ambassador presents the refugees as highly mobile illegal immigrants following prosperity. Ms. Harris says that they owned only a fraction of the land, most of which was held by the Mandate authority. Based on meticulous research – including field research – which identified each of the depopulated villages and its history, “All that remains” provides a different picture of a settled population of peasant farmers and small town/village artisans with a historical presence in the area.

We need to investigate the existing land tenure arrangements in pre 1948 Palestine and also keep in mind that prior to the rise of industrial capitalism in the Middle East people occupied their land on a de facto basis as direct producers in agrarian economies and that this de facto occupation conferred both rights and obligations.

“All that remains”, drawing extensively on IDF archives as well as eyewitness accounts, details an extensive military campaign to occupy or take these villages, which is the alternative narrative to the Zionist account, confirmed by eye witness accounts. Mainstream Zionist historians – including Bennie Morris, who has admitted and justified the violent dispossession of Palestinian land – are conspicuous by the absence of any oral history and eye-witness accounts by the refugees and/or their descendants, regarding the events of 1948.

Point Four – “More Jews (850 000) were expelled from Arab countries, also losing their properties in the process, but they at least were taken in by their Zionist Jewish brethren whereas the Palestinians were abandoned by those who should have shouldered responsibility for them, namely the surrounding Arab states.”

Terry-Crawford-Browne (next to my letter of January 9) refers to Zionist-security services complicity in the acts of anti-semitism carried out in the Arab countries and which preceded the relocation of the Jews of colour (the MIzrahim) to Israel. I remember reading this viewpoint by David Hirst (“The Gun and the Olive Branch”) (2003) and I have recently purchased the book (updated) and intend to explore this further. The so-called responsibility of the Arab states for the Palestinian refugees has to be looked at in the light of the questionable assumption that they were instrumental in getting the Palestinians to pack their bags in the first place. There needs to be a lot more looking into this and precisely who said what and when. The sources of such information need to be scrutinized to determine their veracity (e.g. independent or embedded journalists?)

Point Five – “What happened to the Palestinians is simply a part of history, and has happened on a larger scale to other peoples in time of war: for example, the Germans fleeing from the advancing Red Army at the end of World War 2 and the refugees who were displaced during the breakaway of Pakistan from India.”

The Ambassador demonstrates a cavalier attitude to (what he regards as the unintended) “collateral” damage of war and trivializes the suffering not only of the Palestinian refugees and people but also the Indian/Pakistani refugees and fluechtlinge from the Soviet forces at the end of the Second World War. His logic is chillingly close to that of David Irvine, a notorious denier of the Nazi genocide of the Jews – Irvine saw the Jewish deaths (a relatively small part of the total civilian deaths in this war) as unplanned and an outcome of the chaos of the war. Applying this logic to the genocide would reduce this catastrophe for the Jewish people (and also for a similarly large population of Gentiles who were exterminated) to a banal event.

Point Six – “Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East and its Gentile citizens (largely Palestinians) enjoy equal rights and opportunities with its Jewish citizens.”

Hernando de Soto (UN Commissioner) and Francis Cherval (“Realizing Property Rights”, 2006) identify mechanisms that not only limit the extent of private land ownership in Israel but also ensure that de facto control of decision-making with regard to land is vested in Jewish bodies like the JNF. They conclude that “the Israeli land regime can be said to have produced long-term disparities between the ‘founding’ Ashkenazi group (i.e. Caucasian European settlers), the ‘immigrant’ Mizrahim and the ‘indigenous’ Palestinian-Arab group”.  Israel’s Palestinian citizens are also excluded from social service benefits accruing to people who have served in the IDF because they are excluded from going to the army.

Joeseph Massad (Columbia University) (http://english.aljazeera.net/indepth/opinion/2011/05/20115684218533873.html) lists the following laws that discriminate in favour of Jewish Israeli citizens against Palestinian Israeli citizens: including the Law of Return (1950), the Law of Absentee Property (1950), the Law of the State’s Property (1951), the Law of Citizenship (1952), the Status Law (1952), the Israel Lands Administration Law (1960), the Construction and Building Law (1965), and the 2002 temporary law banning marriage between Israelis and Palestinians of the Occupied Territories. He makes the further point that it is the very presence of Arabs in the Jewish State that propels the Jewish State to enshrine its racism in all these laws. There is an inherent contradiction in the notion that Israel is both a democratic and a Jewish state.

Having read the above discussion, I want to ask:  Should only Palestinians be freed?  Didn’t someone say that the truth sets one free?

I would dearly like to see free Palestinians and free Israelis living in harmony and in alignment with international law.

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Never Again – unconditionally

As Jews, with our own painful history of oppression, we are compelled to speak out against human rights violations committed by the State of Israel – in our name – against the Palestinian people.

These are the first words of a group of South African Jews in their public statement in the Mail & Guardian of 14 December 2012. They recognise not only their own wounds and humanity…

index

…but also those of others:

The temptation is to speak in muffled tones about an issue such as the right of the people of Palestine… yet we would be less than human if we did so”

 – Nelson R. Mandela

2009 (2) Berlyn 022A Holocaust memorial site in Berlin, Germany.

Their statement continued as follows:

We note that the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) together with the South African Zionist Federation (SAZF) recently met with the South African Presidency and other politicians. We also note, with great concern, that the SAJBD and SAZF’s assertion that they represent and speak on behalf of all Jewish South Africans, particularly when it comes to Palestine-Israel.

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Let us be clear, the SAJBD and SAZF’s position of supporting Israel at all costs does not represent us. We also appeal to the SAJBD and SAZF to respect one of the hallmarks of Judaism: respectful debate amongst those who hold divergent viewpoints. The SAJBD and SAZF’s position on Israel, and attempts to stifle opposing voices that speak out against Israel, is morally untenable.

The Jewish community is neither homogeneous nor monolithic.  There is a growing number of Jews, in South Africa and around the world, who are organising to form alternative spaces and who unconditionally oppose Israeli policies and practices that shamefully privilege Jews over the indigenous Palestinian people.  In this vein, we support the non-violent campaign of applying Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel until it abides by international law and respects basic human rights [see www.bdsmovement.net].

We are encouraged that our South African government is joining those countries that are taking a clear stance against Israel’s violations of international law and its acts of violence against the Palestinian people [see this City Press newspaper article]. We also welcome and support our Department of Trade and Industry’s initiative to prevent the false labelling of Israeli settlement products. We hope that the ANC and the SA Government goes further and completely bans Israeli settlement products. Israeli settlements are in clear violation of international law and seriously undermine any chance of negotiations and a just peace.

Such positions as those recently taken by our government against Israeli violence and violations of international law, in fact, serve to affirm a proud Jewish tradition of respect for justice and human rights; regardless of race, religion or creed. Such positions connect us to our fellow humanity.

We humbly – and sadly – acknowledge that our voices may not be the dominant ones in our community, but neither were Dietrich Bonnhoefer’s in Nazi Germany nor Beyers Naude’s, Antjie Krog’s, Braam Fischer’s and Joe Slovo’s in Apartheid South Africa.

Our individual consciences, our Jewish tradition and our painful history compel us to declare to the SAJBD, SAZF and to the Israeli government that we will continue to speak out and take a stand for justice and human rights.  Taking such a stand is in the very interests of being Jewish. For when we proclaim “Never Again”, we should mean “Never Again”, unconditionally, and to any human being – including the Palestinians.

Issued by Alan Horwitz for StopTheJNF, a campaign initiated by a group of Jewish South Africans committed to justice and rights for the Palestinian people and Jewish Israelis.

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I took this photo in the Jewish Museum, Berlin.  The windows reflect the harrowing, unsettling reality of Jews during World War II.

Never Again – but unconditionally.

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Bold statement by South African clergy on their return from occupied Palestine

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We did not expect the extent to which Israel violates international laws to oppress the Palestinian people.  Our exposure to East Jerusalem and the West Bank was overwhelming, one which traumatised us.  However, even though we experienced that the Palestinians live in open-air prisons, they were still able to inspire us with their dignity and their commitment for a just peace based on human dignity for both themselves and the Israelis.  “We want more than human rights,” they told us, “we want our human dignity and reconciliation”.

These are the first words from a  media statement issued by twelve South African Christian leaders who visited the occupied state of Palestine from 2 – 9 December 2012.

The delegation included the country’s heads of the Methodist and the Uniting Presbyterian Churches, the Secretary General of the Evangelical Alliance, the Vice Moderator of the Dutch Reformed Church and a representative of South African youth.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARev Moss Nthla, Secretary General of The Evangelical Alliance of South Africa and Chairperson of Kairos Southern Africa and Dr Braam Hanekom, Vice Moderator of the Dutch Reformed Church, addressing an audience of Palestinian Christians in Bethlehem

The statement continued as follows:

Being South African, it felt like walking into another apartheid ambush.  We witnessed violations of the international human rights law and the international humanitarian law on so many levels – the multiple house demolitions, the discriminatory legal system, the daily intimidation, the Apartheid Wall and its associated regime of restrictions on movement and access, the damage to olive groves, the imprisonment of a large percentage of Palestinians including children, the confiscation of water and land, the closure of previously bustling streets and businesses, separate pavements and a system whereby the colour of Palestinian vehicles’ number plates restrict them to certain roads.

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Our visit was undertaken in direct response to the Palestinian Christians’ invitation to come and see for ourselves what their circumstances are.  We heard from Christians how they have experienced a political and an identity catastrophe (the Nakba) since 1948 when the State of Israel was declared and 750 000 Palestinians became refugees.  Moreover, they experience a theological catastrophe as Christianity is being used to justify the oppression of the indigenous Palestinian people.

What we have discerned is in alignment with what the Palestinian Christians propose in their document called “A Moment of Truth. A word of faith, hope and love from the heart of the Palestinian suffering.” This urgent appeal to the international community proposes resistance to Israel’s occupation as an act of love.

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We affirm the right to security, self-determination and dignity for both the Palestinians and the Israelis. Real security is only possible through the exercise of justice. We are conscious how a literal reading of the Bible, one where the Israel of the Old Testament is confused with the State of Israel, can result in the oppression of people. We confirm that the crisis in the Holy Land is in essence not a religious conflict, but a political crisis brought about by the violation of international law.  As South Africans we believe we have a moral obligation to speak up and to stand with the oppressed.  We do not want to side against the Israelis, but we do want to uphold international law and fight against any form of injustice.

We support the Palestinians’ call for non-violent resistance. They ask for responsible tourism whereby pilgrims who visit Bethlehem and the Old City of Jerusalem also visit Palestinian Christians.  They ask the world for economic, cultural and other forms of boycott, divestment and sanctions – a strategy that helped to end apartheid in South Africa.  We believe that maximum pressure must be put on Israel to abide by international law.  This should be done on the basis of “equality and sharing, not on superiority, negation of the other or aggression, using the pretext of fear and security” as stated in the Palestinian document “A Moment of Truth”.  

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We went on a guided tour by a Jewish Rabbi (previously from Canada) and we had intense discussions with him over dinner in Jerusalem.  From him we did not hear the message of reconciliation or that both peoples were created in the image of God and have the right to dignified lives.  He talked a lot, but he did not answer our questions.

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The  Vice Moderator of the Dutch Reformed Church, Dr Braam Hanekom who was part of our delegation, emphatically stated:

“It was a tremendous privilege to visit Palestine in this time of Advent.  I am more convinced than before that the non-violent alternative of faith, hope and love that the Palestinian Christians show us is the way forward.”

Our statement concludes as follows:

Whilst we remain intensely and painfully aware of the weaknesses and the prevailing injustices in our own South African context, we are inspired to work against these and other injustices. In these weeks leading up to Christmas we want to show our full solidarity with all those who suffer in the Holy land where Christ was born.

Issued by:

  1. Bishop Zipho Siwa, Presiding Bishop of the Methodist Church in Southern Africa
  2. Dr Jerry Pillay, General Secretary of the Uniting Presbyterian Church in Southern Africa and President of the World Communion of Reformed Churches
  3. Rev Moss Nthla, Secretary General of The Evangelical Alliance of South Africa and Chairperson of Kairos Southern Africa
  4. Dr Braam Hanekom, Vice Moderator of the Dutch Reformed Church
  5. Ms Nonhlanhla Shezi, President of the Anglican Youth of Southern Africa
  6. Ms Theresa Ramphomane, Coordinator of the SACC Women’s Ecumenical Conference
  7. Ms Nobuntu Madwe, General President of the Women’s Manyano (Union) of the Methodist Church of South Africa
  8. Fr Michael Deeb, coordinator of the Justice and Peace Department of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference
  9. Fr Zweli Tom, Anglican Priest and Secretary General of the Nelson Mandela Bay Consultation of Christian Churches
  10. Nonqaba Esther Dlula, Eastern Cape Anglican Church
  11. Dr Stiaan van der Merwe, Kairos Southern Africa
  12. Ms Marthie Momberg, Kairos Southern Africa

 Jerusalem, 8 December 2012.

We do not take sides between countries, but we are not impartial when it comes to the upholding of international law and human rights.  We are just as concerned about the psyche of the oppressor as we are about the devastating effects of denying people dignity.  Israel’s occupation of Palestine must end.