South African Government calls on international community

Statement by the Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, Ms Maite Nkoana-Mshabane, on international developments,

with specific focus on the Israel-Palestine conflict, Imbizo Media Centre, Parliament, Cape Town, 20 November 2012:

The South African Government is gravely concerned at the escalating conflict between Israel and Gaza. We strongly condemn the disproportionate use of force by the Israeli government, which has resulted in a significant number of deaths and injuries on both sides, particularly among Palestinian civilians, including children.

The South African Government calls on both sides to immediately halt all cross border attacks and agree to a ceasefire.  Israeli air and naval forces must cease their airstrikes and shelling into the Gaza enclave, which has already caused considerable material destruction in one of the most densely inhabited places on earth. We also call upon Palestinian militants in Gaza to immediately suspend the firing of rockets into Israeli territory.

An ominous development is the decision by the Israeli Government to call up 75 000 military reservists to active service, which would seem to imply that a large- scale ground assault by the Israeli army into Gaza is being seriously contemplated. The South African Government accordingly appeals to the Government of Israel to refrain from such a fatal step, which will not only result in the inevitable loss of a large number of both Palestinian and Israelis lives – but also further inflame sentiments in an already volatile region.

At the heart of the conflict lies Israel’s continued illegal occupation of Palestinian land, especially the continuing blockade of Gaza. The South African Government therefore urges the Israeli Government to halt these policies as they are an obstacle to negotiations for peace and contrary to international law.

The South African Government further calls on the international community to put pressure on both Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza to halt this escalation of violence, given that as close neighbours, they have no choice but to accept each other’s permanent presence and eventually reach agreement on peaceful co-existence through a process of negotiations, rather than through continuous conflict.

South Africa on a failing Quartet

Outside the SA representative office in Ramallah with fellow South African ecumenical accompaniers Mpumi Nkosi and Zodwa Nsibande

When South Africa stated that the Quartet’s peace process comes to nothing, the Israeli response was one that will buy them more time to do what they do (expand their illegal settlements, grab more land, displace civilians and generally creating havoc) in their attempt to confiscate all Palestinian resources – but without the indigenous people.

If the Quartet makes no progress, it suits the Israeli agenda.
The world’s political leaders in turn seem to be too numbed and exasperated with the issue to come up with anything (like, for example, insisting that Israel too should adhere to international human rights laws).

What will bring the necessary change?  My hope is on the mobilisation of civilians….and there are indeed a growing awareness and actions from such groups worldwide.

Here’s an article on South Africa’s questioning of the credibility of the Middle-East Quartet:

South Africa has questioned the value and credibility of the Middle East Quartet that is tasked with mediating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, even suggesting that it should be disbanded.

In a monthly United Nations Security Council debate on the region, South Africa pointed to the lack of progress in moving parties closer to direct negotiations by the group comprising the United States, European Union, Russia and the UN  – arguing that the prospects for peace were quickly diminishing.

There was tough talk in the Council on an issue where patience is clearly wearing thin.

Ambassador Doc Mashabane, South Africa’s number two at the UN says: “In the absence of any substantive progress, the peace process, we once again question the value and the credibility of the Quartet to which the UN has outsourced its responsibility. In our assessment, it has not proven its strategic worth. Therefore, let us urgently review this mechanism and either bolster, adjust or disband it.”

South Africa’s Charge de Affaires slammed Israel’s continued blockade of Gaza, criticised the indiscriminate firing of rockets from the territory into Israel, rejected continued Israeli settlement construction in disputed areas and again expressed support for Palestinian statehood at the UN.

“There is an urgent need to focus on the plight of the Palestinians, they expect a lot from us. They deserve better and we need not fail them. Political and economic events elsewhere in the world should not be allowed to derail the peace process, which is by far the best solution rather than ongoing confrontation and violence,” adds Mashabane.

There is an urgent need to focus on the plight of the Palestinians, they expect a lot from us

The UN’s head of political affairs Jeffrey Feltman warned that the door for a negotiated two state solution may be closing. “While the world’s gaze of concern points elsewhere in the Middle East, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict drifts dangerously in a direction that must be avoided.

Both sides maintain their rhetorical commitment to a negotiated peace, however the creeping realities on the ground and the stalemated diplomacy portray a more worrying reality. Stated intentions to adhere to a two state solution are not translating into meaningful steps to renewed dialogue on the core issues to be resolved,” says Feltman.

Israel’s ambassador, Ron Prosor rejected continued Palestinian efforts for statehood. “Instead of sitting with Israel in direct negotiations, the Palestinian leadership is pursuing the path of unilateralism at the UN. This is no road to real statehood. It is a march of folly. Peace must be negotiated. It cannot be imposed from the outside. There are no shortcuts. No quick fixes. No instant solutions,” says Prosor.

Palestine’s Representative Riyad Mansour took issue with Israel’s lack of adherence to various international laws and resolutions that have for example called into question the legality of continued settlement activity. “Serious efforts must be made to overcome the paralysis in the international community, including the Security Council, especially with regard to ending Israel’s impunity and compelling its compliance with international law, including the Fourth Geneva Convention and with the relevant UN resolutions,” says Mansour.

There was a sense of exasperation from many countries who addressed the matter in Council, at the lack of progress and the entrenched views on either side that refuse to move parties closer to direct negotiations. The UN has warned that the situation is drifting dangerously in a direction that must be avoided.

Both sides maintain their rhetorical commitment to a negotiated peace, however the creeping realities on the ground and the stalemated diplomacy portray a more worrying reality. Stated intentions to adhere to a two state solution are not translating into meaningful steps to renewed dialogue on the core issues to be resolved,” says Feltman.

Israel’s ambassador, Ron Prosor rejected continued Palestinian efforts for statehood. “Instead of sitting with Israel in direct negotiations, the Palestinian leadership is pursuing the path of unilateralism at the UN. This is no road to real statehood. It is a march of folly. Peace must be negotiated. It cannot be imposed from the outside. There are no shortcuts. No quick fixes. No instant solutions,”says Prosor.

Palestine’s Representative Riyad Mansour took issue with Israel’s lack of adherence to various international laws and resolutions that have for example called into question the legality of continued settlement activity. “Serious efforts must be made to overcome the paralysis in the international community, including the Security Council, especially with regard to ending Israel’s impunity and compelling its compliance with international law, including the Fourth Geneva Convention and with the relevant UN resolutions,” says Mansour.

There was a sense of exasperation from many countries who addressed the matter in Council, at the lack of progress and the entrenched views on either side that refuse to move parties closer to direct negotiations. The UN has warned that the situation is drifting dangerously in a direction that must be avoided.

by Sherwin Bryce-Pease, SABC-news, Tuesday 16 October 2012 06:53

South African EAPPI members from Group 41 (Mpumi Nkosi, Zodwa Nsibande and Alicia Lawrence) in conversation with Machiel van Niekerk at the South African representative office in Ramallah.

South Africa steps up support for Palestine

At the 2012 ANC Policy Conference the ruling party of South Africa undertook to “increase” their support for the plight of the Palestinian people and the boycott of Israel.  This position is supported by the former Director-General of Israel’s Foreign Ministry, Alon Liel and by Avrum Burg, the former Speaker of Israel’s parliament.  But not all South Africans agree with this step.

STATEMENT: BOYCOTT, DIVESTMENT & SANCTIONS  (BDS) SOUTH AFRICA

Member of the ANC’s International Relations Commission (and special adviser to President Jacob Zuma) Lindiwe Zulu, reported at a media briefing that: “[T]he ANC would continue to support Palestine and [has] called for an increased boycott on Israeli products”.

The ANC’s long-standing position on Palestine is part of its broader progressive internationalism. It is increasingly clear that the ANC is not simply offering “generalized” support to the oppressed but chose to support specific things that will lend concrete solidarity and contribute toward peace:

  • With Swaziland, the ANC insisted that the Swazi government sign an MOU on “democratisation and unbanning of political parties”.
  • On Palestine, the ANC took measures that will ensure sufficient pressure is brought for a just and negotiated resolution – similar to the pressure, negotiations and solution in South Africa.

The complete ANC Policy Conference proposals will be released in due course by ANC’s Luthuli House. We look forward to the ANC strengthening its resolution on Palestine even further during the Mangaung conference in December.

In taking this position, together with the recent announcement by the Department of Trade & Industry to prevent the mislabelling of Israeli goods, the ANC is not acting alone, with support coming from surprising quarters:

  • The former Director-General of Israel’s Foreign Ministry, Alon Liel, backed the boycott of Israeli products terming it a “wake-up call” as “such a non-violent wake-up call is needed” in Israel. Also, subsequent to Israel accusing the ANC and South Africa of racism due to SA’s position on Israel, Liel bravely broke ranks and defended South Africa: “The ANC, which toppled apartheid, is still ruling the country [and] to use that term, racism, for the government that toppled apartheid is very counterproductive.” 
  • Avrum Burg, the former Speaker of Israel’s parliament, recently wrote in the UK’s Independent Newspaper: “Even I – an Israeli – think Israeli settlement goods are not kosher…we need intervention from the outside…to tell Israel that it is impossible to be treated as ‘the only democracy in the Middle East’, while it is also the last colonial occupier in the Western world. It is not anti-Semitic.. to convey these messages.”
  • Palestinian Prime Minister, Salam Fayyad, personally thanked South Africa and also called on other countries to follow SA’s lead and boycott Israeli products.
  • Omar Barghouti, a co-founder of the Palestinian BDS movement wrote in South Africa’s Mail&Guardian newspaper describing how other countries are closely following the ANC and South Africa. He explained how the Irish foreign minister, Eamon Gilmore, told a media briefing after a recent European Union (EU) foreign ministers’ meeting that Dublin might very soon be proposing a Europe-wide ban on Israeli products during its EU presidency in early 2013.
  • Archbishop Desmond Tutu together with Zapiro, Zackie Achmat and several others endorsed a public petition supporting the South African government.

On the other spectrum, reactionary but marginal groups, like the SA Zionist Federation (SAZF) together with the ACDP and IFP came out attacking the ANC and South African government. But this is back-firing with various South African bodies publicly challenging the right-wing groups’ “blind support for Israel”. For example, South African Christians slammed the ACDP’s “misguided” support for Israel (click here);  the South African Communist Party criticized the IFP’s support for Israel as “baseless” (click here); and, COSATU exposed how the SAZF is luring people by promising “free t-shirts and refreshments” to anyone that would attend their pro-Israel protest (click here).

Cape Town, 28 June 2012: A joint press conference supporting the correct labeling of products from the oPt, and speaking up against xenophobia in Israel. From left to right:
Sarah Boesak (BDS SA), Braam Hanekom (PASSOP), Marthie Momberg (Kairos SA), Terry Crawford-Browne (Palestinian Solidarity Group).

Cape Town, 28 June 2012; In front of the provincial legislative offices, handing our joint request to an ACDP representative.

The ACDP representative listening to our request.

Meanwhile, there are some major international divestments from Israel:

  • The global retirement fund, TIAA-CREF, dumped 72 million dollars of Caterpillar shares from its TISCX investment portfolio. Caterpillar is notorious for its supply of military bulldozers, amongst other equipment, to the Israeli regime.
  • Norway’s government-run pension fund, the largest pension fund in Europe, announced that it will divest all its shares from the Israeli real estate firm, Shikun Binui, that profits from Israel’s illegal activities. The Norwegian fund is worth $587 billion dollars, and this divestment decision will affect over one million dollars worth of Israeli shares.
  • The world renown African-American author, Alice Walker, refused the Israeli company, Yediot Books, from publishing her award-winning novel, ‘The Color Purple’. We salute Alice Walker’s moral consistency, for having opposed apartheid in South Africa and now also in Israel.

BDS SOUTH AFRICA

Support the South African government by signing the Avaaz petition  here.

Gallery

A visit by three Zionists to Stellenbosch

The other night someone started to talk to me at an art exhibition.  After asking all the obvious questions over glasses of wine (his) and mineral water (mine) and learning of my studies in religion and culture, he asked: “So what do you think of Islam?” I almost choked.  Ok, so now he had my attention.

I mentioned my travels to Indonesia and that I recently spent three months in Palestine. “These people opened their hearts and their houses to me” I told him.  “And I witnessed gross human rights abuses in Palestine….”

Someone else started to talk to the man and I wandered away to look at the young artist’s first solo exhibition. The extraordinary colourful paintings featured a South African fishing community – salt of the earth, weathered faces. They are not rich in earthly belongings, but they have such joy that they made me smile too.

happiness by Wilko Roon

The man and I eventually ended up having a late supper in town where I listened to his myths on Islam and Palestinians.

“There are two sides to the story” he said (But why do you think that these two sides are equal? Ever heard of systemic injustice? Like in apartheid – in our country – remember?)

“It’s a complex situation” he tried to ease it up (Well it would help if Israel starts to adhere to international law…. that’s not complicated, it’s pretty much black and white).

And so it went on.  I did not move him one inch (or centimetre). “You can say what you want,” he concluded “but the Israelis are damn good with water.”  (Yeah….they also steal Palestinian water.)

But we did part on a nice foot and when he called about two weeks later to say that some Israelis were visiting Stellenbosch to talk about their country I thought I should better check it out.

The Israelis turned out to be an ex-Christian South African couple, previously from Klerksdorp.  White Afrikaans speaking people like me, but probably about ten or fifteen years younger.  Their conversion to Judaism a few years earlier was prompted by their realisation that Christmas trees are part of a pagan tradition. They burnt their tree, started to study their Bible and eventually felt that it was their destiny to “return” to Israel. They now live in Be’er Sheva just off the southern border of the West Bank.

This is also the home of the Ben Gurion University (the University of Johannesburg severed ties with UBG in 2011).

Accompanying this couple was another Jew, a man who also used to be Christian. He emigrated from Dortrecht in the Netherlands to Israel.

To them their lives as new-born Jews in Israel have real purpose.  During the first part of their presentation they told us about their religious task to take back all that “belongs” to them.

“Fifty to sixty years ago” they said, “the West Bank and the area where we live was a wilderness and nobody wanted to live there.” (Thoughts of the thriving Palestinian agriculture and trade before the Nakba – the Catastrophe of 1948 when over 700 000 Palestinians became refugees and Israel took possession of 530 Palestinian villages in addition to the land allotted to them by the UN – crossed my mind).  He showed us beautiful pictures of fields in bloom – exactly the way Yanoun (where I used to stay whilst I worked in the West Bank) looks like in spring…. green fields dotted with red poppies….all natural.  “No-one succeeded before to let the Negev blossom” he said. “Each year our crop increases and this is God’s blessing to us.” I kept my silence to listen him out.

The Dutch Jew quoted from the Bible (Gen 22:19, Ex 3:31, 1 Kings 5:1, 1 Kings 19:1-3, Num 21:1, 1 1 Sam 25:1, Lev 26:20,32, Ps 126, Ezekiel 36:8, and so forth) to demonstrate that God promised all of the current Israel plus the occupied territories of Palestine (the West Bank, Gaza and East-Jerusalem) to the modern state of Israel and to anybody else in the world who chooses to be Jewish.

“There is only one thing in the Middle East that matters” he told us, “and that is the truth.  We can now see how the things that our prophets mentioned are coming true.” (Thank goodness my Bible talks about an inclusive love and respect for all.)

It was as if he repeated the Netanyahu rhetoric of “truth – more truth – and the truth only.”   But even Netanyahu’s truth sometimes shifts…like when he realised that the illegal expropriation of Palestinian homes and lands could actually implicate Israeli officials in war crimes litigation as one can read by clicking on the following link:

Netanyahu ordered evacuation of Hebron home over fears of war crimes suits

“God’s will”, they explained, “is to bring the people of Israel back to Israel.” (Will the land always be enough no matter how many people from all over the world convert to Judaism and move there? What about the many Jews who do not agree with the Israeli government’s policy to take someone else’s land and resources by force….those who say that the Torah speaks of respect for others and human dignity without a political and nationalistic agenda?)

“Each nation needs to be in its own place where they belong and this only will bring peace” the presentation continued. (Therefore Dutch and South African Jews are… what…Israelis? What is a nation and what is a religion – is there perhaps a difference between the two?)

“The Arabs belong in Jordan.” (In other words those Palestinians whose families date back to the times of the Old Testament, many of them Christians, should move to Jordan? What about the millions of Palestinian refugees worldwide – all of them too? I am a South African whose ancestors came from the Netherlands, France and Italy a mere three hundred years ago…where is my “place”?)

The man from the art exhibition and I were the only people who attended the talk by the three people from the Beit Moriah organisation. It turned out they came to ask money for their community which they said had been falling apart lately. They need the money to integrate immigrants from Ethiopia and the USSR, to feed those living below the poverty line, to run schools, to train leaders, to turn neighbours into friends, to instil Jewish and Israeli knowledge and pride. (The money that Israel receives from the USA each year is more than what the USA gives to the entire developing world.)

We had a long discussion and I felt like a lone voice between three Zionists and one person with an un-nuanced admiration for Israel.  I tried to talk to my fellow (albeit ex-)South Africans with warmth and love and asked them if they really, honestly, in their inner-most beings as members of a post-apartheid society think that the solution lies in separation. They answered quickly and surely – they don’t – and therefore all of the land must belong to Israel. I actually referred to separation between people.

The woman told me how she once took her child to a Palestinian hospital and how well she and her child were treated. There she realised that she and the Palestinian women are both mothers. The couple acknowledged that settlers live illegally in the West Bank (this unsettled the guy I went with) and that they are deemed the “baddies”. They know this. But they deny settler violence and regard the United Nations, the Red Cross, the Quartet and Save the Children as leftish organisations – “Don’t talk to us about them” they told me.

They felt the IDF discriminates as much against them as they do against Palestinians. Yet when I told them some of the things I witnessed in the West Bank they asked if I am sure that the transgressors were indeed settlers.  They didn’t know about the demolitions, the personal harassments, the damage to property, the confiscation of water, the denial of basic human rights and all the double standards. These things are not true they asserted, in fact, they heard rumours and when they checked it out the army told them that none of this is true and therefore none of this is true.

Despite my very best intentions and much discipline to restrain myself, my many questions and my counter information clearly irritated them. Or perhaps not? Did I give them something to reflect on? I’m not sure of this. The gentleman whom I accompanied assured me afterwards that I launched an attack on the three guests from Israel who just wanted to tell us their story.

I arrived home feeling very emotional…but I also remembered the grace and dignity of the Palestinians in the midst of their humiliation, pain and loss. I owe it to them to engage with those who do not yet see Israel’s systemic injustices so that even though they do not hear me, they can still feel my longing for harmony and perhaps, maybe on a level outside their minds and beyond their emotions and religious convictions, something may start to shift.

Over centuries, the truth has always shifted. We know only in part. Therefore we should be modest about our claims on truth or a single right way. In fact, we start to recognise a plasticity in the nature of reality as Richard Tarnas explains in his book on the ideas that shape(d) Western worldviews (1993:406).

If this is indeed the case, it has immense implications for the human situation as it actually implies that you and I can participate in the creation of reality.  It means we can influence our own reality through our actions, and even through our attitudes, our thoughts and our prayers. As we are all inter-connected, we can also influence the reality beyond our own bodies. All of this means that what we do really matters (in the literal sense of the word). We actually have an impact on what happens.

This is (one of the reasons) why I don’t give up, and why a situation as the one I described here actually energises me in my quest for living a message of non-violence.  I’ll keep on trying.

Read also the profoundly moving testimony of Rabbi Brian Walt (who grew up in South Africa) on Affirming a Judaism and Jewish identity without Zionism.

Tarnas, Richard. 1993.  The Passion of he Western Mind. New York.

SA Council of Churches condemns violence as a solution

Israel confiscated the family land of these two siblings to build the illegal Apartheid Wall in the West Bank. I watched as it happened.

At its Central Committee in June 2011, the SACC took the following resolution to further stress its commitment to the resolve of the Palestinian question.  This is good news 🙂

1.      The SACC Central Committee

  • Re-affirms the work of the Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel at their Justice, Reconciliation and Healing department addressing the human rights violation suffered by Palestinian people through repeated attacks by the Israeli army and the illegal occupation of the Palestinian territory by Israel.
  • Acknowledges with appreciation the initiative of reconciliation between Hamas and FATAH and call on them to work together in finding peaceful resolutions.
  • Deplores all round use of violence as a solution in addressing these problems.
  • Affirms the work of the SA-EAPPI Program and recommends that it be used as a vehicle for convening the Church Leaders visit.

2.      In implementing this resolution the meeting agreed to:-

  •  Send a delegation of NEC and Church Leaders from the Council  on a solidarity visit to Palestine around Lent season in 2012, and on return commit to
  • Raise with our government the issue of declaring Israel an apartheid state.
  • Join other cultural and religious campaigns in support of BDS against Israel.
  • Design an Educational Awareness Programme for churches on the struggle of the Palestinians.
  • Mobilise Christians to include Palestine during pilgrimages to the Holy Lands stop touring Israel only.