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SWIFT sanctions against Israel

It is called the “ultimate sanction that would really hurt”. It worked in South Africa. It can work in Israel too. Swift sanctions against Israeli banks will isolate Israel from the world system of trading. Israeli banks will be unable to pay for imports or receive payment for exports.

Fellow Capetonian activist Terry Crawford-Browne used to be an international banker. Yet when South Africa was on the brink of a civil war in the 1980s, he became an activist. At the time he used his expertise to implement Swift sanctions against South Africa.

The importance of this intervention cannot be underestimated. The SWIFT sanctions were a game-changer. They were powerful, effective, immediate and they gave impetus to the non-violent resistance in South Africa. Now Terry advocates for a smiliar step against Israel.

The Belgium-based Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication system, known as Swift, is a secure messaging system used by more than 10,500 banks for international money transfers. Swift sanctions are also considered against Russia – as a “the ultimate sanction that would really hurt”. Read the article here.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFour South African ecumenical accompaniers who served in the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). From left to right: Marthie Momberg, Terry Crawford-Browne, Corbin August and Carol Martin. The photo was taken in the South African Parliament on 6 February 2014.

You can listen to Terry explaining his plan on YouTube, and/or you can read a shorter version of his recent talk in Istanbul at the IPRA conference:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

SWIFT SANCTIONS AGAINST ISRAELI BANKS

by Terry Crawford-Browne

The international banking sanctions campaign launched in October 1985 by Bishop Desmond Tutu, Dr Allan Boesak and Dr Beyers Naude became the tipping point in South Africa’s relatively peaceful transformation from apartheid to constitutional democracy. It was a nonviolent strategy intended to avert a looming civil war. International trade and sports boycotts and numerous resolutions at the United Nations had created conscientiousness about apartheid, but in themselves could not defeat the system. The critical factor was the role of the US dollar as settlement currency in foreign exchange markets. Without access to the New York bank payment system, apartheid South Africa would be unable to pay for imports or receive payment for exports even from third countries such as Germany or Japan.

Under the “adopt-a-bank” strategy, the church leaders applied their influence with American churches to pressure the major New York banks to choose the banking business of apartheid South Africa or the pension fund business of the respective Anglican, Catholic, Presbyterian and other denominations. The City of New York later added the choice between the City’s payroll accounts or the banking business of apartheid South Africa. Even the Bush (senior) administration in October 1989 surprisingly issued an ultimatum to demand compliance by the apartheid government by February 1990 of the first three of five conditions, namely: (a) the end of the state of emergency, (b) release of political prisoners and (c) unbanning of political organisations.

That was the background to President FW de Klerk’s announcement on 2 February 1990. Mr de Klerk has subsequently conceded that the threat contained in that ultimatum to close off all South African access to the American financial system motivated his decision to release Nelson Mandela and to begin constitutional negotiations. The fourth and fifth objectives of the banking sanctions campaign were: (d) repeal of apartheid legislation and (e) constitutional negotiations towards a democratic, non-racial and united South Africa.

[…]

Three decades later, banking technology has advanced dramatically. The pressure point in the international payments system is no longer in New York, but is now at the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications (SWIFT) which is headquartered in Belgium. In essence, SWIFT is a giant computer cooperatively owned by 10 500 international banks in 215 countries that daily authenticates interbank payment instructions for more than 20 million international financial transactions. SWIFT’s function has been to replace the cumbersome and labour-intensive authentication system traditionally known as “testing,” which verifies the payment instructions of correspondent banks.

SWIFT is overseen by the central banks of the G10 countries, with the National Bank of Belgium being the lead overseeing authority. Every participating bank has a SWIFT code, the fifth and sixth letters of which identifies the country of domicile. As examples, South African banks are identified by the letters ZA; Israeli banks by the letters IL.

The impact of SWIFT is such that a bank that is not part of the SWIFT network is essentially excluded from the international financial payments system. Banking is the lifeblood of any economy. Just as all South African banks were complicit in funding and upholding the apartheid system, so too the role of Israeli banks is fundamental to the Israeli government’s illegal occupation of Palestine. Money laundering and financial crimes are now regarded as serious international threats, and thanks to forensic auditing can increasingly be traced and identified. In fact, given the advances in technology, Israel is much more vulnerable to a banking sanctions campaign than was apartheid South Africa during the 1980s.

Israeli banks fund the construction both the “apartheid wall” and the settlements, which the International Court of Justice in 2004 found to be illegal in terms of international law. The banks provide heavily subsidised mortgages to induce over 700 000 Israelis to live in illegal settlements such as Ma’ale Adumin, Har Homa and Zufrim as well as providing regular banking services in those communities. Israeli banks are also a critical factor in repatriating the financial proceeds to Israel of blood diamonds, drug trafficking and Israeli arms exports, all of which are crucial to the Israeli economy.

Just as South African banks during the apartheid era were actively engaged in “sanctions-busting,” so too Israeli banks all blatantly participate in illegal transactions under the guise of “national security.” It is impossible to separate legitimate transactions of Israeli banks from illegal transactions that violate international laws on money laundering and war profiteering. Accordingly, all transactions to and from Israeli banks must be deemed to contravene banking protocols such as international obligations imposed on financial institutions to “know your customer”(KYC) and other due diligence procedures to mitigate financial crimes.

Major international banks such as JP Morgan Chase, BNP Paribas, HSBC, Barclays Bank, Credit Suisse have recently been heavily fined for failures to meet such obligations. Seventeen European governments, including the Belgian government, in June 2014 warned their citizens of the reputational and other risks involved in financial transactions to and from the settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. All countries, even including the United States, regard the Israeli settlements as illegal.

Norwegian, Danish and Dutch pension funds and banks are already blacklisting Israeli banks. SWIFT declares itself to be “neutral” in respect of sanctions. Since sanctions often only apply in certain but not all jurisdictions, SWIFT cannot voluntarily suspend transactions unless regulations are enacted by laws of its home jurisdiction, namely Belgium and the European Union (EU). To date, the EU government statements about financial transactions with the settlements are warnings rather than regulations, but the “writing is increasingly on the wall.” The image of the banking industry is currently poor, and SWIFT and its 10 500 members would certainly not wish to be publicly identified as complicit with Israeli war crimes.

Given these developments. SWIFT earlier this year has expanded its operations to include compliance management registry, including sanctions screening and testing. To this purpose, SWIFT will conduct a two day conference in Boston, USA during 30 September to 1 October to establish standards to assist banks in addressing financial crime compliance regulations. This registry is expected to go live at the end of 2014.

The Russell Tribunal on Palestine (RToP) — which met in Barcelona, London, Cape Town, New York and Brussels between 2010 and 2013 – has already collated a huge volume of evidence on Israeli government violations of international law, including that its behaviour towards Palestinians meets the legal criteria of apartheid as a crime against humanity.

The recent Israeli bombardment of Gaza prompted the United Nations Human Rights Council on 23 July 2014 to establish a commission of inquiry on Israeli war crimes. Similarly, the RToP has now decided to establish an extra, extraordinary session to be held in Brussels during 24 and 25 September 2014 to investigate the implications of the latest Israeli war crimes in Gaza. Just as the campaign against apartheid was driven by international civil society, so too it is now imperative for civil society to apply pressure upon EU governments to meet their obligations in respect of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Given the outrage over the disproportionate and illegal Israeli government actions in Gaza, there is increasing recognition of the need for a permanent resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Indisputably, just as the international community judged apartheid in South Africa to be a threat to world peace, so too is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Israeli government is a repeated violator of international law including the Geneva Conventions. SWIFT sanctions against Israeli banks offer a nonviolent instrument in the cause of peace in the Middle East to balance the scales between Israelis and Palestinians so that, unlike the failed US “peace process” and the Egyptian-brokered ceasefires, meaningful negotiations become possible.

The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Campaign, which is supported by the broad spectrum of Palestinian society, has endorsed a proposal of SWIFT sanctions against Israeli banks. The proposal calls upon the EU governments and other members of the international community to require SWIFT to suspend transactions to and from Israeli (IL) banks until the Israeli government:

1. Agrees to relinquish its nuclear weapons, and to accede to the Non-Proliferation Treaty,
2. Agrees to release immediately all Palestinian political prisoners,
3. Agrees to end its occupation of the West Bank including East Jerusalem, plus Gaza, and that it will dismantle the “apartheid wall,”
4. Recognises the fundamental rights of Arab Palestinians will full equality in Israel-Palestine,
5. Acknowledges the right of return of Palestinian refugees.

Being directed at Israeli banks, SWIFT sanctions are targeted at the financial and political elites who have the influence and clout to alert and warn the Israeli government of the consequences of financial isolation from the international community. The intention is not to destroy the Israeli economy but, instead, to bring the highly militarised Israeli government to its senses. Once the Israeli government agrees to these conditions, SWIFT sanctions can immediately be reversed in order to minimize economic damage to the Israeli economy.

Terry Crawford-Browne
19 August 2014

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South African boycott of Woolworths

In South Africa, the retail giant Woolworths is the favourite store for many – people fall in love with Woollies. Why then an urgent call from the National Coalition  for Palestine (NC4P) to boycott them?

 woolworths

6 August 2014

PRESS RELEASE: NATIONAL COALITION FOR PALESTINE CALLS FOR FULL BOYCOTT OF WOOLWORTHS STORES IN SOUTH AFRICA

More than 30 wide-ranging South African civil society and religious organizations, trade unions, and political parties have come together under the banner of the National Coalition 4 Palestine (NC4P).

We stand in solidarity and in support of justice, equality and freedom for the Palestinian people. We oppose, in the strongest terms, the military invasion of the Gaza Strip and the ongoing Apartheid practices of the Israeli state.

We support the call by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement to boycott all companies trading with the state of Israel. The National Coalition for Palestine has therefore issued a nationwide directive to effect an immediate boycott of all Woolworths stores in South Africa. The call to boycott is due to Woolworths’ unwavering support for the Apartheid State of Israel, and comes after much research and assessment of the status and level of trade between the chain store and the Israeli state. Woolworths has refused to remove Israeli products from their stores, and proceeds from the sale of Israeli goods funds war crimes against Palestinians. NC4P calls on all South Africans to peacefully picket at all Woolworths stores in South Africa.

Woolworths acknowledges that 0.1 percent of its trade is with Israel and the boycott will prove that the wishes of peace-loving people of South Africa should be dearer to Woolworths than its current trade relations with an oppressive colonial state. We call on the directors and shareholders of Woolworths to heed the call of the freedom loving South Africans and the uneasiness of their staff and end all business dealings with Israel. The National Coalition for Palestine further endorses the BDS movement of South Africa in its strategic campaign that includes a boycott against G4S security, Dead Sea Products and Sodastream.

The NC4P will be issuing further directives to the community following research and assessment of other companies in South Africa trading unashamedly with the warmongering state of Israel.

Issued by the National Coalition for Palestine.

For media interviews and statements, please contact:

Muhammed Desai
NC4P Spokesperson
Ph: 084 211 9988
e-mail: mdesai@bdssouthafrica.com

Kwara Keka
NC4P Spokesperson
Ph: 072 449 1774
e-mail: kkekana@bdssouthafrica.com

Martin Jansen
NC4P Spokesperson
Ph: 082 870 2025
e-mail: martin@wwmp.org.za

Rev Edwin Arrison
NC4P Spokesperson
Ph: 084 735 1835
e-mail: earrison78@telkomsa.net

Ms. Nabeweya Malick
NC4P Spokesperson
Ph: 083 408 1157
e-mail: pro@mjc.org.za

Kairos to SA Government: Cut diplomatic and trade ties with Israel

The role of the South African government is unique in the world, given our country’s history of apartheid. Yet it lags behind in its solidarity with the Palestinians. Kairos Southern Africa asks for urgent, decisive action – not statements – in a formal request to the government of the Republic of South Africa:

KSA

18 July 2014

To: The Honourable Minister of International Relations Ms Maite E Nkoana-Mashabane
CC: The Honourable Mr. H.T Magama, Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee of International Relations and Cooperation, and the Deputy Director-General for DIRCO c/o Mr Clayson Monyela

Kairos Southern Africa believes that all lives have the same value, and that all violence is destructive. The current and ongoing situation between Israel and Palestine poses a critical test for the international community’s commitment to international law and human dignity.

Any attempt to remain neutral in this kind of conflict is both futile and immoral. Neutrality enables the status quo of oppression to continue. It is a way of giving tacit support to the oppressor. We are not taking sides against the Israeli people, but we unequivocally reject the Israeli regime’s treatment of Palestinians.

The role of the South African government is unique in the world, given our country’s history of apartheid and the ways in which we overcame the institutionalised injustices of this system. Yet to date the South African government has failed to take tangible action in the form of support of boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel, because of pressure applied by the South African Zionist lobby, which insists on our government’s neutrality when it comes to Israel. As a result, South Africa now lags behind other countries in its solidarity with the oppressed in Palestine.

We see this inactivity as a source of national shame. We of all nations must actively help others who are systemically oppressed. By not responding when we know about the injustices and human rights violations suffered by the Palestinian people, we will be allowing and enabling an act of omission. By responding insufficiently, we will prolong the suffering and the damage.

In line with this endeavour, we ask you to:

  1. Sever all diplomatic and trade ties with the State of Israel.
  2. Implement boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel.
  3. Implement all the actions called for in the Cape Town Declaration of 6 February 2014.

We recognise the occupation of Palestine by Israel as the primary violent act. Israel uses negotiations and violence to prolong the pain, to intensify the occupation and to confiscate more resources. We condemn it absolutely. Israel’s widespread, ongoing, collective attack on the Palestinian people is a form of institutionalised, systemic violence practised in multiple ways on the besieged Gaza strip and occupied East Jerusalem and West Bank.

The violent resistance by Hamas is understandable, but we do not support it. We do not believe that this violence represents the will of the majority of Palestinians, who ask for active non-violent resistance in the form of boycotts, divestment and sanctions.

We call on you, our government, to do what is honest and just, so that we can be honourable international citizens.

We do not ask you to issue more statements, but to:

  1. Sever all diplomatic and trade ties with the State of Israel and with Israeli institutions and business.
  2. Implement boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel.
  3. Implement all the actions called for in the Cape Town Declaration of 6 February 2014.

God bless.

 Edwin Arrison (Rev.)
General-secretary

mandela

Gallery

FULL ADDRESS: Kairos SA to Parliament

Parliament 2

PREPARED FOR: Solidarity Conference in support of the People of Cuba, Western Sahara and Palestine: South African Parliament, Cape Town, 6 February 2014.

TOPIC: Palestine: Intensifying the struggle for self-determination and efforts to bring about a lasting solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict, by Marthie Momberg.

Introduction

Honourable Mr Magama, Members of the Portfolio Committee on International Relations and Cooperation, Members of the Diplomatic Corps, Chair, Distinguished Guests: Thank you for this opportunity to present the views of Kairos Southern Africa.

Kairos Southern Africa is an ecumenical voice on local and international issues of justice from within the broader Christian community. We are connected to Kairos movements worldwide that are all inspired by the liberation theology tabled in the 1985 South African Kairos document.[1] This includes Kairos Palestine and its declaration of steadfast faith, hope and love from within the suffering of Palestinians.[2]

Our Christian message is that we need to love our enemy. In the spirit of this message we want to overcome the dualism that enables separatism. We recognise the humanity of both the oppressor and the oppressed, and our actions are informed by our vision for a reconciled, just peace between Israel and Palestine. This does not mean that we are prepared to compromise our message of vigorously opposing injustice.

Just over a year ago, Kairos Southern Africa accompanied a group of senior clergy from South Africa to Palestine and Israel. On their return, they declared that it “felt like walking into another apartheid ambush”. The group included the heads of the Methodist and the Uniting Presbyterian Churches, the Secretary General of the Evangelical Alliance of South Africa, the Deputy Moderator of the Dutch Reformed Church, and a representative of the South African youth. I read from their media statement:

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.”[3]

Today you will hear central themes from this message in our argument to support our request to the South African government.

  1. Whom do we regard as the People of Palestine?
  • Before the declaration of the State of Israel in 1948, the land called Palestine was populated by several groups: descendants of Arab Muslims from the vast Arab/Islamic empire that dominated Palestine from the seventh century; Arab Christians who were the descendants of the world’s first Christians; and small indigenous Jewish communities that were remnants of Palestine’s ancient Jewish kingdom. These people were all Semites who lived together in harmony until the Western Jews began arriving in the late nineteenth century. Some of these Jews sought a safe haven, but some sought land to conquer.
  • After the wars of 1948[4] and 1967, we call the following people Palestinians: the 4.4 million people in the occupied Palestinian territories (i.e. the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and East Jerusalem), the more than 6 million people who became refugees as a result of these wars and who are prohibited by Israel to return,[5] and the 1.4 million people who reside in Israel,[6] where more than 50 laws regulate their status at every level of life, relegating them to second-class citizens, based on ethnic and religious identity. Approximately three-quarters of the entire Palestinian population worldwide are refugees. All of them, Muslims and Christians alike, are our concern. The over half a million Israeli settlers in the occupied territories are not Palestinians, but illegal inhabitants in breach of international law[7] who nevertheless receive preferential treatment from Israel as the occupying force.

                 2.   What do we mean by intensifying the struggle?

If showing solidarity with the oppressed means merely issuing declarations, we say it is not enough.  If we as South Africans embrace the concept of Ubuntu, which emeritus Archbishop Desmond Tutu describes as part of our essential humanity as we participate and share in a network of interdependence and togetherness,[8] then we cannot confine ourselves to mere talk. We have to be much more actively involved.

Moreover, South Africans have a moral obligation to act, given our history of apartheid. Did the world not actively help to demolish our apartheid through boycotts, divestment and sanctions? Now the Palestinian Christians have asked the South African Christian community directly to act against Israel’s unjust regime.

What would constitute an appropriate response? Let us consider the options of a small entity occupied by a regional military super-power backed by the USA:

  • ­Is violent resistance against the violence of occupation a viable option? In 1985, the Kairos Document of 1985 recognised the violence of apartheid as the primary violence which elicited violent resistance from the liberation movements. The Kairos Document then, as Kairos Southern Africa does now, does not advocate violence. Instead we strongly advocate vigorous non-violent resistance.[9] We agree with the views of the delegates at the Kairos for Global Justice conference[10] who declared that:

“[s]ilence is an opinion. Inaction is an action … failure to resist the Israeli government…makes us accomplices in crimes against humanity, such as the crimes of apartheid and persecution as described in international law”.

  • ­What about negotiations? Israel claims that it wants peace and does enter into negotiations, but insofar as it does enter into negotiations, Israel does so in bad faith, as Israel continues, at the same time, to expand its settlements. Is there currently enough pressure to ensure that both sides will bring all parties to the table and honour international law and the outcomes of an agreement? We do not think so. The USA can hardly be seen as an honest and impartial broker in the peace talks between Israel and Palestine. Israel receives 25 per cent of the entire US foreign aid budget. Since 1976, Israel has remained the highest recipient of US foreign aid in the world.[11] Phyllis Bennis from the Institute for Policy Studies in the USA said that if the USA were serious about peace, it would tell Israel: “Stop building your settlements on Palestinian land.” Granted, the USA has made this request many times. If Israel continues to respond by refusing (as Israel has been doing all along), and if the USA is serious, it should then stop (1) funding to the State of Israel, and (2) protecting Israel in the United Nations. But the USA says and does none of this. The current negotiations are not bringing Palestine and Israel and the world closer to a viable peace.
  • ­Finally what about the option of non-violent resistance in the form of boycotts, divestment and sanctions? This is indeed what the civil society of Palestine called for in 2005.[12]

As South Africans, we should understand the urgency and the importance of Palestine’s appeal in the light of our own history. During the darkest hours of South African apartheid, an ecumenical group of South African theologians called the deepening crisis a Kairos moment of truth. They highlighted the danger of using literal, fundamentalist Biblical interpretations to rationalise theologies of oppression and state power. Such a Kairos moment, one which is decisive in history, may pass us by if we do not act timeously.

We are now faced by yet another form of apartheid, this time by Israel. We should note that  it is not considered apartheid in terms of what happened in South Africa, but is classified as a crime against humanity as defined by the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and as described by, for example, the Russell Tribunal and South Africa’s HSRC.[13]  We do not carry the responsibility of all history. We are responsible for our times. In that sense this opportunity is unique, it is for us to see, understand, and act upon, through non-violent means.[14]

However, the non-violent option of boycotts, divestment and sanctions is not favoured by pro-Israeli supporters. They tell us the situation is “complex” and that a “balanced approach” is necessary, hoping to lock their opponents into endless discussions to paralyse them. Their arguments also suggest that the two sides of the story carry equal weight and should be treated accordingly. Nothing could be further from the truth. How can Israel say that it wants peace, and simultaneously declare the construction of more settlement units, continue to build its Wall on Palestinian land, and continue all its other atrocities? Zionists argue that the people of Israel are “God’s chosen people” and that the “Promised Land” (which includes Palestine) was given to the Jewish people by God. They do not distinguish between the Biblical entity and the modern nation-state. They choose to read religious texts in a literal, divisive way in their justification of Israel’s attempt to transform the transnational and extraterritorial Jewish identity into a national, ethnocratic identity where Jewish citizens have more rights than others to establish political and economic control over the land.[15]  Like the South African theologians in 1985 who found the principles of love, inclusivity and pluralism in the Bible, rather than division, we reject fundamentalism and exclusivist interpretations of religious scriptures.

When one argues from the perspective of international law, the situation is actually very, very clear. Both Palestine and Israel need to adhere to international law, UN resolutions and other applicable legal rulings. Admittedly, there are periodically some incidents of illegal violence targeted at civilians by Palestinians, but these cannot be compared to Israel’s dedicated, discriminatory, systematic, systemic, institutionalised oppression of the Palestinians, which violates international law every single day and on multiple levels.[16]

The Israeli regime is in breach of legal aspects such as those belonging to the special regime of occupation, international human rights law,[17] international humanitarian law as specified in the four Geneva Conventions,[18] as well as various rulings by the International Court of Justice and resolutions by the United Nations’ Security Council.[19]

When South African apartheid violated human rights, the world quite rightly did not call for a “balanced approach” to the differences between the apartheid regime and the oppressed – the world condemned such practices unequivocally, as it should when human rights are violated in Israel/Palestine today.

3.         Kairos Southern Africa’s views on self-determination

We also support the aspirations of Israelis and Palestinians for security and self-determination in line with what international law allows. With regard to Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, we want to highlight five points:

  • All violence against all civilians, Palestinian or Israeli, must end.
  • Israel, a country that calls itself a democracy, must stop its discrimination on the basis of race, religion or any other factor against its Arab citizens.  Israel must be held accountable for its violations of human rights.
  • The more than six million Palestinian refugees have a legal right to return. A resolution of this matter consistent with international law and equity is necessary.
  • The Israeli occupation of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem must end. Until such time as this occupation does end, Israel as the occupying power must protect the Palestinian civilian population, administer the territory for their benefit, as specified by international law, and stop confiscating Palestinian land and resources under the pretext of “security”, or for any other reason.
  • The USA should not be the only broker in the peace negotiations and deals. In this respect the UN needs to meet its responsibilities.

Palestine has been under military occupation since 1967 – for 47 years. However the illegal confiscation of Palestinian land started through the actions of Jewish militia  before the State of Israel was declared in 1948. Since 1948 Israel’s land confiscation continues until this day as indicated by this map:

Israel’s confiscation of Palestinian Land: 1946 to 2014

The illegal ways by which Israel occupies the Palestinian territories effectively diminishes the possibility of self-determination. We are appalled that Israel uses its occupying power to take more and more land from the Palestinians whilst simultaneously destroying Palestinian infrastructure and making living conditions unbearable for Palestinians.[20]

In Gaza, the situation has reached an inhumane level. The living conditions, the depletion of livelihoods, and the decline in services and infrastructure for education, healthcare and water/sanitation are dire as a result of deliberate destruction. Miko Peled, a Jewish Israeli who served in the Israeli Defence Force, argues that Israel’s assaults on Gaza are part of a continuous campaign that started more than six decades ago with the infamous Unit 101, led by the late Ariel Sharon.[21] It is one of the most densely populated areas on earth, it now doubles up as an open air prison, since Israel controls the air space, the coastline and all land entrances to this area. There is no escape. A one-ton Israeli bomb can destroy an entire city block – on the first day of the Operation Cast Lead in December 2008, Israel dropped 100 tons of bombs on Gaza.[22]

In East Jerusalem and in the West Bank, Israel routinely demolishes houses, water wells and cisterns, roads, schools, animal shelters and other infrastructure; Israel displaces whole communities without offering them alternatives; the majority of Palestinians may not maintain or upgrade their own infrastructure; Israel confiscates valuable agricultural land in order to continue its building of the illegal Israeli Wall and settlements, and the movement of Palestinians is restricted by means of a series of checkpoints.[23]Amongst the many examples of double standards are the different roads for Israelis and Palestinians, and differences in the allocation of water resources and access to electricity. There is a military court for West Bank Palestinians and a civilian court for Israeli settlers. In these military courts, Palestinian children as young as 12 years old can be prosecuted. Each year 500 to 700 children are prosecuted, commonly for throwing stones. They are frequently arrested and detained at night, and more than half of them are held in prisons in Israel where they are tortured, abused and denied the right to have a parent present. The proceedings are held in Hebrew, although the children speak Arabic. Over 99% end in conviction.[24]

In the Jordan Valley, the Bedouin communities’ water consumption is about a fifth of the minimum recommended by the World Health Organisation. Nearby, the birds are singing in the lush green gardens of the settlements with their swimming pools and healthy crops. They are stealing our water,” a Palestinian community leader told me when I visited the region in 2011. “They plant flowers in the settlement and we don’t have water to drink.  The Israeli politics is to move us – should I then live in the air?”The Jordan Valley is the area furthest removed from the Green Line boundary with Israel, and it contains valuable agricultural resources. Israel controls 87% of this land.[25]

In a village where the Israeli Defence Force routinely uses so-called military practices to harass unarmed villagers who have no criminal records or charges against them, a child told me: “Our minds are not with our teachers when there is [military] training happening.”  Another said: “I started to cry when I arrived at my house after school and saw that it was demolished. We couldn’t remove anything from the house.”

“Our message to the world is to look at us as human beings” another community leader told me. “I am not a political person or a negotiator, but I need to feed my family. My message is for them to look at us as people who want our children to be educated.  I now need to drive a 35-40 km detour each day when I take my children to school because they closed my gate.  This means that our children are in the village while we are here and we cannot take care of them and their school work.”

Israel uses the pretext of “security” for its confiscation of land and its restrictions on where and when Palestinians may travel. Let me mention two examples that suggest another agenda:

  • When I monitored human rights violations in the World Council of Churches’ EAPPI programme,[26] we repeatedly reported that agricultural land which was allegedly confiscated by the Israeli Defence Force for military or security reasons was later used to plant settlement crops.
  • In September 2012, the Israeli Supreme Court rejected a petition challenging the Israeli authorities’ refusal to let five women from the Gaza Strip travel to the West Bank to complete their master’s degrees. The Israeli Supreme Court accepted the Israeli’s position that allowing the students to travel through Israeli territory would “undermine the ‘separation’ policy which is based on both security and political considerations.” In doing so, the court effectively approved restrictions on civilian travel between Gaza and the West Bank, even where no individual security concerns are raised.[27]

We need to ask ourselves whether the Israeli government’s and its supporters’ outrage at the escalation in BDS (boycotts, divestment and sanctions) actions against Israel is not perhaps hypocritical in view of Israel’s own restrictions on, and its oppression of, the Palestinians.

5.       A lasting solution

Kairos Southern Africa recognises that even ending the occupation and adherence to international law by both Israel and Palestine on its own will by no means solve all the problems.  The acts of an oppressor injure not only the oppressed, but the oppressor too, and the oppressor’s partners or allies. Some Christians in the United States, for example, recently confessed to the role their country played in both the Holocaust and in Israel-Palestine.[28] In South Africa we also have experience of how true this is.

At Kairos Southern Africa, we cooperate with South African, Palestinian and Israeli people who belong to the three Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Islam and Christianity) and who advocate for a just peace. These are people who share our values of inclusivity, pluralism and human dignity. We are not fighting people, we are fighting a system. We ask ourselves what will be necessary to ensure self-determination after occupation, and we want to be co-travellers with those who are willing to open themselves up to the Other, so that jointly we learn from one another, reconcile, and live a lasting peace.

6.         Kairos Southern Africa’s request

Any attempt to remain neutral in this kind of conflict is both futile and immoral. Neutrality enables the status quo of oppression to continue. It is a way of giving tacit support to the oppressor. We are not taking sides against the Israeli people, but we unequivocally reject the Israeli regime’s treatment of Palestinians. We want international law to be upheld, and join the struggle for justice by advocating non-violent resistance against any form of injustice.

In line with this endeavour, we ask you to actively accompany the Palestinian people in their quest for liberation and to be their voice in the international arena – as our late President, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, said, “we know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians” and others in oppressive situations.[29]

The role of the South African government is unique in the world, given our country’s history of apartheid and the ways in which we overcame the institutionalised injustices of this system. In 2014 we celebrate our twentieth year as a democracy, and the United Nations has declared 2014 a year of solidarity with the Palestinian people. By not responding when we know about the injustices and human rights violations suffered by the Palestinian people, we will be allowing and enabling an act of omission. By responding insufficiently, we will prolong the suffering and the damage. This is our Kairos moment.

Kairos Southern Africa expresses a moral standpoint. We are witnessing a worsening situation. We see Israel using negotiations to prolong the pain, to intensify the occupation and to confiscate more resources. All of this must now stop.  We want all the injustices to stop now, as we wanted for ourselves during our own struggle.

For this reason we request the following from our government:

  • We want complete military, diplomatic and financial sanctions against Israel until it complies with all applicable UN resolutions and international law, and ends the occupation.
  • In the global arena, we want our government to lobby for the financial and other support for the Palestinians for socio-economic development after the end of the occupation.
  • We want our government to implement the above two requests and to table these request at both the African Union and the United Nations.
  • We also call on all political parties in South Africa to clearly communicate their stance on the plight of the Palestinian people and to make their views known timeously in the build-up to the 2014 elections.

[1] The Kairos Document is a theological statement issued in 1985 by a group of black South African theologians based predominantly in the black township of Soweto, South Africa. The statement challenged the churches’ response to what the authors saw as the vicious policies of the Apartheid state under the State of Emergency declared on 21 July 1985. The Kairos Document evoked strong reaction both in South Africa, and world-wide. This example of contextual theology served as an example for critical writing at decisive moments in several other countries and contexts such as in Brazil, the USA, India, Palestine, etc.

[2] Kairos Palestine. 2009. A moment of truth: A word of faith, hope, and love from the heart of the Palestinian suffering. Jerusalem. [Online]. Available: http://www.kairospalestine.ps. [2011, 20 December].

[3] 8 December 2012, Jerusalem.

[4] With regard to 1948, there are two very different narratives: what Zionists call a War of Independence (“we fought bravely and won against all odds and by the grace of God”) is to Palestinians and supporters of human rights the Nakba (the Catastrophe).

[5] The total number of refugees is estimated at 9.8 million by the Badil Resource Center. [Online]. Available: http://www.badil.org/en/resources-for-visitors-journalists-a-activists. [2014, 3 February].

[6]  The population of Palestinians around the world totalled 11.6 million in 2012, according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics. [Online]. Ma’an News Agency.  2012. PCBS: Palestinian population reaches 11.6 million in 2012. [Online]. Available: http://www.maannews.net/eng/ViewDetails.aspx?ID=552362. [2014, 3 February].

[7] In 2011, the settler population was estimated at over 520,000; the annual average rate of growth during the past decade was 5.3% (excluding East Jerusalem), compared to 1.8% for the Israeli population as a whole (ICBS), according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA). 2012a. The Humanitarian Impact to Israeli Settlement Policies. [Online]. Available: http://www.ochaopt.org/ documents/ocha_opt_settlements_FactSheet_December_2012_english.pdf. [2014, 3 February].
All settlers in the occupied Palestinian territory “are illegal under international law as they violate Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits the transfer of the occupying power’s civilian population into occupied territory. This illegality has been confirmed by the International Court of Justice, the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention and the United Nations Security Council.” UNOCHA. 2012b. The Humanitarian Impact of Israeli Settlement Policies. January. [Online]. Available: http://www.ochaopt.org/documents/ocha_opt_settlements_FactSheet_January_2012_english.pdf. [2012, 23 September].

[8]Tutu, D. 2000. No Future without Forgiveness. London: Rider Books. (pp. 31, 166, 196).

[9] Although the use of arms against military targets is recognised as lawful under international law, as Bennis argues, we believe that the law only manages the conditions of war, whilst we want the war to stop. Bennis, P. 2012. Understanding the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict. A primer. Northampton: Olive Branch Press.  (p..3).

[10] Kairos Palestine. 2011. The Bethlehem Call. [Online]. Available: http://www.kairospalestine.ps/sites/ default/Documents/The%20Bethlehem%20call.pdf. [2014, February 3]. .

[11] Kairos Palestine. 2011. The Bethlehem Call. (p.86).

[12]“Launched on 9 July 2005 by more than 170 Palestinian parties, trade unions, refugee networks, NGOs and grassroots associations, calling on international civil society organisations and people of conscience to “impose broad boycotts and implement divestment initiatives against Israel similar to those applied to South Africa in the apartheid era”.  Barghouti O. 2013. Is BDS’ campaign against Israel reaching a turning point?   Opinion piece in Aljazeera. [Online]. Available: http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2013/12/bds-campaign-against-israel-reaching-turning-point-201312225320764121.html. [2014, 3 February].

[13] United Nations. 2002. Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. [Online]. Available: http://untreaty.un.org/cod/icc/statute/english/rome_statute%28e%29.pdf. [2012, 11 October].

Russell Tribunal on Palestine. 2011. Executive summary of the findings of the third session of the RToP. A systematic and institutionalised regime. [Online]. Available: http://www.russelltribunalonpalestine.com/ en/sessions/south-africa/south-africa-session-%E2%80%94-full-findings/cape-town-session-summary-of-findings. [2013, 21 September].

Human Sciences Research Council.  2009. Occupation, Colonialism, Apartheid? A re-assessment of Israel’s practices in the occupied Palestinian territories under international law.  Cape Town: HSRC.

Roadmap to Apartheid. 2012. [Documentary film] Directors: Ana Nogueira, Eron Davidson, Nathaniel Cunningham. Cinematography: Ana Nogueira. Narrator: Alice Walker. USA. English. Producers: Ana Nogueira & Eron Davidson.

[14]Boesak, A. 2011.  Kairos Consciousness.  [Online]. Available: http://kairossouthernafrica.wordpress.com/ 2011/05/03/kairos-consciousness. [2014, 18 January].

[15] Rabkin, Y. 2010. Zionism a ‘terrible enemy’ of Jewish people. Cape Times, 10 March.

14 Braverman, M. 2010. Fatal Embrace. Christians, Jews, and the Search for Peace in the Holy Land. Austin, TX: Synergy Books. (p. 348);
Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). 2010. An Unjust Settlement. A Tale of Illegal Israeli Settlements in the West Bank. Jerusalem: Emerezian Est.;
Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). 2009. Silently Displaced in the West Bank. Jerusalem: Emerezian Est.;
Oxfam. 2012. On the Brink. Israeli settlements and their impact on Palestinians in the Jordan Valley. [Online]. Available: 160 Oxfam Briefing Paper. Available: http://www.oxfam.org/sites/www.oxfam.org/files/bp160-jordan-valley-settlements-050712-en_1.pdf. [2012, 1 August].;
Russell Tribunal on Palestine. 2011. Executive summary of the findings of the third session of the RToP. A systematic and institutionalised regime. [Online]. Available: http://www.russelltribunalonpalestine.com/en/ sessions/south-africa/south-africa-session-%E2%80%94-full-findings/cape-town-session-summary-of-findings. [2013, 21 September].;
United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. 2012a. Demolitions and Forced Displacement in the Occupied West Bank. January. [Online]. Available: http://www.ochaopt.org/documents/ ocha_opt_demolitions_factSheet_january_2012_english.pdf. [2012, 2 February].;
United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. 2012b. The Humanitarian Impact of Israeli Settlement Policies. January. [Online]. Available: http://www.ochaopt.org/documents/
ocha_opt_settlements_FactSheet_January_2012_english.pdf. [2012, 23 September].;
United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. 2011. Israeli Settler Violence in the West Bank. November. [Online]. Available: http://www.ochaopt.org/documents/ocha_opt_settler_violence_ FactSheet_October_2011_english.pdf. [2012, 23 September].

[17] Protecting individuals in war and in peace.

[18] Covering civilians caught up in war and armed conflict areas.

[19] EAPPI. 2009:11.

[20] If Palestinians gain access to 50,000 dunums (12,500 acres or 3.5% of Area C) of uncultivated land, this could generate a billion dollars of revenue per year (The World Bank.)  UNOCHA. 2012c. Humanitarian Fact Sheet on the Jordan Valley and Dead Sea Area. [Online]. Available: http://www.unochaopt.org/documents/ ocha_opt_ jordan_valley_factSheet_february_2012_english.pdf.  [2014, 18 January].

[21] Peled, M. 2012. The General’s Son. Journey of an Israeli in Palestine. Charlottesville: Just World Books.

[22] Op.cit. 166

[23] Article 55 of the Hague Convention stipulates that “the occupying state shall be regarded only as administrator and usufructuary of public buildings, real estate, forests, and agricultural estates belonging to the hostile State, and situated in the occupied country. It must safeguard the capital of these properties, and administer them in accordance with the rules of usufruct” (EAPPI 2010:100). This stipulation is ignored, as is evident from Israel’s confiscation of land and water resources, the home demolitions and evictions, the harassment, violence, vandalism and incitement (EAPPI 2010:12-95), as well as from the illegal Israeli Wall and its associated regime, the many checkpoints and transport restrictions, and the discriminatory court system whereby illegal Israeli settlers have access to a civil court and indigenous Palestinians are put on trial in an Israeli  military court (EAPPI 2009:24-79). Further evidence can be found in recent statistics on demolitions and forced displacements in the West Bank (UNOCHA 2012a).

[24] Military Court Watch. [Online]. Available: http://www.militarycourtwatch.org/page.php?id=a6r85VcpyUa 4755A52Y2mp3c4v. [2014, 18 January].

[25] The Jordan Valley and Dead Sea area covers around 30% of the West Bank, and is home to nearly 60,000   Palestinians. Of this land, 87% is designated as Area C, virtually all of which Palestinians are prohibited to use, It is earmarked instead for the use of the Israeli military or under the jurisdiction of Israeli settlements. The permitted water consumption is 20 litres/capita/day in most herding communities in the area, compared to the WHO recommendation of 100 l/c/d, and the average settlement consumption of 300 l/c/d. UNOCHA. 2012c. Humanitarian Fact Sheet on the Jordan Valley and Dead Sea Area. [Online]. Available: http://www.unochaopt.org/documents/ocha_opt_jordan_valley_factSheet_february_2012_english.pdf. [2014, 18 January].

[26] I served in 2011 in the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI).

[27] UNOCHA. 2013. Fragmented Lives. Humanitarian Overview 2012. [Online]. Available: http://www.unochaopt.org/documents/ocha_opt_fragmented_lives_annual_report_2013_english_web.pdf. [2014, 4 February]. The petition was jointly filed in 2012 by an Israeli and a Palestinian human rights organization (Gisha and Al Mezan) on behalf of the affected women. Four of the women, who are now in their 40s, were forced to discontinue their studies in 2000, following the outbreak of the second Intifada and Israel’s subsequent revocation of travel permits for many Gazans between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. All four women hold various positions in civil society organizations promoting democracy and women’s rights.

[28] Kairos USA.2012. Call to Action. U.S. response to the Kairos Palestine Document. [Online]. Available: http://www.kairosusa.org/call/kairosusa.html. [2012, 11 August]. (pp1-2).

[29]Mandela, N. Address by President Nelson Mandela at the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People. African National Congress website. [Online]. Available: http://www.anc.org.za/show.php?id=3384. [2014, 5 February].

Gallery

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).

 

BDS South Africa commemorating the Holocaust/Shoah

I often hear that advocating for a free and just Palestine means that I am against Jews, or that I deny the right of Israel’s existence.  And then I am asked to rather focus on the rights of Christians (as I am one).

With these kinds of arguments, individuals are grouped together in homogenous, faceless categories, as if all share the same values.

faceless

I cannot agree with such an approach.

Individuals choose how they interpret and position their religion, or their view of humanity (if they are not religious). Fundamentalist Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, humanists and others from basically all orientations practice exclusion, superiority and separatism – approaches that divide people and deny the dignity of some. The sociologist Manual Castells (2005) mentions, for example, a number of such examples from across the globe.

But then there are people from the same orientations who recognise the human dignity (and rights!) of all people, and they in turn choose for positions of inclusion or pluralism.  These are the people with whom I like to associate.

coexist

And so does Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) South Africa.  They agree wholeheartedly with those South African Jews who recently declared in a public statement that their proclamation of “Never again”  should mean:

“‘Never Again’ unconditionally, and to any human being – including the Palestinians.”

Visitors stand outside the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial museumVisitors at Yad Vashem (the Holocaust/Shoah museum) look out at the landscape in Jerusalem. Photograph: Abir Sultan/EPA

BDS South Africa and Open Shuhada Street held a Holocaust Remembrance Day event on Sunday the 27th of January in Johannesburg at the Constitutional Hill.  (Open the link if only to see the stunning visual).

Mbuyiseni Ndlozi of BDS South Africa sketches the background to the event:

“We, BDS South Africa and Open Shuhada Street (two primarily Palestine solidarity-focused human rights organizations) are embarking on this – hopefully regular event – firstly, in the recognition that the Nazi Holocaust was a human tragedy of unspeakable proportions.

Secondly, Holocaust denial and even anti-Semitism, occasionally emerges within Palestine solidarity circles. This needs to be dealt with and confronted head-on. This is a step in that direction.

Finally, we are tired of the Nazi Holocaust being monopolized to serve narrow, racist and ethnic interests; we want to provide a space for mourning and commemoration to those who truly believe that an injury to one is an injury to all – that when we say, ‘Never Again!’ we mean ‘Never Again!’ to any and all groups of people.”

(South African human rights organizations that endorsed the event include the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation, the Coalition for a Free Palestine, the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI – South Africa), Kairos Southern Africa, Ndifuna Ukwazi, People Against Suffering Oppression and Poverty (PASSOP), Saint George’s Cathedral (Cape Town) and the South African Council of Churches).

Photos from the event

YouTube video clip from the event – very touching.

NOTES:

BDS stands for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions – an approach that played a huge role in the end of apartheid in South Africa. There are currently several BDS campaigns worldwide to end Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine.

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Castells, M. 2005. The Power of Identity. The Information Age: Economy, Society and Culture. Vol. 2. Oxford: Blackwell.

Faceless picture: http://iswimorsink.files.wordpress.com/2010/08/faceless.jpg

Shuhada Street used to be a lively street bustling with shops and people in the city of Hebron in the West Bank (Palestine) before it was closed and all the doors locked up to drive Palestinians out of their own city (picture below).

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“Shoah” (שואה) (also spelled Sho’ah and Shoa) which means “calamity” is accepted as the general Hebrew term for what others generally calls the “Holocaust”.

Presbyterians in Pittsburgh – 333 vs 331 – is there a clear winner?

The issue is, who wins when the outcome is 333 versus 331 in favour of not divesting from companies that profit from Israel’s illegal occupation?  Only one vote made the difference (a tie would have gone to considering the divestment option). One woman announced that she had accidentally voted against divestment, but by then it was too late.

I took this photo in the Jordan Valley, in the West Bank, which is not in Israel.

Anna Baltzer, National Organizer of the US Campaign argues that a new era has begun:

There is a moment, just before a pendulum changes direction, when it is perfectly still. It is precisely that moment that marks the end of the old way and the beginning of the new. That is what happened for divestment last week in Pittsburgh. […]

On boycott, the committee decided that boycotting only Ahava and Hadiklaim wasn’t enough. They amended the overture to include boycott of “all Israeli products coming from the Occupied Palestinian Territories,” and calling on “all nations to prohibit the import of products made by enterprises in Israeli settlements on Palestinian land.” The overture passed in plenary by 71%.

Read her full account here.

Rifat Odeh Kassis from Kairos Palestine in turn argues that the primary winner was justice:

I truly believe that both sides, both parties that emerged divided on the issue of divestment, act in good faith and are driven by good intentions in working for peace with justice in Palestine and Israel. The problem as I see it, however, is the fact that they differ in the depth of their understanding of the situation on the ground. They also differ in their ability to withstand the tremendous intimidation and numerous threats posed to them by Zionist lobbies and right-wing Christians. They differ, finally, in their proposals for peace in our region.

The “minority” camp, responsible for the divestment motion, generated a clear proposal based on the fact that the conflict’s two sides are not equal. Israel is the powerful party and systematically imposes its will on the weaker party. The minority group also knows that time is running out for peaceful solutions and that the war drums are already resounding louder than their own voice. In 1991, when the “peace process” began, there were around 70,000 Jewish settlers in the West Bank, many of whom expressed willingness to move back to Israel if peace prevailed. Today, about 600,000 settlers live in the same area, and they are more radical, more aggressive; they are running not only the settler movement, but also the state of Israel as a whole.

Conditions for peace, then, are worsening, and the clock is ticking. I sense that the minority camp within PCUSA understands this, and knows from both sides of the conflict that there is no time left. Palestinians tell them that there’s no more land for their children to build houses on and cultivate their crops; they fear that, if the settlements and the wall continue to uproot their olive trees, there will be none left to even offer branches to the Israelis when peace comes. The conscious Israelis tell them that the occupation has corrupted their people: their society is moving rapidly to the ultra-right, and the distinction between left and right is blurring. Many Israelis tell them that they are growing poorer, with the government’s repeated insistence on building settlements in the West Bank including East Jerusalem while ignoring problems of housing and unemployment in Tel Aviv and other cities. These conscious Israelis tell them that they are ashamed of how their government and society deal with the Palestinians and how they deal even with none political issues like African migration to Israel, beginning to deny migrants admittance even to hospitals . . . these Israelis tell them that not only diplomatic peace is at stake, but also their own values, their principles, their belief in human rights and democracy.

The PCUSA minority party built their proposal on harsh, urgent realities such as these — and on ethics and international legitimacy, including international laws and UN resolutions. They understand that some economic pressure on Israel and its supporters is necessary if peace is to prevail.

In contrast, the “majority” party did not have a clear proposal. They root their arguments in vague proclamations like “Both parties are equally responsible for the deterioration of the situation” and “Both parties need to sit down together and talk until a peaceful settlement is reached.” As Israeli peace activist Uri Avnery once said, they want the mouse to sit beside the cat and discuss what they’re having for dinner. They ask why Israel is being “singled out” for criticism when many Middle Eastern countries abuse human rights on a regular basis. They express their concern about relationships with Jewish communities in the US and elsewhere, fearing that these relationships will be damaged if PCUSA were to take any measures without their approval. They focus their concern, moreover, on those Jewish communities administered by Zionist lobbies rather than listening to the other Jewish voices: the voices that say, both from within Israel and abroad, that Israel must be pressured to lift its oppression of the Palestinian people and respect its obligations under international law.

The majority party fails to address Palestinians with respect to what they should do and how long they should wait until Israel turns to them and agrees to the concept of “live and let live.” They fail to see that the two-state solution — widely accepted by all countries, including the US — is vanishing as a viable possibility, as soon there will no longer be any land for the Palestinians to build anything, even tents, for their children. They fail to communicate exactly what they mean by “singling out” Israel: that Israel does abuse human rights, but that they reject focusing exclusively on its violations? That because most countries in the region are human rights abusers, Israel should not be criticized? They also fail to tell us how “positive investment” is actually going to bring about peace in the region.

This last omission is of utmost importance. The anti-divestment bloc says that if we get “engaged” and invest in the occupied Palestinian territories (oPt), things will get better. In my mind, this argument is tantamount to making the Palestinians’ cage prettier and more comfortable to live in; it misses the point that people should never live in cages and that all cages are ugly. With this argument, they also fail to understand that any and all investments in the oPt only help Israel as the dominant economic power: it passively endorses and concretely perpetuates the existence of the occupation, making it cheaper and even profitable for their society. […]

I do want to say that, regardless of both parties’ arguments, the Presbyterians showed tremendous courage in their Assembly, knowing that this subject could and would divide them. They showed great responsibility and commitment toward the call for world peace regardless of the prices to be paid. They also gave other churches a model to follow: a model assuring them that divisions based on matters of justice are justified and important. […]

Most of all, Presbyterians have given the universal church another model to follow: justice comes before unity. […]

In this spirit, I wrote earlier that justice was the primary winner in the PCUSA General Assembly. But I believe that the Palestinians emerged as winners, too. They gained strong friends and supporters among the 331; they also gained an audience with the 333, who likewise grew in their understanding of the underlying problems and of the Palestinian narrative. Their vote for a complete boycott of Israeli settlement products shows that their support for Israel is conditioned; it is neither blind nor absolute.

[…] I would like to extend an invitation to this party to come and visit us in Palestine, where they will be met with warm hospitality and our commitment to show them the pure reality on the ground. I have no doubt that, with their strong commitment to justice, they will see and be transformed.

Finally, I pray for both camps within PCUSA. I pray for the 331 members: I pray for God to give them the strength to keep up their struggle for their faith and their values, the strength to keep walking with God. I also pray for the 333 members: I pray for God to open their eyes so that they can see what they have failed to see thus far, and I pray that they will have more desire to come and see the truth as it exists. And to see both of us, Israelis and Palestinians, in our respective contexts and realities. I pray, too, that God will give them the wisdom to come up with a clear, bold, peaceful proposal that might help us avoid falling once again into war and bloodshed.

I pray that God will give us all the courage to see the truth and act accordingly.

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.

SA Government considers sanctions against Israel

South Africa was one of the countries who supported the Palestinian bid to the UN Security Council in 2011.  On 2 February 2012 the South African Minister of Arts and Culture made headlines when he told The New Age that the country’s government are in support of peaceful resistance against Israel’s transgressions of international law:

“We want to step up our support of the Palestinians ….  we have no problem with supporting the Boycott, Disinvestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel,”

These were his words after signing a cultural agreement between Palestine and South Africa.  BDS is an international movement with a lively presence in South Africa.

“BDS supporters argue that Israel’s continued illegal occupation of the Palestinian territories, and expropriation of Palestinian land, water and other natural resources can only be stopped when sanctions against Israel begin to bite economically.”

See the full newspaper article here, or read the text below:

SA Pledges Support for Palestinians

Mel Frykberg | The New Age Newspaper

02 February 2012

The South African government might consider supporting sanctions against Israel as it explores a variety of peaceful methods to step up support for the Palestinians’ fight for freedom and independence.

“We want to step up our support of the Palestinians and are investigating a number of peaceful ways to upgrade this support. We have no problem with supporting the Boycott, Disinvestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel,” Minister of Arts and Culture Paul Mashatile told The New Age.

Mashatile was addressing a press conference in Pretoria yesterday at the Department of Arts and Culture, during the signing of a cultural agreement between South Africa and Palestine.

During the signing Palestinian Arts and Culture Minister Siham Barghouti and Palestinian Deputy Minister of Arts and Culture Musa Abu Ghreibeh, exchanged gifts with their South African counterparts, Minister Mashatile and deputy minister Joe Pehle.

Later on in the year the Palestinians will host South Africa’s Arts and Culture Week, where South African artists and cultural entrepreneurs will present cultural exhibitions from their country.

Mashatile’s statement presents a considerable upping of the ante in South Africa’s long-standing support for the Palestinians and the cementing of a relationship that goes back decades, to when the ANC was struggling against the former apartheid government.

“Your Excellency, we count the people of Palestine among those patriots who stood by us in our struggle for national liberation,” Mashatile told the Palestinian delegation as he recalled former President Nelson Mandela’s 1997 speech to honor the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People.

“Having achieved our freedom we can fall into the trap of washing our hands of difficulties that others face. Yet we would be less human if we do so,” said Mandela in 1997.

BDS supporters argue that Israel’s continued illegal occupation of the Palestinians territories and expropriation of Palestinians land, water and other resources can only be stopped when sanctions against Israel begin to bite economically.

“We are grateful for South Africa’s support for our efforts to become members of the international community and look towards you for guidance in our continued struggle,” said Barghouti.

The two delegations agreed that future cooperation would include language development, heritage preservation, literature exchanges and exhibitions.