Gaza: Letter to President Zuma (+ Jewish response)

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

20 November 2012

Honourable President Zuma

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yours faithfully

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

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

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

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

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

Regards, Paul.


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.


Gaza Violence: Personal Reflections

When I say that violence offers no solution, I always think of the theologian Dietrich Bonhöffer’s inner turmoil in his resistance and complot against Hitler during WWII.  What weighs more – the lives of many, or the life of an individual?  As my colleague Muhammed Desai said in a workshop where a group of us discussed our essays for a new book on Palestine-Israel:

“The whole idea that one person should end another person’s life is a choice that none of us should have.”

There are different kinds of violence.  Right now brutal physical violence disrupts the lives of those in Gaza, in Sderot, in Tel Aviv, in Jerusalem and elsewhere. Earlier in the week I received the news of Israel’s ordering of thousands of people in the northern Jordan Valley to abandon their houses so that the IDF can conduct military exercises (on occupied Palestinian land).  Some of these people may return to their houses (what will be left?) and others may not.  They have no choice in the matter.  There is also the violence of systemic oppression and the violence of apathy of the international community. In my own country there are the violence of neglect, the violence of greed, the violence of ignorance, and so many more kinds of violence.

When the American Jewish psychologist Mark Braverman (2010:24-25) reflects on his own conscientising process and analyses spiritual and psychological forces that drive the debate on Israel-Palestine, he addresses Jews and Christians alike:

“What is uncanny and tragic is that in the current discourse, the roles of the combatants are turned upside down: the Jews are portrayed as the victims, and the Palestinians as the aggressors.”

He argues that although the acts of terrorism by Palestinians and its impact on Israel should not be minimized:

“Israel’s overall power and security are not threatened by these acts”

and that nothing can excuse the systemic crimes being committed by the state of Israel.

According to another Jewish scholar, Mark Ellis (2011:n.p.):

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

What does the law say about violence?

The international human rights law (that protects individuals in war and in peace) and the international humanitarian law as specified in the four Geneva Conventions (for war and armed conflict areas) both apply.  Although both parties experience and conduct acts of violence, the

“overall right of an occupied population to resist a foreign military occupation, including through use of arms against military targets, is recognised as lawful under international law” (Bennis 2012:3)*.

On the other hand, Israeli civilians are also protected by the two laws mentioned above, so they in turn may also not become targets in an armed struggle.

My hurt is for those who are injured and killed; for their friends and families; for those who conduct the deeds of violence as they too are wounded even though they may sense the pain only later; for those who give the orders; for those who jubilate; and for those who stand by.  May God help us all.  May we continue to search for another way.  And when we do so, may we hold hands.

*Bennis, P. 2012. Understanding the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict. A primer. Northampton: Olive Branch Press.

Chomsky on Gaza: Why Israel will “go crazy”

Even a single night in jail is enough to give a taste of what it means to be under the total control of some external force.

And it hardly takes more than a day in Gaza to appreciate what it must be like to try to survive in the world’s largest open-air prison, where some 1.5 million people on a roughly 140-square-mile strip of land are subject to random terror and arbitrary punishment, with no purpose other than to humiliate and degrade.

Such cruelty is to ensure that Palestinian hopes for a decent future will be crushed, and that the overwhelming global support for a diplomatic settlement granting basic human rights will be nullified. The Israeli political leadership has dramatically illustrated this commitment … warning that they will “go crazy” if Palestinian rights are given even limited recognition by the U.N.

This threat to “go crazy” (“nishtagea”) – that is, launch a tough response – is deeply rooted, stretching back to the Labor governments of the 1950s, along with the related “Samson Complex”: “If crossed, we will bring down the Temple walls around us.” .”


Of course, there were pretexts (for the violence) – there always are. The usual one, trotted out when needed, is “security”: in this case, against homemade rockets from Gaza.

To read the full article:

Noam Chomsky: The Soul-Crushing Cruelties Perpetrated by America’s Number One Ally ::


Gaza: What can we do?

 People are subjected to massive well-funded propaganda trying to sell the idea that “Israel is defending itself” by massacring civilians in Gaza (again) and engaging in extrajudicial executions of resistance fighters.

From Mazin Qumsiyeh, PhD, in Beit Sahour, Palestine:

ACT: 64 ways to act

The truth is hard to hide as are the statistics: Over the last four days, 16 Palestinian civilians were killed including several children (while 3 Israelis were killed), and over 170 Palestinian civilians were injured (very few Israelis).  Over 140 military excursions by the most sophisticated US supplied war planes and navy ships on 1.5 million people in a large open-air prison.  Anyone can find the pictures on the internet of burned Palestinian babies, mutilated children, devastated neighborhoods, and destroyed power plants and infrastructure. The Gaza strip is one of the most densely populated areas on earth thanks to the Israeli ethnic cleansing creating the largest post-WWII refugee population on earth.

2/3rd of the 1.6 million people in this arid strip are refugees.  All Israeli human rights violations are done by US funded horrific weapons for which native Palestinians have no defense.  Home-made native projectiles fair poorly as a response to the massacre by advanced technologies. Yet, the US administration still sides with apartheid colonial Israel against the native Palestinians and so are the governments of Britain and France that are trying to live-up to their colonial activities. Israeli authorities intensified their attacks tonight after home-made projectiles fired by resistance forces in Gaza landed in Rishon Le Zion (first colonial settlement here) and Tel Aviv (first time since the gulf war that sirens were heard in Israel’s de facto capital).  People of all backgrounds are speaking out against these Israeli initiated attacks.  Here in Palestine, we had demonstrations including against the silly bickering that the factions go through.  There are also demonstrations around the world demanding Israel end its aggression against this impoverished strip of land full of refugees.  But we must do more than demonstrate and hold vigils.

Pictures from Gaza under attack:

Timeline of the recent Israeli attacks on Gaza:

There are names to these murdered civilians “The Health Ministry in Gaza reported that among those killed on Wednesday evening are Ahmad Misharawi, 11 months old; Ranan Arafat, 7 years old; Issam Abu Izah, 23; and Mohamed Al Kasih, 19. ”

Reports from AlJazeera:

Take action:

1) 64 ways to act

2) 1.2 million signed petition and took other actions to give Palestinian a state and give Palestinians our rights.  I signed as a prelude to the inevitable and logical and only durable solution: one democratic secular state for all its people.

Attached picture from a hospital in Gaza as a man is handed his martyred son

Also come visit us in Palestine (including Gaza)

And in South Africa:

Statement on Operation “Pillar of Defense” and announcements of countrywide pickets by the Coalition for a Free Palestine:

16 November 2012

As Israel launches Operation “Pillar of Defense” in Gaza and calls up 30 000 of its reserve troops for a ground invasion the Coalition for a Free Palestine (CfP) calls for an immediate cessation of the Israeli air strikes on Gaza and an end to the illegal blockade which has rendered Gaza into the largest prison in the world, with no escape for its citizens.

Earlier this week, the CfP condemned the escalation of violence from Israel into the strip and noted the murder of two Gazan citizens prior to the recent outbreak of rocketfire.

Based on this, we call on the government of South Africa to provide moral leadership to the world by recalling our South African ambassador to Israel and expelling the Israeli ambassador to South Africa. We are confident in our government to do the right thing and the Department of International Relations and Cooperation must know that it has our support in making these decisions.

The death toll in Gaza stands at 15 people with over 100 people wounded. The South African government must be a government of conscience and condemn the violence and disregard for international law.

The CfP alongside its affiliates will be holding pickets today, Friday the 16th November to support our government in acting decisively and standing in solidarity with the helpless civilians of Gaza. We encourage all peace loving South Africans to join the pickets.

Johannesburg: 14:00, Luthuli House 54 Sauer St

Durban: 14:00 Durban city Hall

Cape Town: Parliament Building 12:00

*The Coalition for a Free Palestine is the largest South African Palestine solidarity umbrella body, which includes youth groups, trade unions, human rights organizations, faith based groups, artists collectives, student organizations and political parties. Some member organizations include the South African Council of Churches, Congress of South African Trade Unions, African National Congress, South African Communist Party, Muslim Judicial Council, Muslim Students Association, Palestine Solidarity Alliance, Palestine Solidarity Committee, Palestine Solidarity Group, the student society and Media Review Network.

Issued by the National Working Committee (NWC) of the Coalition for a Free Palestine


Gaza: Why now?

As phrased from a source called Melissa in South Africa’s Palestinian Solidarity Campaign:

Please keep the Palestinians of Gaza in your thoughts and prayers. Gaza has endured more than 30 air raids in the past few days and nights. And the shells keep coming.

  • Israel has targeted Palestinian Police stations and security infrastructure in efforts to destabilise law and order, in the first wave of what some Israeli sources are calling: Operation Cloud Pillar. This is a same strategy employed to the first phase of Operation Cast Lead in 2008.
  • Yesterday afternoon, the IDF illegally assassinated Ahmed al-Jabari, his oldest son and a bodyguard in a car bombing inside Gaza. Jabari, a relative of the late Abdul Aziz Rantisi, is the most senior member of the armed unit, Ezzadin al Qassam Brigades, to be murdered since Cast Lead.
  • Jabari, who has for a decade escaped assassination attempts, was the brains behind the capture and release of Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, in exchange for scores of Palestinian prisoners in 2011. His assassination is a clear signal from the Israelis to the resistance movement inside Palestine.
  • Last night, Israel cut off the Internet to Gaza. Again, this is the same strategy employed during Cast Lead in an attempt pull a blanket over international witnesses of criminal attacks.
  • A hacking counter attack has shut down top Israeli military and intelligence web sites in retaliation. Check this:
“In response to Israel shutting down the Internet in Gaza; One of the highest retweeted messages is from Anonymous: “Dear Israel, you shut down internet. We’ll shut you down.” (@YourAnonNews). They haven’t wasted time, so far, the following sites have been hacked: Israeli Prime Minister’s office site ( ), Top Israel Security & Surveillance ( ), Data Base Dump ( #OpISRAEL #Anonymous.
  • Already more than 10 people murdered (2 of those children)
  • Tens of people injured/maimed.
  • Massive missile attacks (from air and sea) hitting Beit Lahiya in the north, Gaza City in the middle, and Khan Younis in the south.

Updates from inside Israel:

  • Sources inside Israel (including the IDF) saying this is the first stage of ‘Operation Cloud Pillar’, a pre-planned military operation. Despite the rhetoric, it is NOT a response to rockets launched.
  • IDF reservists have been called up.
  • Israeli troops are swelling at the Southern border into Gaza increasing suspicion of an impending ground assault.
  • Netanyahu: “ALL options are on the table” (insinuating a full-scale assault akin to an ‘Operation Cast Lead’ style massacre).

Why now?

  1. Israel Elections looming
  2. A post-election test of Obama and his administration.

Neither motivation is a new strategy.

2008/9: Ehud Olmert sought re-election and tested the newly elected Obama administration’s response to its brutality.

*Note that the US remains Israel’s largest ally and receives more than 3 billion dollars of aid each year, most of which goes to enhance the world’s 4th largest military super-power.

Olmert unleashed Operation Cast Lead, massacring 1500 Palestinians (30% of which were children) and maiming thousands more, in the 3 week attacks.

2012/3: Netanyahu seeks re-election and this brutal election strategy remains the most powerful tool. The US State Dept issued a statement last night acknowledging a perceived correlation and upcoming Israeli elections.

In most democracies, kissing babies and shaking hands gets votes. In Israel’s ‘democracy’ one must deploy bombs, obliterate entire Palestinian cities and up the Palestinian body count.

I spoke to Palestinian comrades during the course of last night. Naturally, all are terrified.

Families of comrades have spent the last few nights huddled together in their beds without protection. No bomb shelters to run to. No borders to escape from. 1.5 million people, literally sitting ducks, trapped inside the world’s largest concentration camp – Gaza.

They’re  waiting for the international community to come to their rescue. They may wait indefinitely?

  • Pathetic responses thus far from the UN, EU and the US State Dept.
  • Egypt has lead the way by withdrawing their ambassador from Tel Aviv.
  • South Africa should hurry to do the same and use its position within the UN to protest against Israel’s gross legal and human rights violations.