Gallery

Visualising Palestine: Great Infographics you may use

If ever you wanted to see summaries of what happens in Palestine in one picture, visit Visualising Palestine.  What is more – you are welcome to use and distribute these great images!

Here are three examples:

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vp-bombs-diorama-2013-03-04

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Al-Nakba: Three Times Over

What struck me most that morning in Jerusalem was her serenity. Listening to the 77 year old Christian woman somehow felt like spring water in a desert – this despite her traumatic experience of three interwoven Nakbas.

She talked about the human catastrophe of being displaced by Israel, the identity catastrophe of no longer knowing where you fit in or may live; and a theological catastrophe since your own religion (Christianity) is used to justify your oppression.

Al-Nakba is Arabic for “The Catastrophe” referring to the widespread death, destruction, dispossession and displacement of Palestinians during the creation of the State of Israel. Today Nakba day is annually commemorated on 15 May.

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I was listening to her at Sabeel, an Ecumenical Centre for Liberation Theology in Occupied Palestine.

The woman was only eleven years old on Sunday 30 November 1947 when the Irgun, a clandestine Zionist armed group, first shelled the Arab sections of Haifa, her city.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHaifa today – an Israeli city.

  1. A human Nakba

Haifa was not the only place under attack. In March 1948 David Ben Gurion announced a program for destroying and depopulating Arab areas and eliminating any resistance. By then already 30 Arab villages had been depopulated.

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By April 1948 Haifa’s indigenous Arab residents fled to the harbour with what little they could carry. Many drowned as their overloaded boats capsized.  Since the woman’s family are Christians they fled to Nazareth.

refugees near tulkarem, summer 1948

Clandestine Zionist forces dispossessed 531 Arab towns or villages and 11 Arab urban areas with almost complete looting of Palestinian property and wealth, including the banks, property, businesses, fields and orchards. 

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A comment by the then head of the International Red Cross delegation in Palestine on the massacre of Deir Yassin is particularly chilling.  On 10 April 1948 he drove into the village outside Jerusalem and came across a detachment of Zionist Irgun members.  They came from Deir Yassin which was wiped out the previous night:

All of them were young, some even adolescents, men and women armed to the teeth: revolvers, machine-guns, hand-grenades, and also cutlasses in their hands, most of them still blood-stained.  A beautiful girl with criminal eyes showed me hers still dripping with blood; she displayed it like a trophy.  (Dimbleby1979:79).

Israel’s Irgun museum refers to the Deir Yassin massacre as an “operation” that was “a key point in the War of Independence”.

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The display in the entrance proudly displays the following words in its entrance:

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Other Zionist troops – Haganah and Palmach – carried out dozens of operations. They blew up as many houses and killed old people, women and children where there was resistance.

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As the Arabs moved out, the Zionists moved in…several hundred thousand Palestinians were on the move, criss-crossing Palestine or fleeing towards neighbouring countries, dodging the Zionist army, sleeping in olive groves and in mountain huts, or swamping villages not yet under attack.  (Dimbleby:89).

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Israel declared itself a state on 14 May 1948. Nazareth and many other places was under military control. The world stood by. No-one came to their rescue:

 We are a burden on Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon and Syria, we are a burden…

She repeated her words, and briefly turned her head away. I cringed.

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2.     An identity Nakba

Israel became a state, but Palestinians were not welcome there:

We woke up in Israel.  Who are we? We were not allowed to say that we are Palestinian.

Suddenly 750 000 Palestinians were refugees. Many of them still have the keys to their houses, but Israel does not allow them to return to their properties (homes, agricultural land, etc.) as allowed for in Resolutions 194 (1948) and 237 (1967) of the United Nations. Displaced Palestinians do not have access to civilian courts that could provide effective remedies and reparations.

Today more than 50 laws enshrine the status of Palestinians in Israel as second-class citizens based on their ethnic and religious identity. Palestinians within occupied Palestine face daily violations of human rights, economic rights and political rights.

post-traumatic stress in gaza

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We recognise Israel as an Israeli state, but it is a state only for its Jewish citizens.

3. A theological Nakba

She grew up as a Christian and attended missionary schools.

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After they fled they realised that in the land of the Bible and just as in the days of Joshua, they experienced ethnic cleansing:

We couldn’t pray anymore.  When we most needed hope, to pray and to read our scriptures, we could not.  People stopped going to church.

The Biblical Israel used to be our spiritual ancestor, now it was our oppressor. We did not know what to think.  The churches gave us a lot to address our physical needs.  To them we were a bunch of refugees who needed aid, wherease we were actually a people with spiritual needs and an identity crisis.

She concluded on an inspirational note:

But the Bible has good news and we as Palestinians are trying to find it. This is why we started with a liberation theology. Jesus lived as a Palestinian under the Roman oppression. As Palestinian Christians we believe in standing up for our rights – but non-violently. We want to rise up over the ways of the world without abandoning the poor and the oppressed or losing sight of the humanity of the oppressor.

It is this compassion with Israel as the oppressor that inspires me so much. For despite everything they go through in an ongoing Nakba of occupation, destruction and dehumanisation as, for example, Gaza in 2014 and in ongoing, daily human rights violations in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem, the majority of Muslim and Christian Palestinians still acknowledge the humanity of  Jewish Israelis.

Our task is to take the lead from these Palestinians in a mutual quest to overcome hatred and division between people. It is as applicable to other contexts as it is to the Palestinians and Israel.

Earlier in May 2015 a group of mainly South African Jews publicly acknowledged how Palestinians have been displaced and dispossessed. Their message was that there are Jewish people who support their struggle. Heidi Grunebaum, one of the organizers of the ceremony in Lubya told The Electronic Intifada:

Given what South Africa’s history has been, there’s something abominable and unthinkable in Israel proclaiming a South Africa Forest not only on stolen land, but on land where there used to be a village. It’s almost another level of erasure.

Lubya used is one of the 530 Arab Palestinian villages that Israel destroyed during the Nakba. Today it is planted over with a forest with money South African Jews donated.  Many donors to the South Africa Forest in present-day Israel probably do not realize that they are helping to cover up the results of ethnic cleansing. The Jewish National Fund website promoting the Lower Galilee project as environmentally sound and offering a certificate to anyone who finances the plantation of at least two trees does not mention these critical details.

 

For more on the Nakba, see http://www.palestineremembered.com/

For more on Lubya, including a film on it, see https://marthiemombergblog.com/2013/06/07/new-film-peels-layers-of-truth/

Reference: Dimbleby. 1979. The Palestinians. London: Quartet Books.

Photos on Nakba from ICRC and UNRWA archive.

 

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

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

Cape Argus 12 April 2013:

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

Apartheid

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe illegal Israeli Wall built on Palestinian land

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA demolished Palestinian house in East Jerusalem

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

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

 Paul Hendler, Stellenbosch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Palestinian loss of land 1946-2005

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is Jennifer Harris’ letter to the Cape Times:

J Harris letter to Cape Times

…to which Paul replied as follows:

07 January 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr Paul Hendler

Stellenbosch.

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

Cape Times Article by Israeli Ambassador

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

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

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

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

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

Figures Palestinian Refugees

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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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.

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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”.

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Never Again – unconditionally

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

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

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…but also those of others:

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

 – Nelson R. Mandela

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

Their statement continued as follows:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2009 (2) Berlyn 011

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

Never Again – but unconditionally.

Gallery

Jaffa, Israel – anything goes?

 

Op pad na die see by Jaffa, Tel Aviv in Israel vir ‘n heerlike ontspandag….

Langs my in die bus... wat gebeur met die psige van ‘n jong kind as sy pa op ‘n Donderdagoggend, 9:00, gewapen sit op ‘n bus?

Ons stop by die kontrolepunt, en twee soldate met M16s klim op die bus en kyk elkeen van ons deeglik deur.  Ek slaag die toets en ons ry sonder slag of stoot verder.

By ‘n robot in Tel Aviv: ‘n Olyfboom, ten minste ‘n paar dekades oud, wat pas nuwe takke uitstoot nadat dit duidelik van elders oorgeplant is.

Is dit nog ‘n onthoofde olyfboom?  Ek het al baie gesien sedert ek hier is.  Hier is hulle dikwels honderde, selfs duisende jare oud.  Israeli-werkers sny die takke van bome op Palestynse gebied af, ontwortel dit met hyskrane en plant dit weer – maar nie in Palestina nie.

Dit doen hulle om plek te maak vir die (onwettige) Muur wat uiteindelik dubbeld die lengte van die internasionaal erkende grens (die sg. “Groen Lyn”) sal wees.

Bethlehem: Onthoofde bome wat moes plek maak vir die onwettige Israeli Muur.

Al Walaja, wes van Bethlehem, sal uiteindelik algeheel omring word deur die Muur. Hier het ek saam met die Hagahla familie gesit en kyk hoe hul familiegrond van ses geslagte deur die aanbou van die Muur van hulle vervreem word. Ongeveer 50 olyfbome is daardie dag onthoof, ontwortel en weggevoer.

By die laaste bushalte in Tel Aviv word my tas, laptop, toiletsakkie en handsak deursoek.  Het ek dalk ‘n vuurwapen?  Nee, antwoord ek vriendelik. ‘n Mes?  Nee ook nie, antwoord ek steeds vriendelik. Het ek ‘n wapen van enige aard?  Nee.  (Nou ja. Wat as ek wel een gehad het ? Gits noudat ek daaroor dink – wat van my kamera en my pen?)

In Jaffa gaan stap ek by die see. Dis pragtig. Die stadsprofiel sluit verskeie moskeetorings in – maar ek is tog nou in Israel en nie in Palestynse gebied nie?

Kan dit wees dat Jaffa ‘n meer inklusiewe, ‘n meer verdraagsame area in Israel is?

Hier is na alles Jode van alle kleure en geure (en lande)

Perhaps anything goes in Jaffa?

Ek weet werklik nie hoe dinge hier inmekaar pas nie, en is vir die oomblik tevrede om in die laaste son langs die see te stap voor die koue en reën wat vir volgende week voorspel word.

Hmm...‘n moontlike leidraad vir die verskeidenheid? Hier word Jaffa as Yafo gespel.

Ek draai om na die museum waar ek vroeër op ‘n kliptrap in die koelte gesit het…. ‘n Groep toeriste sit nou buite op die trappe. ‘n  Sekuriteitswag by die ingang gee my ‘n pamflet wat sê die museum gedenk die gevalle stryders van die “Irgun Zvai Leumi (I.Z.L.) – who fell in the campaign to conquer Jaffa.” (So Jaffa is die Arabiese woord vir Yafo.)

By die ingang is ‘n kennisgewing wat sê ‘n mens moet jou ID/paspoort wys en na my geselsie met die wag haal ek my paspoort uit, maar hy sê dis onnodig en wil dit nie eens optel nie.  Ook die kassier ontvang my vriendelik en sê dis in orde as ek foto’s neem.  Ek voel soos ‘n spioen.

Die verwelkomingsteken by die ingang na die museum. Openlik. En skokkend.

Die uitstalling vertel die verhaal van die ondergrondse militêre beweging wat vanaf 1931 – 1948 Palestynse dorpe gewelddadig oorgeneem het.  Die taal is deurspek met woorde soos “heroic”, “brave”, ens.

Kenmerkend van elke dorp se verhaal is die klein aantal Israeli-soldate wat gesterf het teenoor die groot aantal Palestyne wat gesterf het.  In Deir Yassin het vyf Israeli’s teenoor 110 – 250 Palestyne gesterf.  Talle mense het hierna uit ander dorpe uit hul huise gevlug en die Israeli’s het beslag op hul huise en dorpe gelê.  Die vlugtelinge is nooit toegelaat om terug te keer nie.

Jaffa, is aangeval en oorgeneem “to eliminate the threat of a naval base by the enemy.” Volgens die 1947 verdelingsplan van die VN was Jaffa geoormerk as Arabiese grondgebied. Ek haal aan uit Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jaffa:

“On April 25, 1948, Irgun (a Zionist paramilitary group) launched an offensive on Jaffa. This began with a mortar bombardment which went on for three days during which twenty tons of high explosive were fired into the town. On April 27 the British Government, fearing a repetition of the mass exodus (by Palestinians) from Haifa the week before, ordered the British Army to confront the Irgun and their offensive ended. Simultaneously the Haganah had launched Operation Chametz which over-ran the villages East of Jaffa and cut the town off from the interior.

The population of Jaffa on the eve of the attack was between 50,000 – 60,000, with some 20,000 people having already left the town. Then a strange phenomenon was revealed before our eyes: the mass flight from Jaffa. Arab civilians and a variety of “Arab” fighters suddenly began to leave the town in panic’. By 30 April there were 15,000 – 25,000 remaining. In the following days a further 10,000 – 20,000 people fled by sea. When the Haganah took control of the town on May 14 around 4,000 people were left. The town and harbour’s warehouses were extensively looted. The remaining Arab residents were forced into the Ajami neighborhood, surrounded by barbed wire, where martial law was in effect for a year.”

Sowat 750 000 Palestyne het tydens die Nakba (die Katastrofe) vlugtelinge geword in 1948.  Die meeste van hierdie mense het nog die sleutels van hul huise, maar hulle is nooit toegelaat om terug te keer nie.  Baie van die 1948-vlugtelinge is in die 1967 oorlog weer ontheem – vir die tweede maal in minder as 20 jaar.

Does anything go in Yafo….  as long as it sides with Israel?