Status

Christianity in Crisis: South Africa’s Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng and #Palestine_Cry4Hope

We cannot serve God and the oppression of the Palestinians” proclaim hundreds of Christian leaders. Yet in my country the Chief Justice says his Bible tells him to be loyal, above all else, to the State of Israel.

Which of these two options uphold Christian values: the views expressed by South Africa’s Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng in the live webinar with the Jerusalem Post on Tuesday 23 June, or the views in the global call and signature campaign, #Palestine_Cry4Hope that was launched on 1 July?

‘Mogoeng should apologise for Israel statements’ – CASAC
Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng. Picture: Gallo Images

Issued jointly by Kairos Palestine and Global Kairos for Justice (the global movement of concerned internationals in response to Kairos Palestine) the authors of #Palestine_Cry4Hope in at least 11 languages ask Christians for decisive action to work for the freedom and human rights of Palestinians.

The authors call upon Christians to reflect critically on how the Bible is used from the pulpit, in Sunday school classes, in policies and in interfaith relations to deprive the humanity of Palestinians. The matter demands a concerted effort, since

The very being of the church, the integrity of the Christian faith, and the credibility of the Gospel is at stake. We declare that support for the oppression of the Palestinian people, whether passive or active, through silence, word or deed, is a sin. We assert that Christian support for Zionism as a theology and an ideology that legitimize the right of one people to deny the human rights of another is incompatible with the Christian faith and a grave misuse of the Bible.

Israel’s Zionist ideology uses political and military might, racist discrimination and sacred texts to dispossess, transfer, massacre and exploit Palestinians. Numerous resolutions by the United Nations and reports by the International Red Cross and Red Crescent, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and other reputable bodies condemn Israel’s unlawful conduct. Hundreds of religious leaders, civil society and advocacy organizations from all over the world have already endorsed #Palestine_Cry4Hope. Yet the Chief Justice made glaring errors when he expressed his views in the webinar. According to Mogoeng, his Bible tells him to “pray for Jerusalem” and therefore he must “pray for Israel”. He added that those who “curse Israel” will themselves “be cursed”. These two points contain fundamental errors:

  • His assumption that all of Jerusalem is part of the Israeli state revealed his inadequate knowledge of history, geography and international borders.
  • His confusion between the biblical Israel and the modern State of Israel is one made by many Christians who are not aware of research in theology, political science, sociology, history and law. I too used to conflate the biblical Israel with the modern state.
  • His loyalty to the oppressor (Israel) at the cost of the oppressed (the Palestinians) implies that Israel is exempt from international laws on occupation, land theft, exploitation, ethnic cleansing and apartheid.
  • Given his stature and role, his public opposition in an international forum to his democratic government’s official position on Palestine and Israel is shocking.  
  • His apparent ignorance of the existence of Palestinian Christians and their suffering under the Israeli regime underscores his fallacious and misguided position.
  • His logic, that people who embrace values of equality, justice and compassion in supporting the Palestinian justice struggle will be cursed by God, crucifies Christ’s message of inclusive compassion and human dignity.

Many may argue that Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng’s views put him in the company of other leaders of our time who do not care about human lives, international law, the contributions of science and the importance of honesty and integrity. The devastating impact of narcissistic, power-hungry, uninformed leadership has become all the more clear in 2020. When Bishop Purity Malinga, the Presiding Bishop of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa (the church of the late President Mandela) endorsed #Palestine_Cry4Hope on behalf of her church, she connected the matter both with the corrupting influence of the U.S.A. and with the heart of the Christian faith. She wrote as follows:

In the situation of the oppression of Palestinians by the Israeli Government which is intensifying every day due to the support from the United States Government, Christians’ silence and inaction give support to injustice and contribute to the dehumanization and death of the Palestinians. It is for freedom and full life of all – including the Palestinians that Jesus came to the world, died and resurrected! Faith in Christ therefore demands that Christians everywhere preach, work and demand full and free life for all. I cannot then be a follower of Christ and support the oppression of Palestinians or of any other people. All human beings are created in God’s image and deserve to be treated with dignity. It is for that reason that I endorse the call to decisive action![i]

Unlike Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng, the authors and the endorsers of #Palestine_Cry4Hope do not ignore documented facts, democratic values, international law, common decency and the universal value of compassion for all. In noting the intersectional nature of the matter, Bishop Luke Pato, the Anglican Bishop of Namibia who represents the Anglican Church of Southern Africa (ACSA) calls forth the disturbing image of the #BlackLivesMatter campaign when he writes,

Palestinians have been held neckdown for decades. We cannot allow them to suffocate any further. Silence is complicit with suffocation.

Bishop Thami Ngcana from the Council of African Independent Churches (CAIC) makes the connection with international law and the definition of apartheid in the Rome Statute. Their aim is

to honour and defend the rights of the Palestinian people to dignity, self-determination, and the fundamental human rights guaranteed under international law, including the right of return for Palestinian refugees. We, CAIC, reaffirm that it is time for the international community to recognize Israel as an apartheid state in terms of international law.

If the words of these Christian leaders and the hundreds of other endorsers do not stir the conscience of the Chief Justice, I ask myself how he will respond to the following words of the South African Jews for a Free Palestine:  

We endorse this call because in the same way that we, as Jewish South Africans committed to universal ethical values, condemn Hitler’s Germany for having implemented the segregation of Jews and Gypsies via racist laws and the implementation of similar racist and murderous codes and structures by Apartheid South Africa vis-à-vis Black people, we condemn the  racism and segregation applied by Jewish Israelis with respect to Palestinian Arabs. We need to condemn what happened to the Palestinian people during 1948 when they were threatened, killed and thrown out of their homes. We need to condemn what happens to them on a daily basis under military rule and in the ‘open air’ prisons that are the West Bank and Gaza. We need to condemn the ongoing theft of land and the administrative detention of Palestinian activists as well as the arrest and incarceration of children. We need to condemn human atrocities, and any justification for atrocities of one person or one nation of another, wherever and whenever they occur.

This is a particularly poignant time, during the SARS Covid 2 pandemic, when the Israeli Government threatens to annex 30% of the West Bank thereby creating a permanent jail for those on the West Bank with even less freedom than the little enjoyed by the residents of Gaza. We call on all those with any moral fibre to act against this looming annexation and join with activists of every culture, ethnicity and religious persuasion to stop it from happening.

Decisive action is necessary. Indeed, #Palestine_Cry4Hope lists seven actions, including theological discernment and pressure on governments and world bodies employ political, diplomatic and economic means to stop Israel’s violations of human rights and international law. Last week the South African Council of Churches erected a huge billboard on a highway in Johannesburg:   

The SACC billboard near the OR Tambo airport in Johannesburg

On 25 June 2020 the office of the South African Council of Churches’ General Secretary, Bishop Malusi Mpumlwana called “on the international community to consider comprehensive sanctions against Israel should they continue with the illegal annexation of Palestinian land.” The SACC statement objects in the strongest terms to Israel’s intended breach of international law and the way Israel considers itself

as an exception in terms of international law. The international community must be required to treat Israel like all other members of the international community and compel it to respect international law and the rights of all of humanity.  A Christian leader in Ramallah has cried out: “Now everyone is bleeding; we Palestinians are bleeding physically. Israel is bleeding morally.” A careful reading of Jesus as Lord of history leaves no doubt that He would be the first to say an emphatic NO to the atrocities of the State of Israel.

The issue of the Palestinians and Israel deserves the attention of every person on this planet. Our choice is not one between Jews and Arabs or between Israel and Palestine. The choice we have is between justice and injustice, between equality or inequality, between the spread of false information or integrity, and between the use or abuse of sacred texts. The call opposes also anti-Semitism and any “theology of Empire” which manifests as “a global order of domination manifesting in racial, economic, cultural, and ecological oppression that threatens humanity and all of creation”. From this intersectional perspective #Palestine_Cry4Hope is concerned with the future of both peoples and it

… is rooted in the logic of love that seeks to liberate both the oppressor and oppressed in order to create a new society for all the people of the land. We continue to hold firm to the hope articulated in the Kairos document that Palestinians and Israelis have a common future — that “we can organize our political life, with all its complexity, according to the logic of love and its power, after ending the occupation and establishing justice.” As followers of Jesus, our response to ideologies of exclusivity and apartheid is to uphold a vision of inclusivity and equality for all peoples of the land and to persistently struggle to bring this about.

To read and sign the call, click on #Palestine_Cry4Hope.


[i] Other South African clergy who have endorsed the call include Allan Boesak (Professor of Black Liberation Theology and Ethics, University of Pretoria);  Frank Chikane (Moderator of the World Council of Churches’ Commission of the Churches on International Affairs), John de Gruchy (Emeritus Professor of Christian Studies, University of Cape Town and Extraordinary Professor of Theology, Stellenbosch University); Thulani Ndlazi (South African Synod Secretary of the United Congregational Church of Southern Africa); Moss Nthla (General Secretary of The Evangelical Alliance of South Africa, TEASA); Mautji Pataki (Chairman of the Ethical Foundation for Leadership Excellence and Former Secretary General of the South African Council of Churches); Edwin Arrison (General Secretary of Kairos South Africa) and Farid Esack (Professor of Religion Studies, University of Johannesburg and a Muslim liberation theologian). The full list with hundreds of endorsers is available on #Palestine_Cry4Hope.

Status

Who says Israel is guilty of Apartheid?

People often argue that “this and that were so in South Africa” and because “this and that are not so” in Israel, Israel is not an apartheid state. But such logic holds no water.

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What is apartheid?

An article in the newspaper Star (13 March 2014, by Solly Mapaila ) correctly argues that the Jewish democracy’s laws and practices fall squarely into the United Nations’ definition of apartheid. In other words, Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians is not defined in terms of the former South African situation, but in terms of international law which calls apartheid a crime against humanity (Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court 2002). The International Criminal Court’s definition of apartheid is

“the systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime” (2002:6).

Who says Israel is an apartheid state?

In 2012 the United Nations Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination found Israeli policies in the occupied Palestinian territories “tantamount to Apartheid” and that

“many state policies within Israel also violate the prohibition on Apartheid as enshrined in Article 3 of the Convention.” (Erakat & Madi 2012)

Prior to that, in November 2011, the Russell Tribunal in Cape Town articulated similar findings.

Human Rights Watch in turn published a report titled “Israel/West Bank: Separate and Unequal” (2010) which details Israel’s discriminatory practices against the indigenous Palestinians.

And in 2009, the South African Human Sciences Research Council (2009:277) concluded their in-depth report as follows:

“Both colonialism and apartheid are prohibited by international law. This Report has found strong evidence to indicate that Israel has violated, and continues to violate, both prohibitions in the occupied Palestinian territories.”

An international team of scholars and practitioners of international public law from South Africa, the United Kingdom, Israel and Palestine conducted the study.

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Surely most South Africans recognise Israel’s crimes, right?

As we benefitted from the world’s active support in demolishing apartheid, one would imagine that South Africans would now keenly respond to a plea to the international community for  non-violent resistance against Israel’s discrimination, oppression and occupation of Palestinians.

What is so shocking, is that so many South Africans do not know, or are not willing to acknowledge Israel’s apartheid crimes. The very people who suffered under apartheid and those who used to support apartheid, but say they have since changed, are now focusing on their own lives, their own comfort and their own problems and they turn a blind eye to another people who also suffer under apartheid. They forget that Palestinians helped to campaign for justice in South Africa during the apartheid struggle.

Does it mean that our transition to a post-apartheid psyche has only been cosmetic? In other words, is the change in our society superficial and not principled? Are we settling for pragmatic changes? Or perhaps we are ignorant about Israel’s crimes against humanity? Are we too comfortable to rock the boat?

Why do we turn away and continue to romanticise Israel? Why do we confuse the modern state with the Biblical entity? Why do Christians travel to the Holy Land and then ignore the descendents of the first Christians in the old city of Jerusalem, in Bethlehem, Jericho, Nablus, Hebron and elsewhere in Palestine? For how long must these people suffer while we, post-apartheid South Africans, look away and/or support Israel as some hero?  Can we really be happy, content and fulfilled as a new nation if we ignore a repetition of apartheid?  Is it fair to hide behind our own national issues and forget the world’s (and the Palestinians’) support in demolishing apartheid here?

A chance to know more…

If you want to know more, make sure to attend and participate in this year’s Israeli Apartheid Week. Our national initiatives from part of a worldwide campaign.

IAW

Find the schedule of activities in more than 45 cities and towns here.

REFERENCES:

Erakat, N. & Madi, R. 2012. UN Committee 2012 Session Concludes Israeli System Tantamount to Apartheid. [Online]. Jadaliyya. Available: http://www.jadaliyya.com/pages/index/5588/un-committee-2012-session-concludes-israeli-system. [2014, 13 March].

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. Dir.: Ana Nogueira, Eron Davidson, Nathaniel Cunningham. Cinematography: Ana Nogueira. Narrator: Alice Walker. United States of America. ? ? min. English. Prod.: Ana Nogueira & Eron Davidson. Studio??

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. 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].

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This Hurts

Five houses were demolished, yet only the issue of the flattened taboun bread oven serves before the Israeli court. A very dear friend of mine is in the West Bank of Palestine for the third time. To be more specific, she is in the South Hebron Hills. Read her riveting, shocking account of what happened to the community she knows so well.

A Mosaic For Peace

Last week I wrote about my young friend living in a rural village whose home was at risk of demolition.  I deliberately did not include her name or the location of her village so as not to jeopardize the slim hope they held that this demolition could be avoided.

Yesterday, the villagers received word from their lawyers that they had exhausted all legal means to save the 4  homes in the village that were at greatest risk. The only option open to them was to submit a fee of 1000 NIS per house (approximately $350 $Cdn) before Thursday of this week to apply for mercy from a judge.  The villagers were unable to pay the fee.  Today, we were thinking about how we could help them raise this money when we received word that the Israeli military and bulldozers had arrived in their South Hebron Hills village of Um al…

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Is Israel guilty of Genocide in its assault on Gaza?

If viewed from the perspective of international law – is Israel guilty of genocide in Gaza or not? To prevent the crime of silence, the Russell Tribunal held a special hearing. Richard Falk provides an overview of the findings.

Gaza-7Palestinians clashes with Israeli troops following the protest against the Israeli operations in Gaza at the al-Jalazone Camp in Ramallah, West Bank. Photo: Issam Rimawi/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

On September 24, a special session of the Tribunal critically scrutinized Israel’s summer assault on Gaza, Operation Protective Edge, from the perspective of international law, including the core allegation of genocide. The process involved a series of testimonies by legal and weapons experts, health workers, journalists and others, some of whom directly experienced the fifty days of military assault.

Gaza-12Israeli soldiers rest next to artillery shells from an artillery unit near the Israeli border with Gaza; Photo:EPA/ABIR SULTAN

A jury composed of prominent individuals from around the world, known for their moral engagement with issues of the day, assessed the evidence with the help of an expert legal team of volunteers that helped with the preparation of the findings and analysis for consideration by the jury, which deliberated and debated all the issues raised—above all, the question of how to respond to the charge of genocide.

The Russell Tribunal on Palestine was inspired by the original Russell Tribunal, which was held in 1967 at the height of the Vietnam War. Convened by the great English philosopher Bertrand Russell and presided over by Jean-Paul Sartre, those original sessions assessed charges of war crimes committed by the United States in Vietnam. Subsequent tribunals included the Russell Tribunal on Latin America, which investigated the military dictatorships in Argentina, Brazil and Chile. The first Russell Tribunal proceedings on Palestine, convened in the wake of Israel’s 2008–09 assault on Gaza, were held in four sessions, from 2010 to 2012.

Gaza-11Palestinians paramedics lift the body of a man from the Al Shejaeiya neighbourhood, during a brief period of ceasefire requested by local rescue forces to retrieve dead and wounded from the Shuja’iyya neighbourhood in east Gaza City. Photo: EPA/MOHAMMED SABER

It should be acknowledged that this latest undertaking was never intended to be a neutral inquiry without any predispositions. The tribunal was held because of the enormity of the devastation and the spectacle of horror associated with high-technology weaponry attacking the civilian population of Gaza, which was locked into a combat zone that left no place to hide. The tribunal was also a response to the failures of the international community to do more to stop the carnage, or even to condemn Israel’s disproportionate uses of force against an essentially helpless civilian population that included the targeting of a variety of legally forbidden targets, among them UN buildings used as shelters, residential neighborhoods, hospitals and clinics, and mosques.

gaza2Southern Gaza Strip:Young relatives of four boys, all from the Bakr family, killed during Israeli shelling, cry during their funeral in Gaza City. Photo: MOHAMMED ABED/AFP/Getty Images

Although the tribunal proceeded from the assumption that Israel was responsible for severe wrongdoing, it made every effort to be scrupulous in the presentation of evidence and the interpretation of applicable international law, and relied on testimony from people with established reputations for integrity and conscience. Among the highlights of the testimony were a report on damage to hospitals and clinics given by Dr. Mads Gilbert, a Norwegian doctor serving in a Gaza hospital during the attacks; Mohammed Omer, a widely respected Gazan journalist who daily reported from the combat zone; Max Blumenthal, a prize-winning journalist who was in Gaza throughout Protective Edge and analyzed for the jury the overall political design that appeared to explain the civilian targeting patterns; and David Sheen, who reported in agonizing detail on the racist hatred expressed by prominent Israelis during the assault, which was widely echoed by Israelis in the social media and never repudiated by the leadership in Jerusalem.

v3-gaza-1Southern Gaza Strip: A Palestinian man cries as he holds the dead body of his young brother shortly after he got killed by an Israeli naval bombardment in the port of Gaza City in the morgue of the Shifa hospital in Gaza. Photo: Rex Features

The jury had little difficulty concluding that the pattern of attack, as well as the targeting, amounted to a series of war crimes that were aggravated by the commission of crimes against humanity. These included the imposition of collective punishment upon the entire civilian population of Gaza, in flagrant and sustained violation of Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. A further notable legal finding was the rejection of the central Israeli claim that it was acting in self-defense against rocket attacks from Gaza. There are several reasons for reaching this conclusion: under international law, the claim of self-defense cannot be used in justifying response to resistance mounted by an occupied people, and from the perspective of international law, Gaza remains occupied due to persisting Israeli control despite Israel’s purported “disengagement” in 2005 (more properly characterized as a military redeployment). The rockets fired from Gaza were at least partly a response to prior Israeli unlawful provocations, including the mass detention of several hundred people loosely associated with Hamas in the West Bank and the incitement to violence against Palestinians as revenge for the murder of three kidnapped Israeli settler children. And finally, the minimal damage done by the rockets—seven civilian deaths over the entire period—is too small a security threat to qualify as an “armed attack,” as is required by the UN Charter to uphold a claim of self-defense. At the same time, the jury did not doubt that rocket fire by Palestinian militants into Israel was unlawful, as the rockets were incapable of distinguishing between military and civilian targets.

Gaza-9A picture taken from Israel at the southern border with the Gaza strip shows smoke billowing from behind a hill following an Israeli air strike on Gaza City. Photo: MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP/Getty Images

The testimony made this issue complex and sensitive. It produced a consensus on the jury that the evidence was sufficient to make it appropriate to give careful consideration as to whether the crime of genocide had actually been committed by Israel. This was itself an acknowledgment that there was a genocidal atmosphere in Israel, in which high-level officials made statements supporting the destruction or elimination of the Gazans as a people. Such inflammatory assertions were at no time repudiated by the leadership of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or subject to criminal investigation, let alone any other official proceedings. Furthermore, the sustained bombardment of Gaza, under circumstances where the population had no opportunity to leave or to seek sanctuary within the Gaza Strip, lent further credibility to the charge. The fact that Operation Protective Edge was the third large-scale, sustained military assault on this unlawfully blockaded, impoverished and endangered population also formed part of the larger genocidal context.

gaza-2Southern Gaza Strip:Palestinian men help a local journalist who got injured during an Israeli airstrike on an office building hosting several media outlets in Gaza City. Photo:EPA/OLIVER WEIKEN

Despite these factors, there were legal doubts as to the crime itself. The political and military leaders of Israel never explicitly endorsed the pursuit of genocidal goals, and they purported to seek a ceasefire during the military campaign. The tribunal convincingly documented the government’s goal of intensifying the regime of collective punishment, but there was no clear official expression of intent to commit genocide. The presence of genocidal behavior and language, even if used in government circles, is not by itself sufficient to conclude that Protective Edge, despite its enormity, amounted to the commission of the crime of genocide.

What the jury did agree upon, however, was that some Israeli citizens and leaders appear to have been guilty in several instances of the separate crime of incitement to genocide, which is specified in Article 3(c) of the Genocide Convention. It also agreed that the additional duty of Israel and other parties to prevent genocide, especially the United States and Europe, was definitely engaged by Israeli behavior. In this regard, the Russell Tribunal is sending an incriminating message of warning to Israel and an appeal to the UN and the international community to uphold the Genocide Convention, and to prevent any further behavior by Israel that would cross the line.

1-Rescue-EPATwo Palestinian men flee their homes during a temporary ceasefire in the heavily-hit Shuja’iya neighbourhood in Gaza City. Photo:EPA

Many will react to this assessment of Protective Edge as without legal authority and dismiss it as merely recording the predictable views of a “kangaroo court.” Those allegations have been directed at the Russell Tribunal ever since its founding nearly fifty years ago. Bertrand Russell called the original proceedings a stand of citizens of conscience “against the crime of silence.” This latest session of the tribunal has a similar mission in relation to Israel’s actions in Gaza, although less against silence than indifference. Such tribunals, created almost always in exceptional circumstances and in response to defiance of the most elemental constraints of international law, make crucial contributions to public awareness—especially when geopolitical realities preclude established institutional procedures, such as recourse to the International Criminal Court and the UN Security Council and General Assembly.

When the interests of the West are at stake, as in Ukraine, there is no need to activate unofficial international law initiatives. However, in the case of Israel-Palestine, when the US government and most of Western Europe stand fully behind whatever Israel chooses to do, the need for an accounting is particularly urgent, even if the prospects for accountability are minimal. The long-suffering people of Gaza have endured three criminal assaults in the past six years, which have left virtually the entire population, especially young children, traumatized by the experience.

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The Russell Tribunal is filling a normative vacuum in the world. It does not pretend to be a court. In fact, among its recommendations is a call on the Palestinian Authority to join the International Criminal Court and present its grievance to the authorities in The Hague for their investigation and possible indictments. Even then, prosecution will be impossible, as Israel is not a party to the treaty establishing the ICC and would certainly refuse to honor any arrest warrants issued in The Hague. A trial could not proceed without the physical presence of those accused. It is notable that Hamas has joined in urging recourse to the ICC despite the distinct possibility that allegations against its rocket fire would also be investigated and its officials could be indicted for alleged war crimes.

As with the Nuremberg judgment, which documented Nazi criminality but excluded any consideration of the crimes committed by the victors in World War II, the Russell Tribunal process was flawed and can be criticized as one-sided. At the same time, I am confident that, on balance, this assessment of Israel’s behavior toward the people of Gaza will support the long struggle to make the rule of law applicable to the strong as well as the weak.

Gaza 13Palestinian mourners pray in a mosque during the funeral for those killed in a three-storey house belonging to the Abu Jamaa family the day before, in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip. Photo:MOHAMMED ABED/AFP/Getty Images

For more information on the Russell Tribunal, click here: Russell Tribunal

Extraordinary session of Russell Tribunal on Palestine: The crime of genocide in Gaza

For the first time ever regarding Israel, the crime of genocide, will be examined. On Wednesday September 24, 2014 judges, legal scholars, UN officials, journalists and cultural luminaries will gather in Brussels for an emergency session of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine. They will focus on Israel’s most recent military operation in Gaza – Operation Protective Edge.

jews against genocideJews against Genocide protested agains the killings of Palestinians by burning dolls in front of the Yad Vashem museum in Jerusalem.

PRESS RELEASE

24-25 September 2014 – Brussels – Albert Hall, Brussels
www.russelltribunalonpalestine.com/en/

The extraordinary session of the Russell Tribunal will examine Israeli war crimes, crimes against humanity and for the first time regarding Israel, the crime of genocide. The Tribunal will also examine the legal consequences and third state responsibilities arising from the above.

The members of the jury are Michael Mansfield QC, Professor of International law and former judge John Dugard, former UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Richard Falk, President of the EJE Association (Les Enfants, le Jeu, l’Education) and wife of Tribunal patron Stephane Hessel Christiane Hessel, Founder of the Tunisan Association Against Torture Radhia Nasraoui, Film Director Ken Loach, Writer Paul Laverty, Pink Floyd founder Roger Waters, former African National Congress Minister Ronnie Kasrils, Egyptian novelist Ahdaf Soueif, and author Vandana Shiva.

The Jury will hear from the following witnesses: Genocide expert Dr Paul Behrens, Advocacy Units Coordinator of Defense for Children International Ivan Karakashian, Surgeons Mads Gilbert and Mohammed Abou-Arab, Palestinian Centre for Human Rights Director Raji Sourani, munitions expert Colonel Desmond Travers, Advocacy Officer at Aprodev Agnes Bertrand, former Israeli soldier Eran Efrati,Coordinator in Europe with the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee (BNC) Michael Deas, Film-maker Ashraf Mashharawi and journalists Mohammed Omer, Martin Lejeune, David Sheen, Max Blumenthal and Paul Mason.

Guardian Cartoonist and author Martin Rowson will be the Tribunal’s illustrator.

The Russell Tribunal on Palestine was established under the patronage of the late Stephane Hessel, a former resistance fighter, concentration camp survivor and author of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the recent multimillion selling ‘Time for Outrage!'(Indignez-vous!)

This is the fifth session of the peoples’ tribunal to take place in the past five years. Other have examined Third Party complicity regarding the UN, EU, and Corporate complicity as well as the Crime of Apartheid.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu said of the Tribunal: “There is no military solution to the conflict in the Holy Land. Violence begets violence, which begets more hatred and violence. Nor have the world’s political and diplomatic leaders succeeded over many years to engineer a just and sustainable peace. Civil society must step into the breach, as it did in South Africa’s struggle against apartheid. The Russell Tribunal on Palestine is an important civil society initiative to hold Israel to account.”

The jury will give its findings at 10am on the 25thSeptember at an international press conference at the International Press Center (IPC, Brussels). In the afternoon, the Jury will be received at the European parliament and address a message to the UN General Assembly for its reopening.

CONTACT

Russell Tribunal Media Team:

Email: pressRTOP@gmail.com

Ewa Jasiewicz 0044 7754 360 030 (English, Polish and spoken Arabic)

Kidnapped Kids / Kidnapped Society: A Legal Response or Collective Punishment?

Violence is NOT our solution! Violent acts are not heroic, brave, or honorable.

When will this insanity ends? asked Prof Mazin Qumsiyeh.  I share his anguish. Violence creates violence! It destroys us!

On finding the bodies of the three Israeli settler teenagers, Israeli Housing Minister Uri Ariel said:

“Deep grief. The people of Israel were unified in prayer, unity that should remain at all times. In war, as in war, the terrorists should be hit mercilessly on one hand and provide a proper Zionist response on the other. The eternal nation is not afraid of a long journey.” (Source: BBC).

There is outrage in Israel and in the world about these deaths, and a deafening silence on the multiple murders and destruction in Palestine. Said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu:

“We will bring the boys to be buried in Israel. Hamas is responsible – and Hamas will pay. May the memory of the three boys be blessed.”

The murder of the teens is deplorable and my heart goes out to their families and friends. But let us remember that neither the person(s) responsible for these killings nor the motivation (criminal or political) for it have yet been identified. And even if it is clear who did it and for what reasons, it can never justify Israel’s collective punishment of Palestinian civilians or any other kind of violence against civilians.

Hamas has strongly denied any involvement in the abductions. Yet for the last two weeks, Israeli occupation forces have been striking different areas of the Gaza Strip, claiming that they are targeting Hamas’ infrastructure. Scores of causalities, including another death on Friday, have been reported as a result of the Israeli attacks. (source: Middle East Monitor 30 June 2014).

Yifrah_2959998bA ball of fire is seen following an Israel airstrike in Rafah, Gaza. Photo: AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Israeli planes struck 34 sites in Gaza early on 1 July 2014 hours after the bodies of three teenagers were found in the West Bank. The airstrike killed a Palestinian from Khan Younis and wounded three others, including one with critical injuries.

Gaza

Since the disappearance of three Israeli teenagers on Thursday 12th June Israel has meted out brutal violence against Palestinians not only in Gaza, but also in the West Bank where five Palestinians have been killed:

  • Mustafa Husni Aslan (22 years) died Wednesday 25th June after five days in intensive care. He was shot in the head by Israeli soldiers at Qalandia refugee camp on 20 June.
  • Ahmad Sabarin (20 years) was shot in Al-Jalazun refugee camp (17 June).
  • Mohammad Dudeen (15 years): was shot in Dura (20 June).
  • Ahmad Said Suod Khalid (27 years) was shot Al-Ein refugee camp (22 June).
  • Mahmoud Tarifi, (30 years) was shot in Ramallah (22 June).
  • Two more people have died of heart attacks following Israeli Forces raids.

Former political prisoners have been particularly targeted, and at least 52 of those released in the 2011 Gilad Shalit exchange have now been re-arrested.

Says Prof. Mazin Qumsiyeh from Bethlehem, West Bank:

Dozens of Palestinian homes were demolished in the past two weeks. Over 570 more Palestinians were kidnapped in these two weeks making more than 6000 abductees languishing in Israeli gulags/prisons. 1500 Palestinian homes invaded without due process. 12 million native Palestinians still await their freedom from colonial occupation and displacement. And Israeli leaders are promising to “do more” (genocidal mayhem?). When will this insanity end?

Can it end by negotiations between occupied and occupier; negotiations that have been going on for 22 years while Israel gets $12 billion profit every year from its occupation? (that is not counting the billions from US taxpayers).

When will Israel be led by people like the previous speaker of the Israeli Knesset Avraham Berg.

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Listen to his wise words:

“Here are Israel’s shallow prime minister and the bumbling police, the masses who cling to futile prayers and not to a moment of human peace. Here are the country’s hypocritical chief rabbis, who just a month ago demanded promises from the pope regarding the future of the Jewish people, but in their daily lives remain silent about the fate of the people who are our neighbors, trampled beneath the pressure of occupation and racism under the leadership of rabbis who receive exorbitant salaries and benefits….Despite the enormous and inspiring success of Breaking the Silence (an NGO that collects testimony from soldiers who’ve served in the West Bank), our own total silence is still the loudest thing around us. We are willing to go out of our minds over one odd and troublesome Pollard, a lone kidnap victim or three kidnap victims, but we are incapable of understanding the suffering of a whole society, its cry, and the future of an entire nation that has been kidnapped by us. This, too, needs to be said and heard during this moment of clarity — and as loudly as possible.” (“The Palestinians: A kidnapped society: We are incapable of understanding the suffering of a society, its cry, and the future of an entire nation that has been kidnapped by us” by Avraham Berg in Haaretz.)

And how about the inspiring, wise words of Catholic Patriarch Michel Sabbah writing from Jerusalem congratulating Muslims on the start of Ramadan:
“We all are sectarian, Christians or Muslims. We all need to continuously purify the faith in us to overcome the sectarian. The believer is one who remembers God and sees all as his creation… He sees any other as a brother or sister… I hope that we all become believers, and our faith overcomes all sectarian tendency.”

Peace in Jerusalem = peace on earth.

Ramadan Kareem to our Muslim Brothers and Sisters

And to all: Stay human!

Mazin Qumsiyeh
Bethlehem, Occupied Palestine

What makes a nation better and stronger: dealing with the issue, burying it in the sand, or using it as a pretext to suppress others? According to AMEC the Israeli government announced ‘Operation Brother’s Keeper’ – the most extensive military deployment on the West Bank since the second intifada:

Israeli officials said the operation had two objectives: to find the missing settlers; and to crack down on Hamas. Thus, the operation must be understood in the context of US Secretary of State John Kerry’s failed peace initiative, and the decision by Fatah and Hamas to form a unity government. The operation has substantially targeted Hamas: 500 abductions/arrests have already occurred; 354 of these are Hamas members and twelve are parliamentarians who could have served in a unity government.

The Israeli government has always opposed an independent and sovereign Palestinian state. For Israel, the prospect of a unity government between Fatah and Hamas, which has financial backing from the EU, moral support from the Arab world, and political acceptance from the USA, poses a huge threat. The agreement between Fatah and Hamas, fragile though it is, has the potential to shift the status quo towards a settlement favouring Palestinian statehood. A unity government would imply the inclusion of Hamas under the PLO umbrella, thus politically unifying all parties representing the Palestinian people.

In this context, Israel’s policies of occupation and expansion in the West Bank would be impossible to implement. Moreover, with Islamic militancy growing in the region, a West Bank government that includes Hamas would be seen as doubly threatening by Israel. It was therefore strategically necessary for Israel to crack down on Hamas before a unity government was formed. Operation Brother’s Keeper allowed Israel to deal a military blow to Hamas while the movement is being strangled by Egypt’s new border policy, the closure of its offices in Syria, and by the limited support it now received from Iran and Hizbullah.

The Israeli military operation has been condemned by the United Nations as alarming. If Israel truly wants peace, why then should they object to peace amongst Fatah and Hamas?

israel 2Peace for the “self” only is not true peace.  (Photo credit: Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

All lives, irrespective of a person’s nationality, carries the same value. Let us not honour these lives by destroying others.

What does Palestine’s signing of 15 international treaties mean?

On 01.04.2014 the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas signed letters of accession to 15 multilateral treaties and conventions. Why did they do this and what does it mean for the peace process?

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Israel accuses Palestine of “unilateral” behaviour. Yet this is not true. Palestine may sign these treaties and conventions since they obtained observer state status in the UN General Assembly in November 2012. This in turn means that Palestine’s step is not “unilateral”, but indeed a right granted to them by the global society.

As published on Thursday, 03 April 2014 on the Palestine News Network, Ramallah:

Abbas and Saeb (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed, File)

How are these letters of accession linked to the negotiations process?

In July 2013, the PLO took the difficult decision to postpone accession to multilateral treaties and conventions in exchange for the release of 104 pre-Oslo prisoners in four stages. In fact, the release of pre-Oslo prisoners is a commitment Israel had already made 20 years ago as part of the Palestinian Israeli interim accords (Oslo accords), again in 1999 through the Sharm al-Sheikh Agreement and a third time at the beginning of the current negotiations.

The release of prisoners was not formally linked to the negotiations process.

The fourth and final release of 30 prisoners was set to take place on March 29th 2014. When Israeli officials indicated that Israel would not go through with the release, the PLO asked that the US administration ensure that Israel fulfills its commitment. Since Israel failed to release the last group of prisoners, the State of Palestine is no longer obliged to postpone its rights to accede to multilateral treaties and conventions.

The nine months is not over yet. Doesn’t this mean the Palestinians are breaking their commitment?

No, this does not mean that negotiations process is over. President Abbas made this point clear during his announcement on Tuesday April 1st. Indeed, the PLO remains committed to this nine month process, which ends on April 29. Despite the escalation of oppressive Israeli policies such as the killing of Palestinian civilians, settlement construction, raids on vulnerable communities, arbitrary arrests and detentions, home demolitions and the removal of residency rights, we remained committed to the negotiations process and supported US efforts.

Which treaties and conventions did President Abbas sign?

President Abbas signed letters of accession to the following 15 multilateral treaties and conventions. These treaties and conventions will help to protect and promote basic rights of the Palestinian people and will enable the State of Palestine to be a responsible actor on the international stage:

  • The Fourth Geneva Convention of 12 August 1949 and the First Additional Protocol
  • The Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations
  • The Vienna Convention on Consular Relations
  • The Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in armed conflict
  • The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women
  • The Hague Convention (IV) respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land and its annex: Regulations Concerning the Laws and Customs of War on Land
  • The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
  • The Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties
  • The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination
  • The Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
  • The United Nations Convention against Corruption
  • The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide
  • The International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid
  • The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
  • The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

What happens now?

The letters of accession have been handed over to the relevant parties.

There are a total of 63 treaties, conventions and agencies that the State of Palestine may join and will do so in the best interests of its people, as and when it sees fit. This is a right that all UN member and Observer states have.

Isn’t this just a unilateral step so the Palestinians can reject an agreement?

No. This is the fulfillment of Palestine’s right and has nothing to do with negotiations or the reaching of an agreement. As President Abbas expressed during the announcement, the Palestinian position remains unchanged. The PLO seeks to achieve an independent and sovereign Palestinian state on the 1967 border with East Jerusalem as its capital with a just solution to the refugee issue based on UN General Assembly resolution 194. It will use all legal means to achieve this, including negotiations and peaceful popular resistance.

Doesn’t this undermine US and international efforts?

No, Palestine does not want to clash with anyone. The tools it uses are legitimate and non-violent. The PLO bases its action on international law and the fulfillment of the long overdue and inalienable rights of its people.

These treaties are vital to continued Palestinian institutional building, good governance and the upholding of human rights, all of which form the basis for an independent and sovereign State of Palestine. Palestine will pursue this non-violent track, including all possible diplomatic venues, in a way which serves the best interests of its people and the cause of a just peace.

On the other hand, Israeli actions, including unrelenting settlement construction during this entire process, has undermined US and international efforts.

What does this mean for the peace process? Are the negotiations over?

No. The PLO is committed to negotiations until the 29th April, as agreed.

The Israeli government needs to understand that negotiations are a non-violent tool to achieve peace, and not a smoke screen for continued human rights violations and the expansion of settlements that makes a two-state solution increasingly impossible.

Status

“I have one child – the one you shot today.”

On 10 March 2014, Raed Zuayter, a distinguished judge and PhD holder, was killed by Israeli soldiers while crossing the border between Jordan and the West Bank of Palestine. Raed was a Jordanian citizen of Palestinian origin. His family is part of the Palestinian diaspora—refugees who had fled ethnic cleansing in 1948, war in 1967, and the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982.

  Mondoweiss

A friend of mine, Carrie Schwartz, stays in Jordan and the Zuayter family asked her to record their story, “to express the truth in English”:

Entering the living room of Raed Zuayter, I meet his widow, child, father, mother, father-in-law, mother-in-law, aunts, and uncles. Raed’s two-year-old daughter playfully skips between relatives. “She is too young to understand what happened,” her grandfather explains. As we drink Arabic coffee together, I feel a deep sadness and responsibility to tell their story accurately. I start the interview by asking Raed’s father about his son’s life:

“He was born in 1976. He went to the best schools in Amman. After finishing high school, he went to the University of Jordan to study a bachelor’s in law. Then he asked me, ‘What do you think, Dad? Should we go for a master’s?’ I said, ‘We don’t mind.’ He finished his master’s and asked me, ‘What do you think, shall we go for PhD?’ And I answered him, ‘Yes, go for a PhD.’ When he finished his PhD, he went to the judicial institute to become a judge. In the judiciary, he was appointed as a judge for reconciliation. He got a raise on the first of March. He was promoted. And then he passed away.”

The story of Raed’s death began with another tragedy: Raed’s four-year-old son was hospitalized. A lack of oxygen caused him to go into a coma. Raed decided to travel to the town of Nablus in Palestine, to collect rent from tenants to cover the cost of his son’s treatment.

Raed traveled across the Jordan-Palestine border controlled by Israel. The process begins with security checks and immigration control on the Jordanian side. Then travelers are bused into a deserted “no man’s land” for additional security checks, before proceeding to the Israeli terminal.

At this point, an Israeli soldier pushed Raed toward the bus. A verbal argument ensued. Raed’s father recounted the story told to him by eyewitnesses: “Raed told the soldier, ‘Why are you pushing me, because I’m going up in the bus? Why did you push me?’ and he was waving his hands.” Two additional soldiers approached and pushed Raed toward the street until he fell to his knees. The soldiers then aimed their weapons and fired five shots into his body, from a distance of three to four meters, killing him.

Raed’s father recounted his interaction with the Israeli intelligence during the preliminary investigation:

“They asked me, ‘How many kids do you have?’ I said, ‘I have one child—the one you shot today. Why did you kill him? Did you see any weapons with him?’ They said no. ‘So you did not see any weapons with him—why did you kill him? … you knew that he was unarmed, and you wanted to take him in, then just take him, hold his hands, put him on the ground, but shoot him, five times? Why?”

Raed was an innocent person, killed when his family needed him the most. On the day this piece was written, his son who had been in a coma passed away. Raed’s family is asking for justice: “The soldiers who shot him should be put on trial, and we need a just compensation for everything that happened to the family.”

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Carrie Schwartz is an editor currently based in Amman, Jordan. She holds an MPhil in Justice and Transformation from the University of Cape Town, South Africa.

Sources/further information:

Interview with the family of Raed Zuayter, 21 March 2014, Amman, Jordan
Al-Haq Announces Investigation Results in Martyrdom of Judge Zuaiter (Arabic)
http://www.maannews.net/arb/ViewDetails.aspx?ID=682613
Palestinian advocacy group says Israeli soldiers ‘intended’ to kill Jordanian judge http://jordantimes.com/palestinian-advocacy-group-says-israeli-soldiers-intended-to-kill-jordanian-judge

Gallery

Feedback on session with Parliament’s Portfolio Committee: Good news!

As I sat in the Old Assembly Hall of our Parliament, I experienced the South Africa I am proud of. We, members of the civil society proposed actions in solidarity with Palestine, Western Sahara and Cuba. People from all walks of life debated in the packed hall. In the end (with the exception of four votes against the proposal) the Cape Town Declaration was overwhelmingly accepted.

The Cape Town Declaration is now the official voice of the South African civil society. It means that there is a formalised civilian voice that articulates clear, action-oriented resolutions.

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On 6 February Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on International Relations and Cooperation held a public forum to support the campaigns for equal treatment and the right to self-determination of the peoples of Palestine, Western Sahara and Cuba. This followed Parliament’s decision that solidarity is and should feature as a strong element of South Africa’s internationalism.  The purpose was not to debate if action is required, but rather what kind of action is necessary.

We at Kairos Southern Africa spoke on Palestine, and we asked the following:

  • 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 requests 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.

All these and more resolutions (see the full list in respect of Palestine below)  will shape Parliament’s Plan of Action.

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. This includes Kairos Palestine and its declaration of steadfast faith, hope and love from within the suffering of Palestinians.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFour ecumenical accompaniers in the World Council of Churches’ EAPPI programme actively participated in the discussions. From left to right are: Marthie Momberg, Terry Crawford-Browne, Corbin August and Carol Martin.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Honourable Mr H.T. Magama, Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on International Relations and Cooperation addressing the forum.

It was great to see how people from different political parties and backgrounds interacted with one another. Their support for Cuba, Palestine and Western Sahara was not driven by political, religious or cultural interests, but by our shared humanity. We want to be free, and we grant it also for others.

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At one point I sat very close to the spot where former Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd, the mastermind behind apartheid in South Africa, was assassinated on 6 September 1966:

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On that afternoon, a parliamentary messenger named Dimitri Tsafendas stabbed Verwoerd in the neck and chest four times before being subdued by other members of the Assembly. Tsafendas eventually escaped the death penalty on the grounds of insanity.

Five years before his death, Verwoerd said:

Israel took Palestine away from the Arabs after the Arabs lived there for a thousand years…Israel, like South Africa, is an apartheid state.

It is now almost fifty years later. Kairos Southern Africa argued that South Africans face yet another Kairos moment:

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. […]

4 Maps 2014 1946 to 2014

Different political parties attended the proceedings and the African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) was the only party to distance itself from the Declaration.  They voted against it, and so did three members of the public.

This conference was a first of its kind in Parliament.  We look forward to the Parliamentary Plan of Action taking the solidarity campaign forward towards a peaceful resolution of the challenges facing the three nations.

Here is the full list of resolutions with regard to Palestine – with the points in no particular order:

  • Legal obligation under the Rome Statute to set up the special court to deal with war crimes: To expeditiously deal with the Gaza Docket and deal with South Africans serving in the IDF.

  • HSRC report that found Israeli guilty of Apartheid should be adopted by parliament and government and must be referred to international bodies including ICC, UN and AU.

  • Legal obligation to stop financial transactions with Israeli settlement companies, banks and companies involved in the settlements.

  • On the global arena to lobby for the financial and other support of the Palestinians for socio-economic development after the end of the occupation.

  • Supporting Palestinian students, as a concrete act of solidarity.

  • Entrance into South Africa for Palestinians must be made easier.

  • Health system must be supported beyond people capacity –  also infrastructure in Gaza, West Bank and refugee camps.

  • Support the Robben Island Declaration for the freedom of Marwan Barghouti and all Palestinian Political prisoners.

    Marwan Barghouti

  • Support the Palestinian-led call for boycott, divestment and sanctions issued by the majority of Palestinians. Complete military, financial and political sanctions against Israel until it complies with all applicable UN resolutions and international law and ends its occupation.

  •  Our government to table the above two at both the AU and UN.

  • All South African political parties to clearly communicate their stance on the plight of the Palestinian people and to make it timeously known in the build-up to 2014 elections.

  • Witness and solidarity visits should be encouraged, for example the World Council of Churches EAPPI programme.

  • South Africa should build and strengthen an international diplomatic block in solidarity with the Palestinian people.

  • For South Africa to campaign for Israel to be suspended from the SWIFT network.

  • Palestinian reconciliation efforts must be encouraged and supported.

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There is much to do.

For a Summary of  some of Israel’s Breaches in Gaza by Dr. Paul Hendler, click here.

Gallery

From Robben Island: Palestinian Political Prisoners

Where better to launch an international campaign for the release of all Palestinian political prisoners than on Robben Island?

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This windswept island south of Cape Town persistently reminds me of immense cruelty, injustice and oppression… but also of perseverance, of an undying dream of freedom, of the ability of human beings to stand tall in the most horrendous circumstances.

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Before sentencing him, the judge in South Africa’s Rivonia Trail (1963 – 1964) asked the man who would become the new South Africa’s first president, Nelson Mandela, whether he wanted to plead guilty.  Mandela answered: “It is not I who should plead guilty, but the government of this country.”  Mandela and seven others (and in the subsequent years, hundreds more) were found guilty and banned for life to Robben Island.

In reading Mandela’s epic autobiography I was deeply touched by his and his fellow prisoners’ continued struggle against apartheid within prison. Their life on the island was to them yet another terrain to advocate against discrimination. It was not only the story, but especially the tone that inspired me and made me realise how much I have to learn about courage, tolerance, persistence and forgiveness.

I had this same feeling on Sunday 27 October 2013 when the wife of Marwan Barghouti read a letter he wrote to us from prison….

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Our boat left the Cape Town harbour early that morning for Robben Island.

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We were on our way to the launch of the international Campaign for the Freedom of Marwan Barghouti and all Palestinian Political Prisoners.

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The guests included representatives from NGOs, human rights organisations, trade unions, political parties, former South African anti-apartheid activists and 13 Palestinian dignitaries.

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Ahmed (Kathy) Kathrada, one of Mandela’s closest friends and comrades, was one of eight ANC members convicted and banned to Robben Island for life during the Rivonia Trail.

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Now, half a century later, the 84-year-old Kathrada launched the campaign for the iconic freedom fighter, Marwan Barghouti (54), commonly dubbed “Palestine’s Mandela”.

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Mrs Fadwa Barghouthi, the wife of Marwan Barghouthi read a moving letter from her husband addressed to us, the audience at the launch, in which he appealed for non-violent resistance.

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Marwan Barghouti is one of the first (and most popular) Palestinian Members of Parliament arrested and imprisoned by Israel. He was abducted in 2002 by the Israeli army and thereafter tried, convicted and sentenced to five life sentences.

At his trial in 2002, Barghouti refused to participate in its proceedings maintaining that his abduction and the Israeli trial were illegal and illegitimate. In 2011 the international Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) found that his abduction, arrest and transfer to Israeli territory was in violation of international law.

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The IPU, together with other international human rights organisations, have subsequently called for his immediate release.

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One day, Barghouti and all Palestinians will be free.

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May that day arrive soon.

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It is possible…

It is possible at least sometimes…

It is possible especially now

To ride a horse

Inside a prison cell

And run away…

It is possible for prison walls

To disappear,

For the cell to become a distant land

Without frontiers:

What did you do with the walls?

I gave them back to the rocks.

And what did you do with the

ceiling?

I turned it into a saddle.

And your chain?

I turned it into a pencil.

The prison guard got angry.

He put an end to the dialogue.

He said he didn’t care for poetry,

And bolted the door of my cell.

He came back to see me

In the morning.

He shouted at me:

Where did all this water come from?

I brought it from the Nile.

And the trees?

From the orchards of Damascus.

And the music?

From my heartbeat.

The prison guard got mad.

He put an end to my dialogue.

He said he didn’t like my poetry,

And bolted the door of my cell.

But he returned in the evening:

Where did this moon come from?

From the nights of Baghdad.

And the wine?

From the vineyards of Algiers.

And this freedom?

From the chain you tied me with

last night.

The prison guard grew so sad…

He begged me to give him back

His freedom.

“Prison cell”, by Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish (1941-2008)

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As with the “Free Mandela” campaign, this international campaign is not about the release of one man.

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Barghouti is one of over 5 000 Palestinian political prisoners who remain incarcerated in Israeli jails, many of them children. Almost every Palestinian family has been affected by the political imprisonment of a relative.

  • Roughly 40% of Palestinian men (over 750 000 Palestinians) have been imprisoned by Israel at one point in time.
  • About 100 000 Palestinians have been held by Israel in “administrative detention” (the equivalent of Apartheid South Africa’s “Detention without trial”).
  • In the last 11 years alone, more than 7500 Palestinian children have been detained in Israeli prisons and detention facilities (including being held in solitary confinement). Such practices are considered illegal under international law.

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