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Israel asked to stop its abuse of Christianity, Judaism and Islam

We all need to face the stark truth: We must choose for humanity, or against it.

In a strongly worded article, Rev Edwin Arrison, general secretary of Kairos Southern Africa and also Chair of South Africa’s National Coalition for Palestine (NC4P) asks Israel to not abuse religion in their colonial project of oppressing the Palestinians. Accept the Palestinians as your equals, he asks, for we are all human.

He also says that we should not count on politicians to bring about positive change.

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Rev Arrison is pictured here (on the left) with Nobel Laureate, retired Archbishop of Cape Town, Desmond Tutu and others #March4Gaza on 9 August 2014.

Here is Arrison’s article as published in the Sunday Tribune, 15 November 2015:

Since 2009, when Christians gathered in Bethlehem to launch the Palestine Kairos document, there has been a great deal of reflection going on in the Church, from small congregations to global Church bodies, to consider what the best way is to respond to the injustices meted out by the State of Israel to all our Palestinian sisters and brothers – including those in refugee camps and in the Diaspora. A great injustice has been, and continues to be perpetrated against them, making them effectively stateless, and Christians can never be silent about injustice, even if we take our time to reflect and make decisions.

There was a time when Israel could depend on support from most Christians across the world, but that time has passed. The Vatican – representing more than a billion Christians – has taken the small step to recognize the State of Palestine. The recent proclamation of two Arab Palestinians as saints is also a profound way of expressing respect for the dignity and humanity of the Palestinian people.

Many Christians within the Evangelical and Pentecostal arms of the Church, have begun to express grave doubt about their support for the Zionist project called Israel. They are beginning to distinguish between Biblical Israel and Zionist Israel.

Even German Christians, who have lived with the guilt of the Holocaust over them, are even beginning to rethink their support for the Zionist State of Israel and for Zionist Christianity. Christians everywhere are thinking very carefully about whether they will continue to buy into a narrative of some exceptional tribe of God or whether they will continue to stand firm in their faith, rooted in the Hebrew Scriptures, that ALL human beings have been created in the image of God and that God is not a tribal God, but God of ALL people. These are quite fundamental choices against the abuse of faith that, once made, can never be reversed, not even by millions of dollars of Israeli propaganda.

We know that there is much injustice in all parts of the world today, but there is only one that gets justified from a misuse of the Bible, and that is the current State of Israel. Serious students and teachers of the Bible have begun to say that the Zionist State of Israel cannot possibly justify its occupation of Palestinian land, leading to oppression of Palestinian people, from the Biblical text.

This old apartheid myth that one group is apparently more important in the eyes of God than another group is today again playing itself out in Palestine and the Zionist State of Israel. Only this time it is worse. In the 1980s the “Communist Threat” was used as justification, this time the “Muslim” is used as a substitute for “terrorist’ and thereby a whole religion and its adherents are being demonized and abused. If parts of the Christian Church were drawn to this for a while, it has now begun to see this tactic for what it is – an evil wedge that is being used to create permanent war to feed a military industrial complex.

Unfortunately for the Zionists, the truth is like the Holy Spirit: it finds a way of seeping through and setting people free from all evil and deception.

The Christian and Muslim faith should not be abused for Zionist colonial propaganda, and neither should the Jewish faith be abused in this way. Many Jews are saying that Judaism and Zionism should not be equated. By equating these two things, anti-Semitism gets fed and for the sake of all humanity, this link must be broken. This can only happen if today we declare Zionist Israel to be a pariah and use every non-violent means to call on Israeli’s to come to their senses. They will not, of course, do this without economic and social pressure from the outside world.

We should not believe that politicians will bring change as we will either be forgetting our own history, or we are being completely naïve or use this belief as a way to either do nothing or to delay things as long as possible. In the 1980s, when South Africans realised that Thatcher, Reagan and Kohl and also some church bodies were not prepared to take a clear stand against apartheid, we appealed to the humanity of citizens worldwide. German church women then took a stand to boycott South African goods despite the fact that their Bishops cut their budget. Across the world, men, women and children not only affirmed the humanity of black South Africans but also gave the Dutch Reformed Church an ultimatum: either you accept that all people are created in the image of God or we will no longer accept you at the Communion Table.

The time has now come for a similar message to go directly to the citizens of the State of Israel and all its supporters across the world: either you stop your abuse of the Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths, and accept that Palestinians are your equals or you will no longer be welcome at the table of humanity.

The choice has to be as simple and stark as that.

“We won this one together” says Desai on Virgin Active gym debacle

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After being kicked out of a Johannesburg gym on 12 August 2015 when pro-Israel supporters did not like his T-shirt, BDS South Africa’s National Coordinator said:

I am humbled by the outpouring of revolutionary love, support, advice and guidance from so many….I also humbly realise that it wasn’t necessarily done for me (nor BDS South Africa). For most people, it was simply about a principled commitment to defending our hard fought for freedoms and not giving-in to power and privilege.


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Following a nationwide outcry, Virgin Active eventually took responsibility for its wrong-doing and apologised for initially denying access to BDS South Africa’s National Coordinator, Muhammed Desai to the Old Eds Virgin Active gym. Desai and BDS South Africa welcomed the company’s apology and backtrack. Says Desai:

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I’m humbled by the outpouring of revolutionary love, support, advice and guidance from friends, comrades and members of the public as well as the various media commentators, freedom of expression experts, lawyers and, of course, fellow members of the organisations that I belong to (YCL, BDS SA etc.)

However, I also humbly realise that it wasn’t necessarily done for me (nor BDS South Africa). For most people, it was simply about a principled commitment to defending our hard fought for freedoms and not giving-in to power and privilege.

No matter how horrible Howard Page and other pro-Israeli gym patrons were, this was not an issue about a “disagreement” between gym patrons over a tshirt. It was about a company unfairly siding with (or succumbing to) pressure by those who support Israel and then taking an unfair decision – as a company – in favour of one group over another. A decision that violated several constitutional rights.

This was about how power and privilege is used to suppress voices that challenge injustices, and in particular, voices that are critical of Israel’s injustices against the Palestinian people.

Finally, I take serious offence at comments by some that they were shocked to learn that I actually go to gym. But, I guess, that’s their constitutional right 🙂

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For the record: I never called the ENCA journalist to the gym (in fact, I never knew him nor had his details until after this issue). It was by (a very fortunate) chance that he was also there that evening (he was on his way out as he had forgotten his towel). Secondly, I did not go to the OId Eds gym because it is frequented by pro-Israeli supporters. I go to Old Eds simply because it is the closest to where I live. In fact, I have never visited another Virgin Active Gym in the whole of Johannesburg. Thirdly, I was never, as claimed, at any point on Wednesday evening aggressive or forceful. Virgin Active surveillance cameras can attest to that.

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This is a victory for freedom of expression. It is also a victory against those South Africans who think their support of Israel’s human rights crimes gives them the right to bully and harass businesses, academics, journalists, students and members of the public who voice (or even simply allow) support for BDS, the Palestinian people, or criticism of Israel.

In this instance, the pro-Israeli pressure (which Virgin Active was wrong to succumb to) back-fired with thousands taking to social media and other platforms and eventually leading the company to back-track and apologise.

Many more supporters now, more than before, wear BDS T-shirts to gym. I too did some yoga in the Old Eds Virgin Active gym earlier this week when I was in Johannesburg for the #Kairos30 Conference. Wearing a suitable T-shirt, of course, 🙂

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Thousands more now know, more than before, about the non-violent boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel movement.

Book review: how Israeli school textbooks teach kids to hate

There are different ways to position yourself as superior to others, but the message stays the same.

Some methods may be more sophisticated or subtle than others. Miroslav Volf (1996:74-75), for example, mentions both obvious forms of exclusion such as domination and more nuanced forms such as assimilation whereby others are expected to fit into the dominating or existing way of doing things. Yet another form of exclusion entails rejection by not taking cognizance of others. A subtle yet very damaging form of exclusion is symbolic exclusion whereby we refuse to engage with others in such a way that we really learn to know them but rather choose to serve our own interests.

In a new book with the title “Palestine in Israeli School books” Israeli language and education professor Nurit Peled-Elhanan shows how an anti-Palestinian ideology is promoted in the minds of Israel’s youth through the use of exclusion and absence in Israeli school books:

“(N)one of the textbooks studied here includes, whether verbally or visually, any positive cultural or social aspect of Palestinian life-world: neither literature nor poetry, neither history nor agriculture, neither art nor architecture, neither customs nor traditions are ever mentioned” (49).

Peled-Elhanan concludes:

“The books studied here present Israeli-Jewish culture as superior to the Arab-Palestinian one, Israeli-Jewish concepts of progress as superior to Palestinian-Arab way of life and Israeli-Jewish behavior as aligning with universal values” (230)

Click on the link below to read the full book review on Electronic Intifada:

Book review: how Israeli school textbooks teach kids to hate.

During my time in the West Bank I visited several schools and also did research for Save the Children. I never encountered an ideology in their education system that belittle Israelis. Instead my team members and I found children that are very scared of the Israelis. (I’ve written several posts about it which you can find by typing “Children in armed conflict” in my blog’s “search” facility.)

Below are some photos I took of Palestinian children:

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

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

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.

A boy from Al Walaja in the district of Bethlehem watches intently as his family’s land is confiscated by the building of the illegal Israeli wall. .

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA girl serving us with coffee during the olive harvest.

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Being searched by Israeli soldiers on their way to and from school:

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Volf, M. 1996. Exclusion & Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation. Nashville: Abingdon Press.

Peled-Elhanan, N. 2014. Palestine in Israeli School Books: Ideology and Propaganda in Education (Library of Modern Middle East Studies). Tauris Academic Studies.

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.

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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.

Arriving in Israel: Just a few routine security questions, Mr Obama

Israel wouldn’t mess up and let its airport security welcome President Obama to the country, would it?

3029445719Please hand over your suitcase.  Open it. Now that bag.  Open it.  Photo by AP.

This account is typical of what people experience on entering Israel.  Just last week a visiting academic from South Africa, Dr Salim Vally, was denied access at Allenby Bridge on the Jordan Border.

By Nicolas Pelham in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, 21 March 2013.

Israeli officials are more than a little nervous ahead of Barack Obama’s first visit as a sitting president. His previous encounters with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu turned into sparring matches. But salvation might be at hand from Israel’s ever-vigilant immigration authorities.

The president enters the terminal. A smiling young woman approaches, security tag hanging from her neck like a second necklace.

Sir, we need to ask you routine security questions.

PBO: Sure. It’s good to be here. Shalom.

(She opens his passport.) What is your name?

PBO: Barack Obama.

Barack Obama. What kind of a name is that?

PBO: My parents shared an abiding faith that in a tolerant world your name is no barrier to success. Barack means blessed…

(Interrupting) I see. Do you have any middle names?

PBO: Um…

The security officer waits.

PBO: That’s my name.

And what are the names of your grandparents?

PBO: Hussein and Habiba Obama.

What community did they belong to?

PBO: They were Kenyan Muslims…

Step aside please. (PBO is directed to an isolated corner of the arrivals hall. After some time, another security agent appears.) I need to ask you a few questions. You understand that this is for your own security. What are the names of your grandparents?

PBO: As I’ve said, Hussein and Habiba.

Do you feel more African or more American?

PBO: Thank you for your interest, but, well, this is a question I think we should all consider carefully before asking. I have a … a … a vision in which everybody’s treated with respect and dignity irrespective of race, faith, gender or sexual orientation.

I need you to answer the question.

PBO: In my country an immigration officer couldn’t ask an American Jew if he felt more Jewish or American. Could I ask your name?

I’m the one asking the questions. Do you belong to a community?

PBO: As I’ve said, I’m Christian. But there’s a rule at the heart of every religion: Do unto others as we would have them do unto us. It’s a belief that pulsed in the cradle of civilization.

Did anyone give you anything to take to Israel? You need to understand that it happens people are given something that looks innocent but is a bomb.

PBO (relieved to be back on solid ground): Well, of course, I fully understand the security considerations.

Did your father raise you as a Muslim?

PBO: My father passed on his name, not his religion. And besides, he left when I was young. Maybe 3.

You weren’t raised by your father? Where were you brought up?

PBO: Indonesia. I first went there when my mother married an Indonesian named Lolo Soetoro, and the people of Indonesia made me feel at home. My Indonesian friends and I used to run in fields with water buffalo and goats, running along the paddy fields and catching dragonflies. And because Indonesia is made up of thousands of islands, hundreds of languages and people from scores of ethnic groups, my time here helped me appreciate the common humanity of all people…

(Interrupting.) And did your stepfather belong to a community?

Hey, I’m not sure these questions are really necessary.

These questions are part of the entry requirements for the State of Israel.

PBO: I am fully committed to Israel’s security. My government gives it $3 billion every year.

Please wait here. (She confers with her supervisor, then returns). I have a few more questions. You understand that this is for your own security.

PBO: Yes…

Where will you be staying?

PBO: The King David Hotel.

Do you have a reservation?

PBO: Yes.

Can I see it?

PBO: My people have it.

Who made your reservation?

PBO: Well, these matters are normally handled by protocol.

Do you have a return ticket?

PBO: Look…

Answer the question.

PBO: After Israel we’re going to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.

You have a second passport, don’t you?

PBO: What?

Don’t you have an African passport?

PBO: No.

Why not?

PBO: Because I was born in Hawaii. Is there something wrong with my passport?

I just need you to answer a few questions. Do you have any other form of ID? A business card? (A huffy silence follows.) Has any member of your family been convicted of a criminal offense?

PBO: No. Hold on a minute. Do you think we could speak to someone at the American Embassy?

When we’re done. Are you sure? Any relatives, alive or deceased?

PBO: My grandfather was once in prison.

For what?

PBO: It’s not clear. He was tortured by the British, and scarred for life.

Sir, please follow me. (She leads PBO to a side room. Two security officers are there. The new woman picks up the questioning.) Did you pack your bags yourself? Have they been out of your sight?

PBO: They were packed by my staff.

(The male security officer dons latex gloves and begins to examine PBO’s luggage.) Did anyone give you anything to give to someone?

PBO: No.

Have you or anyone close to you taken part in any solidarity activity for Palestine?

PBO: What are you trying to say?

I’m only asking a question.

PBO: Look, America’s bond with Israel is unbreakable. It is based on recognition that the aspiration for a Jewish homeland is rooted in a tragic history that cannot be denied. On the other hand, it is also undeniable that the Palestinian people have suffered in pursuit of a homeland.

I understand. And what do you want to do about it? Will you be meeting with Palestinians?

PBO: Yeah, with leaders, including President Abu Mazen. But first of all, I’m not sure this is all strictly necessary. You know, we all have some discretion in terms of how we apply law.

If you want to enter Israel, you will need to cooperate with the security check. You’ve been here before. Why are you coming back? You could go to Mexico, to Canada. It’s closer to Washington and cheaper.

PBO: Could you get me the American Embassy, please.

You need to complete the procedures first. (The woman types www.gmail.com on her computer and turns the keyboard toward PBO.) Log in.

PBO: Is that even legal? Do you have a search warrant that entitles you to see such things? I am the president of the United States.

If you don’t comply, you know what that would mean, right?

PBO: OK, I want a lawyer. And I want to call the American Embassy. Now.

I doubt it would help. Most of the people who work there are Israeli nationals employed because they speak Hebrew. I doubt they voted for you.

PBO: This incident suggests that law enforcement in this country is blocking people disproportionately based on race and religion.

Sir, I will need to ask you to stay calm. You may call whomever you want, after you have completed the procedures. As of now, you are denied entry. You will have the right to remain in a facility pending your departure from Israel. In the meantime, if you could please sit in front of the camera … Thank you. And now if you could place your right thumb on this ink pad, and now the left one. Thank you.

Air Force One leaves. Prime Minister Netanyahu breathes a sigh of relief. He returns to his desk, and surveys his maps depicting contours for fresh settlement expansion.

Press statement: SABC/SAFM cancellation of programme with Prof Qumisyeh

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13 March 2013

PRESS STATEMENT:

 The Palestine Solidarity Campaign notes that the SABC and SAFM arranged to present a phone-in programme and debate between a distinguished visiting Palestinian activist, Prof. Mazin Qumsiyeh, and a representative from the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD), who undertook to present the Zionist perspective on Israel’s policies toward Palestinians. This was to have taken place just after the 9h00 news on SAfm on Tuesday 12 March 2013.

At the last minute, after having originally agreed to take part, the SAJBD withdrew its agreement and refused to participate. The programme was immediately cancelled by the SABC on the grounds that the SAJBD had been invited to ensure “balance” and that, following the withdrawal of those who would put the Zionist perspective, this “balance” no longer existed.

This is not the first time that Zionists have used this tactical ploy to silence those who disagree with them. In order to do this, it is of course necessary that the public platform would be provided by someone who sympathised with the Zionists and who thus could be trusted to play their shabby game with them. The obvious intention is to violate the constitutional right to the freedom of expression, freedom of the press and other media, and the freedom to receive or impart information or ideas while at the same time claiming to be seeking “balance”.

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign is completely unafraid to confront Zionists in any public debate – a debate which the SAJBD is clearly desperate to avoid. We believe that their evasive tactics further highlight the parallels between apartheid and Zionism. These are apparent at every turn and stone.

On its part, the SAJBD reveals itself – yet again – to be too craven to face in public, in front of an open microphone, or in any other form or venue those who wish to present the reasons why Zionism and the Zionist policies of Israel are racist, oppressive, and a violation of the fundamental human rights of the Palestinians.

Moreover, the action of withdrawing from a programme it agreed to take part in is itself a clear political statement. The SAJBD has had to rely on the SABC to provide it with cover to skulk behind, even though by its own act the SAJBD has itself forfeited any right to a claim of “balance”.

Further, the SABC is revealed as having not yet freed itself from its squalid role as the apologist for, and would-be sanitiser of, apartheid. It used to make the same bogus claim to “balance” when silencing those who opposed what the whole world condemned as a crime against humanity – just as it has now done in the case of Zionism.

None of this is surprising. In 2007 the SABC and the South African Jewish Board of Deputies entered into a formal ageement which – in summary – empowered the SAJBD to censor how the SABC presented affairs concerning the Middle East.

Racism in general, and Zionism in particular, cannot cope with the searchlight of democracy. The SAJBD is seeking to protect itself from being exposed by its critics, and thereby to sanitise Israel by attempting to subvert rights protected by the South African constitution. One of the most visible victims is the SABC itself, which is content to render meaningless in practice what it claims to be its editorial policies in its published Editorial Code. We point to statements it makes to the effect that it avoids promoting discrimination in its programmes on the grounds of political persuasion, and that it seeks balance by presenting relevant views on matters of importance.

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign condemns the cancellation of the interview with Proof. Mazin, and demands that the SABC honour the obligations and duties it boasts of.

ISSUED BY THE PALESTINE SOLIDARITY CAMPAIGN, SOUTH AFRICA

Contacts for further comment:

 Martin Jansen 0828702025 or Mercia Andrews 0823683429

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Qumisyeh’s Peace Plan/ South African public broadcaster cancels interview

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“What is your Peace Plan?” they asked Prof. Mazin Qumsiyeh.  His answer consisted of four words.

On Monday 11 March 2013 Qumsiyeh’s public talk in Stellenbosch started by mentioning his own interwoven family history with ties to people in various cultures and religious groups – including Jewish links.

MaasaraQumsiyeh

Mazin is an American citizen. Five years ago he returned to Palestine where he now plays an active role in civil society in addition to his academic career in genetics and zoology.

When asked what his “Peace Plan” is, he said it consists of four words:

HUMAN RIGHTS and INTERNATIONAL LAW.

I couldn’t agree more.

In the end one would hope for HUMAN DIGNITY too.

After his talk at the Faculty of Theology (and the great introductory talk by Bonga Mbenenge and his remarks on human dignity), a few of us accompanied Prof Qumsiyeh to the nearby lush green botanical gardens.  What a gift it was to share this day in such great company!

Public broadcaster cancels radio talk:

The next morning Qumsiyeh had an appointment for an interview on SAFM (a  South African public radio station that broadcasts nationally), but it was cancelled at the very last minute.

Why? As stated in the Palestine Solidarity Campaign’s letter (PSC letter to SABC station manager the Jewish Board of Deputies who first insisted to be part of the discussion in the name of “balance in a sensitive issue” withdrew the evening before the show – and so South Africa’s public broadcaster cancelled the show.

The next morning, Terry Crawford-Browne  took Prof Qumsiyeh to the studio.  Says Crawford-Browne:

The SABC’s security record for the day will confirm that Mazin Qumsiyeh and I signed in at 08:45. The receptionist’s computer monitor confirmed that Mazin was expected.   The sound engineer on duty can confirm that he took us into a studio, and contacted Johannesburg to advise that Mazin was in the studio.  He was then hugely embarrassed to tell Mazin that the programme had been cancelled.

To call the matter between Israel and Palestine in need of “balance on a sensitive matter” displays in my opinion either ignorance or a disregard of international law, human rights and the gross violations thereof by Israel in its occupation of Palestine.

Why not give someone from Palestine a voice? Surely the public can phone in and ask any questions they want?  I think this was an attempt to silence a strong voice who speaks the reason of inclusion and dignity for all in the Middle East. I am deeply ashamed that my country’s public broadcaster’s decision.  In fact, the South African Palestinian Solidarity Campaign called this censorship by the SABC/SAFM:

“unlawful and unconstitutional, violating South Africans’ rights to freedom of expression and access to information.”

See also the PSC Media Statement

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Professor Mazin Qumsiyeh (http://qumsiyeh.org/aboutqumsiyeh) is a Palestinian American of Christian background and was raised in Beit Sahour, the biblical Shepherd’s field just outside of Bethlehem, where he continues to live and work.

Mazin now teaches at Bethlehem University and Birzeit University in molecular genetics and other biology related courses. His worthy blog: http://popular-resistance.blogspot.com/ is informative and analytical regarding the Palestine/Israel conflict.

His academic career started with his Ph.D. in Zoology from Texas Tech University. His later training was in genetics and he served as Associate Professor of Genetics and director of cytogenetic services both at Duke University and Yale University. During his 24 years in USA, he served on the faculties of these Universities.

He has traveled extensively in Jordan, Israel/Palestine, North Africa, East Africa, Europe, and America conducting scientific work and research, and has published over 120 scientific papers in areas ranging from Zoology to Genetics and two books: Mammals of the Holy Land and Bats of Egypt.

As an activist with Palestinian liberation movements, Mazin has served on several organizations’ Boards, authored books and published views and commentaries via the Internet and on websites.

mazinQumsiyeh being arrested in Al-Walaja 6 May 2010*

*The illegal Israeli Wall confiscates fertile Palestinian land (and the livelihood of families) in Al Walaja, a village in the district of Bethlehem. Most Palestinian men have been detained at least once – often for acts such as protests or stone throwing and often without a formal complaint.

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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.

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Is the dream of Zionism crumbling?

The founding social contract of Zionism was based on the notion that all Jews must stick together, especially in combat against Arabs but also otherwise against a hostile world, and in exchange they would enjoy the benefits of a welfare state.

(Haggai Matar, an Israeli journalist and political activist)

There is a new (and in my view a positive) take on military service refusal in Israel. It flared up from an unexpected, and a very tragic angle.  In July 2012, a man set himself on fire in public; thousands took to the streets of Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa and Be’er Sheva; and Guy Tamar, a first sergeant (res.) in the engineering corps. declared:

Recent events cracked something within me. You can say my eyes were once closed, and the social justice protests opened them in such a way that I can’t go back.

Ruth Hiller from New Profile sketched the events leading up to the mass protest:

e-mail, 17 July 2012

Dear Friends,

I hope all is well.

I don’t know how many of you are following the newest wave of social protest going on in Israel. Saturday, July 14th marked a year since it began, and demonstrations were held in most of the larger cities in Israel. During the demonstration in Tel Aviv, Moshe Silman, a social activist from Haifa, who is unemployed and homeless, read a letter that he wrote to the government having been refused social benefits and rent assistance several times, and set himself on fire. The act in itself is horrific and sad. Moshe has burns on 96% of his body, is in a medically induced coma and is being ventilated. This is a tragedy for his family and for Israel, as so much could have been done to help him so that he would not have to reach this level of extreme desperation.

The discussion of why Moshe Silman and why he did what he did is very today’s discussion all over Israel. Here is a man who once owned his own small trucking business and an apartment. But due to debts incurred to the National Insurance Institute (our Social Security system), he had to claim bankruptcy and lost his home. Additionally he then suffered a series of small strokes and was unable to seek employment. From here everything was then downhill for him and in spite of the many applications for financial aid, he was deemed ineligible.  Moshe Silman’s sister gave several TV and radio interviews and shared with the Israeli public how he used to be a very proud man and how his sense of pride was beaten.

Other people in Israel have committed suicide, leaving testimonies of great shame in their inability to maintain their households and support their families… it is difficult for me to comprehend the choice of taking one’s life to prove a point. At the same time while it is not my place to criticize the act, I also can’t rationalize and call Moshe Silman a social justice hero. I would not want others, who have reached similar levels of desperation, to take their lives. (Just this morning a man tried to set himself on fire before the National Insurance Institute offices in Be’er Sheva, but was stopped on time by a security guard.) Moshe is not one case, and there are many other Israeli citizens, from all the ethnic sectors, who are experiencing the same systematic red tape treatment by governmental offices. However the social movement has been consistent in one aspect from the get go, and has kept matters of social services, affordable medical services, and affordable housing high up on the agenda.

Now Haggai Matar, a colleague and fellow activist in New Profile, writes about an new phenomena within the Israel social protest – conscientious objection in protest of neo-liberalism and the lack of social justice. I think you will find the article…on the online magazine +972, of much interest.

All the best,

Ruth

Group of J14 activists to refuse military reserve duty

Moshe Silman, who set himself on fire sparked a new wave of angry J14 protests against the Israeli government. Thousands of demonstrators marched the streets of Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa and Be’er Sheva, enraged by anti-social policies and by Prime Minister Netanyahu’s response to the event, which he defined it a “personal tragedy.”

Protesters carried copies of Silman’s suicide letter (parts of which were omitted in the pro-Netanyahu daily Israel Hayom), and chanted slogans such as “every man is Moshe Silman” and “Netanyahu – go home!”

In Tel Aviv more than a thousand demonstrators blockaded government buildings and blocked main roads, including the Ayalon Highway, and gained much support from car and even train drivers passing by. While in Tel Aviv police did not intervene, In Jerusalem six were arrested while blocking roads. Late at night the  entrance to the National Insurance Institute (Bituah Leumi) building in Ramat Gan was set on fire, and graffiti was sprayed reading: “Price tag for Moshe Silman.”

One of the protesters in Tel Aviv was 39-year-old Guy Tamar who is a first sergeant (res.) in the engineering corps who says:

I was careful not to reach this point before, but on a day such as this there is no choice. I will no longer defend a state that does not defend its citizens.

Within hours five more reserve service men, two of them officers, sent him their names and ranks and asked to join the initiative, as did two ex-servicemen.

I had problems with the way the army does things in the past, but I felt like it was important to be there and make a difference. But recent events cracked something within me. You can say my eyes were once closed, and the social justice protests opened them in such a way that I can’t go back.

And then the words that I find so encouraging:

We mustn’t worship the army, but rather the lives of citizens and all others who live here. Before equal duties we must talk of equal rights. The government must understand that we are rejecting the militaristic discourse.

Read the full article with photos here.

In another step, Abigail Disney an investor in Shamrock Holdings, the Disney family investment fund that owns a part of Ahava, decided to donate her profits to the ending of the occupation.

Ahava’s main factory is located in an Israeli settlement, and is owned by companies deeply invested in Israel’s illegal settlement project.  She says:

While I will always hold my colleagues and coworkers in the highest regard, I cannot in good conscience profit from what is technically the “plunder” or “pillage” of occupied natural resources and the company’s situating its factory in an Israeli settlement in the Occupied West Bank. Because of complicated legal and financial constraints I am unable to withdraw my investment at this time, but will donate the corpus of the investment as well as the profits accrued to me during the term of my involvement to organizations working to end this illegal exploitation.

These Israelis and Jews who have the guts to stand up for justice remind me of those in my country during the apartheid years who were willing to face the critique of society when they said that apartheid must end.  The occupation of Palestine will end too.