The Israel – Palestine conflict plays a large role in South African student politics. Many rally behind it to gain political support for various agendas and others simply see the information provided (by organizations like BDS-SA) and are sympathetic to the Palestinian cause without questioning why and how the whole conflict actually happened.
I do not believe any position on such a sensitive subject should be decided, or publically supported until both the Palestinians and Israelis have had an opportunity to be heard.
During my recent visit as part of a South African student group, I soon realized that we in South Africa lack crucial information about the conflict. Some example include the history of the Israeli-Arab conflict, that has now been largely solved and now resides as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; the massive impact the Palestinian-Palestinian conflict between Fatah and Hamas has on the Israeli and Palestinian people; the 20 year-old peace process agreements agreed upon by both the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli government and the terror attacks inflicted upon Israelis and Palestinians by Hamas – a movement which BDS supports. I can now clearly see that there is no one victim in this scenario. It is a very complex and difficult dispute, but people on both sides seem to want peace and are working for it, together – something that would never happen if BDS had its way.
Regarding accusations of apartheid and the like that BDS throws at Israel, I believe Israel has not been given an opportunity to present its case, and therefore is being wrongfully charged. I also believe that BDS has over-stepped in representing the Palestinian people. From what I can see its campaigns, far from helping the Palestinians, are in actuality hurting them and possibly even distancing rather than bringing closer a final peace settlement. During my interaction with the Palestinian people many of them had no idea what BDS, nor were they aware of any actual projects it initiates in Palestine to benefit its people.
So what is the BDS hiding? They went to great lengths to prevent some of the young leaders from going on this trip, even offering a R40 000 bribe for each participant not to go. I asked myself, why had they never offered us to go to Palestine to speak to Palestinians on the ground? If what they preach is the truth, would they not want us to see it?
I now believe it is because they were scared we would find out the truth. The truth is they have continuously lied to us, exaggerating and manipulating South Africans into believing their stories and using us as foot soldiers in their “struggle”.
BDS SA has enjoyed its position of superiority in monopolizing the information flow regarding the Israel-Palestine conflict and they have taken advantage of this to use the people of South Africa for their own personal and political gain. Today, I can say that I have been exposed to much more information, not only from what I heard in Israel and Palestine, but from what I saw.
Regarding the accusation that this was a “free holiday trip”, we had such a tight schedule there was no holidaying about it – it was an educational tour to the letter. On the first day, we were told us to remember two important things, namely: “Ask anything! You are here to expose yourself to the various aspects of Israeli and Palestinian history, society and politics, so leave no question unasked” and, “Remember that no person can tell you the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, because as you will come to see there is not one truth in this conflict. But you will see an array of various people, positions and hopes in the conflict”. I believe the trip was conducted this way and that is to be respected.
During the trip, we heard from Israelis and Palestinians, and saw both Israel and Palestine. Frankly, I believe that is what upsets BDS the most, since now they know that we will not blindly believe everything they tell us regarding the conflict. You can be sure Israelis and Palestinians do not agree on everything, but one thing they do agree upon is the need for a peaceful solution leading to an independent Palestinian state co-existing alongside Israel. Just that sentence is enough to upset BDS, which believes in forcing Israel to its knees through boycotts and then getting rid of it completely. When BDS has us chant “from the river to the sea”, they mean that no Israeli state will exist. This is not a realistic or justified position, in my view, and not one Palestinian that I spoke to had such a stance either.
As with every educational experience, I came home with more questions, mainly for BDS. I ask BDS, what do you do with all the money you collect from South Africans, that barely have any to give in the first place? Why do you have such an aggressive stance that encourages only hatred and polarisation? What gives you the right to tell free South Africans what they can or cannot do in their own personal capacity? And how is it that you claim to be “under-funded” when you are able to offer R40 000 to each person who agreed not to go on the trip?
I encourage all South Africans to ask these same questions.
It is an insult to our intelligence and freedom that BDS, through threats and intimidation, seeks to control how we think, and I personally will not allow them to do so any longer. If they want to have a debate or educational event, I would be more than happy to attend, but no more one-sided information and no more silencing of voices that contradict what they would have all of us believe.