Palestine supporters should learn more about freedom from their own hero: Ena Du Plessis

“We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians,” is one of the favourite quotes of South African campaigners for the right of the Palestinians to self-determination.

The quote is taken from the late President Nelson Mandela’s address at the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People that took place on the 4th of December 1997.* It is often used to persuade South Africans to boycott Israeli products and to attempt to force South African retailers to stop importing from Israel. During the recent war in Gaza Mr Mandela’s quote was also used to call for the expulsion of Israel’s Ambassador to South Africa

It is a pity that those who quote from Mr Mandela’s address to support the proposal for the implementation of such extreme measures, have apparently not bothered to read the entire address – or, worse, they have read and chosen to ignore it.

Mr Mandela’s address, though outspokenly sympathetic towards and supportive of the Palestinian cause, makes no suggestion whatsoever of negative action towards Israel. Though focused on expressing solidarity with the Palestinians, the address explicitly recognises Israel’s right to security and approaches Israel’s role in the negotiation process from an overwhelmingly positive angle. It implicitly recognises that true freedom for the Palestinians cannot exist while Israel is under threat. Specifically, Mr Mandela referred to “the multitude of Israeli and Palestinian citizens who are marching together, campaigning together, for an end to prevarication” and went on to say that these “Palestinian and Israeli campaigners for peace know that security for any nation is not abstract; neither is it exclusive. It depends on the security of others; it depends on mutual respect and trust.”

 Neither “mutual respect and trust” nor a right to freedom and security that are not exclusive, are what comes to mind when one considers the aggression with which organisations such as the South African BDS movement and COSATU demand both the severance of business and diplomatic ties between South Africa and Israel, and immediate “freedom” to the Palestinians without any consideration whatsoever of Hamas’s despicable war tactics and refusal to recognise Israel’s right to exist.

In his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, Mr Mandela puts it well when he says that “to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others”.

This is also the type of freedom for which Mr Mandela fought here in South Africa. He never sought freedom for any one group at the expense of another.

The freedom that Mr Mandela pursued, and to which we have become used to in our country over the past two decades, includes freedom of choice.

When the BDS movement attempts to force retail chains such as Woolworths to cease imports from Israel, while knowing full well that a significant portion of such retail chains’ customers would not support such a step, the movement is in fact attempting to curb South African businesses’ and consumers’ freedom of choice.

When COSATU opposes the introduction by the Department of Health of a circumcision device that could save the lives of many South African teenage boys who have to undergo the procedure as part of a cultural initiation ritual, purely because the device would be imported from Israel, it is interfering with these young men’s freedom to choose a safe circumcision procedure for themselves. Surely, if any of these boys felt passionate about boycotting everything Israeli, he could then make an individual, informed decision to undergo his circumcision without making use of the device. But COSATU seems to feel that the lives of innocent young South Africans are less important than its own opinion regarding a highly complex situation on a different continent.

Incidentally, sacrificing the lives of others who have no say in the matter, is one of the despicable war tactics used by Hamas – who claims to fight for the freedom of the Palestinians.

The South African BDS movement and COSATU would do well to consider not only the means they employ in their pursuits, but also what it is that they are truly fighting for. Have they ever considered that the country they are so focused on cutting ties with, even to the possible detriment of their fellow South Africans, is standing out as a beacon of freedom in a region plagued by persecution, extremism, oppression and intolerance? While ISIS is uprooting entire communities and beheading anyone who seems to pose a threat to its rule of terror, Israel is actively protecting all its ethnic and religious minorities. While ISIS is destroying ancient churches and synagogues, Israel is allowing a mosque to stay put right on top of the holiest site in Judaism. More than 40 years before the women of Saudi Arabia started to protest against the rule that forbids them to drive, Israel had already appointed a female prime minister. Roughly a million Jewish citizens of Arab countries had to flee for their lives due to antisemitic persecution shortly before and after the creation of the modern state of Israel; and at the time of this writing, European Jews are once again being targeted by antisemites, to the extent that some are too afraid to wear kippot and tzitzit in public or to construct a sukkah for the Feast of Tabernacles, which starts today. Yet in Israel, Arabs have been members of the Knesset since the first elections in 1949.

Especially seeing that the South African BDS movement and COSATU are so fond of quoting Mr Mandela on the freedom they purport to pursue, they would do well to consider how a man who had spent 27 years of his life in prison for his ideals, and then went on to successfully lead a newly unified nation scarred by decades of prejudice and injustice, defined the concept. And if they made it clear to themselves and to others, both in word and in deed, that this definition of freedom – something that “respects and enhances the freedom of others” is what they envisioned not only for the Palestinians but for the entire Middle East – they would be on a winning path.

Respect by South African supporters of Palestine for the freedom of opinion and freedom of choice of their countrymen and –women is likely to pave the way for constructive dialogue with even the most passionate Zionists. A commitment to maintaining and developing our freedom in South Africa might just help beget true freedom – a freedom that extends far beyond the mere casting off of chains – for the Palestinians. This is the type of freedom that could possibly ripple across to the rest of the Middle East and to the world, and make a lasting difference. How happy Madiba would have been to know that such an ideal is being pursued in his name.

*The address can be read on the ANC’s website: http://anc.org.za/show.php?id=3384

Link to the article: http://m.news24.com/news24/MyNews24/Palestine-supporters-should-learn-more-about-freedom-from-their-own-hero-20141009 


Israel, Gaza and the ‘Genocide’ Smear

Is the Palestinian population of Gaza really in imminent danger of mass extermination at the hands of Israel? According to the Media Review Network’s Suraya Dadoo (‘Never again for Gaza’, 6/10), the answer would appear to be yes. To make her case, Dadoo dwells on the destruction wrought on Gaza during the latest conflict, cites various inflammatory statements alleged made by Israeli spokespeople and refers to certain dire warnings emerging from the latest meeting of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine. The latter included the statement by Tribunal witness Eran Efrati, who asserted that “neither Israel’s defenders, nor the rest of the world, can afford to look away at the growing genocidal tendencies in the Jewish state”.

One response to Dadoo’s piece would be simply to rubbish the entire Russell Tribunal process. Far from conducting any kind of impartial investigation, this operates on a ‘verdict first, trial afterwards’ basis in which Israel is presumed to be guilty until found guilty. It will be recalled what a damp squib the Tribunal turned out to be when it convened in Cape Town a few years ago. Outside the radical anti-Israel camp, few were much interested in a pseudo-judicial process in which only the “case for the prosecution” would be presented and the outcome was pre-determined.

Another, perhaps more enlightening, response would be to examine more closely what ‘genocide’ actually entails, both in terms of international law and historically. From there, one can better assess how appropriate it is to invoke that term in the Israel-Gaza context.

Genocide, in terms of the UN’s Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, constitutes “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group”. Such acts include actual mass killing and the deliberately inflicting on the targeted group “conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part”. All accepted definitions of the term make it clear that the destruction of the group in question is carried out deliberately, systematically and on a mass scale.  The annihilation of three-quarters of European Jewry by Nazi Germany during World War II is probably the best known example of genocide in the modern era, while the most harrowing modern example was the massacre of an estimated million Tutsi in Rwanda.

In the recent conflict between Israel and Gaza, just under 2200 Palestinians were killed. The war itself, contrary to what one might think from reading Dadoo’s article, was directly provoked by Hamas’ sustained bombardment of Israeli cities, to which Israel was left with no choice but to respond militarily. Because Hamas based its fighters in Gaza’s civilian heartland, it was inevitable that non-combatant deaths and injuries would result. Had Israeli officials been allowed to testify before the Russell Tribunal, they would have presented evidence as to how the IDF sought to minimise these casualties. This would have included operational video footage showing how attacks were aborted, sometimes with seconds to spare, in cases where harming civilians looked likely. It would have been shown how Israeli attacks were preceded by numerous warnings to non-combatants to evacuate the targeted areas, and further demonstrated how Hamas not only discouraged its own people from leaving their homes, but in many cases forcibly prevented them from doing so.

While the exact proportion of civilians to military personnel killed in the last Gaza conflict  has yet to be established, some estimates put it at around two to one. Even if this accepted,  however, a comparison with other global conflicts will show such a ratio to be comparatively low. According to an International Committee of the Red Cross study (2001), the ratio of civilian to soldier deaths in all wars fought since the mid-20th century has been 10:1, while a UN estimate for recent conflicts puts it at three to one. Either way, the Gaza figure is significantly lower than what routinely occurs elsewhere in the world.

A country that goes to considerable lengths to minimise civilian losses on the other side, even when this significantly hampers its own military efforts, is very obviously not bent on committing ‘genocide’; the opposite is the case. That a lower proportion of civilian casualties have consistently been recorded compared with most other conflicts is further evidence of how grotesquely inappropriate the term is when applied to Israel’s past and possible future actions. The reality is that ‘genocide’ is being used against the Jewish state not because it bears any relation to the truth but in order to demonise that state whenever it exercises its right to self-defence. The real threat to the well-being of the Gaza population comes from their own leaders, who in their fanatical desire to pursue Israel’s destruction have time and again chosen the path of ruinous war over peaceful co-existence.



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