/ 12 October 2023

Palestine and Israel: In reconciliation there is freedom

Israel X Palestine
Israel and Hamas announced a deal on Wednesday allowing at least 50 hostages and scores of Palestinian prisoners to be freed, while offering besieged Gaza residents a four-day truce after weeks of all-out war.

I could not join my fellow Buccaneers and celebrate Orlando Pirates’ victory against Mamelodi Sundowns to retain the MTN8 trophy. I cannot find it within myself to forgive Pirates for playing against Israeli club, Maccabi Tel Aviv. Myself and many South Africans support the people of Palestine in their struggle for liberation against the violent and inhumane oppression by the successive fascist right-wing governments of Israel.  

But I can bet my last rand that although many Pirates fans also support the Palestinian cause, unlike me they will not necessarily withdraw support for the club because it is difficult to describe the nature of the conflict. Normal words like ‘conflict’ or ‘hostilities’ or even ‘war’ conjures up imagery that it is an equal fight between two enemies. Whereas, there is no equivalence between the two.  

Simply put, the Israeli government, political leaders and military are murderous bullies who have no problem killing people who have only rudimentary weapons at their disposal.

In the latest round of tragic hostilities between them, the Palestinian Hamas movement launched a military operation which included the firing of rockets and ground forces entering Israel. By Wednesday, as more bodies were being discovered, the number of Israeli dead was more than 1 200, and 2 500 injured. We need to understand that these are rockets, not bombs, it is not like they explode upon impact and cause maximum damage. However, the use of ground forces most probably had a greater impact on the numbers of casualties.

The response by Israeli political leadership has been predictable. They exploit the actions of Hamas to reinforce the perception within Israeli society that they are a country under siege and always facing a threat of extermination. This approach allows Israel to then mount a military campaign against Palestinians living in Gaza, which has already killed 900 Palestinians, of which 260 are children, and injured 2 900. Essentially, the initial Israeli action is to bomb an area that is just a little larger than Soweto. Expect Israeli ground forces to move in later.  

The actions of Hamas cannot be understood to be unprovoked. Every day, Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip and West Bank are herded like cattle, being prodded and shifted around, not allowed to move freely at all. Hamas’ actions are a direct result of them being as fed-up as the Palestinian people.  

But this is a dangerous time. Israelis are made to believe that Palestinians not only want to kill all of them, but are not really human. At the same time the violent actions by Israelis strengthen those who believe in a military solution. The result is that hatred of each other is rapidly becoming the only common point between Palestinians and Israelis. Unless progressives in the leadership and people from both Palestine and Israel noisily intervene, the outcome is going to be tragic, especially for Palestinians. 

Cast your mind back to the Magoos bar bombing in Durban in June 1986. ANC military operative Robert McBride led a team that detonated a car bomb outside the bar, killing three civilians and injuring sixty-nine others. McBride insisted that the bar was targeted because Security Branch personnel frequented it. 

The ANC came under massive global pressure for seemingly targeting civilians. The ANC responded by pointing out that the apartheid regime also attacked indiscriminately, ignoring the rules of engagement by sending hit squads into Lesotho or Botswana, as well as assassinating individuals like lawyers and human rights activists, and there wasn’t the same outcry.  

The body counts may be vastly different, but the similarities are apt. Indeed, for many South Africans McBride is a hero, while for a number of others, McBride is thought of as a callous murderer of innocent people. The world reacts differently to the killing of civilians, depending on which side of the struggle you sit. But, it is clear, even to the most one-eyed of supporters, that Israel possesses far greater fire-power, more powerful friends, and that this conflict or war is not an equal one.

So how did South Africa move from that moment in 1986, when the liberation movement tested to see if their operations could include civilian casualties? It began with the leadership of the ANC, deciding by themselves that it was not in their interest to target civilians, or bomb targets where civilians were at risk. It meant that the ANC leadership had to bring the hardliners and those enamoured with military victory under more political control, and to actively seek a diplomatic and political solution. 

Even though in 1986 PW Botha’s securocrat regime was firmly in charge of the National Party and the apartheid government, his efforts to demonise the ANC and its leaders looked very hollow, without the ANC coming across as bloodthirsty fanatics out for revenge. Such that three years later, political and business leaders within white South Africa were taking unauthorised trips to meet with the ANC leaders outside the country.

We need to recognise that the Palestinian political leadership needs genuine and honest friends. They do not need friends urging them to increase military action against Israel. Hamas, even if they get support from Iran, Syria, Lebanon and others, will not defeat Israel. 

Some may regard increased military operations by Palestinians as justification for the indiscriminate killing of innocent Palestinians by the Netanyahu regime. As well as making it possible for Netanyahu to declare Israel to be in a state of war, and therefore distract from the 2016 corruption charges he is supposed to face.   

The Israeli state and propaganda machines have been indoctrinating Israelis for years to believe that Palestinians are brought up to hate not just Israelis but all Jews. They are taught, just like white people in apartheid times were brainwashed about black people, into believing that Palestinians want to exterminate them like Hitler did, a veritable second Holocaust. In 2015 Netanyahu made the false claim that the Holocaust was the brainchild of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem (an Islamic religious leader), who had convinced Hitler not to expel the Jews but exterminate them.  

Ordinary Israelis cannot continue to be quiet and should openly defy the right wing government of Israel. Imagine if white South Africans decided to elect Eugene Terreblanche’s Afrikaner Weerstand Beweging (AWB) in response to De Klerk taking over from Botha, but this is what Israelis have been doing by increasingly and consistently supporting right wing religious fascist political parties.  

A critical mass of progressive Israelis in Israel and the rest of the world needs to stand up and be heard. They need to walk into Gaza to protect Palestinians from attacks. Ordinary Palestinians also need to let their leadership in Hamas and Fatah know that they do not want any civilians to suffer military attacks like they do, including Israelis.

There is no easy path to peace for Israelis and Palestinians, and at this stage it is not about a two or one state solution. It is simply for Israelis to accept that Palestinians are human beings not hell-bent on their destruction and for Palestinians to make it known that their struggle is for human rights and peace, not revenge.  

True revolutionaries and freedom fighters must stand up against the religious zealots and those hellbent on violence.   

Donovan E Williams, a social commentator.