Nation divided in outrage
We have suffered under oppression and tyranny yet we deny Palestinians a chance to escape Israeli oppression
IN APRIL, we celebrated Freedom Month, which offered us an opportune moment to reflect on our struggle for freedom. And this week, the Israeli army killed at least 58 Palestinians in Gaza and wounded more than 2 700 others.
In light of the Palestinian struggle, I am reminded of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela’s quote on how South Africa can’t be free without the freedom of the Palestinians, and how apartheid Israel can be defeated just as apartheid South Africa was defeated.
The freedom we achieved is not isolated from the freedom of others across the world. Much like our struggles were not isolated from the front lines and from support pouring in from all over the world, our freedom is tied to everyone’s freedom.
While it’s only human that we identify more with some struggles, we need to be conscious of with whom and to what we align ourselves.
In my self-defence class, a coloured Muslim woman made me aware of how we categorise struggles between “ours” and “theirs”. She said black people had a sense of entitlement when demanding that their stolen land be returned, while insisting that Palestinians are justified in demanding the same. The dissonance appeared to escape her.
I thought back to artist Black Coffee’s response to the outrage when he performed in Tel Aviv. He argued that he was not a political party and even if the UN-acknowledged Israeli occupation of the Palestinian people and land was unjust, he was entitled to get paid wherever he performed.
The interactions provide telling stories of how brown South African Muslims and black South Africans view the apartheid states of South Africa and Israel.
Many human rights organisations have noted that the ideology and tactics that fuelled apartheid South Africa are put to use in Israel against Palestinians in the name of terrorism and security.
Both implored the notion of apartheid –“apartness”. Apartheid South Africa used this to separate others (Indian, coloured and especially the black majority) from the minority white population. Israel uses this to separate others (Christian and Muslim Palestinians) from the Zionist settlers.
In an attempt to justify the brute force initiated by the apartheid regime, it aligned itself and was co-opted by the West during
the Cold War under the banner of “fighting communism”.
It claimed that the violence was necessary as the ANC was a radical communist and terrorist group, much in the same way that Palestinians, liberation organisations and Hamas are painted as radical Islamist and terrorist groups.
While there are no saints and clear sinners – the narrative of an Israeli nation under siege from Palestinians and Arab neighbours, the lone democracy in the Middle East, facing terror from forces greater than itself is a false one. Israel is a military might in the region.
Through propaganda-fuelled paranoia that black South Africans were out to get white people, the apartheid government moved, isolated and separated blacks from economic centres and healthcare services and denied them their citizenship.
The government legalised and institutionalised this through the Group Areas Act, the Reservation of Separate Amenities Act and the dompas system.
Similarly, the Israel state assigned
separate roads for Palestinians, destroyed Palestinian homes and forced Palestinians to carry permits to go through multiple checkpoints. It constructed a wall, bringing back the notion of barriers, physical and symbolic, much like the Berlin Wall, which came to stand for communist oppression.
South Africa’s apartheid and Israel’s security apparatus are undeniably similar in ideology, construction and technique.
Why is it that there is such divisiveness among South African outrage? Why do Muslim people of colour empathise and mobilise for the Palestinian cause but cannot extend the same empathy to blacks who went through colonialism and apartheid? Why can black Christians stand by when the teachings of Christ to love thy neighbour are as flagrantly violated there as they are here? Why are there moments of dissonance in these allegiances?
Do Muslims in South Africa apply the same outrage when it is black Muslims who face oppression and injustice? Do we rally for Muslims in the Central African Republic that are being persecuted en masse? Do
we rally for black Muslims in South Sudan?
Likewise, what do black Christians in South Africa say about Israel deporting Rwandan and Eritrean refugees?
Does the dissonance suggest conclusions about our empathy and activism?
I pose these questions to encourage us all – Muslims, Jews, Christians, atheists, agnostics, Buddhists and Hindus – to solve this for ourselves and see if they sit well with our vision for our consciousness for humanity. After all, as much as we’re led to believe the Israel-Palestine conflict is religious, it isn’t.
This selective outrage and activism should create a moment of pause for South Africa. As a nation that has suffered under the oppression and tyranny of English colonialism and Afrikaner Christian nationalism, how do we deny Palestinians a chance to escape the tyranny of Israeli oppression?
Does this selective outrage to injustice reflect what our religions, cultures, national histories and shared values teach us?All told, it does little for every humanitarian cause across the world.
ONSLAUGHT: A Palestinian protester falls as others run from teargas fired by Israeli forces during a protest marking the 70th anniversary of the Nakba, at the Israel-Gaza border in the southern Gaza Strip.