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.

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