One feature of the current intifada is the support and sympathy the Palestinians are receiving from people, Muslims and others, all over the world. ZAWAHIR SIDDIQUE reports on support for the Palestinians in South Africa.
While the world tries to force an unjust ‘peace’ on the Palestinians, the Muslims of the world are continuing to support their determination to resist the zionist occupation and its western allies. True, the puppet regimes in the Middle East are yet to respond to the popular demand that they denounce Israel, US and other forces of kufr. But Muslims all over the world as individuals and groups are not just sympathising with the plight of their brothers and sisters in Palestine; they are trying to help them by raising financial resources, conducting awareness programmes, boycotting American and Israeli goods, and motivating fellow human beings to join their cause. One part of the Muslim Ummah that is particularly vigorously engaged in all these endeavours is the Muslim community in South Africa.
Protest marches and gatherings have taken place throughout South Africa. The largest gathering was in Cape Town on April 21, when more than 20,000 people packed the stadium in Athlone to hear speakers denouncing the oppressive and racist zionist regime. The protest was called by Muslims Against Global Oppression (MAGO), and demanded the immediate expulsion of the Israeli ambassador from South Africa; also that Ariel Sharon be charged with genocide and war crimes by an international court of justice. MAGO also asked the South African government to cut all ties with the illegitimate Israeli regime immediately.
Apart from the protests, South African Muslims are also involved in raising funds for the Palestinians. Even a tiny radio station, Voice 95.4 FM, raised more than $20,000 in a week by its Palestine campaign after the Jenin-camp massacre. Popular radio stations and institutions have mobilised greater support and large sums of money. The Institute for Islamic Services, for instance, has collected more than $100,000 and is expected to dispatch a team for Palestine on 13 June, to distribute the funds in Palestine. The institute cooperated with the Red Crescent Society of South Africa to hold an exhibition, ‘The Horror of Palestine Expo’ on June 1 and 2, that showed pictures and video footage of events in Palestine, followed by a fundraising dinner and talks by prominent speakers. While protests and fundraising programmes like these were being organised all over the Muslim world, what made South Africa unique was the response it generated from other parts of South African society on the Palestine issue.
On 19 May, in response to anti-Israel protests held around the country, about 3,000 Jews took part in a rally organised by the Jewish Board of Deputies (JBD), the South African Zionist Federation and other Jewish groups. Chief Rabbi Harris declared his solidarity with the people of Israel in what he termed "the struggle against worldwide anti-Semitism". He also said that Arafat was not to be trusted. "Why do you always wear a military uniform? Have you no other clothes?" the angry Rabbi asked Arafat.
He added that it was the dream of Jews in South Africa and around the world that there be peace in Israel. Israeli ambassador Tova Herzi was in Israel on business at the time, and unable to attend the rally. However, Daniel Pinhasi, first secretary of the embassy of Israel, deputised for her and introduced a video-clip with greetings from the president of Israel. Eliezer Cohen, a member of the Israeli Knesset who was in South Africa for the rally, said that Israel had been fighting for ‘independence’ for many years, and nothing was changed. "The wave of anti-Semitism is the same as we experienced a century ago, however the Jews had built a miracle in the ocean of violence", he said. Cohen also claimed: "We are world experts in biotechnology and science. Israel will prosper and they cannot beat us."
The "expertise" and "might" that Eliezer Cohen and the Chief Rabbi boast of were born out of the humiliation the Jews suffered in early April, when most of the Jewish academics and intellectuals in South Africa signed a petition during a mass campaign initiated by Ronnie Kasrils, the water affairs minister. Kasrils, one of the leaders of the ANC’s armed campaign against apartheid in South Africa, has criticised Israel for its treatment of the Palestinians. Kasrils not only dared to criticise Israel, which he blames for the current carnage in the Middle East, but also did it in a blaze of well-orchestrated publicity, and called on South African Jews to sign a declaration of conscience: a petition to the effect that Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians does not have their blessings. Their motto was "Not In My Name".
Kasrils claims that he has received more quiet messages of support than the recorded 287 Jews who signed the petition, from prominent Jews who either fear a decline in their businesses or want to protect their children from being victimised at school. There are also those who ‘sympathise’ with the Palestinians but resisted Kasrils, regarding him as a pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel opportunist who is using the Palestinians’ tragedy to score points for the South African government internationally, and for himself within the government.
Chief Rabbi Harris called Kasrils’ claim to have divided the Jewish community "spurious". He pointed to the 11,500 signatures that the South African Zionist Federation collected in two months in support of Ariel Sharon: "I don’t know what ‘divided’ means if you have 11500 versus 287," he said, adding that the 287 signatures Kasrils raised should also be seen in the context of an adult Jewish population of about 40,000 in South Africa.
But if the petition was so insignificant, why has Haris responded so frenziedly? Because, as High Court judge Dennis Davis said, the core of the Jewish intellectual community signed the petition. The vast majority of Jewish intellectuals in the country, including Nobel Prize-winning author Nadine Gordimer, signed it: this is terribly worrying for the Jewish establishment. Gordimer went on to say, "Everybody, whether they’re next door or thousands of miles away, has some idea of what they think is just. You’re not much of a human being if you confine yourself to your own doorstep. And if Kasrils is trying to polish his marbles with the ANC that’s irrelevant to me. He’s someone who decided to gather people of like mind to speak out."
The African Commission on Human and People’s Rights called for Israel to be named an outlaw state for continuing violations of human rights. Kamel Rezag-Bara, its Algerian chairman, made this demand during his opening address to the 31st session of the commission in Pretoria. "There have been massive and widespread human rights violations in the Middle East in direct contradiction of UN resolutions", he told about 300 delegates, representing 53 African countries, who were gathered in Pretoria until May 16.
The African National Congress (ANC) and its alliance partners staged protest marches and interfaith prayer-sessions for two weeks in solidarity with the Palestinian people, who were being besieged by Israeli forces at the time. "The ongoing military invasion and reoccupation of Palestinian-controlled territories by the state of Israel is a blatant violation of human rights and an attempt to deny national liberation to the people of Palestine. This amounts to an act of state terrorism by the Israeli government," said David Makhura, general secretary of the ANC.
Earlier this year various organisations, including the ANC, urged the government to sever diplomatic ties with Israel by recalling the country’s ambassador. This call was first made during a march organised by the Palestinian Action Group (PAG), during which more than a thousand protesters marched to the Union buildings. In a memorandum, the PAG also demanded that South Africa institute sanctions against Israel, break off all arms-deals with Israel, and investigate South Africans being recruited into the Israeli defence force. PAG is also concerned about recent harassment that one of its members suffered at the hands of Israeli soldiers at the borders of Palestine, when a PAG team were on a fact-finding mission.
Apart from organised protests, innumerable individual efforts have also been reported. Among them were four South African women who chained themselves to each other and to the doors of a building housing various UN offices. They were protesting against the Israeli occupation of Palestine, and said that they were tired of the UN passing resolutions that only stayed on paper, while innocent women and children were being butchered. Morgado, Zubin Mohamed, Feriel Patel and Salomina chained themselves to the doors and waited for a senior UN official to accept their memorandum. They said that they had chosen 10 April for their protest action to mark the 54th anniversary of the massacre of the Palestinian village of Deir Yassin, "where women and children were butchered, including pregnant women who were murdered and stuffed down the village well." The four-woman protest group also called on South African women to support them, and protest against the recent massacre of Jenin refugee-camp as well.
The worldwide awareness of the Palestinians’ suffering is welcome. People’s concern for the freedom for their suffering brethren is appreciated. The al-Aqsa Intifada, however, is growing more in confidence and power with the martyrdom-seeking operations than any other resource, the assistance coming in from everywhere else notwithstanding. The people of Palestine are determined either to win their freedom from the Israeli usurpers, or to seek the greater freedom ofshahadah, insha’Allah.