06 June 2007

06 June 2007 - South Africa's debate

As I write this, the Parliament of South Africa is debating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, for the umpteenth time. Kasrils is spewing more than his usual garbage, going so far as to deny Israel’s right to exist. Much of his speech is devoted to the evils of Zionism and the foundation of Israel in 1948, not the occupation or the events of 1967. At the end is a little disclaimer against anti-Semitism.

The response, from the Democratic Alliance, does not argue the point but tries to draw attention to the government’s hypocrisy, and to re-affirm support for an evenhanded policy. Since the DA represents both Jews and Muslims, it cannot afford to take a different line on this issue.

What follows is the text of Kasrils’s prepared speech, and the response of DA foreign affairs spokesperson Douglas Gibson. (I’ve included Kasrils’s footnotes to show how shoddy they are. He misspells names, quotes secondary sources improperly, leaves out page numbers and gets dates wrong. Even the citation to Mandela’s speech is incorrect! The Minister of Intelligence, indeed.)

Kasrils:

FREE PALESTINE – END ISRAELI OCCUPATION

Madam Speaker, Honourable members, this speech is dedicated to the memory of David Rabkin, South African freedom fighter, who died in Angola.

Forty Years ago this week Israel’s military unleashed lighting attacks against Egypt, Jordan and Syria, alleging provocations as justification for its strikes.

Within six days the Sinai Peninsula, Gaza Strip, the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Golan Heights had been captured.

Apart from the Sinai from which Israel withdrew in 1977; the other areas remain under Israeli military occupation and control to this day.

Whilst some justify Israel’s actions on the grounds of pre-emptive self-defence, the obverse was the truth. From the horses’ mouth we learn whom the aggressor was:

Israel’s military Chief of Staff, Yitzhak Rabin stated: “I do not believe that Nasser wanted war. The two divisions he sent into Sinai on May 14 [1967] would not have been enough to unleash an offensive against Israel. He knew it and we knew it.”[1]

Menachem Begin, later Israel’s Prime Minister, reminisced that the Egyptian army deployment in the Sinai did not prove that Nasser was about to attack Israel. “We must be honest” he explained. “We decided to attack him.”[2]

General Moshe Dayan explained that “many of the firefights with the Syrians were deliberately provoked by Israel.” He said that the kibbutz residents who pressed the Government to take the Golan Heights…did so less for the security than for the farmland…”[3]

These are clearly statements of an aggressor. Nevertheless, some claim that Israel is justified and obligated, from its birth as a state in 1948 in fact, to defend its land and people by force whenever necessary. But where is the morality in this? Fortress Israel, a militarist aggressive state, defends a stolen land that belonged to another people.

Moshe Dayan, unabashedly explained:

“Before [the Palestinians] very eyes we are possessing the land and villages where they, and their ancestors, have lived…We are the generation of colonizers, and without the gun barrel we cannot plant a tree and build a home.”[4]

Israel’s first Prime Minister “, David Ben Gurion, stated in the 1950s:

“Why should the Arabs make peace? If I was an Arab leader, I would never make terms with Israel. That is natural: We have taken their country. Sure, God promised it to us, but what does that matter to them. Our God is not theirs. We come from Israel, its true, but two thousand years ago, and what is that to them? There has been anti-Semitism, the Nazis…but was that their fault? They only see one thing: we came here and stole their country.”[5]

Such statements contextualise Israel’s position and show it has not been interested in real peace terms. In 1897 the founding father of Zionism, Theodor Herzl, stated that once in power the aim would be to: “Spirit the penniless population (the Palestinians) across the borders.”[6]

Therein lies the fundamental cause of the conflict – lest anyone remains unclear. It stems from the Zionist world view – its belief in a perpetual anti-Semitism that requires that Jewish people around the world – a faith group – should have a national home of their own. The biblical narrative was evoked to proclaim Palestine as the promised land reserved exclusively for God’s “chosen people” and their civilizing mission. It sounds all too familiar as a vision the Voortrekkers had in this country. It gives rise to racism, apartheid and a total onslaught on those who stand in your way, whether blacks or Arabs or red Indians. Many Jews do not agree with this Zionist world view, and declare that being anti-Zionism and critical of Israel does not equate with anti-semitism.

Far from being a land without people, as Zionist propaganda falsely proclaimed, to attract and justify colonial settlement, the fact was that an indigenous people – the Palestinians – lived there, developed agriculture and towns since the Canaanite Kingdom over 5,500 years ago.

Indeed a delegation of skeptical Vienna rabbis traveled to the Holy Land in 1898 to assess the Zionist vision and cabled home: “The Bride is indeed beautiful but already married.”[7]

This did not deter the Zionists who plotted to abduct the bride and murder or expel the groom by whatever means necessary; and then defend what they had stolen at all costs by creating a supremacist Fortress State.

That exactly sums up the bloody and tragic history that befell the Palestinian people, and their Arab neighbours, at the hands of a rapacious, expansionist Zionist project that has been the source of war and untold suffering in the Near-East for the past sixty years, and is the root cause of the conflict that threatens the entire region and beyond.

With the adoption of the United Nations Partition Plan of November, 1947; a Jewish homeland was accorded 56% of the territory although they owned only 7% and were one-third of the population (most of whom had recently arrived as Holocaust refugees from Europe). The Palestinian majority were given 44% and were never consulted nor had they anything to do with the abominable suffering of the European Jews. The Zionists accepted partition with alacrity but never intended to honour the decision.

According to the Zionist’s strategy, which has become public record with the declassification of documents, the intention was to roll-out a systematic reign of terror, massacres, dispossession and expulsion. This drove out the Palestinian population in a horrific episode of ethnic cleansing that saw over 750,000 or two-thirds of the indigenous people at that time becoming penniless refugees, as Herzl had promised. By the 1949 Armistice the Israeli state had expanded to 78% of the territory.

That was almost sixty years ago. The result of Israel’s war of aggression of forty years ago this week, an extension of 1948, saw Israeli military occupation of the remaining 22% of the land.

The people within the West Bank and Gaza are literally imprisoned under the most unjust conditions suffering hardships and methods of control that are far worse than anything our people faced during the most dreadful days of apartheid. In fact any South African, visiting what amount to enclosed prison-ghettoes – imposed by a Jewish people that tragically suffered the Nazi Holocaust – will find similarity with Apartheid immediately coming to mind; and even more shocking, comparisons with some of the methods of collective punishment and control devised under tyrannies elsewhere. An Israeli cabinet Minister, Aharon Cizling, stated in 1948, after the Deir Yassin Massacre:

“Now we too have behaved like Nazis and my whole being is shaken.”[8]

If anyone has any doubt what the 1948 and 1967 wars were about, listen to Ben Gurion who stated in 1938: “after we become a strong force, as the result of the creation of a state, we shall abolish partition and expand into the whole of Palestine.”

And mark these words of Moshe Dayan:

“Our fathers had reached the frontiers which were recognized in the UN Partition Plan of 1947 [56% of the land]. Our generation reached the frontiers of 1949 [78% of the land]. Now the Six Day Generation [of 1967] has managed to reach Suez, Jordan and the Golan Heights. This is not the end.”[9]

Indeed the saga of agony for the Palestinians continues, inevitably creating insecurity for Israelis as well; because as we know from our own South African experience - injustice and repression generates resistance. It is no good blaming the victims when they hit back.

The Palestinian people’s fate clearly reflects that of South Africa’s indigenous majority during the colonial wars of dispossession of land and property, and the harsh discrimination and suffering of the apartheid period classified as a crime against humanity and violation of international humanitarian law. Israel is as guilty as the Apartheid regime. Israel’s conquest and occupation, with the latest land grab caused by its monstrous Apartheid Wall and continued construction of the illegal settlements has reduced the West Bank into several disconnected pockets amounting to 12% of former Palestine. No wonder that Jimmy Carter, Archbishop Tutu and others compare the situation to Apartheid and the infamous Bantustans – which gave 13% of land for South Africa’s indigenous people.

This people’s Parliament should be unanimous in calling for Israel’s immediate withdrawal from the occupied territories – lifting the physical, economic and financial blockade and siege of Gaza and the West Bank – removing the physical impediments to the freedom of movement of Palestinians including the Wall and over 500 check-points - dismantling the illegal settlements – releasing 10 000 political prisoners (113 women and children amongst them) –- negotiating a just solution with the elected representatives of the Palestinian people and implementing the UN Resolutions, including Resolution 194 of 1948, concerning the Right of Return of the Refugees. These are necessary steps to create lasting peace, justice and security for Palestinians and Israelis alike, reinforced by international guarantees, so they may live in harmony. Since 1988, when Chairman Yasser Arafat and the PLO agreed to accept 22% of historic Palestine in the interests of peace they show they have been ready for negotiations.

Let us unanimously extend our solidarity and support to the forty-two members of the Palestinian Legislative Council, including the Speakers of the West Bank and Gaza, who together with ten Ministers have been summarily detained without trial, most for nearly a year, by the Israeli security forces. This is a shocking illustration of Israel’s disrespect for Parliamentary democracy, the law and basic human rights so reminiscent of what we suffered under apartheid. We call for their immediate and unconditional release; and all prisoners held by both sides.

In support of these demands let us join with the people of our country, and the international Community, in the solidarity marches, rallies and demonstrations this week, the 40th Anniversary of Israel’s unjust occupation. And we make it clear to our Jewish community, these peaceful and disciplined actions, are aimed solely at that government. The struggle for freedom and justice is against a system and not a people.

Let me conclude with the words of President Mandela, who declared in 1998 during the visit to South Africa by Chairman Yasser Arafat:

”We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.”[10]

[1] David Hirst – The Gun and the Olive Branch
[2] Naom Chomsky – The Fateful Triangle
[3] New York Times, May 11, 1977
[4] Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi – Original Sins: Reflections on the History of Zionism and Israel
[5] Nathan Goldman – The Jewish Paradox
[6] The Complete Diaries of Theodor Herzl, Vol 1, p 86
[7] Avi Shlaim – The Iron Wall
[8] Tom Seger – The First Israelis
[9] London Times, June 25, 1969
[10] Speech by Nelson Mandela at the Banquet in Honour of President Yasser Arafat of Palestine on 11 August 1998

Gibson:

It is amazing that for the second year in a row this parliament has managed to find time to debate the Middle East situation. We have still not found the time to debate the Zimbabwe situation or the report of the parliamentary mission to that country two or three years ago.

Zimbabwe impacts hugely and negatively on South Africa and our people. Several million Zimbabweans are in our country, many of them as illegal immigrants, living from hand to mouth. They have fled from the economic meltdown, the disaster and the mayhem in their own country.

The presence of these Zimbabweans impacts directly on our own people and creates competition for scarce resources and for services.

In contrast, the situation in the Middle East has no direct impact on South Africa but perhaps more significantly, South Africa can have no impact on the situation in Israel and Palestine. We care about the people of Palestine and of Israel. All of us, Government and Opposition, long for peace there, but our ability to influence the situation is very small.

It is becoming clear that the ANC, when it has the power to make a real difference, does little or nothing but when it has no power it rushes into conducting hot air debates and passing empty resolutions which will be ignored by everybody.

Today’s debate is nothing other than an abuse of the time of parliament. At a drop of a hat the ANC can give notice and within days we discover that parliament can assemble an hour early to debate an issue like this whereas debates about matters of national significance do not get parliamentary time. The DA has been trying to debate issues such as poverty, unemployment and crime, but none of these motions make in onto the order paper.

Another aspect which is perplexing is the fact that whereas such subjects for discussion generally do not result in motions, on both occasion that the ANC has forced this matter onto the parliamentary order paper they have proposed resolutions. This is not in terms of our ordinary parliamentary procedure and surely we do not want to have a situation where every subject for discussion results in a motion and divisions and whatever else follows.

In the circumstances I hereby move an amendment which reads as follows:

Notice of amendment:

I hereby give notice to amend the resolution as follows:


That this House
:

Regards the continuing crisis in the Middle East between Israel and Palestine as one of the tragedies of our time;

Refuses to take sides between Israel and Palestine but calls upon them both to cease all violence;

Reiterates that it is only through a negotiated settlement with a safe and secure Israel and a safe and secure Palestine that this intractable problem will finally be solved; and

Calls upon the United Nations and all countries of goodwill to exert pressure on both Israel and Palestine to sit down together at the negotiating table to commence negotiations and to continue them for as long as is necessary.

One of the longest running and most painful conflicts of the 20th century was the situation in Northern Ireland. It took a miracle but it finally happened – the legacy of John Major and Tony Blair is a peaceful territory, co-existing side by side with the largely catholic Republic of Ireland and with Northern Ireland itself being governed jointly by Protestants and Catholics. Many doubted that this would ever be possible. It happened and if the Irish problem could be settled then the Middle East problem could be settled as well.

I am not saying that Ireland and Palestine are analogous. All I am saying is that the a melding of religion, of disputed land, of colonial overtones and of continuing violence made that problem a particularly difficult one.

We must resolutely refuse to import the angers, the hatred and the religious divide into our country. It is wrong to blame South African Jews for actions of the Israeli government. It would be just as wrong to blame South Africans Muslims for the Qassam rockets being fired at Israel.

We must remain equidistant and determined to help solve the problem.
The real contribution that South Africa can make to a peaceful resolution is not to attempt to persuade people there that our own experience can simply be transplanted. It cannot. South Africa’s contribution must be to help persuade the protagonists that the path of peace must be pursued. We must also use our influence on the Security Council of the United Nations to ensure that the pressure for peace negotiations is put on both Israel and Palestine.

We should instruct our Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Department to act accordingly.

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