A Visit to South Africa and Attitudes towards Palestinians and the Lebanese War
By Shimon Z. Klein
(Owing to a family visit to Cape Town , South Africa during August 2006, my blog slipped into dormancy for a few weeks. Now that I have returned, I hope to resuscitate it once again.)
While I was in Cape Town , I did manage to speak to a few people, black as well as white, about attitudes towards the Palestinian-Israeli-Lebanese Problem. A friend of mine organized a group visit to the SA Parliament on 17 August when MPs discussed the passing of a resolution condemning Israel for the Lebanese War.
Cape Town (where I was born and educated) is a very vibrant city. The amazing character of its people and the total absence of apartheid are incredible. It is a very different South Africa to the one I remembered. There is a feeling of reconciliation between the various races as they are all fraternizing and mixing socially. The draconic laws of apartheid are no more and there is a sense of confidence in the future. This does not mean that there are no problems. Crime is rampant and wherever one goes, there are many beggars and homeless. The authorities cannot keep pace with the increasing housing problems. Shantytowns such as Crossroads and Kayalitcha stretch for many kilometers giving us a reminder that there remains much work to be done in providing housing for a large economically deprived population. Parking attendants, official and otherwise, appear from nowhere the moment you park your car and promise to look after your vehicle for the duration of parking (for a fee of course). The AIDS epidemic remains a great problem and the ANC attitude towards solving this crisis is inadequate. Many say that the blacks have won their freedom but many are losing to AIDS.
The debate in the SA Parliament on passing an anti-Israel resolution condemning Israel for its actions in Lebanon was poor and irrelevant. At least that was the feeling that many of us had. The knowledge of many of the MPs on the Middle East was scanty and many statements made showed this very clearly. One ANC Member of Parliament dropped a mini-bombshell of untruths. He stated that the Palestinians fired rockets into southern Israel from Gaza because the Israeli Army had kidnapped a Palestinian medical doctor and his son. This was a form of retaliation. That incident was not reported anywhere and nobody was able to verify where the Honorable Member of Parliament received this information! The ruling ANC (African National Congress) has many Muslim members who are anti-Israel and this does introduce a total lack of proportion in the debate. One could sum up the debate as being a mixture of naivety, irrelevance and half-truths. There were no cabinet members present, which could be an indication that this resolution was not considered important enough to warrant their presence. Here are the minutes of the proceedings and I quote:
REPUBLIC OF SOUTH AFRICA
MINUTES OF PROCEEDINGS
THURSDAY, 17 AUGUST 2006
10. [15:40] The Chief Whip of the Majority Party moved: That the House -
(1) noting -
(a) with grave concern the developments in the Middle East ;
(b) Israel 's collective punishment of both the Palestinian and Lebanese peoples;
(c) the disproportionate response of Israel and the use of military force against civilian targets, resulting in hundreds of deaths and injuries, mainly of women, children and the elderly, the massive destruction of vital life-supporting infrastructure, and the displacement of over a million people;
(d) the catastrophic humanitarian crisis in Gaza and Lebanon , for which Israel 's aggression is responsible;
(e) the anger and concerns of many sectors of our people - including political parties, trade unions and religious leaders; and
(f) the commencement of a UN mandated ceasefire on Monday, 14 August 2006;
(a) that the threat of a regional war might become a reality, which will seriously endanger regional and international peace and security;
(b) that the actions of Israel are against international law and the Geneva Convention;
(c) that the Palestinian people have the right to self-determination and independence in the State of Palestine and that the State of Israel has the right to exist alongside the State of Palestine, within secure borders; and
(d) that a negotiated final status agreement would best serve the peoples of Israel , Palestine and Lebanon , and more generally the cause for peace and security in the region; and
(3) resolves -
(a) to call upon all parties to desist from any actions which may exacerbate the conflict;
(b) to call for the maintenance of a ceasefire by all sides;
(c) to call for a negotiated solution of the Israeli, Palestinian and Lebanese prisoner issue;
(d) to call upon the UN Security Council to discharge its responsibilities and act with urgency to enforce and maintain the full cessation of hostilities and Israel's withdrawal of its troops at the earliest;
(e) to call upon the UN, on the basis of various UN resolutions, to seek a peaceful comprehensive solution; and
(f) to call upon the international community and the South African government and people to respond to the catastrophic humanitarian tragedy in the region.
The Chief Whip of the Opposition moved as an amendment: To omit all the words after "That the House -" and to substitute with the following:
(1) noting -
(a) with grave concern the recent developments in the Middle East ;
(b) the devastating loss of life of both the people of Lebanon and Israel ;
(c) the support of Hezbollah and its terrorist activities by Syria and Iran ;
(d) the right of self-determination for the people of Palestine and the sovereign right to self-defence of Israel ;
(e) that South Africa's official foreign policy in the Middle East is the acceptance of a two-state solution and that any attempt to abandon this position will undermine our international credibility; and
(f) the commencement of a UN mandated ceasefire on Monday, 14 August 2006;
(2) resolves that -
(a) both sides must desist from any actions which may exacerbate the conflict;
(b) Hezbollah must disarm in line with UN Resolution 1559 and Israel must withdraw its troops from southern Lebanon once this has been achieved;
(c) Syria and Iran must be condemned for financing, arming and inspiring the conflict;
(d) a lasting two-state solution must be respected by all parties in the region;
(e) the UN Security Council act with urgency to enforce and maintain the full cessation of hostilities by both sides; and
(f) the South African government must focus more on the immediate humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe , rather than a conflict over which it has little or no influence.
Mr M B Skosana moved as amendments to the motion of the Chief Whip of the Majority Party:
In paragraph (1), to omit subparagraphs (b), (c) and (d); and
In paragraph (2)(b), to omit " Israel " and to substitute "the belligerent parties".
At the request of the Chief Whip of the Majority Party, House Chairperson Ms C-S Botha interrupted the debate.
11. The House adjourned at 17:15.
Towards the end of the debate, there was an attempt to give a sense of balance to the resolution by an attempt to omit paragraphs that referred to " Israel " as the aggressor and substitute the phrase "the belligerent parties" instead. However, there was no mention of the reason why Israel entered Lebanon nor were there any mention of the Katyusha rockets that Hezbollah fired into Israel and the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers patrolling within Israel 's borders. The debate was adjourned and at the time of my departure from South Africa to Israel , no date was set to continue this rather strange and biased debate. No vote was taken on this resolution. Had a vote been taken, the resolution would have been passed overwhelmingly. Many members kept on referring to the South African example of reconciliation that could form the basis of a settlement between Israel , Palestinians and the Lebanese.
The salient difference between the South African situation and the Middle East is that all South Africans, irrespective of their race, colour or creed, had a common desire to solve their race problems by ending apartheid and live together in a multiracial South Africa on a basis of total racial equality. In the Middle East, the Palestinian Hamas regime and the Lebanese Hezbollah the proxy of Iran have a common desire to destroy Israel and never negotiate Israel 's right to exist. How can there ever be peace in the Middle East when these attitudes still prevail?
I had spoken to some Black and Colored Christian clergy who show understanding of Israel 's existential problems with her Palestinian neighbours. Many have even pledged their support for Israel and told me that they pray for peace in Israel and her Arab neighbours. Some did mention that there was a lack of information from the Israeli side, which leaves the field open for much fundamentalist Islamist propaganda that justifies terrorist acts against Israel 's citizens.
Much work needs to be done in South Africa to counteract the hostile propaganda against Israel . The public relations work to increase understanding of Israel 's existential problems in South Africa is inadequate according to my experience in discussions with people of all races.