Bearing Witness

Forgive me for diverting from my usual pieces about Aliyah but I feel it has become incumbent on me as an ex-South African and now citizen of Israel to write the following piece.
As many of you know, the State of Israel has been put on trial for the last three days in Cape Town, South Africa by the “judicial” (and I use that term loosely) farce known as the Russell Tribunal for crimes of Apartheid perpetrated against the Palestinian people. Given that the Tribunal has no official judicial status it can only be described as a kangaroo court. The Russell Tribunal forms part of the Betrand Russell Peace Foundation which was originally formed to investigate violations of international law and human rights.
For the past three days the sounds of kangaroos hopping their way to the courthouse has drowned out all sounds of reason. And the jury selection for this has been full of kangaroos (apologies for the comparison, cute marsupials from Australia!).From former Special Rapporteur for the UN on Palestine, John Dugard, who is almost as heinous as his successor to Red Ronnie Kasrils himself! And not to forget the Arch Tutu, Zackie Achmat and Winnie Mandela. Winnie “withdrew” from the panel. Perhaps her own scurrilous human rights record should face its own tribunal! Lest I forget star witness, Leila Khaled, she of first female airplane hijacker fame! And these are the people who judge Israel for human rights abuse? Laughable if it weren’t for the fact that the Tribunal is taking place in South Africa, former Apartheid state, the jurists are famed anti-Apartheid activists and the venue for this theatre of the ridiculous is the District Six Museum. Very symbolic. This is enough to have any anti-Israelist turning cartwheels and thinking all their birthdays have arrived at once.
So why have I decided to write this piece? As someone who grew up during the emergency state years in South Africa, I bore witness to the crime that was Apartheid. As an Israeli, I live the reality of what Israel is like every single day. Is there racism in this country? Yes, just as there is in any other. No, Israel is not utopia but neither is any other country – including South Africa. We tend to forget what the word Apartheid really means. Apartheid is defined as “the Afrikaans word meaning ‘separation’, Apartheid was the racial, social policy introduced by the National Party government of South Africa in 1948.” Today it is used to describe Israel. It is a very sexy catchword, after all it is emotive, evocative and provocative. Perfect if you want to package and market hatred. The very use of it to describe Israel is not only odious but makes a mockery and cheapens the tremendous suffering endured by South Africa’s black citizens.
Growing up in Apartheid South Africa, I bore witness on a daily basis to the inhumane suffering of my fellow citizens. Only they were not regarded as such. Denied the right to vote or have political representation they had no voice in government. Unlike MK Zoabi, an Arab member of the Israeli Knesset and another “star” tribunal witness. South Africans who were not perfect white specimens were denied the right to a decent education, receiving a “bantu education”, which was inferior to that I received. The Apartheid laws in South Africa denied black citizens the freedom of movement. I remember witnessing the humiliation of black men who were out past their curfew as police checked their pass books and in some circumstances whipped them with a sjambok (whip). Just because they could. As a child I once asked my mother why it was that nannies (domestic workers) always sat on the grass in the park. Was it that they did not like the chairs?Imagine my mother’s discomfort explaining to me that nannies were not allowed to sit on benches because they were for “whites only”. An idea that was unimaginable to my naïve childish mind. I also wondered where the black children were because they did not attend my school or my ballet class or swim in the same swimming pool as I did. If my father gave our “nanny” a lift anywhere, she has to sit in the back of the car for fear of breaking any racial laws. We as Jews come from a history where we understand too well the implications of racial laws. I could go on and on about the injustices suffered by black South Africans and it is extremely painful to write this piece as I also acknowledge how I as a white child benefitted.
I now focus on Israel. I am proud to be an Israeli citizen, it  is the realisation of a lifelong dream. Yes, this country is defined along ethnic lines – as was legally voted in by the United Nations and is no different from the countries, and there are many, who define themselves according to their Islamic identity. I live the day to day reality and it pains me to hear my country so erroneously compared to South Africa. Visit any Israeli hospital where Arab doctors treat Jewish patients and vice versa. Take the public transport and revel in the fact that there are no seats marked “Jews only”. Attend any of our Universities which are fully integrated. Visit the beach. Enjoy your lunch or coffee in any of our restaurants and coffee shops. Find your way around our country in Hebrew or Arabic (and yes sometimes even English) as they are our official languages. Vote for the Arab parties if you so wish. Have your case heard before Arab Supreme Court judge, Justice Joubron. Serve in our army or foreign service. Rest assured these are not positions reserved for Jews only. I am proud of our imperfect yet pluralistic democracy.
I am proud to call myself a Zionist Israeli. I challenge the jury of buffoons who dare sit in judgement to truly look at Israel with open eyes. I fear that they do not. The Russell Tribunal would not have been out of place in Salem circa the witch trials because it is exactly what it is.
Jurists of the tribunal, under the laws of balanced, democratic jurisprudence, I find you guilty of racism.

7 thoughts on “Bearing Witness

  1. Criticism of Israel always beckons my attention. In several instances I find myself agreeing with the scolding dished out, for after all – Israel is not an angel. Neither is she a devil. The devil’s work was apartheid South Africa, which I also lived in, when I returned to S Africa after years of growing up in neighbouring Zimbabwe. The devil’s work continues today in the guise of right wing Islamic crazies who fire off rockets whilst screaming out ALLAH AKBAH (god id great) Whilst we would have thought the world sees this, we understand that the propaganda machinery’s artists have painted a picture which – as many art pieces do – depicts the victim as the perpetrator. The Russell Tribunal will succeed on many levels. It is a canvas for the devil’s artists to work on, after all


  2. Having just returned from a visit to Israel after many years, I can only say that I did experience what you mentioned firsthand, i.e. wandering around the country hearing both Hebrew and Arabic, going into coffee shops and restaurants and mixing freely with any patrons sitting there, and never once found any place that was restricted to “Jews only”. Yes, I too have grown up in an Apartheid South Africa, but as much as most of us want to get on with our lives here living and mixing freely with all kinds, there still remain those certain few who still keep on reminding us of the situation years gone by. I upsets me to hear of Israel referred to as an Apartheid State like South Africa. That is so far from the reality of it all.


  3. I feel for you Ro, and for Israel! Thanks for sharing and underlying what I already knew.

    I am left with no answers to the happenings or to why there is wide acceptance to the motives and accusations they present [and the ‘a priori’ judgment].

    All that’s left to me are questions without answers: because since when truth, logic and reason have anything to do with programmed vilifying propaganda and unmitigated lies?

    What is, in fact, that moves people and nations to proliferate hatred and to use untruths vied to the annihilation of a tiny entity-state like Israel and all Israeli?

    Apartheid is just a term stored in the not-too-remote collective memory – whatever span that memory may have is irrelevant. Relevant is the fact it has a negative connotation, and the jungle drums can beat ad nauseam to propose and remind some less intelligent and fair audience of the evil of what they cannot describe with honesty or accuracy because it does not exist.


  4. Thanks for your thoughts. As an Israeli I always feel frustrated from all this hatred against us but I think eventually it all comes from pure jealousy. All the Israeli Arabs that live here enjoy more freedom and democracy than any of their fellow Arabs in any Arab country. Not to mention that any of the Arab countries never gave the Palestinians who live there citizenship to keep them in a state of “refugees”. The only way to deal with it is simply not to pay any attention. It’s the same as asking why the Jews were hated so much and why there was anti-Semitism. The one and only reason is jealousy.


  5. Ro,

    A friend of mine – Israeli, whose parents made aliyah from Baghdad in the 50s – was staying recently in a hostel in Jerusalem. Her roommate turned out to be an Iraqi girl, UK passport holder, who decided to visit ‘Palestine’ for the heck of it. Of course they clicked having so much in common.

    What was interesting, my friend told me, was the praise this woman had for Israel:

    1) Signs in Israel are in Hebrew (1st); Arabic (2nd) & then English “I had no idea how democratic Israel was. There’s no discrimination.”

    2) “The Arabs here are so happy. Really. Tel Aviv, Haifa, Akko… Everywhere I go people are so relaxed. Oh OK. Not in Jerusalem’s Muslim Quarter. It’s the only place I didn’t feel safe. I breathed a sigh of relief when I got to the Wailing Wall. I know it’s odd, but people elsewhere in the city are so much more friendly. Also, I got such a bad vibe visiting the Dome of the Rock. It’s so depressing.”

    Anyway, this type of discussion is one I get engaged in regularly. I have lost 8 friends since 2006 because of my support for Israel. Most of them are Jewish and they are all people I have known for years and marched with against apartheid.

    While speaking at a blogger conference years ago in Tel Aviv one writer said to me, “You know, when I lived in America I voted Democrat. But since I moved to Israel my friends all think I am a Republican because I speak up for Israel – and that will happen to you too.”

    And she was right.


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