Middle East Monitor / May 24, 2021
An evocative French film set in a Hiroshima destroyed by the United States atomic bomb in 1945 haunted me throughout the latest dreadful days of carnage in Gaza. I refer to the 1959 anti-war masterpiece Hiroshima Mon Amour. It resonates with the ethnic cleansing and incremental genocide of the Palestinians since the 1948 Nakba (Catastrophe) in exploring issues of memory, seeing and responsibility. Israeli bombs demolishing a TV centre and inventing a Hamas presence, aimed to obstruct the exposure of the state’s ongoing crimes, rammed this point home for me.
The truth must prevail. It cannot be wished away. It must not be distorted to make the victim responsible, whitewash the perpetrator and provide a smokescreen for its backers.
How do we penetrate the fog and noise of war? Who is right? Who is wrong? Should the world not be neutral and even-handed in addressing the problem?
Ordinary mortals beyond the zone of contestation, recoil in confusion and horror. Humanity is not assisted by mainstream obfuscation and disinformation; and the diversionary strategy of Israel and its Western allies.
Understanding the source of the problem is the prerequisite to finding a lasting and just solution. The root cause of the Nakba and the earlier British-French deals following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire at the end of the First World War must be addressed.
The crux of the problem is clear: the Zionist hijacking of another people’s land.
The flagrant injustice of this is grasped clearly by those who have suffered under settler-colonial rule, such as Algeria, Angola, Ireland, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe. This made the anti-colonial struggles much more complex, protracted and bloody than in possessions where settler presence was insignificant. The resulting struggles for independence were characterized as liberation struggles, not designated as “conflicts”, as though there were two opposing sides, each with reasonable claims.
Once the colonial factor is understood all else is commentary. Those with a colonial mindset — former powers that divided the Middle East such as Britain and France; the later intrusion of the US with its record of dispossession and imperial interests — can never understand the right of a people’s struggle for land and freedom. Jewish settlers conditioned by the colonialist narrative, cannot countenance Palestinian claims. For them the natives are inferior, a threat to their welfare. They have the “god given” right to grab the land, and expunge the Palestinians from the face of the earth. The psychosis of the oppressors inculcates extremes of racism that eat the soul. Their military doctrine is to punish the Palestinians unto submission or death. The sustenance of hope must be driven from Palestinian minds.
Three decades since the Oslo Accords, we have seen the situation of the Palestinians grow infinitely worse. Oslo and the two-state option, which saw Palestinian leaders settle for a state reduced to 22 per cent of their land, has been exposed as a hoax. Those who have suffered oppression know that the only way to force the colonizers into meaningful change is through resistance. Ask Cuba; ask Vietnam.
Freedom, unfortunately, comes at a very high cost. Picture the injured young man flashing a victory sign as he is rescued from the rubble of a demolished Gaza building. Or the terrified young girl running into her mother’s arms following a nearby Israeli air strike that shook their building, crying: “I want to be courageous, mama, but I don’t know how when death is so near.”
As though in some apocalyptic basketball game, Israel’s ruling elite gloat as the death toll mounts: 249 to 12 in their favour in Gaza (70 children, 29 women). Entire families incinerated or crushed to death. Slam dunk! Another 27 slaughtered on the West Bank. Others slain by police and lynch mobs in occupied East Jerusalem and within Israel. Slam dunk! Stormtroopers slap one another’s backs as they high-five with their bloodthirsty fans. Hospitals, schools, clinics, the sole Covid-19 centre, thousands of homes, vital infrastructure, all reduced to rubble. Slam dunk, indeed.
The phoenix rises from the ashes. As Omar Barghouti, a leader of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement observes, “That’s the definition of the Palestinians… We are protesting because we want to live.”
Apartheid Israel is losing the war. Donald Trump claimed that Jerusalem, where he opened the US Embassy, was off the table. Well, it is right back on thanks to the resistance in Sheikh Jarrah. Slam dunk! The so-called normalization offensive between Israel and servile Arab regimes is challenged as was predicated by the uproar from the Arab street. Slam dunk!
The colonizer is frightened and perplexed. This onslaught of Israel’s has united Palestinians as never before. Those in the fragmented parts, from Gaza to the West Bank, Jerusalem and within Israel, from the refugee camps to the wider diaspora, have rediscovered their sense of national unity, and have risen up to shake the resolve of the settlers. The strategy of divide and rule is in tatters. A general strike by Palestinians across Israel and Jerusalem locked down their shops and businesses; the biggest such event since 1936. Tel Aviv saw a significant rally of Jews and Arabs demanding peace. Massive marches in London, Paris, Berlin and New York have seen unprecedented crowds supporting the Palestinian cause, and unity between the Black Lives Matter and Free Palestine movements are of huge significance. Palestinians everywhere are celebrating.
Civil society in occupied Palestine has challenged the international community to match Palestinian courage by pressurizing Western governments to withdraw support for Israel. The US provides Israel with $4 billion aid annually. President Joe Biden’s response to Israel’s aggression was to give $750 million for improved bombing technology. Utterly shameless.
Biden faced an unprecedented level of protest across the US to change course. That is why he put pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to end the bombing of Gaza. The unconditional ceasefire duly followed.
We must elevate the non-violent BDS campaign to unparalleled heights. Its success has seen Israel designating the campaign as a strategic threat to its existence.
The success of the BDS formula against Apartheid South Africa reinforced the people’s resistance and contributed to victory. The result was a unitary, democratic, non-racist, non-sexist, secular state.
Nelson Mandela famously declared that “South Africa’s freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.” He understood what was right and what was wrong.
South Africa’s people are urging the ANC government to be faithful to Mandela’s statement and legacy; to break all ties with Apartheid Israel; and to lead the world in implementing BDS action.
Hopefully the latest statement by South African Foreign Minister, Naledi Pandor, is a harbinger of things to come: “The cruel bombings and killings of the innocent we witnessed in the past two weeks are a sad testimony of the cruel impunity the world has granted to Israel. The international community must stop this impunity. South Africa should support the International Criminal Court in the planned investigation of the abuse of human rights by the Israeli government. We hope sanctions and other measures to show the world’s offence at this brutality will soon be evident.”
As in the rest of the world, South Africa has witnessed unprecedented displays of solidarity for Palestine led by the National BDS Coalition. Protests have taken place throughout the country, but most significantly with the dockers, trade union and solidarity groups at Durban’s waterfront protesting against the offloading of cargo from an Israeli ship. Thousands have been involved. This follows dockers’ solidarity actions on America’s West coast. And in Italy. An international picket of Israeli shipping could follow.
Palestine, Mon Amour. You are not alone. We see you.
Ronnie Kasrils served in many South African government portfolios from 1994 to 2008, including as Minister of Intelligence; he is an author and activist