Friday, July 12, 2013

Why Israel? Bravely lifting the veils

Why Israel? Anatomy of Zionist apartheid -
a South African perspective.
Authors Suraya Dadoo and Firoz Osman.
MRN and Porcupine Press.
 
South Africa is a unique country in the mosaic of the Palestinian struggle. On the one side is the Muslim community, anti-Zionist Jews, the ANC government, COSATU, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign and the Palestinian solidarity movement.

On the other side is the pro-Zionist lobby, a lobby that hid behind the skirts of the apartheid government for 46 years, and that betrayed Jewish anti-apartheid activists whilst it benefited from years of sanctions busting with Israel.

But what makes South Africa truly unique is that it’s a place where the majority of its citizens instinctively understand the Palestinian dilemma. Indeed, Israeli apartheid resonates strongly with South Africans, many of whom were forced into Bantustans or Group Areas, and deprived of over 80% of their land.

And when we talk apartheid in Israel, we mean its definition according to a convention of the United Nations that was passed in 1973. This convention has since been re-inforced by the Rome Statutes of 2002. Further studies by bodies, such as our own Human Sciences Research Council and Human Rights Watch, have concluded that apartheid is practised in Israel .

Suraya Dadoo and Firoz Osman, the authors of the newly-released Why Israel? An anatomy of Zionist apartheid – a South African perspective, hail from a community that was directly affected by apartheid. Dadoo is a researcher at the Gauteng-based Media Review Network and Dr Osman is an executive member of the MRN.

Published by the MRN and Porcupine Press, Why Israel? is divided into 13 parts that deal with various aspects of the Palestinian question. It takes the reader through a systematic tour of the issues with a South African voice, although I would immediately venture that its appeal is universal.

Why Israel? is a thorough work. It is footnoted and its sources are clearly attributed; there’s a useful glossary, an index and plenty of maps and photos. Because of its academic proficiency I suspect that certain arch-Zionists are going to choke on their coffee as they leaf through its 600 pages.  

What they will discover is that Why Israel? exposes some harsh truths: that Zionism is a political, and not a religious discourse; that anti-Semitism is used to vilify anyone who criticises Israel;  that our diamonds, shipped to Tel Aviv, become blood diamonds; that policy is regulated through the bullying and intimidation of the media, and that Jews who speak out are viciously slandered and silenced.

Furthermore, Why Israel? will reveal  that Mossad has a web of international informers in every Jewish community, and that it hires a squad of hit-men to perform extra-judicial killings world-wide, and that the raft of laws that strangle Palestinian life only serves to privilege the Jewish. 

In spite of bulging with information, Why Israel? is an easy read and an invaluable reference for anyone wishing to get a fuller understanding  of the Palestinian situation. Why Israel? is well-designed and user-friendly, and pithy box quotes (relating to the text) are conveniently situated on right hand pages.

However, in trying to paint such a vast canvas, the authors have obviously had to make sacrifices in terms of content. It’s admittedly always a difficult choice what to leave in and what to leave out.

In Chapter 1, for example, I would have liked to have seen see more information on the historical origins of Zionism, and that the rabbis of Europe declared Zionism an apostasy when the idea was first mooted at the end of the 19th century.

There should have been mention, I feel, that Zionism was not originally a Jewish discourse.  The famous aphorism of “a land without a people for a people without a land” was first uttered by Lord Shaftsbury, an English evangelist, in 1853.  

And William Hechler, an Anglican cleric, wrote The Restoration of the Jews to Palestine two years before Herzl penned his Der Judenstat.

The book also tackles the issue of Martyrdom Operations (or suicide bombings) of which I, admittedly, have always had reservations. Nevertheless, the authors do grab the nettle. Palestinian despair, after all, is driven by the fact that Palestinians do have to face the aggression of the world’s fourth most powerful military machine without a state, or even an army.

This is the measure of the disproportionism that Palestinians face daily, and the authors are right when they quote Dr Samah Jabr as saying that the Palestinian resistance (which is legitimate under international law) has never been fairly assessed.

All-in-all, Why Israel? is a brave book that fully exposes the activity of South African Zionists, who historically, have been the most avid – and the most unquestioning – supporters of Israel. But where Why Israel? really strikes home is in its comprehensiveness, and in this respect its authors have done a sterling job.

In their introduction, Dadoo and Osman write that the aim of their book is to “stimulate discussion, debate, and understanding” – that, I think, it will certainly achieve as the readers of Why Israel? lift the multiple veils of hasbara and disinformation that currently bedevil the Palestinian narrative.