Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Gaza, the 21st century Warsaw Ghetto?


AS the Gaza death toll mounts, and as politicians scurry for peace talks, there is a lot for South Africans to ponder on. This is because for those who have moral scruples, Israel is according to the 1973 UN Convention and the 2003 Rome Statutes guilty of the international crime of apartheid.   

Ultimately, there has to be legal accountability for this, a fate that Israel has deftly avoided through the veto powers of its greatest ally since 1967, the US, and its own refusal to acknowledge the International Criminal Court 

In the UN a vote on whether to investigate war crimes in Gaza was passed 29-1. There were limp-wristed European abstentions and the US unconscionably was against it. This should be a sober reminder of how certain countries, including Israel, quietly connived with South Africa during the dark apartheid years.  

This is something that as South Africans we have an institutional memory of. Did not the world’s most powerful nation regard our very own anti- apartheid activists, including Nelson Mandela,  as ‘terrorists’ deep into the 1990’s? Did not Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, the Cold War hawks, deem apartheid as a lesser evil than communism? 

And in 2014, pandering to Israel’s major industry of manufactured paranoia, are these governments not cynically deeming that chaotic, militaristic secularism – vis à vis Egypt, for example – is the devil they’d rather know than Muslim-friendly regimes ruling from Cairo and Gaza City?  

And before local Zionist apologists (who benefitted from South African apartheid) get ready to bellow how comparisons can’t be made between South African and Israeli apartheid, we need to understand that Israel qualifies as an apartheid state on two critical questions within the conventions and statutes: intention and execution.  

South Africa created the model. The Afrikaner Nationalists, voted into power by a white minority in 1948, ensured that 80% of the indigenous population would be confined to less than 10% of the land in an act of economic and political domination, a domination based on race 

Zionism (ironically an avowedly secular movement) intended to create a Jewish state, also based on racial domination. A master plan was executed that saw Zionists annexing nearly 80% of the land in defiance of the UN Partition Decision. Facts speak: over 500 Palestinian villages and 10 urban centres were ethnically cleansed with two-thirds of the indigenous population displaced.  

The incremental theft of Palestinian land has continued ever since, enhanced by the building of settlements in the illegally occupied West Bank. To deny that this hasn’t expressed the intention of naked dispossession and racial domination – as some do – is very naïve.  

Further confirmation is the ‘Security Barrier’, an eight metre-high monstrosity that meanders for over 600 kms through the West Bank like a concrete tapeworm. Considered an illegal construction by the International Court of Justice in 2004, it encircles Palestinian towns and cities, and cuts off Palestinian access to land.   

This is further exacerbated by the Absentee Property Law, which decrees that Israel can confiscate unused Palestinian land’ on the other side of the wall. In this case, apartheid is legislated – something that the Afrikaners perfected. 

Of course, there can be no argument when it comes to degrees. Our monstrous experiment in racial domination came to an end in 1994. Israel’s pogrom has continued , and in the same way South Africa’s apartheid regime destabilised neighbouring states such as Angola and Mozambique, Israel has done exactly the same to Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and Egypt. 

By far the most tragic victim of all this has been Gaza, a fingernail of a territory bordered by Egypt and the Mediterranean. Once renowned for its fruit trees and ancient cultures, Gaza has become an Israeli house of slaughter. 

About 40 kms long and about 10 kms wide, it is one of the world’s most densely populated areas. Eighty percent of its population has refugee origins and 70% have to rely on aid to survive. Some commentators have even ventured that Gaza is the ‘Warsaw Ghetto’ of the 21st century.  

Granted, it is an extremely uncomfortable association – the Nazi progroms against Warsaw’s Jewish inhabitants were absolutely horrendous and unjustified but surely that should nag at the conscience of those who, in possession of the world’s most lethal weapons, have been killing unarmed Gazan civilians since 2008? 

Cut off from Israel since 2007, punished for having elected Israel’s whipping-boy Hamas in 2006 and only partially open to Egypt through the Rafah border, Gazans are confined in an open-air prison they cannot leave. There is Israeli sanction on even the most basic of commodities like cement, fertiliser and even musical instruments 

In other words, the new Israeli apartheid is called ‘containment’ – herd people into confined areas and make life so unpleasant that they want to leave. As more and more bodies are dragged out from the rubble of Gaza, it is evident Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has through Operation Protective Edge, taken Israeli ‘containment’ to an entirely new level of barbarism. 

As the Norwegian doctor, Dr Mads Gilbert at Shifa hospital told me angrily last week: “…the Israelis have become more ruthless than ever, they’re killing whole families and knocking out whole apartment blocks. I tell you, ISIS is here in Israel!” 

Or as an emotional UNICEF official told me after a UN School had been bombed by the IDF. “I doubt whether there is any compassion left for the people of Gaza.” 

These are strong statements from normally sanguine people. 

Back in post-apartheid South Africa we have a lot to be grateful for, in spite of fears surrounding corruption, crime and poverty. Thankfully our townships, once little Gaza’s due to their being easily contained during the apartheid era, were never bombed for days on end from the sea and air by US provided munitions 

But given the massive extent of the carnage in Gaza, it’s a small consolation right now. For not only do the people of Gaza need our prayers, they need our help to become human by putting Israel in the dock for its war crimes.