Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Moonsighting, Cape Town, July 2014

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. 

Thursday, July 17, 2014

March for Gaza, Cape Town, 16 July

IMAGES from the march to Parliament on Gaza organised by the Muslim Judicial Council and the Al Quds Foundation with the support of the trade union COSATU, the BDS campaign, the Palestine solidarity movement, Kairos and political parties such as the African National Congress, the Pan Africanist Congress and the Economic Freedom Fighters.
About 25,000 people bedecked in Palestinan colours marched from District Six to parliament to hand over a memorandum demanding the recall of the SA amabassador in Tel Aviv and the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador in South Africa. Calls were made for an intensification of boycotts and the prosecution of South Africans serving in the IDF in Gaza.
The Palestinian ambassador to South Africa, Abdul Hafiz Nofal, attended the march and spoke to the crowd, saying the situation in Gaza was getting worse by the day. The memorandum was accepted by Sipho Masongo, chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on International Relations and Co-operation.

Photos copyright Shafiq Morton

Monday, July 14, 2014

Gaza: yet another Israeli miscalculation

Gaza, with its 1.7 million population
 is one of the most crowded places on the planet.
Photo Copyright Shafiq Morton
THE gloves need to come off on the truth of what has been happening in Gaza – not only since the launch of Operation Protective Edge last week, but also since Operation Pillar of Defence in 2012 and Operation Cast Lead in 2008. What is the real purpose of these bare-fisted operations?

To call Israeli acts of aggression in Gaza – in which Palestinian civilians are by far the worst victims – a ‘war’ is to do a disservice to the meaning of the word. A war is when two armies face each other and fight on the basis of a military equivalence.

So if there is no war, what is there? Informed commentators such as the The Independent’s Robert Fisk have observed that the story we are deliberately not being told is that the Gaza offensive is about land. Politically, it is about final Zionist hegemony.

In this model if you neutralise the land, you neutralise any chance of Palestinian sovereignty and any chance of territorial sacrifice. The Apartheid Wall has already cut the West Bank into pieces that can be further shrunk by illegal settlements. And if you squeeze long enough, maybe the people on the land will leave too.

Israeli apartheid already  determines when West Bankers can cross the 600-odd checkpoints, when they can receive water, when they can have electricity and when they can seek medical care and even what roads they can drive on.

Gaza is the last sliver of territory where a Palestinian administration has a few shreds of autonomy. But it has had to face three military incursions in six years designed at destroying its infrastructure. The dark purpose here has been to either foment insurrection against Hamas, or to encourage depopulation.

To justify its latest episode of brutality, the Israeli administration has had to play its usual game of equivalence and manufactured paranoia. Iran is poised to drop an atomic bomb. ISIS in Iraq might sweep into Jordan and over-run the whole region. Boko Haram is a cousin of ISIS and Hamas is the Big Brother.

But how do you justify your next crack at Gaza? All you do is create hype about an unrelated kidnapping incident on the West Bank. You blame it on Hamas, your favourite whipping boy;  a Hamas that dared to defy the script of being a monster when it entered into a unity government with Fatah, and actually posed a prospect of peace.

The other point, also ignored, is that the constitution of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party does not recognise a Palestinian state. Netanyahu’s idea of peace with Palestinians, if he can’t find reasons not to talk to them, is to batter them into total submission à la Ariel Sharon.

In terms of Israel striking at Gaza, there needs to be perspective. The reality in Gaza and the West Bank is that the Palestinian Authority and Hamas do not have armies. There is no equivalence here whatsoever. The Palestinian Authority does not have tanks, F16 fighter jets, anti-aircraft artillery, helicopter gunships, drones, naval vessels or Iron Dome Defence Systems.

The Palestinians do not even have generals, and yet – if one believes the nonsense emitted from Tel Aviv – they are somehow capable of conducting a fully-blown ‘war’ against the world’s fourth largest army. Worse still, this is an army that has been fingered in the Goldstone Report  for white-flag killings and the use of illegal phosphorous and cluster bombs on civilians.

Hamas’ rockets, which are glorified fire-crackers in steel drums, have never been a match for the technological might of the Israeli Defence Force. And if they were to ever penetrate the Iron Dome System, it would be an extremely severe indictment on the Israeli military. The Al-Qassem rockets are more useful to the Israelis for their intent than their failure.

And whilst targeting civilians is morally reprehensible, the more pertinent question should be: why are the Al-Qassem and Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades firing the rockets into Israel in the first place?

These groups are informed by their circumstances – a brutal seven year siege of Gaza that violates international law. It is supremely ironic that the main brunt of the rocket attacks has been nearby Sderot, a former Palestinian town.

It has to be remembered that Gaza is a refugee camp into which many Palestinians fled after the conflicts of 1948 and 1967. Gaza has an institutional memory of suffering. And since the total Israeli blockade of 2007 it has been converted into the world’s largest outdoor jail.

It has to be remembered too, that Gaza is only 6-12  kms wide and 40 kms long. With nearly 2 million people crammed into this narrow coastal corridor, it is one of the most crowded places on earth.

Therefore, the nonsense spouted by Israeli spin doctors becomes even more preposterous when they claim that the ‘enemy’ hides amongst the civilian population. What is not spoken about is the fact that in a ‘normal scenario’, the civilian population – its non-combatants – would be able to flee.

But in overcrowded Gaza, bursting at the seams, there is nowhere to go. No Gazan can venture more than four kilometres out to sea. The borders are sealed. In other words, Gazans are stuck, fated to become refugees without refuge. This makes Israel’s attack a turkey shoot.

There have been claims that Israel phones people before the attacks. The woman, who died with a spoon in her mouth as she broke her Ramadan fast, did not get a call. Nor did the driver of a Red Crescent ambulance, and nor did the residents of a home for the disabled in Beit Lahiya.

But ultimately, as Dr Azzam Tamimi, a Hamas commentator, has observed in The Guardian. Operation Protective Edge will prove to be yet another Israeli miscalculation. And the longer it takes and the higher the body count, the more damaging it will  be for Israel and its patrons as sympathy for Hamas is boosted.