“Scum” and a tight lipped hate ridden bitch”– that’s what landed in my inbox at the start of an email correspondence with two white South Africans who are living in the U.S. last week, whom I hadn’t seen since school days over sixty years ago. The insults were not directed at me entirely. Their incendiary verbiage was meant for famed Palestinian activist Leila Khaled, who I am due to speak on a webinar with this Wednesday.
One of the detractors, now living in Los Angeles, called the entire webinar “fake news,” whatever that should mean. He went on to exclaim, “I am ashamed to have ever been a close friend of such an anti Israeli antisemitic JEW. I hope the [South African] Jewry and Israel recognizes you for what you are. With the growth in antisemitism you are adding fuel to the fire!”
The event, “Whose Narratives? Gender, Justice & Resistance: A conversation with Leila Khaled” will take place online on September 23, 2020 and is hosted by the Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas Intitiative at San Francisco State University. The round table discussion will focus on Khaled, moderated by two professors at the university, Dr. Rabab Abdulhadi and Dr. Tomomi Kinukaw.
Leila Khaled is no stranger to harassment. She emerged as a resistance heroine from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) in the late 1960’s after becoming the first woman to take part in a plane hijacking, undergoing cosmetic surgery between two missions in order to avoid detection. She was detained by British police in 1970 and was released three weeks later in a prisoner exchange. Today she lives in Jordan and regularly speaks on panels about the Palestinian cause.
As former South Africans you ought to take note that Nelson Mandela, launched an armed struggle when his movement had exhausted all peaceful avenues of change to redress the dispossession of his people’s land and rights. His morality and solidarity with others struggling against colonial dispossession led him to famously state in 1997:
[W]e know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians; without the resolution of conflicts in East Timor, the Sudan and other parts of the world.”
Of note too, is Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who stated of his visit to Israel in 1989:
“I have witnessed the systemic humiliation of Palestinian men, women and children by members of the Israeli security forces,” as reported by Haaretz in 2014. “Their humiliation is familiar to all black South Africans who were corralled and harassed and insulted and assaulted by the security forces of the apartheid government.”
That testimony has been reflected by countless South African anti-apartheid fighters, who have been so appalled at the suffering of the Palestinian people (including the discriminatory status under which one million live as “inferior” citizens within Israel), that the general view is that they are far worse off than black people ever were under apartheid. Our people were cruelly oppressed and exploited, there were police massacres such as at Sharpeville, detention without trial, torture and long prison sentences, forced removals and restrictions, white racist lynching – but nothing approaching the scale seen in Israel and the occupied territories. Nothing of the severity of the five hundred military check-points in the West Bank, enclosure by a monstrous apartheid wall, inhumane restrictions of movement, the encroachment of illegal Jewish settlements and Jewish-only roads, expropriation of land and water rights, destruction of precious olive groves, the breaking of the bones and incarceration of stone throwing children; continuous imprisonment of thousands of political prisoners, some for longer years than Mandela served.
Nothing like the medieval-style sieges; the cutting down of 214 peaceful protestors by selective fire as in the Gaza’s Great March of Return; no black township ever suffering from the sustained bombing of Gaza in which thousands of civilians have perished; no incremental genocidal starvation and collective punishment on a grotesque scale. There was of course colonial dispossession of land and rights; the dumping of people to rot in the Bantustans; the brutal suffering under the apartheid system. That is so easily recognisable in respect of Israeli rule. So too have we recognized Palestinian sumud in our people’s comparable steadfast perseverance, and the understandable desperate turn to resistance with stones and guns. The call too for international solidarity and boycott, which helped bring about the downfall of apartheid.
Your retort to Mandela’s declaration of a people’s right to rise up in arms is quite likely to be, “that’s exactly what we Zionists did in the struggle to establish, gun in hand, the State of Israel.” Far from it.
The fundamental difference is that from its inception, Zionism – a narrow, extremist political doctrine not to be conflated with Judaism and all Jewish belief – aimed at colonizing and expropriating the land of an indigenous Palestinian people. The Palestinian people had lived there well before the establishment of the state of Israel.
By the time the Zionist settlers appeared on the scene in the 1880’s the land was well developed and highly populated, supporting well over one million productive Palestinians in a flourishing environment. From the start the European settlers, like their counterparts in the U.S., South Africa, and across the globe, sought to devise a way of supplanting an indigenous population who had lived there for millennia, and happened to be in the way of their colonizing project. Palestinian opposition to Zionism wasn’t based on antisemitism but grew out of fear of dispossession and the racism displayed towards them.
Zionists give the game away in their own words, although often striving to conceal true intentions. Theodor Herzl stated in his diary 1895 that once in power the aim would be to: “spirit the penniless [Palestinian] population across the border by procuring employment for it in the transit countries, while denying it any employment in our country . . . Both the process of expropriation and the removal of the poor must be carried out discretely and circumspectly.”
The Zionist propagated a myth in the 1940’s: “A land without a people for a people without a land,” in justification for settlement and cynically exploiting the wretched circumstance of Jews who had survived the Holocaust in Europe, and providing Western powers with the excuse of limiting the numbers striving to seek refuge in their countries, since they could be diverted to Palestine. Palestine’s strategic geographical position and the oil resources to the east attracted British, French and in turn U.S. imperialist interests. Connivance with Arab feudalists was the nexus for the drawing of the Middle Eastern map from those times through to Trump’s Deal of the Century and betrayal of the Palestinians by rapacious despots.
When the time was ripe, the well-prepared, superior armed colonizers struck with merciless force, uprooting over 750,000 people in 1948-49 through the horrors of a systematic ethnic cleansing program known to the Palestinian people as the Nakba (catastrophe).
I well recall as an innocent ten-year-old, growing up in a Johannesburg Jewish suburb, how anxious I was, along with the community, whether “our kinsfolk” in Palestine would survive or a tragedy akin to the Holocaust would prevail. We were subject to the narrative of the elders and mainstream western media. Little did we grasp that the wilful destruction of a people was underway – not the settler Jews but the indigenous inhabitants. If some among us were eventually able to awake to a reality other than the one-sided narrative imposed on us, it was in revulsion at the way our innocence was taken advantage of, our sensitivities abused, our emotions exploited, our innate humanity assailed and besmirched.
At that very time in 1948 when the infamous Deir Yassin massacre of more than 100 men, women and children, was reported, an Israeli cabinet Minister, Aharon Zisling, uttered in despair: “But now Jews too have behaved like Nazis and my entire being has been shaken.”
You should know why the so-called “self-hating Jews” stand up with the righteous to proclaim: “Not in Our name.”
You should understand why Leila Khaled resorted to an action which in point of fact, in her case, took not one life. You would lump her in the same category as the white supremacist Oklahoma bomber but not of course in the category of those who bombed the King David Hotel and committed numerous massacres.
Fast forward to Trump’s fraudulent Deal of the Century and a Palestine that has effectively shrunk, whether de facto or de jure annexation, to 12% of the land – comparable to the 13% of apartheid’s Bantustan territories. Don’t be so high and mighty in your complacency as to imagine that the Palestinians will simply roll over at this latest, shameful swindle, because corrupt and supine Arab autocrats have stabbed them in the back. Don’t blame Leila Khaled for the inevitable intifada that will follow.
Concerning the slur of being an “antisemitic Jew”: If one is referring to Judaic ethic (as opposed to Zionist distortion) then my upbringing is rooted in the sage Hillel’s words: “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor” – or as in Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism – treat others as you would wish them to treat you.
Is that not the lesson of the Holocaust? Isn’t that the golden rule of true morality? Is that not the Judaic ethic? For that’s where growing numbers of Jews, among others stand, following in the honourable footsteps of Albert Einstein, Hanna Arendt, Noam Chomsky, Suzanne Weiss. They stand alongside Nelson Mandela, Edward Said, Angela Davis, Mahmoud Darwish, Arundhati Roy, and so many more, prominent and less known.
Those equating criticism of Israel with antisemitism and treachery are obliged to consider whether criticism of apartheid South Africa or Trump’s America or Mohammed bin Salman’s Saudi Arabia or Modi’s India, equate with being anti-African, anti-American, anti-Muslim or anti-Indian?
Does criticism of a former Haitian tyrant such as Francis “Papa Doc” Duvalier or a CIA or Belgium puppet like Mobutu Sese Seko or Moïse Tshombe of what is today called the Democratic Republic of the Congo, equate with being anti-Black or anti-African? If not, why is criticism of the Israeli government antisemitic? Is Israel above criticism? Are Jews above criticism?
Your acquiescence makes Israel immune from criticism. You provide an impunity that makes you complicit in crimes against humanity.
Understand the lesson from South Africa, that the resolve of a determined people, fighting a just cause, will triumph in the end. Is that not the reason why you so fear the inspiring example of Leila Khaled’s life; and realisation that despite all of Israel’s endeavours the Palestinian people exist and do not surrender? Peace, security and justice for all is possible, but only on the basis of an equitable solution redressing the crimes of colonization, without external interference.