Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Sakina Grimwood - Israel/Palestine: Reflections of South Africans

This article is the first submission in the 'Israel/Palestine: Reflections of South Africans' series. For more articles click here.



Constructive Dialogue Needed

The South African Human Rights Delegation to Israel and the Occupied Territories, which has spent the past week based in East Jerusalem, “wants to push forward a rational public discussion that responds to the situation [the Israel-Palestine conflict] on the basis of universal human rights”.

In my experience, I found that debate in South Africa concerning the conflict in Israel-Palestine often centres on historical and religious considerations and does not consider the human stories of suffering on both sides.

Last year, former Israeli Defence Force (IDF) soldiers from Breaking the Silence attended UCT, speaking about their experiences in the IDF, the senseless acts they would often commit and how this experience has affected them. When visiting the organisation’s website, I found that senseless killings of ordinary civilians, arrest of young boys for stone-throwing and house demolitions among some of the atrocities soldiers admit to having committed.

Palestinians are guilty of senseless killing, albeit to a lesser degree in comparison to those perpetrated by Israelis.

Nonetheless human rights’ discourse prizes the right to life over all others. Without life no other rights can be enjoyed. No killing of an innocent person can be warranted. Killing of innocent people is not allowed by international humanitarian law standards applicable in the context of the conflict.



The realisation that neither side is entirely innocent could go a long way in harnessing a desire for more peaceful times. This does not mean to imply that responsibility for suffering caused to Israelis and Palestinians can be equally apportioned. Palestinians suffer more under the continued occupation, oppression and bloodshed caused by Israel.

To my pleasant surprise, I recently became aware of an organisation, Combatants for Peace. This organisation brings former IDF soldiers and Palestinians who were involved in the violent struggle for Palestinian liberation, together in a dialogue where they discuss the atrocities they have committed. The organisation “believes that only by joining forces, will we be able to end the cycle of violence, the bloodshed and the occupation and oppression of the Palestinian people”. The aims of this organisation include inter alia “to create political pressure on both Governments to stop the cycle of violence, end the occupation and resume a constructive dialog”.




Perhaps South African Jewish and Muslim communities can learn from an initiative such as this, formed by the very people suffering under the conflict. A dialogue which centers on the sufferings and acknowledges the atrocities of both sides will allow for universal human rights to be the main consideration. The conflict affects the everyday lives of people in small, but by no means insignificant ways.

In the context of South Africa, considerations of human rights interests of all Israelis and Palestinians would foster a healthy debate, which could allow for the possibility of reconciliation between the Jewish and Muslim communities in South Africa and beyond. Such discussion would also go a long way in realising the hope that many ordinary Palestinians and Israelis hold ‘to end the cycle of violence’.

Sakina Grimwood is a law student at the University of Cape Town.

2 comments:

  1. It is a common tactic among those with an agenda, to give the impression that they are even handed. The preceding article is no exception.

    The following quotes are illustrations in point.

    "The realisation that neither side is entirely innocent could go a long way in harnessing a desire for more peaceful times. This does not mean to imply that responsibility for suffering caused to Israelis and Palestinians can be equally apportioned. Palestinians suffer more under the continued occupation, oppression and bloodshed caused by Israel."

    "Palestinians are guilty of senseless killing, albeit to a lesser degree in comparison to those perpetrated by Israelis."

    The article makes no specific mention of the acts of terrorism performed by Palestinians. We are not told about the 2000 rockets that have been launched into Israel from Gaza over the last four years. No mention is made of the teenage students who were gunned down in Jerusalem while studying torah. The countless number of suicide bombings, that have largely stopped as a result of the security barrier in Jerusalem, are ignored and no attention is paid to the recent terror attacks launched solely against civilians in the past months.

    There is silence about the fact that Israel mourns the loss of every innocent life on both sides of the conflict, while Palestinian terrorists cheer when a suicide bombers is martyred taking innocent civilians to their deaths.

    While it is true that civilians are killed by Israeli soldiers, it is not the modus operandi of the state to target civilians. Their deaths are often a result of terrorists embedding themselves in civilian areas. In these cases international law requires the deaths to be blamed on the terrorists not the soldiers, in the same way that a bank robber is blamed for the deaths of hostages that are killed by police in a shootout.

    The fact that an organisation like Break the Silence exists, demonstrates Israel's ability to reflect on its actions and take measures to improve its military protocols to prevent more lives from being lost. Where is the Palestinian counterpart?

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  2. Mark Oppenheimer,

    Your own article simply dismisses the fact that civilians are killed by Israeli soldiers by stating 'it is not the modus operandi of the state to target civilians.' In that case - what do you call the recent genocide in Gaza, the killing of over 1400 Palestinians and the wounding of thousands more? Bombs were dropped and fire was opened on random civilians. The point was to destroy Gazans and Gaza.

    'Breaking the Silence' is an independent organization critical of Israel. It therefore does not 'demonstrates Israel's ability to reflect on its actions and take measures to improve its military protocols to prevent more lives from being lost'. 'Breaking the Silence' is not a branch of the Israeli government. This statement is exactly the same as saying that, pre-democracy, white people who opposed apartheid demonstrate Apartheid South Africa's willingness to change its policy. It really is as simple as the fact that Israel and 'Breaking the Silence' are two different entities and certainly not representative of each other.

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