Friday, August 15, 2008

Alana Pugh-Jones - Israel/Palestine: Reflections of South Africans

This article forms part of the Israel/Palestine: Reflections of South Africans series. For guidelines on submitting your own article click here. To read previous contributions click here.




Engaging for Peace


“I went into it with an opinion, my own opinion, and we were guided also by who we went with, our own experience, our own background, our own understanding of justice and our own values”. With these words Sunday Times editor Mondli Makhanya began his report back at Wits as a delegate on the recent ‘South African Human Rights Delegation’ trip to Israel and the West Bank. The delegation comprised twenty three human rights figures and sought to show, in their own words, ‘solidarity with Israelis and Palestinians working to fight human rights abuses and bring about a non-violent end to the occupation of Palestinian land by Israel’.


The evening left me optimistic that spaces of dialogue are emerging, in South Africa and across the world, where people on either side of a contentious conflict can discuss issues in a civilized and constructive manner. Makhanya’s acknowledgement that our individual and inherent bias is the total of our subjective past gave me pause to reflect on my own viewpoint when listening to this group.



Much of what was reported on rings heartbreakingly true – the security fence must indeed be a symbol of oppression to the Palestinian people, hampering as it does their mobility and access to various resources as it often cuts through their land and divides villages. It is also, however, representative of Jewish insecurity and both the psychological and physical trauma that thousands of terrorist attacks on the Israeli civilian population has exacted.

The occupation of Palestinian land, discussed by the delegation at length, undoubtedly dehumanizes Palestinians. Yet it also denigrates Israelis as well – in particular the young soldiers compelled to stand guard over strangers who don’t want them there and with the weight of life or death decisions hanging over them day in and day out. Israel’s security measures inevitably disrupt the lives of its own citizens too, through constant road closures in response to threats of terror or attacks themselves.
Neither side in this conflict has a monopoly on victimhood - exploiting its wares only allows the tragedies of the past to become immoveable stumbling blocks to progress in the future.



The delegation saw its message not as pro-Israeli or pro-Palestinian, but as pro-peace. Not enough discussion has taken place on Palestinian agency in the conflict and the Palestinian leadership is not held accountable in the same way as the Israeli authorities. The situation in the region is untenable, but equal pressure must be exerted on both sides to make conditions pass to ameliorate the situation – anything less is counterproductive to efforts for peace.

As young South Africans, navigating the twisting paths towards reconciliation in our own wounded nation, we have an obligation to use our experiences as maps to help others move towards peace. This is where Jewish and Muslim South Africans in particular can seize the opportunity the recent coverage of Israel and Palestine in the media has presented. As we enter into dialogue we must do so as Jewish and Muslim South Africans proud of, and loyal to, our identities - only from this vantage point will we be able to seek peace and begin to realise that our destinies are intertwined.

***

Alana Pugh-Jones holds an MPhil in Justice and Transformation from UCT. Alana is extensively involved in Jewish communal work and Zimbabwean democracy advocacy. She is currently working as Diplomatic Liaison for the national office of the SA Jewish Board of Deputies in Johannesburg. Alana contributes to this blog in her personal capacity.

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