The South African political debate over Palestine has entered a mature new phase. October 23 will be recorded in the annals of contemporary history as the day a new threshold was crossed when Ronnie Kasrils, MP, Minister of Water Affairs who is of Jewish descent, opened the door for a new critical discourse on Israeli oppression.
Addressing the national Assembly during a debate on the fact-finding report by members of parliament who visited the Middle East in July 2001, Kasrils noted their observation which draws parallels with the ‘oppression being experienced by Palestinians under the hand of Israel, and the oppression experienced in South Africa under apartheid rule”.
Kasrils denounced the Israeli notion that security can be achieved through reliance on force as demonstrably false as the struggle against apartheid testified. He rejected the assertions by successive Israeli governments and the world Zionist movement that critics of Israel are anti-Semites and cited the occupation of Palestine as the “fundamental cause of the conflict”.
In his hard-hitting and forthright statement, Kasrils said that the establishment of Israel in 1948 inflicted a great injustice on the Palestinian people, compounded by the subsequent Israeli rule of the occupied territories and denial of the legitimate claims of the Palestinian refugees. According to him, this constitutes recognition of the fundamental causes of the on-going violence. It does “not constitute anti-Semitism”.
Kasrils said he was appalled at the ruthless security methods employed by the Israeli government against Palestinians. “These include the deployment bulldozers, machine guns, tanks and helicopter gun ships and the use of lethal force, as a matter of policy, even against civilians armed with stones the doctrine of collective punishment of Palestinian communities, demolition of homes and olive groves, the stringent curfews and roadblocks making normal life impossible; the ritual of control and humiliation”.
Kasrils statement was co-authored with Max Ozinsky, member of the Western Cape Legislature. Together they have called on Jews in South Africa and elsewhere to raise their voices in support of justice for Palestine.
Ronnie Kasril’s public criticism of the Jewish State follows the much-publicised recent visit to South Africa by Dr Uri Davis, a Jewish academic form Israel who described himself as an anti-Zionist Palestinian Jew. His visit provoked an intense debate on Israeli racism and Zionism. Being at the forefront of the defence of human rights, notably Palestinian rights since 1965, it was no surprise therefore that Davis was an integral part of the Palestinian caucus at the world Conference Against Racism in Durban.
In a foreword to an abridged edition of Davis’ book “Israel – an apartheid State”, published by the Media Review Network, I stated that Ariel Sharon, as Prime Minister of Israel is intent in annihilating all forms of Palestinian resistance and that his policies therefore presented profound moral challenges to Jewish citizens of Israel and their supporters, especially in South Africa.
It is gratifying that the Minister of Water Affairs has through his significant address to parliament and the accompanying challenge to fellow Jews, and a few weeks prior to this in correspondence with the Sunday Independent, demonstrated his revulsion of being identified as a Zionist zealot. As a voice of conscience, Kasrils deserves support in ensuring that the tragedy of Palestine does not remain a footnote in history.
(Mr. Iqbal Jasarat is Chairman of the Media Review Network, which is an advocacy group based in Pretoria, South Africa.)