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Open letter to the sa zionist federation

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 Why Are You Supporting Occupation, Settlement & Oppression?

The following open letter has been sent to the South African Zionist Federation (Cape) by the committee members of Open Shuhada Street. It is a response to an email circulated by the Federation.

(source: Writing

We are members of Open Shuhada Street (OSS) an organisation committed to peace and security for Israelis and Palestinians. We have called for a boycott of products made by Ahava [1] – Dead Sea Laboratories Ltd (Ahava) because these products are manufactured illegally in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) by a company owned by illegal settlements in the OPT. The profitability of settlements businesses like Ahava causes suffering for millions of ordinary Palestinian children, women and men. The call to boycott Ahava is a common sense, peaceful expression of the need to reverse the settlement enterprise which stands in the way of the creation of two states, Israel and Palestine, living in peace.

On 25 August 2010, in response to the call to boycott the settlement-made products of Ahava, the SA Zionist Federation (SAZF) Cape launched a vicious personal attack on us. This was coordinated by SAZF head office. We respond in this open letter.

What are the facts?

It is undisputed that Ahava is manufactured in the West Bank, part of the occupied Palestinian territory, outside of the recognized borders of the State of Israel. A letter byY. Ellis the CEO of Ahava [2], sent out by the SAZF, says: “Ahava’s manufacturingfacility is located … within the area usually referred as the West Bank.” Ahava neither pays taxes to the Palestinian Authority, nor does it get its license to operate from the Palestinian Authority.

It is undisputed that Ahava is manufactured in an Israeli settlement. The Ahava CEO says: “Ahava’s manufacturing facility is located at Kibbutz Mitzpe Shalem… within the area usually referred as the West Bank.”Settlements own 44.69% of the stock in Ahava – Dead Sea Laboratories Ltd. Settlement Kibbutz Mitzpe Shalem owns 37.31% and Settlement Kibbutz Kalia owns 7.38%. These figures are calculated, based on certificates from the Israeli Registrar of Companies.

The presence of these settlements means land confiscations, house demolitions, discriminatory water use and harassment by settlers. These cause hardship to Palestinians. Some in surrounding communities were displaced from Nabi Musa where Kalia is now situated and Arab al-Ta’amira near Mitzpe Shalem.

What is the law? The highest judicial authority in Israel, the Israeli Supreme Court – sitting as the High Court of Justice, recognizes the West Bank as Occupied Territory. For example, in the September 2005 High Court of Justice decision in the Alfei Menashe case, then Chief Justice Barak held: The Judea and Samaria areas are held by the State of Israel in belligerent occupation. The long arm of the state in the area is the military commander. He is not the sovereign in the territory held in belligerent occupation… His power is granted him by public international law regarding belligerent occupation. The legal meaning of this view is twofold: first, Israeli law does not apply in these areas. They have not been “annexed” to Israel. Second, the legal regime which applies in these areas is determined by public international law regarding belligerent occupation (see HCJ 1661/05). In the center of this public international law stand the Regulations Concerning the Laws and Customs of War on Land, The Hague, 18 October 1907… These regulations are a reflection of customary international law. The law of belligerent occupation is also laid out in IV Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War 1949… The State of Israel has declared that it practices the humanitarian parts of this convention… We are aware that the Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice determined that The Fourth Geneva Convention applies in the Judea and Samaria area, and that its application is not conditional upon the willingness of the State of Israel to uphold its provisions.

Numerous other judgments repeat these basic principles. Those like Chief Rabbi Dr Warren Goldstein who assert that it “is incorrect legally, factually and even morally to speak of an occupation” are simply in denial. Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention (cited above by the Israeli court) states: “The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.” This is the simple basis for the illegality of all the settlement built beyond the Green Line, which is the border agreed in the 1949 armistice negotiations. In general, according to the Convention, the Occupying Power has only two legitimate interests and duties within the Occupied Territory. These are, firstly, the legitimate security needs of the people living legally within the home territory of the Occupying Power (i.e. the Israelis, including Jews and Palestinians, living in Israel demarcated by the 1949 armistice line), and secondly, the needs of the people being occupied, known in the law as Protected Persons (i.e the occupied Palestinians). Flowing from the fact that the Occupying Power has only these two legitimate interests, it is illegitimate and therefore illegal for the Occupying Power, or the civilian population of the Occupying Power, to use the Occupied Territory for profit-making activities. It is also illegal to use the natural resources of the Occupied Territory in this way, meaning, for example, that the water used in the Ahava factory is being used in violation of international law. What are the consequences? It is very clear that Ahava and Mitzpe Shalem are international law breakers. Why is this so important? It is generally recognised that the West Bank (which together with the Gaza Strip is 22% of what was, before 1948, British Mandate Palestine) is to be, with the Gaza strip, a Palestinian state alongside Israel. Every settlement is an obstacle to this. Some settlements might be included within Israel as part of a land-swap agreement. However this does not apply to Mitzpe Shalem or Kalia, both Mitzpe Shalem and Kalia are well within the proposed Palestinian state. They are therefore obstacles to negotiation, obstacles to Palestinian statehood, obstacles to Israeli security, and obstacles to peace. Does the SAZF stand by its smear tactics? The SAZF response to the call for a boycott of Ahava has been to smear, by name, the members of Open Shuhada Street interim committee: Ilan, Strauss, Zackie Achmat, Nathan Geffen, Doron Isaacs, and Daniel Mackintosh. (For some reason Nabeelah Martin was not mentioned.) The smears, contained in a publicly-distributed SAZF e-mail, are that we are “anti-Israel” and that we are part of a campaign “against Israel to delegitimize her by her enemies”. In fact, it is the support given by the SAZF, and other groups, to settlement activity, which may destroy the state of Israel. In partnership with the SAZF, shlichim(Jewish Agency emissaries) encourage, and provide financial incentives, for Jewish South Africans, most of whom would not want to support oppression, to relocate to illegal settlements such as Ariel. The SAZF is therefore aiding and abetting international law breaking. By encouraging policies that close the door on peace it is a friend to Israel’s real enemies. Our campaign is targeted at those living or profiting outside the border of the state of Israel, on Palestinian land, in Occupied Territory. It is disturbing that the SAZF draws no distinction between Israel and illegal settlements outside its borders. Like the Israeli actors refusing to perform in settlements in the Occupied Territories,we intend to distinguish very clearly between all those who support an end to occupation and oppression, and those who don’t. More disturbing are the contents of David Abel’s letter,published and spread by the SAZF, which casts aspersion on the personal finances of Zackie Achmat and Nathan Geffen. The distribution of this letter, as an attachment to an SAZF e-mail, constitutes publication for the purposes of the law. Abel, besides misspelling his relative Nathan Geffen’s last name has his facts wrong about his grant from Atlantic Philanthropies. Geffen received R150,000 (not R210,000 as stated by Abel) not to “go on a sabbatical leave” but to write his book, Debunking Delusions. This is presented as a case of corruption in which Geffen took money in order to promote an agenda which can be “traced back to enemies of Israel lurking in the background”. The letter alleges: “With that kind of funding available, it is not too difficult to understand that some Jewish members of OSS could be seduced into promoting a cause extremely hostile to the best interests of their own people.” In fact this went specifically towards Geffen’s working income while he wrote a book about HIV/AIDS for which the SA Jewish Board of Deputies sent him a letter of congratulations.

Does the SAZF stand by this disgraceful smear? Abel writes, as if exposing a scandal, that Atlantic Philanthropies gave Achmat “R1.2 million for research at Wits”. Throughout Achmat’s multiple terms as Chairperson of the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) he never drew a salary. It was necessary for him to take on additional work at academic institutions and non-governmental organisations in order to earn a living. The grant referred to by Abel was over three years. It paid for work-related expenses and salaries for assistants and researchers. We have already seen that the SAZF will use a boy’s Bar Mitzvah to punish his grandfather.

Does the SAZF also consider it decent and proper to cast aspersions on the legitimate and perfectly legal financial details of its political opponents? The letter suggests that the Atlantic Philanthropies may be “a front for other operators”. (Until a court order [16] forced him to desist, Matthias Rath, the notorious vitamin salesman, made similar baseless allegations against TAC and Achmat and Geffen.)Since the SAZF saw fit to give this allegation a wide circulation through its e-mail database will you please tell the public: who are these “other operators”? None of these tactics will in the least deter people working for peace between Israel and Palestine. But the thuggish and cowardly tactics of the SAZF must be brought to the attention of the South African Jewish community, and the wider public. Why is the SAZF supporting the colonisation of the West Bank? The call for a boycott of Ahava products is necessary to make the occupation unprofitable. These settlements remain because there is not enough incentive for them to be removed. There is no security benefit to the state of Israel whatsoever in having settlements like Mitzpe Shalem and Kalia protruding into the West Bank. On the contrary, the greatest security and existential threat to the state of Israel is the inability to define permanent borders recognised as legitimate by the world. The whole basis for organising the necessary defence of the citizens of the country will be enormously improved when this is done. The SAZF is now calling for people to increase their purchases of Ahava. In other words, the SAZF is devoted to increasing the profitability of the occupation, to defending the use of Occupied Territory in violation of international law, and to entrenching and sustaining Israeli settlements which stand in the way of peace. This exposes the SAZF as an obstacle to peace. Every Ahava product bought postpones the end of the occupation. Every Ahava product bought oppresses Palestinian women, men and children. Every Ahava product bought is a contribution to war and a payment against peace. The majority of the people of South Africa will never support this. Notwithstanding the wishful thinking of the CEO of Ahava, the settlements cause enormous harm to the Palestinian population. The physical manifestations of the occupation – including exclusive roads, legal systems, water systems and electricity grids; and checkpoints, electronic fences and concrete walls – result in an extreme form of separation. Access to all rights and services, whether transport, water or land, is based on heavy discrimination against the Palestinian inhabitants. The settlements endanger the soldiers sent to protect them. Moreover, the settlements cause resentment, not only against the settlers, but against every Israeli, making them all targets for terrorist attacks. Nothing can justify such brutal violence, nor acquit the perpetrators. But, the role the settlements play in fomenting the anger must be squarely faced. By supporting the settlements the SAZF shares responsibility for this anger and its consequences. Many settlers were enticed into settlements by attractive housing subsidies and financial incentives. A minority are fanatics who terrorise the Palestinian population. The point however is not to demonise the settlers, some of who were born in the settlements; they need to be resettled in Israel with care. Those outside of Israel who support the settlement project cannot be so easily forgiven. Simultaneously, the SAZF speaks about peace and two-states, but supports settlement in the West Bank. Is the SAZF disingenuous when it speaks about two states? Or does the SAZF support only a Bantustan Palestininan state in whichever patches of land remain unsettled? The position of Open Shuhada Street is clear. We campaign for security and peace for all people in Israel/Palestine, an end to the 43 year-occupation, the dismantling of the settlements, justice for Palestinian refugees, the creation of a Palestinian state, within all of the West Bank and Gaza, alongside the state of Israel, with Jerusalem as a shared city, on the basis that both states conform to principles of constitutional democracy, including freedom and full equality. The conclusion we draw from the SAZF call to massively buy Ahava products is that the organisation works actively to prevent this outcome. Sincerely, Doron Isaacs, Ilan Strauss, Nathan Geffen, Daniel Mackintosh, Zackie Achmat, Nabeelah Martin