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Sa group on mideast mission

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A delegation of 23 South Africans, including judges Edwin Cameron and Dennis Davis, MPs, journalists and human rights activists, is to spend a week in Israel meeting both sides to the Middle East conflict. The idea is to learn more about the situation there and to express international solidarity with those struggling for a negotiated settlement.

The group hopes the visit will strengthen the cause and legitimacy of those organisations fighting jointly and non-violently for a just solution and an end to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. These organisations were behind the invitation to the South African delegation to visit and show solidarity. The delegation will be hosted by the Joint Struggle Coalition, a new grouping of civil society organisations, activists and local popular committees committed to a joint Palestinian-Israeli non- violent struggle against the occupation.

Others in the delegation include Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) chairman Zackie Achmat, South African Human Rights Commission chairman Jody Kollapen, Anglican Archbishop Thabo Makgoba, former deputy health minister and MP Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge, advocate Geoff Budlender, MP Barbara Hogan and authors Jonny Steinberg and Andrew Feinstein.

Apart from visiting sites of struggle and refugee camps, the delegation will also interact with academics, legal experts, activists and bereaved relatives about the history and consequences of the struggle. In a mission statement issued at a media briefing yesterday, the delegation, which leaves on Saturday, said it wanted to support Palestinians and Israelis who were working non-violently towards a just settlement of the conflict.

“We want to express solidarity with those who are living in oppressive, restrictive and dangerous circumstances. “We want to draw attention to the injustice of the occupation and its devastating consequences. We want to push forward a rational public discussion that responds to the situation on the basis of universal human rights,” said the statement.

AIDS Law Project attorney Fatima Hassan hoped the trip would help change the discourse between Jews and Muslims in SA whose relations with each other were partly shaped by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “The fact is that you cannot grow up either as a Muslim or a Jew in SA without being confronted regularly with this issue,” TAC activist Nathan Geffen added. He said it was important for human rights activists around the world to cement ties.