By Quraysha Ismail Sooliman
An international conference Locating ethnic states in a cosmopolitan world: The Case of Israel, was hosted on Monday 12th April by the Afro – Middle East Centre (AMEC) at the Colosseum Hotel in Pretoria.The conference was opened by Deputy Minister Ebrahim Ebrahim.
In his address Ebrahim called for Palestinian unity and stated that South Africa is willing to be engaged further to establish freedom and peace and seek justice for Palestine.
In examining Israel as a “Jewish democracy” or “colonial state”, Ronnie Kasrils said that "Israel is a racist, colonial state where a foreign settler minority came to rule by disposessing the indigineous peoples-similar to apartheid South Africa." Kasrils also highlighted the similarities and differences between SA and Palestine/Israel."The way you characterise your oppressor will determine your response," he said. Professor Daryl Glaser explained the concepts of Zionism and settler democracy. “Expansion and the establishing of a liberal democracy should incorporate moral progress. I firmly believe that Liberal democracies must constitute moral progress. Settler minority democracies can be lethal for indigenous populations. Australia and America were minority settler democracies which became regimes through the extermination of the indigenous people,” he explained.
Local analyst Steven Friedman provided valuable insights on the possibilities of a Jewish minority in a reconfigured state.“It is important to look for elements of ‘usable traditions and identities’ to help groups understand themselves. Nothing is inevitable about history’” he said. Renowned author and professor of International Relations at Oxford University, Avi Shlaim stressed that the Palestine-Israel War was clearly a colonial war.Shlaim discussed the origins of Zionism and stated that Zionism is a European phenomenon."Zionism is the second biggest PR success story of the 20th Century after the Beatles," he commented lightly.He said that Zionism introduced violence into the region and that Arab violence was a response to Zionist violence.Scholars such as Shlaim and Shlomo, author of The invention of the Jewish people challenge the traditional Zionist view of the cause of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Azzam Tamimi a British-Palestinian academic and political activist changed the shape of the discourse through his intense expression of longing for the right to return to his homeland. “The beginning of any process that is meaningful requires an acknowledgement of what has happened to the Palestinian people. Until this does not happen, I will not trust any process. The Zionists must acknowledge that they were wrong to make us pay for the atrocities of the Nazi’s. We have the right to resist. We will never accept that what has happened to us is legitimate. It is not! Israel has no right to exist, but yes, the Jews have a right to exist,” said Tamimi passionately. The conference also aimed at identifying solutions that would assist the Palestinian people to achieve freedom and justice. Ali Abunimah, author of One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse stated that whilst armed resistance is a right, the decision on when and how to use it was a tactical one. Abunimah felt that defining ‘resistance’ was essential to the struggle and the way forward. He strongly urged all participants to promote the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions (BDS) campaign that had been initiated five years ago. “BDS was gaining momentum at the grassroots level, but civil society needed to be engaged and informed so that the campaign could be more effective,” he stressed. Abunimah appealed to South Africans to join BDS and develop a strong coalition that would ultimately pressurise the South African government to make a stand against the injustices perpetrated by the apartheid state of Israel on the Palestinian people. “If the South African government supported BDS openly, it would create the momentum for more governments to join the civil society coalition,” he said. As a parting message Abunimah said it was important for Palestinians to never abandon their just vision of the future. “If we stop trying, then the vacuum will be filled by our oppressors,” he said. Executive Director of AMEC, Naeem Jeenah said that the vision for the future was a driving force that empowered the Palestinians to move forward. “Armed struggle is a tactic, it is available and it can be useful. But people need to understand that armed struggle is not suicide bombings, and should not be dismissed out of hand,” he said. According to Professor Oren Yiftachel, political geographers look at the actualities on the ground and there is no denying that between 1947 and 1948, 750 000 Palestinians were ethnically cleansed at the hands of the Zionist regime. “Israel is more sophisticated than the other apartheid regimes. Actions are institutionalised and carried out without declaration. Israel is a prototype ethnocratic regime that hides behind the façade of democracy” he said. In identifying a possible solution to the Palestine-Israel conflict, Yiftachel said he felt invigorated by UN resolution 181 which could allow for the development of a confederation. “In this confederation there would be freedom of movement, full democracy, one currency, protection of minority rights and a confederation body to manage joint interests such as air pollution, water etc. Jerusalem would be an autonomous, bi-national region,” he explained. When describing the nation state of Israel, Salim Vally stated unequivocally that it was racist. “There is no path in Israel that allows for challenging the Jewish- ness of the state.” Vally also strongly supported the BDS campaign. “We must deprive the Zionist state of what it needs,” he said. Vally felt it was essential to go beyond the one-state solution. “One cannot transform a society until the class structure is transformed. Political societies must not be formed only because of a common past, but by the resolve to forge a common future,” he concluded. "We need to ask what is the political context and global environment that has allowed for the dismantling of apartheid but which has provided no reprieve for the Palestinians," said Professor Adam Habib. Habib felt strongly that the cosmopolitan tradition is the only sustainable agenda to bring about a resolve. Perhaps the strongest sentiment lay in the message given by Jamal Zalkha, a Palestinian citizen of Israel and member of the Knesset: “Palestinians are victims of Israeli democracy. The ‘lie of Israeli democracy’ could not have been established without the ‘Naqaba’- the forced removal and transfer of the Palestinian people. What is the suffering of the Palestinians compared to the establishment of a ‘democracy’ in the Middle-East? Twenty five percent of Palestinians are internal refugees. Palestinians in Israel are subject to the Citizenship law. Citizens from Ramallah and Gaza can marry, but then, they cannot live in Israel. And although couples can protest on humanitarian grounds, Israeli law states that having children (when a citizen from Ramallah marries someone from Gaza) is not part of the humanitarian! Because according to Israel, Palestinian mothers don’t mind being separated from their children! And don’t even talk about love. Palestinian love is considered a conspiracy against the state!” The conference concluded on Wednesday, a day after two new IDF orders came into force. The two new orders No. 1650 regarding Prevention of Infiltration and No. 1649 regarding Security Provisions are in blatant violation of international human rights standards and international law principles. It represents one more tool in the hand of the Israeli occupation forces to control and alter the demographic composition of the occupied Palestinian territory. This will ultimately impose a Jewish majority in Israel and the occupied territory. Quraysha is a Freelance Journalist & Political science honour’s student at the University of Pretoria
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