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‘Remember Injustices of Palestine’s Al-Nakba’ by Terry Crawford-Browne

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nakba dayA small group of Jewish South Africans last month participated in a ceremony with Israelis and Palestinians to acknowledge and apologise for the injustices of Al Nakba.

The event in the ruins of the village of Lubya in Galilee was organised by Zochrot, which is an Israeli NGO dedicated to preserving the memories of Israel’s tortured past. It included a ritual purification and atonement at the old cemetery, where rows of neglected graves bear witness to the destruction and depravities of wars.

Al Nakba — the catastrophe that befell Palestinians in 1948 with the establishment of the state of Israel — will also be commemorated this Friday with a vigil outside Parliament in Cape Town. Participants are invited to wear black. Jewish South Africans have for decades been disproportionately involved in funding Zionist projects in Palestine.

Lubya is especially significant because the ruins were deliberately obliterated by planting of pine trees by the Jewish National Fund (JNF), and buried under what is now called South Africa Forest. The village was abandoned in July 1948 after the fall of nearby Nazareth and Shfaram and, without a fight, the inhabitants fled as refugees to Lebanon and Syria.

During the 30 years of their administration of Palestine, the British made little secret of biases in favour of Zionists. Haganah was equipped by the British army, and by December 1947 had 50 000 well-trained soldiers.

Dozens of massacres emptied almost 200 villages and towns of their Palestinian populations even before the Israeli declaration of independence on May 15, 1948. Yet myths of defenceless Israelis being attacked by invading Arab armies are still repeated.

During the next 17 years martial law prevented those Palestinians who remained within the newly independent state of Israel from returning to their homes and villages. Those who tried were shot as “infiltrators.” The 600 homes of Lubya were blown up during the 1960s. More than 500 Palestinian villages were similarly destroyed, and Jewish children all over the world were encouraged to contribute their savings for the greening of Palestine.

Shereen Usdin, as spokesperson for the visitors, declared: “At some point all of us donated money to the JNF, and we are here to say that we regret having done so. We were part of the struggle against apartheid in South Africa, and we want to be part of the struggle for justice and equality here.”

Merle Favis added: “The JNF duped us. They told us they were working to make the desert bloom. They took our money and planted trees to erase the memory of the people who lived here. It’s fraud.”

The award-winning film Village Under The Forest made by Capetonians Heidi Grunebaum and Mark Kaplan documents the destruction of Lubya and the planting of South Africa Forest. The JNF sourly responded to the film and the international acclaim it received by boasting how 260 million trees were planted for “land reclamation” — whilst also blaming the residents of Lubya for their fate and suffering.

The JNF continues its tree-planting programme, and these days is engaged in evicting 40 000 Bedouins from areas of the Negev, still under the pretext of park development. One village has already been demolished 15 times by the Israeli army but its Bedouin residents stubbornly insist on rebuilding.

Bedouin villages are classified under Israeli law as “unrecognised villages,” meaning that they cannot be connected to the electricity grid or to water and sewerage connections. These villages are not shown on maps since, officially, places inhabited by Bedouin-Israeli citizens do not exist.

The modern state of Israel claims its legitimacy from the 1917 Balfour Declaration. A little known fact however, is that Lord Alfred Milner — who jointly with Cecil Rhodes instigated the South African War — was the main drafter of that document. Britain had no jurisdiction to give away the land of Palestine, and the declaration was issued without consultation with its 700 000 Palestinian inhabitants.

Milner’s imperialist agenda was to settle European Jews in the Middle East to safeguard the Suez Canal as the sea passage to India and the “jewel of the British Empire.” His scheme paralleled the placement in 1820 of 5 000 British settlers in the Eastern Cape as defence against the “kaffirs” on the Border.

The myth was then fostered that Palestine was “a land without people for a people without land.” It was not dissimilar from apartheid era arguments that there were no black people at the Cape when the Dutch arrived in 1652.

Reminiscent of the apartheid Group Areas Act, 92 percent of Israel is now reserved for Jewish occupation only and to the exclusion of Palestinians. Judaism has been perverted by Zionism to give false legitimacy to the theft, much as Christianity was perverted in South Africa to legitimise apartheid.

Yad Vashem Museum in Jerusalem built over the ruins of another Palestinian village also obliterated with pine trees is a gruelling experience of the barbarities of war. Israel has become the tragic example of how the victim of one war’s crimes becomes the perpetrator of atrocities in succeeding generations.

With encouragement from General Jan Smuts, Africa-Palestine Investment Company was established by South Africans in 1934 to buy land for Jewish settlements. In recognition of Smuts’s support for Zionism, a kibbutz was named after him.

As Africa-Israel Investment Company, the firm is now one of Israel’s major financial and property development institutions. Its construction subsidiaries are actively engaged in building illegal settlements at Har Homa (near Bethlehem), Ma’ale Adumin (between Jerusalem and Jericho) and Zufrim (near Jayyous).

Cape Gate’s subsidiaries provide the wiring and fencing for the infamous “apartheid wall,” whilst Woolworths trades in Israeli agricultural exports grown on stolen Palestinian land and irrigated with stolen Palestinian water.

South Africans also provided financial support for Menachem Begin, and his right wing Likud Party. Wars and raw military power became the basis of Likkud’s domestic and foreign policies. The relationship with South Africa became a secret alliance between two pariah states. Sasha Polakow-Suransky in his book The Secret Alliance writes:

“Starting in the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s, leading Israeli generals became close friends with their counterparts in Pretoria, often sharing battle plans, weapons designs and advice on ‘defeating terrorists.’ And as South Africa’s nuclear weapons programme moved forward, the Israeli model of deception and covert development was enticing.”

Martin Welz, editor of Noseweek magazine, pithily describes the relationship: “The Israelis had the brains, but no money. The South Africans had the money, but no brains. It was a marriage consummated in hell.”

Just as apartheid unravelled with the simultaneous end of the Cold War, so too Israel’s status as America’s surrogate in the Middle East is fast unravelling with the collapse in the Arab world of countries “invented” by British and French imperialists after the First World War.

The re-election of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his coalition with extreme right-wingers has alienated even Europeans and North Americans whose guilty consciences for anti-Semitism and the barbarities of the Holocaust have caused them to close their eyes to the atrocities inflicted upon Palestinians.

Despite numerous resolutions at the United Nations since 1948 confirming their right of return, two-thirds of Palestinians are still refugees and/or displaced persons.

Israeli army war crimes in Gaza in 2008/2009 and again in 2014 have been heavily documented, and are irrefutable. The reality is increasingly evident that the “two state solution” is an unworkable fantasy given that there are 700 000 Israeli settlers living illegally “beyond the green line.” The West Bank is an apartheid bantustan.

Perhaps appropriately, the changing scenario also coincides with the prospective independence of Scotland and pending nonviolent demolition of the United Kingdom after centuries of English domination.

Terry Crawford-Browne
May 12, 2015

Crawford-Browne writes for the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, a secular organisation of South African Jews, Muslims, Christians and people of no faith who support the liberation of Palestine from Israeli occupation.