Any mention of “South Africa” in the 1970’s and 80’s evoked images of Steve Biko, township uprisings, and violent state suppression of protests against the Apartheid regime. To repair South Africa’s battered image abroad, and counter the growing sanctions campaign in the West, Apartheid propagandists encouraged foreigners to visit South Africa, and “see for themselves” Apartheid South Africa’s entrepreneurial business spirit; its complex, multicultural society, and vast natural resources and beauty.
Businesspeople toured mines and farms, where they were reminded how South Africa’s agricultural and technical know-how could benefit less-developed countries in Africa. Student leaders, and politicians were shown how the South African government had created inter-racial harmony through the creation of Bantustans and the tricameral parliamentary system.
A round of golf with Gary Player at Sun City, followed by a hike up Table Mountain, and a safari at the Kruger National Park, gave a kinder face to the regime in Pretoria, and deflected attention away from Apartheid. Closely monitored by their hosts, visitors were not allowed to visit places on their own. Journalists, in particular, were warned that Soweto and other black townships – where resistance to Apartheid was strongest – were strictly off-limits. “Let’s focus on the positive” was the cheerful cry of those selling South African Apartheid to the world.
Israel’s ambassador to South Africa, Arthur Lenk has adopted the same formula, craftily sidestepping Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian land, focussing instead on Israel’s positive traits as a leader in hi-tech, entrepreneurship and water technology (Why South Africans should visit Israel, 23 October). The ambassador encourages South Africans to visit the Netafim factory in southern Israel, and the IDE Technology desalination plant in Ashkelon, which provides Israel with water every day.
Yet, he does not encourage us to visit the village of az-Zubeidat in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT), where the Israeli Civil Administration refuses residents permission to build wells on their own land. Is it because when South Africans hear from Palestinian villagers how they are charged 50 shekels for a litre of water while Israeli settlers – living on the same land – pay one shekel or less, they will be reminded of Apartheid-era water laws that were shaped by the needs of the oppressor?
Jerusalem is the next destination that we are encouraged to visit. Ambassador Lenk claims that religious sites are “carefully protected and accessible to all faiths”. This is difficult to believe since Palestinian men under 50 cannot pray at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site in Islam.
South African Christians should visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre — the place of Jesus’ crucifixion, burial, and resurrection from the dead. A visit during Easter – one of the holiest times of the year for Christians – is a must, as visitors can watch how the sacred Church is transformed into a military barracks. Barriers are set up in the early hours of the morning to keep Palestinians out of the Church courtyard. Israeli soldiers are present around the gates of the Old City and passages that lead to the Holy Sepulchre, as well as inside the Church itself and on its roof. These measures restrict prevent Palestinian Christians from worshipping at the Church during this auspicious period.
Journey to Bethlehem to see how Palestinian Christians require permission from Israeli authorities to travel ten kilometres to Jerusalem. There are 32 Israeli checkpoints that control Palestinian movement around Bethlehem. For an authentic “only-in-Israel” experience, South Africans should put their passport away and join the Palestinian line at the checkpoints.
Walk along the unique Shuhada Street in Hebron, where 250 000 Palestinian residents must walk on the other side of the street to accommodate a thousand Israeli settlers. Have lunch in the village of Susya, where residents will tell you how they live in constant fear of being evicted and having their homes demolished, so that illegal Israeli settlements can be built in its place.
A generation ago, justice-seeking foreigners sought the truth about our liberation struggle beyond Sun City, Chris Barnard, and mining technology. In 2016, South Africans must not allow drip irrigation and entrepreneurship to obscure the truth about Israel’s occupation and Apartheid policies against the Palestinian people.