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The media and Palestine solidarity positions

Briefing notes for activists


The purpose of these notes is to guide activists in their interventions in mass media. The notes were developed from my engagement with Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC CT) colleagues and reflects collective thought. The notes are not official PSC CT positions. They are my articulations only.

The media usually gives extensive, one-sided publicity to four political groupings:
• The state of Israel,
• The South African ANC-led government
• Local South African Zionist formations (particularly the SA Jewish Board of Deputies [SAJBoD], the SA Zionist Federation [SAZF] and the SA Jewish Report)
• The opposition Democratic Alliance (DA), and in particular the Western Cape DA government

These notes are structured to paraphrase the self-perception (ideological messages) of each of these groupings, provide what I think should be our ideological messages in response as well as what I understand as our political demands and strategic interventions. I will be publishing separate notes in respect of each of the above four institutions.

In the meantime there have been several narratives expressed by the SAJBoD and the SAZF, which deflect from the core concerns of our narrative. Therefore, this first set of notes is a pithy set of data, information that should form a critical focus in any discussion about Israel/Palestine, but is more often than not occluded from discussion.

Points for quick activist reference


This is the first in a series of articles unpacking information and arguments about Israel/Palestine, useful for Palestine solidarity activists in their engagement in public debate. The end notes contain further explanatory detail including hyperlinks to useful source material.

Three more articles will follow in the near future.

The next article will unpack the self-perception of the state of Israel, our ideological response as well as our political demands and interventions in the present conjuncture.

Paul Hendler, Stellenbosch, South Africa, 06 December 2023.

i These are based on public comments made by Rowan Polovin (of the SAZF) Rabbi Warren GoldsteinZe’ev Krengel (of the SAJBoD) and Wendy Khan (of the SAJBoD). Ronnie Kasrils replied to Wendy Khan’s article attacking him for his expression of admiration for the military effectiveness of Hamas on 7 October 2023.

ii The meaning of the terms settler colonialism, apartheid and genocide.

See the following for detailed arguments that since 1948 Israel has established an apartheid regime that entrenches an ethnocracy that guarantees Jewish supremacy and reduces Palestinian Israeli citizens to a second-class status, and that this was formally extended across historic Palestine in 1967:

· UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), 2017 Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid, Beirut.

· See also Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC), 2009 Occupation, Colonialism, Apartheid? A Re-assessment of Israel’s Practices in the Occupied Palestinian Territories Under International Law, A report of the Middle East Project in the Democracy and Governance Programme of the Human Sciences Research Council, Cape Town. The HSRC Report concludes that Israel has indeed imposed an apartheid regime over the OPTs known as the West Bank.

· Recently reports by Amnesty International Human Rights Watch and B’Tselem have reinforced the views referred to above that Israel is an apartheid state.

For further argumentation that the Israeli state is an ethnocracy (and not a democracy) see Jeenah, Ne’eem 2012 Pretending democracy, living ethnocracy, in Jeenah (editor) Pretending Democracy — Israel, an Ethnocratic State, AMEC, Johannesburg, pages 3–23.

iii This is based on Walid Khalidi, ‘All that Remains — The Palestinian Villages Occupied and Depopulated by Israel in 1948’, Institute for Palestine Studies , Washington DC, 2006. There is a further exposition of the details comprising Walidi’s estimates.

iv Israeli historian Ilan Pappe, ‘The Biggest Prison on Earth — A History of the Occupied Territories’, One World, London, 2017, refers to Robert Bowker, ‘Palestinian Refugees’, 2003, as estimating that roughly 300 000 Palestinians became refugees in the Naksa.

v Information on house demolitions are sourced from the Israel Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD). Administrative demolitions (for lack of a building permit) accounted for 20 per cent of this total (mainly on the West Bank and in East Jerusalem), while land clearance and military demolitions (linked to land clearance with a military goal and the killing of Palestinians as part of extra-judicial executions) accounted for 66 per cent of 56 000 units demolished after 1967 in the occupied territories.

Within Israel proper — the 1949 armistice lines — there have been ongoing demolitions amounting to thousands of houses mainly belonging to Bedouin living in the Naqab (Negev desert). But Palestinian citizens of Israel other than the Bedouin have not been spared the trauma of having their homes demolished, an example of which is the village of Dahmash on the outskirts of Tel Aviv. Unequal investments to different areas flow from this principle of Jewish supremacy, resulting in underdevelopment of the settlements of Palestinian citizens and their second-class status nationally and culturally. Both apartheid South Africa and Israel share the fact that ethnic cleansing played a significant role in establishing their systems. In South Africa between 1960 and 1983 3,5 million black people were forcibly relocated from their homes in areas prescribed for people interpellated as whites, to other group areas, mainly bantustans.

vi On 27 November 2023 the Electronic Intifada reported that Israel’s resumption of its bombing of Southern Gaza, after a temporary pause in its earlier bombardment of Gaza, will likely push at least 1,7 million people across the border into the Sinai.

vii Source reference for data: for 1948, 1953, 1975/77, 2008/09, 2012 and 2014, cf. Wikipedia; for 1982, Sabra and Shatila, 1982, including Lebanese citizens, cf. Rashid Khalidi, ‘The Sabra and Shatila Massacre: New Evidence’;

viii Estimate by investigative journalist, the late Robert Fisk, in Chapter 21 ‘Why?’ of ‘The Great War for Civilisation — The Conquest of the Middle East’, Harper Perennial, pages 1020 to 1027. Fisk recounts the detention, under the supervision of Shin Beth (Israel’s internal security agency) of hundreds of Palestinian men at the Cite Sportive stadium in Beirut in 1982, shortly after the ending of the slaughter in the Sabra and Shatila camps, but that none of these men were ever seen again.

ix Source for casualties for Great March of Return (2018 to 2019): Palestine Centre of Human Rights and b’Tselem, ‘Unwilling and Unable: Israel’s Whitewashed Investigations of the Great March of Return Protests’, undated, see two sections of yellow highlighted text.

x All information regarding 2023 sourced from Anne Wright, ‘International Campaign To Send Ships With Relief Assistance for Gaza’,, 27 November 2023.

xi According to information in the Goldstone Report, which is contained in a summary thereof.

xii As reported by the Institute for Middle East Understanding (IMEU).

xiii As reported by Reuters on 17 November 2023.

xiv This section summarises an article by Paul Hendler, “Assessing the antisemitism ‘experts’?”, sub-headings ‘Extent of antisemitism in South Africa?’ and ‘Conclusion’.

xv This section summarises two articles by Paul Hendler: ‘Jewish right not to be invested in Israel ….’, sub-heading ‘a transcendent Jewish ethnos’, which explains the Jewish ethnos as an ideological interpellation, and ‘Academic freedom VS academic boycott’, footnote 6 assessing the claim that SAJBoD represents South Africa’s Jewish community. The Israeli Declaration of Independence speaks of Eretz Israel as the land that gave birth to the Jewish ethnos.

xvi The following are links to the five Jewish South African organisations referred to: ‘Not in my name’2 scholars and 100 alumniSA Jews for Free PalestineJewish Voices for Just Peace and Concerned South African Jews.

xvii A point demonstrated by the late Sampie Terreblanche (political economist) in his magisterial book, ‘A History of Inequality in South Africa’.

xviii In this regard cf. views of Amos and Paul Goldreich and Nicholas Wolpe, about the lack of support from the Jewish community when their fathers Arthur Goldreich and Harold Wolpe, were detained. Ze’ev Krengel, then (2011) outgoing SAJBoD chairman, admitted the that then Board of Deputies failed because it didn’t fight for the people who fought apartheid.

xix A point underscored by Joe Pollak in his paper The Kasrils Affair.

xx Recounted by Gary Lubner, the chair of JSJ.

xxi SAJBoD’s Porter and Rabbi Bernhard publicly congratulated Yutar on his appointment as Attorney general of the Free State.

xxii The author of this document, Paul Hendler, attests to this fact as an eyewitness, participant observer of many Saturday morning services.

xxiii Sasha Polakow-Suransky’s book ‘The Unspoken Alliance’ is replete with anecdotes about Israeli and apartheid South Africa officials in collaborative discussions in the 1980s, one of which was a revealing interaction between the SAZF and the then South African Foreign Ministry. In 1985 Moshe Sharon, an Arab advisor to Menachem Begin and to IDF forces during the invasion of Lebanon, became director-general of the SAZF, and immediately offered his services to the Ministry, saying that ‘the SAZF would do all in its power to blunt anti-South African agitation’. Polakow-Suransky quotes from an interview with Mervyn Smith, a liberal member of the Cape Town Board of Deputies at the time, that many of his colleagues were paranoid and argued that ‘anything the Jewish community says in this country against the apartheid regime will result in damage to Israel…. They’ll stop the money going out, they’ll stop the special relationship, ….. they’ll stop everything’.

xxiv United Nations General Assembly Resolution 2649 of 1970 permits ‘any means’ of struggle as justified by the end of national self-determination (see colour coded text). United Nations General Assembly Resolution 35/35 of 1980 addresses human rights, international humanitarian law, the Palestine question and settlements, and explicitly includes the right of colonised people to resort to armed struggle in their fight for self-determination (see colour coded text).

xxvThere are three aspects to IHL. First the principle of distinction between combatants and civilians, and the need to protect civilians from danger, wounding and death through military action. Second, the principle of proportionality, i.e. that the degree of force does not exceed that needed to accomplish the military objective. And, third, the principle of necessity, that combat forces engage in only those acts necessary to accomplish a legitimate military objective. These principles are contained within the Four Geneva Conventions (1949) and their additional protocols I and II (1978) as well as the Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons Which May be Deemed to be Excessively Injurious or to Have Indiscriminate Effects (1980), as well as its Protocol I on Non-Detectable Fragments (1980). The provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention set out the obligations of an occupying power towards the population of the territory that it occupies. This is relevant to the current discussion because Israel is the occupying power in the Palestinian territories.

xxvi It remains unclear whether IHL is binding on all parties to armed conflict. Norman Finkelstein in his book ‘Gaza — An Inquest into its Martyrdom’, quotes a study on the creation of states in international law ‘that the use of force by a non-state entity in exercise of a right of self-determination is legally neutral, that is, not regulated by international law at all’ (page 140). Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch took the view that non-state entities are regulated by international law. That said, Finkelstein does not support liberation movements attacking and killing non-combatants. Like Tony Greenstein, a Jewish anti-Zionist socialist, he questions making equivalent Israel’s and Hamas’/Islamic Jihad’s attacking and killing civilians. In essence both Finkelstein and Greenstein understand the response of liberation movement violence — including that perpetrated against civilians — as provoked. While they do not commend it they refuse to withdraw their in-principle support for the liberation that these movements claim to be struggling for.

xxvii Finkelstein (‘Gaza — An Inquest into its Martyrdom’, pages 234–237) argues that given the cruder weaponry of Hamas (its lack of high precision weapons) it is inevitable that it will violate the principle of distinction (between civilians and combatants). Notwithstanding the inevitability of it violating the laws of war it still has the legal — and moral — right to resist an illegal occupation in its struggle for self-determination. By contrast Israel has no right to defend itself against resistance to its illegal occupation. Its option is to end the occupation, withdraw its troops and live in peace with a Palestinian state.

xxviii See Suraya Dadoo and Firoz Osman, ‘Why Israel? — The Anatomy of Zionist Apartheid — A South African Perspective’, chapter 8 The Armed Struggle: martyrdom Operations, pages 86 to 94. Israeli peace activist and son of an Israeli military general, Miko Peled, reasons similarly in holding the Israeli government responsible for his niece being killed by a human bomb.

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