Good fences make good neighbours?
By Emmy James
So, you noticed the wall erected on Jammie Plaza last week, but what is it all about? Well, it represents the 2-metre-high wall in Jerusalem, with electrified barbed-wire fences, vehicle-barrier trenches, and a 60m-wide buffer zone on the Palestinian side.
How did it start?
In 1967, after the Six-Day War, Israelis began settling within the West Bank in territory not internationally recognised as within Israel’s borders. Construction of the wall started in 2002, “to protect Israeli citizens from Palestinian suicide bombings” that started in 1993 – although bombings were not always associated with the Palestinian cause, as various groups claim responsibility for incidents in this region. But perceptions differ: is the wall there to protect Israelis, or oppress Palestinians?
For a more balanced piece, VARSITY made efforts to contact representatives of both the Palestinian Solidarity Forum (PSF) and SA Union for Jewish Students. Unfortunately, the latter were not available for comment within the timeframe, so opinions of an individual (Ind) sympathetic to Israel were canvassed for balance alongside the statements of the Chairperson of PSF.
PSF: IAW is about international solidarity against international oppression. The world operates in a system of oppressions, and to tackle the issue of oppression in the world we must stand together in opposing all oppressions. South Africans should care about the Palestinian situation, as it is similar to pre-democratic South Africa. The wall occupies land on the West Bank, in contravention of the Fourth Geneva Convention. The wall was a small part of Israeli exclusivity (aka apartheid) that began as early as 1945. We blame a ‘Jews only’ ideology for extreme tensions and a lack of Palestinian-Israeli integration.
Ind: 1945 was just after the 6-year holocaust, which saw 6 million Jews murdered under the Nazis. It’s not just about excluding Palestine or the Palestinian cause (i.e., it was an ISIS truck hitman who killed Israeli soldiers in January this year). With various hostile terror agencies, Israelis are justified in feeling unsafe and trying to protect themselves. Violence would increase if the wall came down.
PSF : If the wall came down, there would definitely be violence. Hatred is understandable because of killing of Palestinians, economic inequality, and limited access to resources for Palestinians because of the wall. So, taking down the wall is not the only thing that needs to happen. There must be full restoration of Palestinian democratic rights. Leaving the wall up is just digging a deeper grave, creating an environment for thriving hatred and tensions. South Africa has a role in showing solidarity against oppression.
Ind: Blacks, Whites, Coloureds, and Indians in South Africa are one nation. Palestine and Israel are two separate nations with two separate presidents. The world is divided over Israel’s right to exist. Lots of Arabs left the Holy Land in 1947–48 voluntarily, as they feared further war and violence in the region. In 2011, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas still hoped that Israel would recognise the Palestinian state on the West Bank. But Sunni fundamentalists, like Ismail Haniyeh in 2013, say Palestinians will never recognize Israel.
With the greatest respect and compassion for both Palestine and Israel, it would seem that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a very complicated one. In South Africa, social injustice is close to home and thus, it is natural for South African students to be upset and indignant about Palestinian exclusion and oppression. However, a far more dangerous (and equally prevalent) concern is the violence, not only in Jerusalem, but all over the world and in South Africa too. All lives matter equally, and it is a universal obligation to respect that, to respect all people and not lapse into hate speech (and “them” and “us” discourses) whilst resolving the many issues our generation has both inherited and created. #Compassion and respect must rise!