Rod Kersh
Person-centred physician

Colonial Rugby, Gaza, and Israel

Kfar Nachum, July 2023, photo by Rod Kersh.

I watched the Rugby World Cup Final last night. Held in Saint Denis, South Africa were the winners by one point.

I am not a fan of rugby or any competitive sports – football, tennis, baseball; they all send me to sleep. For the most, I would rather read a book.

And yet, last night I sat through the rugby.

There is a back-story to this, related to a Podcast called The Real Science of Sport with Professor Ross Tucker and Mike Finch.

One day, I will explain my actions in more detail.

Now, I do not intend to write about muscular men with odd-shaped balls.

At the start of the match, both teams stood in lines singing their national anthems – God Defend New Zealand, for the All Blacks, and, Nkosi sikelel’iAfrika for South Africa, the Springboks.

What was apparent?

It related to ethnicity.

You see, both New Zealand and South Africa had indigenous peoples long before Europeans arrived in 1840 and the 1650’s, respectively.

The players from both countries demonstrate a mix of ethnicities and races.

How would teams of Israelis and Palestinians appear? Could you tell them apart?

Both have semitic ancestry.

Some of the Israelis would look like me, as might some of the Palestinians (there is an Palestinian pita-maker in Jaffa who is my brother’s twin,)

Yes, there will be some blue-eyed and blonde-haired Israelis, as there are Palestinians.

It is hard sometimes to establish heritage from a look at the face.

What is my point?

I have never seen a demonstration opposing the existence of New Zealand in Trafalgar Square.

This month, to stretch the geography, a referendum was held in Australia to determine a change to the nation’s approach to its Indigenous Peoples. It failed.

We all know the history of South Africa, the Apartheid slur that has recently been directed at Israel was a proud part of the South African governance system until its overthrow by Mandela, Oliver Tambo and Steve Biko and a handful of Jewish South Africans such as Ruth First, Joe Slovo and Lionel Bernstein.

I have not seen any protests related to South Africa or Argentina or Canadian homeland occupations.


There are, as far as I can tell several points which separate the reality.

The first, is that, when Europeans moved-in to Brazil, Cuba, or California, despite the mass murder, population relocation and death through contagious diseases, the local indigenous populations somehow managed, over the years, to get over it and cohabit.

This of course is an over-simplification and ignores that disparities which exist today between those with Spanish heritage living in Honduras or Peru and those whose family roots go back not centuries but millennia.

The second is the world’s approach to the, let’s call them ‘in-comers’.

As the protesters shout ‘death to the Jews’ the citizens of New Zealand and South Africa just got on with things. Yes, there are significant socioeconomic differences between peoples in both nations, none of which is right, yet there is no call from college professors to avoid the purchase of South African pomelos or New Zealand apples.

Another difference between Israel/Palestine and New Zealand/South Africa are that the Jews, when arriving in Israel – whether following the initial expulsions, or during the Ottoman or British occupation were not arriving de novo but returning.

This was not an invasion; it was a homecoming.

And the residents at the time, the Palestinians, did not appreciate the appearance of Jews arriving by land and sea.

They fought back, they attacked.

The Jews established settlements, or perhaps re-settlements of their original land, they built watch towers and fences to allow their work to transform Israel into the jewel that it is today.

The returning versus the arriving.

And over the decades, another dissimilarity has been the refusal of some of the Palestinians to ever accept the existence of Israel or the presence of the Jews.

Instead of focusing on the development of their own societies and cultures they have opted to attack, whether in 1948 or all the subsequent years, up and until October the 7th and today.

Their refusal to accept a new reality, to invest in their children, in hospitals, universities and school building has led to the current situation. (Tunnel building in Gaza is disinvestment in education).

Note, I am not blaming the Palestinian People.

It is the leaders, the external forces, the cynical manipulation by outside forces that has created the Palestinian and Israeli tragedies we see today.

Imagine if Russia or America or the once Great Britain had decided to oppose the settlement of immigrants in New Zealand or South Africa or the Americas. Imagine they had spent untold amounts of money stoking hatred, indoctrinating little children in a revulsion for the other, imagine where we would be today.

The world would have fallen apart.

South Africa’s success is a reflection of things not falling apart, it is a reflection of the wisdom of its leaders of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee, of the evolution of a Rainbow Nation.

Maybe, behind the hopelessness of the situation in Gaza we can take succour from last night’s match.

Maybe, maybe not.

I have reflected deeply over the past three weeks, as I know, have many fellow Israelis, Jews, Palestinians, Christians, and Muslims. There is a way ahead, there is a dialogue to be had, we just need to listen and respect.

Hearing, listening and respect are in short supply.

Recently, I unfollowed Greta and numerous others who have I felt crossed a line from supporters of my system of belief to opponents.

I will have to one day switch on again if dialogue is to ever recommence.

For the moment, just now, the feelings are too raw, the pain too great, let’s hope for a dialogue tomorrow.

About the Author
Dr Rod Kersh is a Consultant Physician working in Rotherham, South Yorkshire. He blogs at
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