Carmel Pelunsky
Working it out in organisations across the world

Dear Colleagues-112

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Since I last shared my perspective, a number of events have unfolded. Hamas terrorists, Hezbollah operatives, Israeli soldiers (mostly civilian reservists), Palestinians civilians and Israeli civilians continue to be killed in Gaza and on Israel’s northern border.  There is fear of a famine in Gaza and of how Palestinians get the medical attention they require, from healing wounds to giving birth. More stories of sexual abuse by Hamas continue to emerge. Israeli society’s absolute unification is disintegrating amongst differences about how to release the hostages and how to continue the war. I attended a 45-minute compilation of October 7th at Government House, Sydney. Hamas has rejected a two-month ceasefire in return for all the hostages. Yesterday, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled on South Africa’s accusation of genocide. And today is International Holocaust Memorial Day. It is a lot to hold, and I do not quite know where to begin.

If I was coaching a client, I would encourage them to share what is top of mind right now. And so, I shall start with the ruling by the ICJ. As a South African Jew, my thoughts and feelings are multi-layered and complex. I have always had a place in my heart for both countries while long acknowledging that no country is perfect. Both Israel and South Africa have done the inconceivable, surprising the world with what is possible; and both have some things to answer for. Both have radical elements on their political left and right that distort the experience and perspective of the average person. Both have had leaders that represent the best of humanity, and both countries’ leaders today are accused of corruption, and have a tenuous grip on power.

As a result, I bring a relatively wide lens to the ICJ’s ruling on Israel.  While I would have preferred the court to throw out the accusation, I understand their conclusion that they have jurisdiction over the case. While I would have appreciated equal weight being given to examples from the UN and UNWRA  (both of which have no legitimacy in the eyes of Israel given their collusion with Hamas) and those from Israel about what is doing to protect civilians as much as possible as the ruling was read out, I was not surprised by the bias.  And I was relieved that the court demanded the release of the hostages and  acknowledged that Israel has the right to defend itself by not calling for an immediate ceasefire.

Following the judgment, South Africa’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Naledi Pandor, explained how South Africa had done the right thing for Palestinians by being ‘actors’ rather than ‘silent observers’. She explained that no-one should have to live without water, food and electricity. Forgive those South Africans who listened to her speak and gave a wry laugh. The level of poverty, rape, crumbling infrastructure, and corruption in South Africa is widely known and if there is anywhere that the South African government needs to act rather than observe, it is in its own country. Be that as it may, and whatever financial considerations may be contributing to South Africa’s focus on Gaza, Pandor is entitled to say what she likes.

What I am struggling with to the depths of my soul, is the absolute lack of accountability being levelled at Hamas for the terror it unleashed, and continues to unleash on Israelis, with all its consequences (including Palestinian deaths, hunger and lack of medical supplies). I understand why people attend rallies; and I do not particularly hold it against university students who have no idea what they are chanting or why they are chanting it (albeit it is quite horrific to hear some of their answers to the most basic of questions).  But I cannot understand, support or empathise with the politicians, journalists and members of the public that are giving legitimacy to Hamas, or to those who continue to remain silent, especially when they have been so quick to speak before.

Last week, I watched the forty-five minute compilation of the atrocities committed by Hamas on October 7th. I witnessed what took place through the lens of Hamas terrorist body cameras and phone-calls home, victim photographs and videos from their phones, and testimony about the rape and mutilation given at the UN. As I described it to a friend, it was like watching the holocaust from the inside of a gas chamber.  The worst of it was the glee, joy and celebration of Hamas and other Palestinians as they literally murdered, raped and pillaged their way through Israeli communities.

Today is 112 days since October 7th and there are circa135 hostages still being held in the tunnels and homes of Gaza. One of them, Kfir Bibas, was nine months old when captured and had his first birthday in captivity. Another, 39-year-old Carmel Gat, is my namesake. Carmel is an occupational therapist from Tel Aviv, who was visiting her parents in Kibbutz Be’eri on October 7th when Hamas terrorists attacked, killing her mother, Kinneret. Gat was taken captive, as well as her brother, Alon, sister-in-law Yarden Roman-Gat, and niece, Geffen, who were also visiting.  

At this point you may be tempted to say to me, ‘But what about the Palestinians – the babies killed, the fathers maimed, the homes destroyed. That is tragic too.’  I would agree with you entirely.  If only the rallies and the pressure from the UN was on Hamas, demanding that they release the hostages, so much of today’s suffering could have been prevented.

As Israel is taken to the ICJ accused of genocide, I have never felt prouder to be Jewish and to have spent some years of my life living in Israel. That is not because I am deaf to the pain and suffering of others but rather because I have confidence in the thoughtfulness that lies at the heart of the Israeli army. If you wish to understand a little more, listen to the podcast entitled: ‘What Matters Now: What Israelis think about the suffering in Gaza.’   Israelis and Jews don’t agree on everything, and we make mistakes. The recent killing of three of our own hostages was a tragic example of our fallibility. But there are moments when I am proud of the questions we are prepared to ask ourselves. Listening to that podcast was one of them. Israel does not need South Africa to deliver a message on morality.

I realise as I write today’s blog, that I am less able to contain my anger in this post than I have in others. Please understand that South Africa’s decision to take Israel to the ICJ has crossed a line that means I may never love my country of birth in quite the same way again. To quote Amotz Asa-el, from the Jerusalem Post, 12th January 2024, “To blame anyone of genocide one must be moral, but to blame a nation of Holocaust survivors of perpetrating genocide, one must be not just moral but morally impeccable….You [South Africa] is in no position to preach anything to anyone outside of your land, least of all humanism, and least of all to the Jews.”

I dedicate this blog to the six million Jews who died in the Holocaust, may their memory be a blessing; and to all the hostages still being held in Gaza’s tunnels and homes since 112 days later, and pray for their immediate release.


About the Author
Carmel Pelunsky is a strategic advisor in talent, leadership and succession. Currently living in Sydney, Australia, she has lived and worked in Johannesburg, London, Europe and Asia.
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