There is a myriad of important lessons one can learn when studying the Israel Palestine conflict. I can say with a great amount of clarity, “there is a madness” of a kind attached to this conflict because it continues to destroy relations between ordinary Jews and Muslims everywhere in the world despite that many will argue it has nothing to do with religion. The intensity of the destruction of these relations was amplified during the recent 11-day war. It sparked several incidents here too in South Africa which many people call ground zero for the BDS movement and its allies.
It’s worst arguing with a maximalist, and there’s plenty of them waiting to attack anyone with an alternate view. When people don’t understand the two large narratives that peace activists often speak about, arguments become insanely aggressive. I believe there is a 3rd alternative to viewing the conflict and that is through the “Lens of possibility.” The 3rd alternative involves transcending the present with a solid understanding of the divisive nature of the past and committing to overcoming these points of contention. It involves committing to a larger vision of peaceful coexistence with a political solution to the conflict that is just, and equitable, and inspiring to humanity. I imagine there could be great peace in Jerusalem one day and I imagine that Jerusalem can take its rightful place in the world one day, as the holy site where God tested mankind over and over again. Jews believe that the holy rock is the foundation rock of earth! Imagine if this place, Jerusalem rich in history that span millennia became the central point from which the wisdom of the holy prophets inspired not only “religion as we think it is” but peaceful coexistence and global transformation. It is possible to use this conflict that many say is intractable as a foundation to overcome and inspire a new global vision and awareness in the world.
“If Jerusalem is truly the place of the foundation from which earth was created or from which it expanded, then it is truly symbolic of how important it is to hold a global vision in sight.”
Even if you don’t understand the full history of the conflict and just believe in peaceful coexistence, already the mind and heart have opened to adopting a more objective, neutral perspective which is better than adopting a totalitarian maximalist approach. There are those who are more attached to the history of the land and fear its loss rather than being willing to see the wisdom of the gains involved in transcending the past. We do learn from the past, and it is possible to overcome the trauma. It is the survivors of any conflict or war who become the sacrifice for a new humanity that emerges in people if we learn the lessons they teach about love, compassion, and unity in diversity.
I do believe that important lessons have been learned by many who are impacted by the Israel Palestine conflict daily and some are teaching those lessons. Take Professor Mohammed Dajani Daoudi for example, the founder of the Wasatia movement, he was once a revolutionary for war but is now a revolutionary for peace. He teaches the value of moderation that can be traced to the Islam I grew up appreciating here in South Africa, far away from the noise of extremism in Palestine with Islamic verses from the Holy Quran being misrepresented by Hamas and others to incite hatred for the Jews to sustain the maximalist status quo of a “US versus THEM approach.”
Dajani is also an outspoken critic of the Palestinian Authority (PA) and openly criticized the delay of elections several times, while remaining committed to the Palestinian cause. He is equally outspoken about annexations, settlement expansion and the demolition of homes including other issues of the conflict which he believes are hindering a desirable political end to the conflict.
“We are a voice that needs to be heard, the radical extremists are very vocal. There is a lot of fear amongst both people from the sides who are moderate, so we are trying to be the voice of the silent majority to encourage them to speak out and be heard. That is why whenever there is an opportunity, whether in social networks or meetings, or in conferences we try to make our voice heard, and we stand up for the misinterpretations whenever there is one, that is being circulated among the youth. Because what is happening is that in the absence of a voice for moderation the extremist take-over and people become as if this is the norm – Islam is made up of more than 500 million believers, yet people are listening to the voice of not more than 100 thousand people who are extremists and believe that this is Islam and this is not Islam. Islam has the spirit of moderation, tolerance, acceptance of the other, freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and the empowering of women, and as a result, there is a big difference, a big gap between what image people are having, a stereotype image, people are having of the religion and what is the true spirit of the religion.”
Moderation or the middle path I believe is an important lesson for all of us to observe and learn to inculcate as a culture in all areas of our lives. Moderation is also key to transcend trauma and pain and helps us to make better choices in our reactions to situations. When we are moderate we are also more open to dialogue and engagement with people. When we are moderate we can avoid stereotyping people based on race, religion, and ethnicity, thus our wisdom expands, and our awareness makes room for greater diversity.
In a land where religion justifies its holiness, it’s unthinkable to the average person like me, already coexisting in a country and continent with diversity much wider than the three Abrahamic faiths that inspiration for co-existence is necessary. Palestinians who are striving for their rights to self-determination and the attainment of the Oslo dream are also facing massive internal political challenges without a doubt. This internal political deadlock is clearly pulling them down in other ways too. It is adding to the burden of trauma following the ongoing deadlock with Israel to settle the two-state solution. The recent assassination of Nizar Banat, a political contender in the postponed Palestinian legislative elections, took Palestinians to a new level of grief, shock, and anger and we watched thousands of them protest for days, some of them were beaten in the streets by the PA security forces. The pictures of this internal conflict were especially painful to watch in the aftermath of the 11-day war and the ongoing violence at flashpoint areas like Sheik Jarrah and Silwan in East Jerusalem.
I suppose what came as an equally great shock was the decision by the BDS movement in South Africa to boycott the PA and the Embassy here in Pretoria based on the death of Banat and the cancellation of elections. I decided to question the motives behind this decision and examine the statement further for comments and reactions. The BDS movement has never been an outspoken critic of the PA in the past, at least not to my knowledge, instead, the movement appeared to be going against the tide of open debate which criticized the PA or discussions aimed at addressing solutions other than boycotts and sanctions.
Professor Mohammed Dajani Daoudi who was the first guest on my online show, Give Peace A Chance in July last year, was also attacked by PA officials for being an open critic of the regime. When he visited South Africa in 2018 the BDS movement decided that there was no room for his Wasatia vision in South Africa and accused Dajani of not being a “real Palestinian.” They asked the Stellenbosch University to drop him and Israeli academics from the conference it organized titled, “Recognition, Reparation, and Reconciliation.”
To date, there has not been any reaction from the Embassy of Palestine in Pretoria or from the South African government. I decided to gather some commentary and reaction to the statement in the hope that it would shed more light on some of the issues cited in their statement. At the very least I think it’s important that we question if the BDS movement is moving in a direction that would see it becoming more involved in Palestinian politics and if so to what degree? However, based on their earlier public harassment of Professor Dajani and other Israeli Academics who were invited to visit South Africa to participate in a conference, I can say that overall, their strategy remains unclear especially in reference to their understanding of the meaning of the word, “progressive.”
I managed to receive commentary from a member of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), Ziad Darwish on the BDS statement as well as commentary on the volatile political situation in the West Bank. Darwish is also the Head of Communications of the Israeli Desk, responsible for peaceful dialogue with Israeli’s aimed at building bridges of understanding.
You can view the BDS statement here: https://www.politicsweb.co.za/politics/palestine-authority-a-proxy-of-israel-abbas-must-s
I was concerned that the angry protests calling for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to step down could result in an “Arab Spring” of a sort as it continued for three consecutive days with scenes of violent unrest. Also over the last weekend, the voices of dissent emerged again in Ramallah which was an indication that the unrest will not simply subside quickly.
Darwish denied that the protests are signs of an emerging “Arab Spring” in Palestine. “The situation is not out of control and there is no basis for a lot of rumors going around. Firstly, I am against what has happened. Also, inside my office, I have criticized the situation, but 15 officers are already in jail and are being interrogated. These 15 are from the PA security forces that participated in the killing of Nizar. I am against what happened to Nizar, but I am also against the people who belong to some political factions who participate in the demonstrations. This information, no one knows about it but of course, the world is interested in the story that Palestine is not democratic, and we have to boycott the PA, but the truth is that Qataris from Qatar are financing people (Israeli Arabs) to demonstrate in Ramallah. Twenty of these people related to the Qatari’s have been captured, they are financed to come and demonstrate against the PA. This will clarify the picture and the image of it being a political issue that came from outside Palestine to make everything look like it’s a disaster.”
I also contacted a well-respected and award-winning South African journalist, Benjamin Pogrund to further help clarify the situation regarding the statement from BDS and the situation in Palestine. Pogrund was the Deputy Editor of the former Rand Daily Mail and now lives in Jerusalem. “The BDS statement is its usual rant. Parts of it are true but everything is exaggerated and enveloped in inflammatory language, so it lands up as a political diatribe with little relevance to what is actually happening.” The BDS SA coalition also accused the PA of being a proxy government of Israel, claiming that the PA exists to normalize Israeli apartheid as the Bantustans sought to do under apartheid in South Africa. The statement further claims that the PA’s main role appears to be to suppress the Palestinian resistance to the occupation through its security collaboration with Israel.
“The truth is the PA exercises limited powers. Israel is in military occupation of the West Bank. That there is a security cooperation between the PA and Israel is well known. Neither side wants tension and conflict with people running around throwing bombs and blowing up houses and buses. The same security cooperation behind the scenes exists between Egypt and Israel and Israel and Jordan and Israel and several other Gulf States. Apart from security cooperation, there is open tension between the PA and Israel. One of the critical arguments against the PA is that it cooperates with Israel. But the PA doesn’t have any choice. It is inside Israel’s borders, relies for its income on remittal of taxes collected by Israel on goods passing through to Palestine (which is an issue of regular dispute because Israel withholds taxes, in my view wrongly and illegally because the PA pays stipends to Palestinians held in Israeli prisons after being convicted of terrorist offenses. There has to be a large measure of cooperation because some 90 thousand Palestinians cross legally into Israel each day to work, and the PA usually sends hundreds of patients a year for treatment in Israeli hospitals and pays the costs. Now and then the PA threatens to end cooperation, but this doesn’t last long, probably for the simple reason that it cannot afford to do it. The PA is under fire from some Palestinians not to cooperate with Israel, but this is but one of the criticisms leveled at the PA. For BDS, far away, to call for a boycott of the PA is far-fetched and shows they have no idea of the realities on the ground. Imagine urging Lesotho to boycott South Africa? How would it survive?”
Pogrund says the desire in the West Bank has mainly been to get on with daily life and earn a living. He said the fear of PA security retribution did dampen down possible protests in the past. However, this year has been the exception following a combination of factors, “Israeli police heavy-handedness at the Damascus gate and on the noble sanctuary, the Sheikh Jarrah evictions, Hamas using these events for propaganda and then firing missiles which set off the Gaza conflict, Israeli Settler activity in the West Bank and perhaps most of all Abbas’s cancellation of the elections. The killing of Banat was the final straw for Palestinians. There’s been open talk for years that Abbas’s succession would likely be bloody. Marwan Barghouti is an obvious successor, but will Israel release him from prison? Dahlan is favoured by the Gulf States and would no doubt bring a handsome dowry for Palestinian development. But he is a mortal enemy of Abbas and others in Fatah and stands to be jailed if he returns. Some of his supporters have been detained lately. There’s also speculation that former PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad might try for the leadership. America is said to favour him. However, there is no Arab Spring in sight in Palestine. Whatever happens in a post-Abbas period could be nasty and whoever the new leader is will first have to ensure he is in control and with some luck can progress eventually.”
Ziad Darwish, says the BDS movement in South Africa should avoid publishing statements without asking important questions about what is really going. “I am not defending the PA, because I am belonging to the PLO but since we are looking for the truth, they must ask questions before condemning and issuing such statements. Like the Nazi officer Goebbels who said, you lie and lie and lie until the lie becomes the truth. This is the BDS in South Africa. But you know what? I am supportive of the BDS abroad in Europe because they are well organised, and they are straight to the point, and they are not chasing rumours. They plan their agenda very clearly. But now, we are facing the BDS in South Africa in your country. It’s terrible I mean believing these rumours and saying the PA is a proxy of the Israeli government, for God’s sake that is nonsense.” Darwish was referring to Joseph Goebbels, a German who was the chief propagandist for the Nazi Party.
Pogrund, like myself, questioned the true motives behind the BDS statement based on their lack of criticism in the past “Why do they not also express a view about Hamas? It violently seized power in Gaza in 2007 and disposed of Fatah opponents by throwing them off the top of tall buildings. It does not apply democracy in Gaza and even though it refuses even to recognise Israel, it like the PA has no choice but to cooperate, if need be through third parties. Hence, hundreds of trucks a day usually pass through from Israel to Gaza in a carefully arranged system, carrying food, fuel, and medicine. It receives millions of dollars from Qatar only with an Israeli agreement. I do not know what is happening at present but usually, it also sends patients for treatment in Israeli hospitals.”
Darwish says it’s a fact that security officers in Palestine captured 20 officers who came to the West Bank and stayed in hotels and went out to demonstrate the next day. The security officers also captured laptops and telephones belonging to these captured officers who he refers to which shows messages and calls received from Qatar. Darwish called this a dirty game saying Qatar is under the patronage of Hamas and they want to get rid of the PA. “Of course, they will support such actions and demonstrations against the PA to prove to the whole world to look at the PA and see what is going on because the people are against the PA, and they are against the leadership. I am not saying that our leaders are Saints. They are corrupted as well, but in some instances, you cannot keep on lying and distributing and spreading rumours. We have to stop this for the sake of our people who are under occupation and are suffering daily. There is a red line you should not cross, exaggeration and lies are not beneficial for anybody. I am not defending the PA at all in this respect.
“Those who are anti-PA are saying that elections were canceled only because of the fact that Israel is not allowing voting in East Jerusalem. But Jerusalem and the people in East Jerusalem are an integral part of Palestine. We want East Jerusalem as the future capital of Palestine and if we oppose Jerusalem by not having elections in Jerusalem then we are opposing the identity of our people. We want elections to take place, but we must resolve this issue with Israel. The BDS should learn the whole case deeply and wisely before taking this one decision.” I did also point out to Darwish that there has been a number of postponements in the past as well of elections and people are obviously possibly fed-up in Palestine with all these postponements that the PA must find a way to hold elections and that Palestine should start implementing democratic values and just stop postponing elections. The last elections were held about 15 years ago. Darwish explained that the split in relations between Hamas and Fatah is the main cause of postponing the elections as well as the Jerusalem issue. “Hamas is an integral part of our people. They are not our enemy for God’s sake. They are Palestinians resisting the occupation as well as we are doing. So, we have to reunite again with Hamas. Unity is strength and I believe in this. Hamas did win elections in the past. The head of the parliament was from Hamas until they broke and made a revolution and broke associations with Fatah and started killing their brothers in the Gaza Strip. Therefore, we have that break between Fatah and Hamas and the PA and Hamas.”
Is there any fear of a possible Coup d’état or an unseating of the PA on the cards?
“No, you can see that another demonstration also came out supporting the PA. There are two demonstrations in one and there are clashes between those in favour of the PA and those not in favour of the PA.” Ziad Darwish dispelled all fears of a possible coup d’état reemphasizing that despite these clashes and the break between Fatah and Hamas there is still hope for unity and that Hamas remains an integral part of Palestinian society.
Overall, It was great to connect with Ziad Darwish to gain more insight and understand how he views the current “political crises” following the cancellation of elections. It was very valuable to also understand how the PLO is engaging with Israelis in ways to spread an understanding of their suffering in the occupied territories. Darwish is expected to be the next guest on my online campaign, Give Peace A Chance. The 11-day war and the ongoing violence at flashpoints in East Jerusalem continue to upset and ignite people around the world. How is it possible to live productive and fulfilling lives with so much violence I wonder? I am grateful that I don’t have to receive notices to demolish my home, or go out and protest to call for democratic elections and face an ongoing situation where political leaders can’t even agree to disagree or unite for change and commit to a vision that transcends the current crises, a vision which considers the next generation to begin laying that foundation now by implementing reforms from within Palestinian society. The children of Palestine deserve greater opportunities in their land, not in foreign lands. I was a child during Apartheid in South Africa, and I am so grateful to our leaders who decided to walk the hard but inspiring path of peace and reconciliation. Their decision and ability to reconcile their own differences while inspiring efforts for a nationwide reconciliation and raparations secured a better and brighter future for South Africans. We still have huge challenges, but we have not given up and we are democratic today.
Our emotions said to us the white minority is our enemy, but our mind told us, if we don’t talk to that man, our country will go up in flames, Nelson Mandela.
I am grateful that I don’t have to live with the pain of losing a child or a parent or anyone I love in a senseless war. I am grateful that I can choose my friends freely and not care too much that they are Jews but appreciate them for the quality of friendship they offer and the joy I feel for having them in my life.
As far as the BDS movement in South Africa is concerned it remains to be seen exactly how they plan to campaign on their side after their decision to boycott the PA. Maybe they are engaging quietly in dialogue and reconsidering their position, or perhaps they are planning some hard-core protest action against the PA here in Pretoria or outside the Embassy itself? One thing is certain though, the BDS movement will have to learn the true meaning of the word, “progressive” when they call on progressive social movements and individuals to boycott the PA. If they can easily publicly slam and insult Palestinian peace activist Professor Mohammed Dajani who is considered as one of the most progressive minds in the region and a champion for democracy, then how can they be taken seriously? Being progressive from my perspective definitely includes engaging more with Israelis too to ensure a human connection and avoid stereotyping people. I refuse to be held hostage to this conflict because I made a commitment for peace and that is powerful. One person counts. If everyone does this, we can have global change one day and reform all our societies further. If we can own our destructive traits, we can own the traits which are required for change, inspiring greater leadership and accountability. Each one of us is accountable for this conflict.
It is also possible, I imagine to keep transforming and improving ourselves to merge our celestial qualities with our terrestrial existence.
Follow my campaign, Give Peace a chance.