Israel no ‘oasis of human rights and equality’

Onlangse betoging in Johannesburg teen 'Apartheid-Israel'
Recent protest in Johannesburg against ‘Apartheid-Israel’ with photo of Mandela and Arafat

by Salomé Oosthuizen, Helderkruin, Johannesburg

The letter below was sent to Business Day newspaper in response to a letter to the same newspaper written by a Ms. Shapiro of Glenhazel, Johannesburg about Israel. In her letter she says, inter alia, that Israel is “a miracle that is a rebirth” and that the country is where “black and white walk hand in hand on the streets”. She also says the country is “an oasis of human rights and human equality amidst a sea of oppression and brutality”. Her letter gives the impression that Arabs and Jews are treated equally in Israel and that Arabs are laughing and singing and are “picnicking on the grass outside her apartment”. But let me first quote her letter in full:

FAADELAH Patel queries the definition of a Jewish state (Hamas has changed, Letters, May 12).

I have spent the past two weeks in Israel so will try to explain to her just what a Jewish state is. It is the state where Jews walk their streets proudly, celebrating the miracle that is the rebirth of their country.

It is the state where every Jew stands at attention for two minutes while the sirens drone on Yom Hashoah (the day commemorating the wilful slaughter of 6-million Jewish men, women and children during the Holocaust).

It is the state where every citizen stands at attention for two minutes while sirens drone on Yom Hazikaron (the day commemorating the loss of Israeli life, Arab and Jew, both on the battlefield and as a result of terrorism). It is the state where businesses close on the Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath, and it’s the state where religious Jews do not need to search for kosher restaurants.

But it is also much else, and herein lies the true miracle of what Israel is.

It is the state where my family and I encountered a group of Arabs celebrating a birthday, laughing, singing and dancing on a boat ride on Lake Kinneret. We were the only Jews on this trip. It is the state where, when alighting from the boat, and going into a kosher restaurant in the harbour, we were followed by many of the self-same Arabs who had shared the boat ride with us.

It is the state where the lady in the queue in front of me in the clothing shop was an Arab dressed in a burqa, buying clothes for her grandchildren, as was I. It is the state where Arabs picnic on the grass outside my apartment.

It is the state where the pharmacist on my corner is an Arab woman, and black and white walk hand in hand on the streets.

And it is the state where Jew, Muslim and Christian worship freely and without fear the G-d of their choice.

And so Ms Patel, while Israel is and will remain the state of the Jewish people, it will always, because of, not in spite of, its Jewish character, be an oasis of human rights and human equality amidst a sea of oppression and brutality.

Monessa Shapiro

Following is the letter I wrote to Business Day in response to this fairy tale. My letter was not printed by Business Day. My letter was based on verifiable facts, Ms. Shapiro’s letter was based on her rose-tinted impressions after a two week visit. What can we make of this omission? Why would the truth be hidden by Business Day while a glossy, fanciful story is printed as the truth about Israel?

We leave the reasons for this to the imagination of our friends and contacts. Please send this to your friends to show how the so-called press freedom of South Africa really operates. After all, my letter was based on facts from international newspapers, including the Israeli press. Why would Business Day want to hide the truth?

Dear Sir,

I refer to your correspondent’s letter “Defining a Jewish State” (BD 15 May) where a rose-tinted narrative attempts to explain to us how pleasant life is in Israel, and how well everyone – Jew and Arab, black and white – get along with each other. The letter is so far removed from reality that it is incumbent on anyone who knows history to rebut this fanciful tale.

“Black and white walk hand in hand on the streets” says your correspondent. Perhaps she saw an instance of this, but it certainly does not represent the true picture of race relations in Israel. On May 29 2012, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was adding African “infiltrators” to his list of threats to the Jewish homeland. He said he would build the world’s biggest detention centre and deport all those within, starting with the south Sudanese. (The Economist, June 2, 2012)

Demonstrators attacked African migrants in Tel Aviv in protest against refugees and asylum-seekers, indicating an increasingly volatile mood in Israel against blacks. (The Guardian 24.5.12) Miri Regev a member of the Israeli Parliament told an angry Israeli crowd that “the Sudanese are a cancer in our body”. A car containing Africans was attacked and shops serving the refugee community were looted. “African infiltrators are threatening the identity of the Jewish state”, said the prime minister. (The Guardian 20.5.12) “Israel belongs to the white man” declared Israeli Interior Minister Eli Yishai. (Haaretz newspaper 3.6.12). Israel introduced a law to detain illegal immigrants for up to 3 years, according to Haaretz.

Despite the happy hand-holding, Israel remains a racially-sensitive country. In an announcement from the Prime Minister’s office at the end of July 2013, Israel said it plans to introduce DNA testing to ensure that no non-Jews from Russia enter the country. (The Times of Israel, 29.7.13). In addition, in order to get married in Israel, applicants have to prove their Jewishness and this is done by DNA testing, Rabbi Naftali Schreiber told Haaretz (11 July 2013). This is the extent of the checks undertaken by the Jewish state to make sure that no Gentiles are allowed to marry Jews in their country.

Your correspondent says Israel is a miracle rebirth, but clearly prefers to ignore the ethnic cleansing that occurred when Israel drove thousands of Palestinians from their homes in 1948 and afterwards, and that millions of these refugees still languish in camps throughout the Arab world. This is a fact of history. If Israelis believe it’s their “divine right” to occupy Israel, then do other nations not have divine rights or even civil rights? Israel snubs its nose at the world. Despite repeated international condemnation, including a UN General Assembly resolution and a ruling by the International Court of Justice, the population of Israel’s illegal settlements (on Palestinian territory) has grown by an average of 5% annually since 2001. That compares to an average growth of just 1,8% for the population of Israeli proper. Israel refuses to dismantle these settlements.

Israel has broken or ignored more UN resolutions than any other country in UN history. It is in violation of at least 102 of these resolutions, mainly to do with invasions of neighboring countries and the dispossession of the Palestinians.

Your correspondent says she saw many “happy Arabs, laughing and having picnics on the grass outside her apartment”. This could be because Israel’s largest theme park segregates Arabs and Jews. A posting on the Arab Israeli Balad party Facebook page reveals that Arab Israelis and Jews do not share the park on the same day. Schools are the same. Haaretz newspaper refers to this phenomenon in an article entitled “Schools for Jews and Arabs : separate but definitely not equal” as “plain segregation” in the school system. (Haaretz 25.6.12). In Jerusalem there is a separate “ditch” between Jewish and Arab neighborhoods (Haaretz 13.9.13). State-built housing complexes are routinely reserved for Jews only. (Financial Times 1.5.12)

It is ironic that those whites in the forefront of the struggle against apartheid in South Africa were overwhelmingly Jewish. Joe Slovo is credited with writing the Freedom Charter. What’s good for the goose is obviously not good for the gander. Israel is certainly not an “oasis of human rights and human equality” as your correspondent states. A cursory glance at the website of any Israeli newspaper will put paid to that mirage.

Salomé Oosthuizen, Helderkruin