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OPINION: Silence on Palestine is complicity

OPINION: Silence on Palestine is complicity
May 21, 2021
May 21, 2021 May 21, 2021

BRETT HERRON writes that ‘nobody with even a moderately developed sense of compassion and justice can fail to be moved by the scenes of injustice in Palestine.’

IT has become a global cliché to describe Israel as an apartheid state, but when we level this charge from South Africa we know better than most what we’re talking about.

We derive our knowledge not just from memory, but also from the daily, lived experience of millions of South Africans who continue to suffer the impacts of social, economic, environmental and spatial injustice.

Citizens of Israel have the right to live in safety. We learned, however, that safety founded on inequality and oppression is unsustainable. The cost of security is policy integrity, which our then-leaders felt was too high a price.

The more guns and Ratels that Armscor produced, and the more psychotic the actions of the police, the more resolved were the people to win their freedom. One person’s “terrorist” is always another’s “freedom fighter”; the cycle of disobedience was uncontainable.

The state of Israel argues that in order to defend its people it must pummel the people of Palestine, who should be regarded as collateral damage in the noble pursuit of Hamas. Proportionality is not a consideration.

The real question is: Is Israel defending itself or is it defending its occupation of Palestine? 

Palestine’s treatment destabilises the world

Nobody with even a moderately developed sense of compassion and justice can fail to be moved by the scenes of injustice in Palestine presently dominating our screens. Israel’s air force is targeting densely populated areas in Gaza. Approximately half of their victims have been women and children.

This is not self-defence. It is a deliberate strategy to destroy infrastructure and opposition while striking terror into the next generation of activists.

The strategy reverberates around the world, fuelling mistrust, hatred, extremism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, xenophobia, conflict… Fuelling community division – even thousands of kilometres away in South Africa.

At some point, the cycle must be broken. It’s in all of our interests. Just as South Africans depended on good people in the international community for support, so should Palestinians be able to count on the likes of us.

COVID and BLM

At the beginning of COVID-19’s journey, many public intellectuals identified an opportunity for humanity to begin working together to tackle common challenges.

It was an important moment, with climate change already barging the door down, for the world to develop systems to reduce consumption, greed and inequality, they said.

Then George Floyd was killed by a white policeman in the US. It brought millions of people onto the streets across the world to march under the banner of Black Lives Matter. Once again, a nudge towards a new dispensation of fairer and more just human relations, and more engaged young people.

But when we began to realise the economic impact of lockdowns, we began speaking more and more of achieving the appropriate balance between lives and livelihoods. The emphasis shifted from developing new approaches to steadily returning to the status quo, as we knew it.

This is the status quo of profits, realpolitik and impunity, in which words such as proportionality and justice have long been throttled under the white policeman’s knee.

Western Cape overlay

Earlier this month, we marched to Parliament with other political parties and civil society organisations calling for sanctions against the State of Israel and justice for Palestinians.

The GOOD movement is young but comes with a long history of fighting for justice going back nearly 50 years to when Patricia de Lille entered the trade union movement.

The reason De Lille resigned from the DA was because she butted heads against an immovable caucus of conservatives in the party, including its preferred Cape Town Mayoral candidate, Geordin Hill-Lewis, who were dead set against addressing spatial injustice.

Our insistence on implementing projects to fix the apartheid Group Areas Act, including building affordable homes in inner-city areas to bring people of colour back closer to town, unleashed an unholy war.

Ultimately the city cancelled all the projects that we managed to launch soon after our departure, and housing for people of colour continues to be developed on the margins, far from work opportunities, or in already overcrowded townships.

WhatsApp conversations leaked on Sunday (May 16) featuring DA councillors JP Smith and Angus McKenzie strategising about how to benefit politically from the Palestine crisis given that ‘the overwhelming amount of Muslim people support the DA, freely’ are a good indicator of the kind of people we were dealing with.

We established GOOD on four policy pillars: spatial justice, social justice, economic justice and environmental justice. What we are presently seeing in Palestine are gross acts of spatial and social violence.

We participated in the May 12 protest in solidarity with the people of Palestine who have the right to occupy their homes and their land peacefully.

To have been absent, and silent, would have been to be complicit with the violence.

Brett Herron is GOOD member of the Western Cape Provincial Legislature and the party’s secretary-general.

Featured image: Brett Herron, GOOD member of the Western Cape Provincial Legislature and the party’s secretary, speaking at the solidarity with Palestine rally in Cape Town on May 12, 2021. (Photo CAMERON ARENDSE)

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