AS a signatory to a statement by 300 members of the South African community condemning the disproportionate use of force by the Israeli military in Gaza, and in particular the recent statements made by the JBD and Chief Rabbi, I feel emboldened to demand that Ebrahim I Bham, secretary-general of the Council of Muslim Theologians, also be censured for his statements literally calling for an armed struggle (or holy war) against Israel. Jews have a right to self-determination, and hard though it may be for some to accept, the Jewish state has a right to exist as much as Palestine or any other state.
Why are we being coerced by Bham and Goldstein into making a choice between Israel or Palestine, when the whole notion of security within borders in an age of intercontinental missiles, Internet and Satellite television has become increasingly meaningless, when the nation-state is a growing absurdity? There will always be those who demand protection for their identity in the context of nationalism, the right to determine their existence, the fabric of their lives and livelihoods.
The Middle East is surely a stumbling block in our own progress towards non-racialism as a nation. Witness the Xenophobia against immigrants and refugees that is no better than the treatment meted out to Palestinians. Unfortunately a considerable number of people on either side, feel strongly enough about the issues at stake, forcing us all to re-evaluate where we stand.
Clearly this conflict of competing nationalisms is unresolvable unless the religious dimension is clearly delineated and put on the table for all to see. If this were not about religion, we would not have statements by theologians on either side, proclaiming the justice of their own religious perspectives to the exclusion of others. Surely the use of “peaceful rockets”against Israel is as absurd as a “benevolent army waging war with sympathy”against Gaza? The cleric’s violent rhetoric chastising the belligerent Israeli army and its “unilateral ceasefire”, clearly over-steps the mark by condemning even those activists who have called for peace as “Zionist interlocuters”. Bham’s statement is nothing less than warmongering – brutal comment in the same league as Goldstein’s unreserved support for a form of holy war in “self-defence.” Both standpoints have resulted in bloodshed and need to be soundly condemned.
It is not the purpose of this letter to examine the words of the chief Rabbi, Warren Goldstein, Bham however wishes to tar-brush anyone with a struggle history who believes differently from him, suggesting Jews have the “audacity to claim the role the ANC played in the liberation struggle” and suggesting further, like so many pro-Palestinians, that being Anti-Zionist (or against Jewish Nationalism) in a weird reversal of definitions is akin somehow to being Anti-Racist, as if race was the only factor in this struggle. Not only is Israel a non-racial state, comprised of every possible race group, but we know Bham’s statement to be untrue, since many whites fought alongside their black brothers, while many Jews supported an “enduring armed struggle” against apartheid.
The ANC is only one of the liberation forces that brought about our democracy and it is Machiavellian to suggest otherwise. Bham however, would like to claim victory for the ANC alone, forgetting the role played by APLA and POQO. The problem for both sides, is surely conflicting definitions of struggle and of G-d. For some, the equation of G-d with Zion, as if the very land were emboyed with spirit, for others the ascendency of the Prophet to heaven? Whatever the focus, it is easy to forget the role faith has had in inspiring the struggle for freedom and to claim victory for one religious faction whilst denouncing another, as if the the part played by Christians for example, needs to be discounted.
This collective memory loss in overstating the role of the ANC and forgetting allies such as Cuba, is one of the tactics of those from the moral majority with political ambitions at home who instead of attacking the root cause of suffering I.e. Capitalism and the Nation-State, wish to beat the drum of anti-Semitism and Judeophobia. Genocide is genocide, plan and simple, whether committed by Jew or Catholic, Protestant or Muslim. Perhaps Bham forgets that Cuba has a thriving Jewish community, or that many Russian Jews participated in the October revolution? In fact it is a Jewish anarchist, Emma Goldman, who has the most to offer us in these times of trouble, for it was she who condemned government of every kind and the insane wish to rule over another as the real menace that would never insure freedom for all our people.
Yes our nation has embraced the Palestinian struggle, as it has the struggle of every nation dispossessed or downtrodden. It is undeniable that Palestinians have a legitimate claim to the West Bank and the right to return as refugees to the holy land, but where does this all stop? Exactly where and when does the conflict end? Surely not in Jerusalem with the return to a Berlin-style partition? With segregation into East and West and the denial of the right of Jews to worship at the Wailing Wall? The issue is at the heart of the Jewish struggle, (All three Abrahamic faiths claim the sanctity of worship in Jerusalem) is the self-same problem behind so many martyrs who proclaim Al Aksa instead of Zion. One can only hope, but for too many people, Jerusalem equals G-D, and it is therefore Jerusalem and not Gaza that activists should be focusing their attention on, in order to understand the problem of Palestine in an area where the absurdity of Nationalism has resulted in horrendous bloodshed.
Then there is the numbers game. Why should 6 Million Israelis be allowed to hold 100 000 Gazans hostage? Why should 100 million Muslims and 1 Billion Christians be allowed to dictate terms to 13 Million Jews? Frankly it is impossible to have a debate about the issues at stake without hearing the insane rhetoric of One Zionist One Bullet or “Defence of Israel at all costs”. Both views are shrugged off by Bham and the like as “the kind of thing one accepts in an armed struggle”. So let’s get this straight. According to Muslim theologians, we should be killing Zionists not Gazans, as if doing this would smooth the odds and make things alright? The irony is that Bham sounds exactly like those who believe Israeli lives to be worth more than Palestinian lives? For Zionists and Islamicist’s alike, ‘by any means necessary’ has become a familiar rallying cry, even if the cost in terms of human life, and world peace, is unconscionable.
It is the very fabric of every religious war build upon hatred and ignorance. The failed logic of George W Bush, which Barack Obama wholeheartedly condemned with the assertion: We reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals.‘ No doubt some theologians would also reject Obama as a black civil rights leader merely for being American and a democrat and thus a friend of Israel, for what this theology wants is not simply the West Bank, or Jerusalem, but the dismantling of the Israeli state in favour of a Greater Palestine, and a world in which Jews are an oppressed minority, forced to cowtow to whatever government happens to prevail on the day.
If only one could strip away religion from the equation. If only this conflict was all about ethnicity, then perhaps we could see a unified Palestinian-Israeli authority, perhaps an entity as yet unnamed? Unfortunately, as so many activists who fought for human rights have learnt to their dismay, Israel without Zion is a futile pipe dream, and a Palestine without Al Aksa is an impossibility. Jews, Christians and Muslims may one day live side by side in the Middle East under the same religious laws, but such dreams are only possible in books, not in the real world, in which human beings, living as they have lived for the past thousand years, with the same fears, the same problems and anxieties, can see no greater truth in G-D’s plan. In this terrible war, there is no wrong or right, rather we are all victims of a conflict that has gone on for generations and to which a countless toll have succumbed.
David Robert Lewis
proprietor – Medialternatives
The Sunday Times has unilaterally closed all correspondence on the matter and as per usual, is unlikely to publish a letter such as this one.