BDS, War, the Abolition of the Right to Dissent and Freedom from Religion

RESISTANCE to war has a long and noble history. From pacifists during the Anglo-Boer War, objectors to WW1 and WW2, conscripts against the Vietnam War and South Africa’s own Border War, the names and faces of those who have chosen the difficult path of combating militarism and state-sponsored aggression, number in their thousands.

When dissent is quashed by political expediency the nuances and cadence of individual struggle against war is lost. The evolution of the ‘just-war thesis’ and ‘holy war’ by either side to the conflict in the Middle East provides a case in point, as does resistance to the promotion of war as a solution.

During 1987, ANC stalwart, then SRC president Cameron Dugmore, stood on a podium alongside 23 white conscripts from UCT opposed to military conscription during apartheid. The initial group of conscientious objectors, included Christian pacifists as well as then president of the South African Union of Jewish Students (SAUJS), Jonathan Handler. Signicantly Handler opposed the Border War on the basis of a defense of Israel.

The result was that I relinquished my membership of SAUJS. At the time, Israel was involved in a war with Lebanon, which in many respects was reminiscent of our own border war. It is a position which I have since regretted, (see below). Instead of joining Handler in his “just war thesis”, which was little more than a promotion of Zionism, and thus a moral justification for his later joining the Israeli Defense Force, and with Dugmore rubber-stamping Handler’s participation, I took the difficult path of involvement in South Africa’s armed struggle, crossing the colour line and embracing the culture of resistance and rebellion.

The creation of the environmental justice movement in the aftermath of the banning of the ECC, and my work for Grassroots, South Press, Sached/New Nation form a body of work and deserve a chapter on their own. However the lesson drawn from this experience is that the Middle East problem is not as easily reducible to a binary struggle between black and white, right and wrong. Providing a rubber stamp to either of the parties to the conflict, in my case, my open support for the Palestinians, has resulted in the dilemma of today.

Faced with a difficult and unenviable predicament, I chose a very different approach, that of civil disobedience. Lodging a public objection to Handler’s participation on the platform and Dugmore’s acquiescence, (and without access to all the facts) would have merely playing into the hands of the Botha government and its securocrats. It also risked an embarrassing side-show, in a vulnerable moment. Nevertheless we exchanged words during the media briefing session. For Michael Rautenbach, this was sign that I was ‘simply not ready for the big time’.

Not only was the SAUJS involvement untenable, but as a 19-year-old enrolled in law-school, the problem did not lead itself to any immediate legal answers, save for hoping that it would all somehow pan out and that history would be the better judge. An outright objection against the “just war thesis” and the use of ‘holy war’ instead of simple resistance, would also have required a Phd essay written with all the gusto necessary to balance the complexity of the struggle itself, solidarity amongst comrades, campus spies, security police paranoia, my call-up papers and the lack of engagement by ECC leadership.

With no support for my nascent position from either SAUJS nor ECC’s Dugmore and the merry bunch of Christian fanatics who were assured of a place in heaven with emotional guidance from the Church, and with Atheists then in the minority within the ECC itself, I took my struggle against the system and my membership card elsewhere. Burning my call-up papers, I declined to participate, and instead sent the state ‘a postcard from exile’. My arrival at an outright rejection of war was much later than anticipated, and only after an encounter with the international peace movement following the democratic elections.

It is a period which has come to haunt me in recent years, the difficulties following the banning of the ECC and SWAPO solidarity committee, not because I have been cross-examined by a racist bigot acting for a racist company, in an unfair legal proceeding without the aid of an attorney, on my involvement in some of the details — This whilst also being subjected to a religious inquisition of my secular identity. But because the paranoia surrounding BDS in its current form, and its supporters from the far-right in Fatah and Hamas, combined with Zionist intransigence and lack of public debate, have all moved to close down what little dissent and individual freedom remains.

There are many robust claims made by either parties to the conflict in the Middle East. The result though is invariably the same —  the silencing of individual right to dissent, the removal of civil liberties, the abolition of the right to freedom from religion, the right to not be constrained by the religious views of others, the very essence of freedom of religion. Theist, Non-Theist, Atheist. For my part, the conflict is one of injustice vs injustice, a terrible ‘battle between monsters and maniacs’, whether blood on the streets of Tel Aviv, Ramallah, or Gaza, and neighbouring Syria, while the public all too readily reach out for religious texts, as easily as weapons of war.

South Africa for all intents and purposes is a secular country. We pride ourselves in our Constitution which ostensibly guarantees religious and cultural rights, and we like to think we are an exception and there is somehow continuity with our secular struggle and the struggle for human rights in the Middle East. This remains to be seen.

To date there has been no proof that we are special, except propaganda and lies. The short-circuiting of debate. The sheer religiosity of those involved. The astonishing willingness to resort to bloodshed. It is time to face up to facts and to stop the rubber-stamping and handing out of blank cheques to activists on either side, preaching the exact opposite of truth. There is another path, another way out of the conflict, besides advocacy of hatred, bloodshed and eternal war.

The very essence of secularism, according to George Holyoake, the man who coined the term, is not the absence of religion, but rather the absence of religious rules. “A Secularist guides himself by maxims of Positivism, seeking to discern what is in Nature—what ought to be in morals—selecting the affirmative in exposition, concerning himself with the real, the right, and the constructive. Positive principles are principles which are provable.”

Secularism is firmly based upon enlightenment values, the right not to be subjected to religious persecution by the state nor any religious authority or otherwise. Secular values are the ‘We, the People’ values enshrined by our Constitution which are remarkable absent when it comes to the Middle East. To date there is no Freedom Charter for Palestinians and Israelis.

If South Africans are to contribute to justice and a peaceful solution, it must be because we are also willing to defend our constitution, our own history of secularism and opposition to war in all its forms, our nation’s own war resisters over the ages, and thus our nation’s core values in the non-aligned movement.

Unlike many politico’s, we must urge seekers of peace, to do this with the courage to avoid rubber-stamping the “just war thesis” and ‘religious war’ come what may, and whatever the consequences. To avoid providing wholesale support for any of the belligerent parties to the conflict over the final status of Jerusalem, whatever the ends and means, and no matter the outcome, and without at very least, measuring the results against our own conscience, free-will and opinion.

[Note: John Stremlau believes South Africa has a vital role to play. It certainly doesn’t if its media is closing down debate and opinion within our own borders]

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Behind the Hamas smokescreen

PIERRE Rehov take us behind the Hamas smokescreen to reveal a chilling reality missing from the mainstream media narrative on the border fence protests. Footage below shows activists cutting a fence to enter an exclusion zone defended by the IDF. The same narrative is contained in a piece by Ivo Vegter, a man whom Medialternatives has often criticised.

Vegter defends Gareth Cliff as quoted by the media.

UN human rights chief says Israel used “wholly disproportionate” force against Palestinian border protests which have left over 100 people dead. Israel’s Ambassador Aviva Raz Shechter rejected the blame, saying ‘Israel had done everything possible to avoid harming civilians.’

Another documentary worth watching to gain insight, also below, depicts the missing story of Jewish refugees from Arab countries and the reason why the borders of 1948 aren’t going to disappear any time soon. The all important context missing from the current factually unsupported media bias.

A piece on international Farhud Day commemorating the dispossession and displacement of 850 000 Arab Jews, held every 1 June, demonstrates this exact same point. A book is also available on the subject.

One can only recommend that viewers keep an open mind, and avoid taking a binary position on a conflict which has resulted in Injustice v Injustice.

 

Breda, yet another case where jury option would avoid doubt?

THERE have been several high profile murder trials in recent South African history. Each demonstrate the urgent need to review and reform our country’s justice system, in particular the system of lay assessors. Jury trial was abolished by the apartheid government in 1969, and the last jury case was a homicide heard in the district of Kimberley. Currently the law allows for lay assessors to assist judges in arriving at decisions, but the system is rarely utilized.

First there was the Dewani case, the so-called ‘Honeymoon Murder’, in which Shrien Dewani was cleared of his wife’s murder after judge Traverso condemned the prosecutions case. The trial was peculiar from the start and the alleged motivation by the state seemed hard to believe. Why would a Gay or Bisexual man, murder his wife?

This was followed by the well publicized and network-televised Pistorious Case, in which Olympic para-athlete Oscar Pistorious was found guilty of Reeva Steenkamp’s murder and then tried twice in regard to the legal verdict and sentencing.

The case revolved around motivation or intent, in the form of dolus eventualis. Thus legal intention, “which is present when the perpetrator objectively foresees the possibility of his act causing death and persists regardless of the consequences, suffices to find someone guilty of murder.”

Thus it was remarkable when Judge Siraj Desai read out another verdict in the Breda case, finding merely on the ‘balance of probabilities’ that Henri van Breda was guilty of the murder of his family. Notable is that no motivation was provided. The verdict appears to have revolved around inferences drawn from Breda’s own testimony, alleged “textbook self-inflicted wounds” and what could or could not be construed as “reasonably probably true” on his version.

In the estimation of media pundits, Desai was merely ‘figuring out the puzzle’, and the lack of any sign of forced entry in a security complex, posed the question why it was that Breda was left alive as the only witness, if what he said was even true. On his version, the incident was simply a home invasion and the deaths the result of unknown assailants.

The psychological profiling in the case revolved, not on Breda’s state of shock in the aftermath of the death of his family, but rather his failure to immediately call security and thus his ‘apparently odd behavior’, both inside and outside the courtroom. The characterization of his personality was very weak, and no motive or intent was found.

Breda thus stood, pale and without any emotion, but heavily under the influence of psychiatric drugs, apparently showing no remorse, as he received the verdict of murder based upon purely circumstantial evidence in which the state had not proven its case ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’.

While it may provide cold comfort to some to know that Desai was able to play the role of the almighty, and believed himself capable to deliver a verdict on the alleged facts, at the same time as determining the very essence of the law, the problematic lowering of the legal test in capital crimes, makes one wonder where this is all going, and whether or not our justice system is truly able to deliver justice?

Jury trial eliminates the troubling role that a judge currently plays in our system in determining both issues of law and issues of fact. Creating an option of jury trial in capital crimes and defamation cases would provide those accused of such crimes, with an opportunity to put the case regarding the facts, not to a judge but rather to their peers.

It is clear that Breda was found guilty by a different standard to that applied in the Pistorious and Dewani case.

A jury option would not only provide a safety margin for error, avoiding problem of double-standards, while balancing the over-reach of judicial authority, by including citizens in the justice system, it would also force the public to become more literate on legal matters, if merely to avoid the inconsistent application of law when determining issues of fact.

  • Nelson Mandela called for a jury trial during the Treason Trial
  • The apartheid government abolished the system to avoid the embarrassment of an all-white jury in cases where black persons were tried.
  • The main reason for not providing a jury option is supposedly South Africa’s complex race relations

UPDATE: See 60 Minutes interview with Van Breda girlfriend

Everything you know about the Palestinian Struggle is wrong

Significant departures from the political “truth” associated with the Jerusalem conflict

1. East Jerusalem is the Capital of Palestine 
Under International Law, and the Corpus Separatum, the City of Jerusalem was to be an independent enclave. It was Jordan which occupied East Jerusalem 1946-1967, and subsequently Israel occupied Jerusalem 1967-current.

2. There is a map showing how Israel has displaced Palestinians
The map ignores the 1920 San Remo Conference which partitioned a former empire, and the later division of British Mandate Palestine and French Mandate Syria, which created TransJordan aka Hashemite Palestine and Syria (arguably, Syrian Palestine) in 1946-1948. It must be remembered that the Ottomans, supported Hitler and the Kaiser, and thus Germany in both world wars. The map cynically ignores the 1949 Armistice line and the displacement of Arab Jews from Arab countries and their loss of land, some 100 000 square km of deeded property confiscated by Arab states. The map thus ignores the reality that part of British Mandate occupied by Jordan and Egypt was ethnically cleansed with no Jewish population left. Jewish inhabitants of communities like Gush EtzionHebron and Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem were absorbed by the new State of Israel. The map also fails in its lack of comparison to Greece and Turkey and India/Pakistan, two examples where populations have been separated according to religion and ethnicity and involving population swaps. Sudan was recently partitioned between the north Arab half and the south African half. Ireland remains separated between the Protestant north and Catholic south.

3. Palestinians and Jews, each form a distinct race and the conflict is thus like apartheid. 
Nations are not races. While ethnicity plays a part, there is no science to back up either claim. The infamous 1975 UN resolution 3379 ‘equating zionism with racism‘ was overturned by an overwhelming majority of nations in 1991. The same assertion was voted out of the final text of the controversial 2001 Durban Conference on Racism  and the text reaffirmed at Durban II. A highly flawed 2017 UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) report examining the policies of Israel within the context of a UN definition of apartheid, admits the error of race, proceeds to supply ​”reasons for the error of comparison” ​and states, there is ‘no single, authoritative, global definition of any race’ at the same time that it attributes race characteristics to Jews for the purposes of analysis. The same category error appears in an equally flawed 2009 local HSRC report  written around the time of Durban II. While the policies of Israel are reprehensible and morally indefensible, their root cause is not race, (a loaded term) but rather the confluence of ​religion and nationality and in particular, religious schism which results in nationality on the basis of religion​, a fact common to many Middle Eastern countries.

4. Arab Israelis do not possess the vote.
They are allowed to vote in the Knesset, however Arabs living in the area controlled by the Palestinian Authority do not. This is a major and significant human rights issue. No physical wall was ever built by the apartheid state.  Bantustan leaders were puppets of Pretoria at best. None of the bantustans ever waged war against the central government. If the PA is not an apartheid bantustan except in metaphor, what is it? Like South Africa’s North West province, it must be seen as a de facto internal province caught up in armed insurrection against the central government, the Israeli state. A position of statelessness, pacification and occupation. The same goes for Gaza, arguably, a subsidiary or satellite of both Egypt, Israel and Iran. How can this be solved? A plurinational, overlapping state solution, and involving neighbours Egypt and Jordan, would do a lot to resolve friction while ensuring independence and the maintenance of human rights. Reasonable accommodation of differences in faith and religious outlook is a prerequisite. Keep an open mind.

5. The conflict has nothing to do with religion.
The conflict surrounding the final status of Jerusalem has been ongoing for centuries, involves different versions of monotheism dating back to the crusades, and predates the creation of the modern state of Israel. The worst part of it. We must not allow it to become a binary conflict and permanent war around race, ethnicity and religion.

6. The majority Arab Palestinians were displaced in 1948 by a white minority, and the result is the Nakba or catastrophe.
Focusing on the 700 000 displaced persons, removed from the Jewish side of Palestine under UN mandate, adding them to some 250 000 Arabs who had chosen to move to the Arab Palestine half, and forgetting that some 850,000 Arab Jews were displaced and dispossessed from Arab countries such as Iraq and Yemen at the same time, results in Nakba inflation. An inflation which also ignores the return of hundreds of thousands of black Ethiopian Jews. Forcible transfer of populations was a factor of the Ottoman and Persian Empires. See Farhud Day, a commemoration of the dispossession of Baghdad Jews.

7. Israel is the result of the Balfour Declaration, a colonial enterprise at best. 
The country unilaterally declared its independence during the war of 1948, and the situation under Benjamin Netanyahu is similar to UDI in Rhodesia. Aside from the internal friction between black Mizrahi and white Ashkenazi and Separdhi Jews, this is the one similarity with the white regime of Ian Smith, that one must accept. The Belfour view also ignores the earlier Sykes–Picot Agreement and the later Weizmann Faisal Agreement, and is used to argue the disaster of colonialism, while ignoring the tragedy of the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.

8. Hamas and Fatah are the equivalent of the ANC and PAC during the struggle.
While all three parties are for the most part, nationalistic, the ANC is the only secular party which has until now, consistently supported civil rights for all persons in the region. The other parties raising the Pan Arab flag waved around at Pro-Palestine rallies, are mostly theocratic, and only nationalistic insomuch as Arab autonomy in the region is concerned. Fatah is nominally secular insofar as divergence within Islam is concerned and thus tolerates other groups, (see Dhimmitude). Embarrassingly, Hamas was forced in 2017 to amend its charter advocating death for all Jews, to death for only Zionist Jews, to bring its objectives more in line with the Fatah Movement which supports the borders of 1967. More importantly, the ANC had an end-game strategy involving compromises, no such strategy is evident amongst the Palestinians. It was the National Party which opposed LGBTIQ++ rights, and supported the death penalty, not the ANC. No Gay Pride for Gaza, ditto Palestinian feminist group Aswat, based only in Haifa. There is thus a qualitative difference between these two struggles, one backed by the Freedom Charter, the other by religious texts and history books associated with previous Empires. The result is Injustice v Injustice.

9. Israel supported the apartheid regime until the bitter end.
While Israel was slow to act on sanctions against South Africa, and collaborated with the regime on nuclear weapons, it severed such ties in 1987. “There is no room for discrimination, whether it’s called apartheid or any other name”, then foreign minister Shimon Peres said in the New York Times. “We repeat that we express our denunciation of the system of apartheid. The Jewish outlook is that every man was born in the image of God and created equal.” This view ignores the role played by Western countries such as Thatcher’s Britain in supporting apartheid, or the fact that Zionists stood trial in South Africa for opposing apartheid, it also avoids the actual commonality, pariah status, in many ways similar to the position of Taiwan today.

10. We must choose sides, since standing on the fence is tantamount to support for apartheid
During the anti-apartheid struggle where the issues were black and white, standing on the fence was inappropriate. The opposite is true in the Middle East. Declining to support religious conflict, withdrawing from waging war in the name of religion, supporting freedom for all people, defending secularism and seeking to uphold civil rights in our own country, alongside the victories of the non-aligned movement when it comes to the current East-West brinkmanship and Super-power hegemony, is the only peaceful path forward. Nelson Mandela was perhaps the best spokesperson for this position.

We are all hostages to this ongoing conflict. The time to stand up for secular rights and freedoms, non-alignment and world peace, is now.

Earthlife Africa, a long history of coalition-making

download (2)EARTHLIFE Africa (ELA), the environmental organisation started by ‘four bearded white men’ during the 1980s, in the aftermath of the banning of the End Conscription Campaign, transformed itself into a national movement headed by women, in the process winning awards.

One black woman in particular, ELA national director Makoma Lekalakala has been named co-winner of the prestigious Goldman Award alongside Liz McDaid of SAFCEI, a Southern African multi-faith institute addressing environmental injustice.

The pair received global accolades for building a powerful coalition to stop the South African government’s massive secret nuclear deal with Russia. This is the first time that a director of Earthlife Africa has received the award.

ELA, alongside SAFCEI, has a long and illustrious history of grassroots activism and coalition-building on environmental justice issues.

From the early days of the environmental alliance with workers affected by mercury poisoning (Thor Chemicals) and asbestos, (both well-known international cases), to several coalitions which evolved around various nuclear deals — the now mothballed R10bn PBMR programme and subsequent programmes —  Earthlife Africa has always sought to mobilise issues affecting the earth, human health and human habitat.

The connection between ‘earth rights and human rights’ was a crucial dimension of the broad campaign to include ‘ecological sustainable development’ in South Africa’s constitution. A key element of our democracy.

Defending article 24 via a broad-based environmental justice movement has been a key to the success of the organisation and its latest coalition with SAFCEI.

It would therefore be in remiss if we failed to recognise earlier precursors, the Nuclear Energy Cost the Earth Campaign (NECTEC), which teamed up with the community of Kommegas and Richtersveld, as well as workers in Atlantis opposed to Koeberg and Nuclear One. ELA Cape Town under Maya Aberman made extensive submissions to Parliament.

While the later emergence of the anti-nuclear umbrella organisation known as CANE, which aside from the communities of Eastern Cape (Thyspunt) and Overberg (Bantamsklip), in many respects, dissipated anti-nuclear activism on the ground, failing to draw experience from previous epochs of anti-nuclear activism.

NECTEC as a non-racial campaign can be seen as a precursor to later coalitions which evolved around national health insurance. In this instance, ELA teamed up with People’s Health Movement, and Section 27 to promote universal health coverage.

The latest round of coalition-making under the auspices of Makoma and McDaid, has certainly brought home success and international attention.

We wish ELA and SAFCEI well in the future.

Terry Bell, Stratcom, Apartheid Double-Agents, Spies

READERS may remember the controversy surrounding the banning and destruction of material published by Medialternatives. In particular the circumstances surrounding the elimination of my book review of A Secret Burden by none other than M&G editor Ferial Haffajee.

The book itself was a collection of prose and poetry “written anonymously by young, white South African conscripts deployed during the so-called ‘Border War”, and my review brought attention to the problem of embedded journalists, the manner in which the SADF had literally paid for material published by the former Argus Group and Naspers, in the process lavishing pro-War attention via Scope, Sarie and Huisgenoot.

It is telling that in the aftermath of the Winnie Stratcom revelations, that one Terry Bell, lately of Media24, another outlet responsible for the destruction of material, including photographic images, is defending the track record of journos implicated in dirty tricks, at the former Argus Group, whilst referring to a list of as yet unpublished names. According to Bell, the problem remains, that State operative, turned TRC witness, John Horak is also dead. We beg to differ, since the TRC report exists, alongside credible records still in the possession of the commission, entered into evidence but only referred to in passing by the final report.

Readers should therefore be reminded that the following testimony does appear in the TRC report into the media under apartheid. One can only hope the Minister of Justice will take the opportunity, presented by the passing of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela to release evidence which are now classified documents. Information referred and alluded to in testimony to the general public, if only to set this matter straight. The group photo opportunities taken during the Border War, for which many journalists accepted junkets, will certainly make for interesting documentary and archival history on the subject, whilst providing all-important context:

“Williamson gave information about another STRATCOM-type operation which involved taking senior members of the media to Special Forces bases on the South African border for a bosberaad with the highest ranking officers of the military and intelligence agencies. The state’s relations with the media were, he said, seen as a “macro continuum” from the owners of the media, to the editors who controlled the newspaper, right down to the dustbin cleaners who cleaned the dustbins at night and stuffed material in an envelope to be collected by agents.” TRC Report Vol 4, Ch6, para 68, pg180

“Williamson also provided a photograph, taken on the Angolan border in July 1987, which contained virtually the entire general staff of the defence force, various government ministers and staff and Williamson himself, together with a number of highly placed journalists. The focus on that occasion was how South Africa and the newspapers would respond to what the Soviets were doing in Angola.” TRC Report Vol 4, Ch6, para 69, pg180

“State operative John Horak explained that there were four basic categories of media spies: agents, informers, sources, and ‘sleepers’. Craig Williamson confirmed this. An agent was a professional police officer with a job to do. Informers gave information either voluntarily or were recruited. He identified two categories of informers: those who were ideologically totally opposed to what the organisation was doing and those who did it for the money. There were also those who did it to get at colleagues for reasons such as competing for promotion. ‘Sleepers’ were long-term plants, people who knew things but would only provide information if their consciences were bothering them.” TRC Report Vol 4, Ch6, para 93, pg184

NOTE: In 2016 Naspers directors promised to investigate the whereabouts of several articles and images relating to South African jazz music history produced under my own byline but in their possession. At this time, the company has not responded. The items have in all likelihood been destroyed.