Leaders of Israel, responsible for the occupation of lands, destruction of people's lives and violations of the Geneva Conventions, are welcomed and even celebrated as international dignitaries. Neither Israeli-perpetrated violence nor its dispossession of indigenous people from their own land is cause for questioning Israel’s leadership. But for South Africa to receive a leading member of Hamas, a violent resistance movement, is a cause for shock if not condemnation.
If the issue is morality, then what moral values justify Israeli acts of aggression? The fact in our world today is that force is rewarded provided it is committed by the powers that be. Cluster bombs and Napalm, both used by Israel at different wars, are sophisticated weapons employed by civilized countries.
Suicide bombs and home-made rockets are criminal arsenals unimaginable to the sensibilities of the societies that celebrate Hiroshima and Nagasaki as acts of victory against evil. There will be no solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – ever – if this kind of upper-brow hypocrisy continues to rule the day.
It is amazing that one could forget that the new South Africa was liberated by a former terrorist shunned by America, Britain and Israel. Nelson Mandela is now a celebrated hero. But America and Israel were the last to abandon racism and support the end of apartheid in South Africa.
Ismail Haniyeh is no Mandela. But let us be reminded that Mandela’s was not always a celebrated cause. And he did not always believe in non-violent means to achieve it. Mandela is the first to be true to his history. He has refused to change his position on Palestine, despite continuing to face Israeli wrath.
Yes, Haniyeh is no Mandela, but he is the son of a people under occupation. He came to power through fair elections. With the exception of the last two rocket launches, Hamas had refrained from any kind of attack against Israel since 2005. The same cannot be said about Israel, whose army takes the liberty of venturing into Palestinian towns for destructive promenades, undeterred by international laws.
It is natural for South Africa to be the first to break the international embargo and welcome Haniyeh. It is an act of leadership that is true to its history. Terrorism is rewarded every day as America continues to devastate Iraq and Israel to destroy Palestine. Are we concerned about stopping violence in all its forms, regardless of who perpetrates it?
Palestinians elect their leaders; the world cannot choose for them. Israel cannot impose Palestinian leaders upon them, just as Palestinians cannot chose leaders for Israel. If we are serious about finding solutions to the Israel-Palestine conflict and others, we journalists and opinion makers should start facing the truth about – and not perpetuate – double standards. If the world has any interest in bringing peace to Israel and Palestine, it should stop making fake moral judgments and start talking to the representatives of the Palestinian people. These include people like President Mahmoud Abbas, Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, and prisoners like Marwan Barghouti.
South Africa is wise. It knows the meaning of engagement, of talking, as well as of the struggle for liberation. It can bridge the gap between a world that celebrates massive invasions to assert power and the world of people without freedoms, denied the right to resist and – in the case of Palestine – to elect their own leaders without being punished for their choice. The crippling siege of Palestine and the Israeli use of naked force for collective punishment have failed to eradicate resistance. Give South Africa a chance to find a language of understanding that aims at eradicating oppression and not killing people.
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