The recent assault by Israeli commandos on a civilian flotilla of ships carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza raised protests globally, not least here in South Africa where we have always had a substantial pro-Palestinian movement. I attended a discussion on the Goldstone Report on the 2008/9 Gaza conflict, hosted by Open Shuhada Street this week, attended by pro-Palestinian activists and Zionists alike. Needless to say, both Goldstone and his report were rubbished by Israel’s apologists, all of them calling for balance and objectivity in the conflict. The fact that beyond Israel’s principled ally the US, both the investigative process and the facts are almost beyond dispute internationally — and that the members of the commission are credible individuals — does not prevent Israel’s apologists from diminishing the suffering of Palestinians (and others) at the hands of Israel. Needless to say, such apologies are always preceded by the now-standard “any loss of life is always a sad thing”. Which made me flash back to a hypothetical scenario in the 1980s: imagine a meeting to discuss yet another massacre or violation by the apartheid regime’s security forces in Soweto, Gugulethu or Kwamashu, and inviting several representatives of the apartheid regime, or its apologists, to come and give their side of the story, in the interest of “balance”. It would have caused an outrage, and rightly so. I do not see why the same principle should not apply to Israel, a country that consistently brutalises the occupied Palestinian population, frequently attacks its neighbours, flouts international law and United Nations resolutions, and now commits piracy by attacking civilians in international waters. Certainly there is a point in the behaviour of a regime where its actions become so outrageous that its explanations are of no concern in a forum of civilised debate. Would we invite the Nazis, Khmer Rouge or Burmese junta to give us their opinion in the interest of balance? Even the Mugabe government (how many people has his regime killed, imprisoned or starved?) is rarely provided an opportunity to “put its side of the story”.
While I can appreciate this double standard in a guilt-ridden Europe, perpetually reminded of its sins by Israel and its apologists, and a US hyper-power imprisoned by its so-called “special relationship” with Israel, there is no need for South Africans to provide platforms for apologists of a criminal regime. Our own history demands that we approach the issue of Palestinian oppression and Israeli lawlessness on the basis of principle, not narrow self-interest, though even the latter does not compel us to play softie to Israel.
Israel’s behaviour has long ago reached a point where the only suitable venue to consider its explanations is in a properly constituted criminal court, and not in forums where its behaviour can be passed off as legitimate by articulate and well-dressed apologists.