Michael Francis
Michael Francis

Israeli-Palestinian conflict leaves me conflicted

I read yesterday that there was a small victory for Boycott Israel Movement in South Africa. The University of Johannesburg (UJ) announced a conditional boycott against Ben-Gurion University (BGU) in Israel. It’s conditional in the sense that it is not a boycott but the threat of one. UJ has committed to ending any relationship (teaching and or research) with BGU unless it severs any direct or indirect military links it currently has. But of course this means that the links are not yet severed and they may never be as long as BGU agrees to certain conditions about forging ties with Palestinian universities and organisations.

I have always felt a tension with the Palestinian/Israeli conflict that makes me despair for the human condition. The two sides seem intractable on so many issues and yet my initial sympathies lie with the Palestinians as the clearly occupied peoples here. But my secular concerns over basic human rights also extend into the Palestinian territories where I am not certain they are widely shared.

I was part of a human-rights movement in Canada that was calling for an end to Israeli occupation and to allow Palestinians the right to return home. Many Palestinian refugees in Canada still hang onto keys and land deeds from their properties in parts of Israel and the occupied territories. These have become poignant symbols of their longing to go home and a clear sign of their forced removals. Yet, I cannot help but wonder what an independent Palestine would look like.

Every march I attended would degenerate into calls for the death to Israelis and proclamations that there is no God but Allah, and all the good he will do to help in their military victory against the Jews. Similarly, in South Africa I attended a march against the American consulate in Durban calling for a no to the war in Iraq. A memorandum was to be handed in and a number of speakers were lined up to discuss peace. The event was strange for so many reasons and right from the start when a mullah told “all the sisters to move to the back”.

After a little tension between more enlightened women and men who felt that women could march wherever they damn well pleased and some rather staunch Muslims who felt it violated their beliefs to be forced to treat women as equals it began. As the march proceeded a huge banner was unfurled, once again, proclaiming there is no God but Allah. I felt strange marching there so I shifted positions in the march and ended up besides a series of “no war”, “peace now” and “death to Israel”. The march went around downtown with ridiculous, but scary, segues to threaten the staff at McDonald’s and Kentucky Fried Chicken as symbols of American imperialism. The talks were again highjacked by Ashwin Desai (who also led the assault on the chicken and burgers) and Ecopeace lamenting the fluoride in the water in Durban. The last part is serious, it was a scene straight out of Dr Strangelove. Another speaker spoke of driving Israel into the sea and a number of people chanted death to Israel despite the purported focus on Iraq. I felt conned and upset that Islamic fascists overrode the event with hatred and violence.

How does one balance beliefs in secular human rights with Islamic fascists who highjack human-rights movements in the Middle East?

What would an independent Palestine look like? Would women and girls attend school? Would there be a bill of rights or a constitution? Can other religions flourish and be practised? All these and more need answers. The peace movement needs to reject and actively push out the Islamists who would condemn the country to being a religious backwater full of repression and bigotry.

We can rightly condemn the Israeli occupation and building of settlements. It is historically accurate to discuss land theft and the forced migration of Palestinians. We can loathe the idea of an ethnic state that excludes many who were born there while offering right of return to those whose families lived elsewhere for generations.

Yet I cannot help but feel that both sides are actually really crap poster boys for anything representing human rights and notions of justice.

While I have no solution to the conflict I do think that the US should no longer be allowed to discuss the region or to be involved in anything resembling peace talks. They are clearly not honest brokers and their policy on Israel is about their foreign policy and not peace or security for the locals.

I also wonder about a one-state solution. Why is it never discussed? Seems to me to be a little more realistic model than a continuous Israel with little islands of Palestine, which would look rather like apartheid-era Zululand and Natal. This state would need to have a bill of rights or some form of constitution that is grounded in secular human rights that allows the freedom to practice any religion and to live anywhere in the borders. Women and girls are allowed to wear bikinis if they so choose and show their hair and especially to go to school.

I cannot help but think that Jerusalem should be made an independent city state with a focus on tourism; kind of one big museum that everyone is allowed to look at and nobody to own. Desmond Tutu can oversee it between giving tours of the Holy Land.

And just once I would like peace to be discussed as the absence of conflict and not simply a ceasefire.

Of course none of this will happen and both sides will point fingers and apportion blame. Each will proclaim the absolute right to the land either through divine right or from previous occupation. They will decry racism and rights violations committed by the other while committing acts of hatred and violence against the other, ad nauseum.

So to return to the conditional boycott that may be launched against Ben-Gurion University, I think it has a potential to be a good and a fair thing. But that if there are to be actual boycotts then they must be extended to Palestinian groups who extol hatred and have military connections of their own. The idea of forcing these groups into dialogue is an excellent idea and one that should be pursued. If the duelling governments are not going to talk then it is up to the people living there to do so through other means.

  • http://none sanders frith-brown

    To the readers of this ‘blog’.
    I just spent the time rereading Michael Francis’s profile, and his opening comments at the head of this site..
    Maybe we should all do the same.

  • Lesego

    Michael Francis and sanders frith-brown. I’m neither Zulu nor Xhosa but Tswana. I would like some lecture on the Tswanas and also would like you to elaborate on the familiarities between the languages spoken today by the Southern Africans and the Northern counterparts. How do you link them to make sense of that migration. And how do we have a link linguistically with the Khoisan?

  • Lesego

    And I would like to know what languages they were speak when they came to Southern Africa and how you familiarise/link them with the different languages spoken today in South Africa. And how do you explain the different body structures between the Northern Africans, The Southern and that of the Khoisan.

  • http://thoughtleader.co.za/michaelfrancis Michael Francis

    @sanders frith-brown – While I like Jarod Diamond his book needs updating in archaeological terms as the dates for the movement of the Bantu speakers has been pushed back due to more recent findings. It does seem that the Australian Aborigines arrived in one wave to Australia almost 66,000 years ago one of the first groups to leave Africa. Check out National Geographic’s human genome project Genographic site for the latest genetic combined with the latest archaeological.

    I think your points raise some bigger issues about who lives where and when they did so. If someone moved in in 80AD do they have more rights than someone who did so in 1000AD? or 1948? or even 2010? Whatever date is set will be arbitrary and exclude someone. In South Africa land claims have only been allowed if they occurred since 1913 the fist native land act even as there were many people shifted prior to that. Never an easy task. Its seems that Israel and Palestine and the people that live there are not going anywhere and the people must be protected but I am not so sure about the state form.

  • http://thoughtleader.co.za/michaelfrancis Michael Francis

    @Lesego – If you wish to know about how African languages are related check out the website http://www.ethnologue.org/ this is an incredible resource that outlines all the worlds known languages. In Southern Africa the Bantu language family is a linguistic shorthand that describes a vast range of languages.

    Zulu for example is part of the Niger-Congo language family that encompasses 1532 known African languages across the continent (the vast majority of African languages). That can be further split into the Atlantic-Congo (1436 known languages) then the Volta-Congo (with 1362 known) and then the Benue-Congo (975), the Bantoid (691), the Southern Bantoid(668), the Narrow Bantu (522), the Central Bantu (346), The South Bantu (26 of these that split into 6 larger groups), which then ends in the Nguni group of 4 (Swati, Ndebele, Zulu, Xhosa).

    This trail of descent shows relationships between the languages and the people that speak them. That is why Tswana has some similar words to Zulu and how even some words from West Africa can be understood or recognized grammatically. These language maps can be used to show movements of people across Africa and even a timeframe applied to it. Unwritten languages change with use at fairly recognizable rates. Anyways the linguistic evidence is there and quite a fascinating way to map Africa and to understand the relationship between the very diverse peoples.

  • Hanief Haider

    To confirm Michael Francis fears what a future Palestinian state would look like consider the following points. Israel refused for years to negotiate with the PLO which was secular and democratic as any other liberation movements at the time.Secondly The USA with the support of Israel drove Saddam Hussain who was a despotic leader but as secular as any other liberation movement when it came to gender rights.Question to MF.Is it not in Israel’s interests to give the impression to the secular West that there are no credible negotiating partners and only hate-filled homophobic regimes in her neighbourhood to stall the process towards a fully negotiated settlement with justice on both sides by continuing the building of illegal settlements on occupied Palestinian land?.If Israel was really serious about peace she would have adhered to the UN recognised borders and complied with resolution 242 and 338.And not to mention the Arab peace plan of 2002 which has broad based support even among Western Governments.

  • Larry Lachman

    Lesego. You, a Tswana, has just been educated by a white man from Canada, about your own African language heritage. Take that flame and feed it now for yourself, by yourself, so that you can come to learn more about your people than Michael does from Canada. Teach others.

    While you are about it, teach yourself about the Middle East as well so that your comments to this topic, (and the topic of this blog) can be more relevant and less silly.

    I mean this with all good will and sincerity.

  • Lesego

    Larry Lachman, you shallow comments proof the shallow motive and ideas behind the Israel foundation. First of all Michael didn’t teach me anything at all nor did he convince me with that link. The other thing is that differences in our physical structures is not addressed and that nullifies the migration theory. For Michael to just keep quiet about that makes me not to believe his theory. And, the link doesn’t really explain how those that came from the North influenced the Khoi who he claimed to be the Natives. Of cause there might be similarities especially between neigbouring groups even though I didnt come across any examples there but how did the Northern people distribute their original dialect? Cos I cannot familiarise Tswana with that of the Congos. Even Swahili recognisable at all. And why did these migrants want to come South?

  • http://none sanders frith-brown

    I take Larry Lachman’s point to Lesago—-is it ‘ironic’ that a Canadian is teaching an “African’ about ‘his’ continent.
    I am a pacifist, and was drafted to serve in Vietnam in 1968—-I renounced my US citezenship. I am Bermudian, and my family has been in Bermuda for almost 400 years.
    I grew up here during our ‘aparteid’, and . went to Mcgill University for four years. I played on the varsity soccer team for those four years with almost only West Indians. These ‘mates’ were more cultured; richer, and brighter than I, and `I realised very quickly that Bermuda was not at the epicentre of the universe.
    The first night in Montreal in 1963, I saw a movie “Mondo Cane”………google it! Then,my studies in Canada started my interest in ‘cultural anthropology’—-via Desmond Morris and behavioral ‘science’!
    There were thousands of Jews at Mcgill—they would not ‘mix’ with me–as hard as I tried. There were literally no Jews in Bermuda—I knew nothing of ‘them’—only of ‘blacks’.
    So I have watched and studied the ‘situation’ in Israel/Palestine for years .
    It is not really an unusual ‘conflict’, but it impacts on the world.
    Jerusalem is ‘holy’ to Jews; Moslems, and Christians. As has been stated by Michael Francis, it should be a ‘free’ city—-for all to ‘enjoy’.
    So our discussion on this ‘blog’ is about the bigger picture of the world…take Larry’s provocative challenge Lesago—then we will talk!

  • Larry Lachman

    @ Lesego

    Physical anthropology offers even greater proof and DNA mapping cements it. But then for you the Earth is flat and you can hardly differentiate between reality and Avatar.

    With all the science about the physical and societal differences of race groups, there is not yet a scientific understanding of how the mental processes differ. That would be truly interesting, and perhaps we would at least come to understand Africa, even if we hadn’t a hope in hell of actually making a difference.

  • http://thoughtleader.co.za/michaelfrancis Michael Francis

    @Hanief Haider – I think my main point is that neither side is virtuous in this bloody conflict. I am a pacifist and it seems there is no side that can claim The Right in this. I sometimes also despair as I think there are so many other problems in the world that also deserve attention and do no get any they need. Sometimes this issue just dominates.

  • http://thoughtleader.co.za/michaelfrancis Michael Francis

    @Lesego – It is clear that you will never be convinced. And for the record it is not my theory about the Southern migration but merely the culmination of 400 years of sociolinguistic evidence that has been collected and distilled over the years and put together by the world’s leading linguistic scholars coupled with the best archaeology. The physical differences you see can be the result of genetic drift, social sanction, admixture from Khoisan groups. Don’t forget that Africans genetically are very diverse across the continent so as they moved they encountered others etc etc etc

    Now I am off topic on my own blog – hows that for irony considering my latest blog!

  • Hanief Haider


    I disagree with you .This issue should have been resolved long ago had the Western Powers displayed some backbone particularly the USA.Had Pres Eishenhower stayed in the White House a bit longer (so much for limited terms) we could have seen a political settlement sooner than the photo-op’s we are so accustomed to these days.

    When Israel occupied a strip of land that belonged to Egypt in the fifties Eishenhower immediatelly threatened Israel with sanctions and within a few weeks a potentially explosive situation was averted.

    We could only wish that the rest of the US leaders that followed could have displayed the same political courage especially in 1967 when Israel went on a land grabbing mission.

    To see the conflict in terms of right and wrong is to miss the gist of the conflict which is land depravation by one group of well armed and organised people over another.

    The issue dominates the media because the very same media you and I are familiar with namely the Western media have not looked at the issue in a more objective and dispassionate way.Had they done so civic pressure from their electorate would have compelled their governments to bring Israel in line with International statutes which Israel is a signatory to most of them, I think.

    To view the conflict in any other way by importing religious or clash of civilisation arguments is to fall into the trap laid out neatly by Zionism and its supporters.

  • Larry Lachman


    I disagree with you. The issue would have been resolved at inception in 1948 if the Arabs hadn’t rejected the UN partition which was accepted by Israel. Israel declared independence in the area offered, and the Arabs attacked instantly.

    Then, that strip of Egyptian land captured by Israel was more than a strip, it was the Sinai and the Suez Canal of strategic importance. Israeli forces reached to within 90 miles of Cairo, cutting off and laying siege to the Egyptian third army to the point of starvation. This came about due to Egypt and Syria concerted attack on Israel on two fronts without provocation. Israel’s only purpose for ‘occupying’ the Sinai was to force a peace agreement. The USA was a little difficult in supplying Israel with promised re-armament, but Israel gave up the Sinai ONLY because Egypt was eventually forced to recognise Israel and honor a peace agreement which still is in force today. Same applies to Jordan. PEACE.

    The ‘land grabbing’ mission that you talk of is a military occupation for strategic security purposes, considering Israel’s tenuous borders and hostile beligerant neighbors. The Jewish neighborhoods (settlements) in stateless West Bank are as entitled to be there as Arab neighborhoods (settlements). Israeli Arab citizens have these rights entrenched.

    I know it suits you to ignore these facts and select words that depict aspects only suitable to your cause, but this only highlights the scarcity of your argument.

  • http://none sanders frith-brown

    I am curious, even ‘suspicious; I do not make bets, but, I would bet that Larry Lachman is Jewish; and, Hanief Hanier is ‘arabic’. If this is not so, how could two people, capable of thinking ( and writing) have such a diferent view of recent history .
    But, let’s look at a simpler part of Palestine/Israel, the city of Jerusalem. It was partitioned into East and West in 1948. It is now controlled/occupied by the Isrealis.
    It is ‘sacred’ to the two major religions, Christianity and Islam, and obviously controlled by the ‘father’ of these two religions ( a very minor religion, in fact—–14,000,000 adherents), is it called Judaism? I get confused by the ‘ists’, and the ‘isms’.
    I want it to be a “free city”–welcoming all in peace. But, I am probably a little naive, but, I hold no belief in any religion. Does this allow me to see the ‘truth’ more clearly?
    I knew nothing about ‘jews, or ‘jewishness’, and at sixteen, I argued with a mate, Al Rosenthal, at Wilbraham Academy, in Springfield, Mass., that he was really Christian. The soccer coach told me that he was jewish, not Christian. I later realised that I was really ‘jewish’—at least in my upbringing–as are Muslims. We share the Old Testament!!!
    So the nett achievment of these two ‘great’ prophets, Jesus, and Mohamad, is to leave us arguing over land in this, their ‘earthly kingdom’. They did not do very well, did they?

  • Larry Lachman

    @sanders frith-brown (jeez, I had to copy and paste your triple barrel name)

    The facts will support my contentions, whereas the selected fallacies paraded as truth by the pro-Palestinian honor guard, will only appeal to the base emotions of those prone to Jew-hating.

    Jerusalem is now the capital of Israel. It has been annexed so that all may share its biblical significance. The Temple Mount is still a Muslim mosque, and Cristians, Jews and Muslims share its diverse elements and are free to partake in their silly, (yet important to them) religions. This would not be the case if Hamas were to be in control.

    My point in my previous post was that if the Palestinian people, who due to a dearth of leadership in 1948 found themselves subject to the whims of ‘other’ Arab countries, had accepted the UN partition alongside Israel; – then they would have their country and a share of Jerusalem as their capital.

    This is easy for Israel to give back. Israel can do everything except uproot 800 thousand people from their homes in the West Bank (tantamount to removing all Arab Palestinians from their homes and neighborhoods in Israel). Israel just wants peace and a secure existence.

    But the Arabs and Islamists want it all. Not gonna happen – ever. So give up the isoteric blathering and the emotional ranting, because it just makes for greater humiliation heaped upon humiliation.

  • http://thoughtleader.co.za/michaelfrancis Michael Francis

    @Larry Lachman – Israel was created in 1948 and part of that creation involved taking lands previously occupied by Palestinians. Further settlements in the West Bank erode the very land that was supposed to become part of Independent Palestine. And Because Israel links settlements by security roads the land is further disarticulated and non-contigous there will never be peace with these belligerent settlements taking advantage of the no-state status of the West Bank. You argument that the Arab-Israelis are protected is disingenuous when the new settlements stay within the state of Israel it is not like they are immigrants to Palestine they are furthering the borders of Israel.

  • Larry Lachman


    On the contrary, so-called ‘settlements’ are only enclaves, protected and connected because Arab neighbors are hostile and intent on attacking their fellow Palestinian Jews.
    What is so wrong with Jews living in a Palestinian territory or future Nation State. Are Jews not allowed to live elsewhere and contribute to the success of Nations as valuable and upstanding citizens. Islamic Nations excepted, of course…plenty more can be said about that.

    In any event there are facts on the ground and there is crying over spilled milk. I see a solution where all others see unworkable ‘if only’s’ and otherwise impossible scenarios.

    A solution comes with normalisation. It is normal for Arab citizens of Israel to live and thrive in peace, without having to live in gated security enclaves. It must become normal for Jews to live in a future Palestinian State where this community can shrug off the security measures and attendant protections of Israel.
    Just as much as it must become normal for Israel to exist in peace and tranquility with her neighbors so that occupation forces can be withdrawn from defensive positions, terrorist attacks against Israeli citizens can stop, AND THE WALL WILL COME TUMBLING DOWN.

  • Larry Lachman

    Michael, you know in your heart that any final deal for a Palestinian State must include a deal for peace. Until peace is on the agenda and the PA and Arab States offer themselves up as willing partners for peace, then Israel is going to make matters very difficult and expensive for all concerned.
    The experiment was attempted with Gaza (Land for peace, remember) and Islamic fascism resulted in unavoidable war, death and hardship.

    The truth is that the West Bank PA wants this less than the current Israeli occupation. There is no future Palestinian State unless Hamas is dealt with, and the PA sides with Israel on this issue. No fault of Israel’s.

  • http://none sanders frith-brown

    Larry has used the word ‘normal’ a number of times. The human race is ‘tribal’, although we are one race.
    Tribes recognise each other; funny hats;funny ways of talking;dressing –even praying—all ‘funny’ to the outsider. For hundreds of thousands of years one tribe had preyed on another; taken the children; raped the women; killed the men.
    Thus, It would NOT be ‘normal’ for Jews and Palestinians to live together. But do the ‘leaders’ not focus/use the differences to galvanise their ‘followers’? Obviously a leader needs followers. Does the news media not focus on the negatives?
    Although I have said it would not be normal for Jews and Arabs to live together,now, that is the only answer. It should not matter who is ‘governing’, if the governance is ‘good’, and I think Larry is getting at this point.
    I do not believe that Jews and Arabs are ‘traditional’ enemies. In 1850 there were basically no Jews in “Palestine’. ‘Palestine’ was part of the Ottoman Empire for hundreds of years, and there was no identity of such a group as Palestinians, even in 1900—-so I have beeen reading recently.
    But, the Jews are colonisers; they were not invited by the locals, and the British had no right to create a colony. Israel was given land that was not the ‘givers’ to give.
    These ‘Isrealis’ won a war,( waged against them), and they are now building on land that was not even given to them in 1948.

  • http://none sanders frith-brown

    A question is: what is the nett effect/and affect, of the building of settlements in the West Bank? I assume that world ‘Jewish money’ is being used to ‘improve’ this land (improve from a human ‘living’ viewpoint!!). I doubt that world Arab oil money would have improved the living standards of the Palestinians —-if the Jews had never arrived in this; ‘promised land’.
    In the West Bank, there will be better roads;better shops; better everything, I would bet!!
    Are there a more ‘clickish’ group than the Jews? They have stayed together for 2,000 years in small enclaves around the world; kept their faith; waiting for the land that their (and too many other’s) God promised them. They have been universally ‘despised’ for all these years, it would seem. It might have something to do with the way they ‘act’. They are certainly a gifted ‘group’, and have contributed an inordinate amount to the culture of the world.
    Reading about the Nazi ‘atrocities’, I feel that they should have ALL Palestine!!!
    But, I care not if I am labelled an anti-semite. I consider them with no more concern than ‘Moonies'; Scientologists; Mormons, or Roman Catholics or Protestants. If yours is ‘right’ the other’s is wrong!!
    But, I now have to go through long security lines at every aeroport-it costs billions in wages, let alone time, to all the citizens of the world. Thus, I must help find a solution–it is my open-minded responsability!!!

  • Thabo Makeleni

    World famous anthropologist of 19th century, James Chowles, argued and proved that paintings in earlier Catholic Churches, depicted a black Jesus Christ with his black mother.He was of the opinion that people of the bible were black, including Adam & Eve.

    A statue of the founder of the Catholic Church in the Basilica, Rome, depicts St Peter as a black man.The 1st two popes were black.

    When did the story and the characters of the bible bacame european ? Jesus was depicted in later paintings and stil now as blonde with blue eyes.

  • Castortroye

    Michael, while I am tempted to see that you are seeing a double sided coin to this conflict, I have this feeling in my stomach that you are merely imposing your values on people thousands of miles away.

    Have you ever thought that perhaps Palestinians dont want to live with Jews? Have you ever thought that Jews have been living under Arab and European oppression for two thousand years and your idea of Desmond Tutu supervising the only real claim they have to self-determination, is a little patronising to say the least?

    You talk about a Palestinian state. The best litmus test if the Islamic Republic of Gaza. There, where there is no Israeli occupation whatsoever, the place is run by theocrats who forbid women to smoke, and impose harsh rule on all its citizens, never mind the remnants of any opposition. This government spends its millions in aid to purchase more weapons and qassam rockets for another round of war.

    If that is an indication of any future Palestinian state, then yes we should be very very concerned. I know the Israeli’s are.