David Hersch, SAIPACThe writer, a broadcaster and journalist, is chairman of the South African Israel Public Affairs Committee.
An open letter to South African International Relations and Cooperation Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane:
Ms Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, Minister of International Relations and Cooperation
Pretoria, Republic of South Africa
I attended your press conference on Tuesday, 20 November 2012, in Parliament in my capacity as a broadcaster and journalist where, amongst other things, you trotted out the worn out perennial cliché accusing Israel of “disproportionate use of force”.
May I be so bold as to ask you exactly what you define as “disproportionate use of force”? It is important that South Africans have a clear definition of what is meant by the use of this term so that we may apply our minds correctly and understand exactly what you are saying and where our government stands.
In 2011 alone, 630 rockets from Gaza hit Israeli towns. That is an even higher number than in 2010, when 231 rockets hit Israel. Since 2001, more than 12,800 rockets and mortars, an average of 3 attacks every single day, have landed in Israel. This year alone 1577 rockets have been launched against Israel with 809 launched since 14 November at time of writing. Please allow me to point out that all these rockets and mortars have been aimed at Israeli civilians.
Minister, would it therefore be proportional if Israel fired 12,800 rockets against Gaza and aimed them indiscriminately against its civilian population in the same manner as Hamas aims their rockets at Israel? Israel’s surgical strikes at Hamas military targets, ammunition warehouses, rocket launchers etc, trying to avoid civilians, would then not be appropriate I assume? Would a rocket for rocket tennis match be proportional?
Currently more than two million Israelis have less than 15 seconds to find shelter after a rocket is launched from Gaza into Israel. Rockets launched from Gaza into Israel are reaching Israel’s biggest central and southern cities, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. For this discussion, we won’t consider the threat of Hizbullah in the north.
Wednesday 21 November, in central Tel Aviv, a bus was blown up in a terror attack with 21 people injured, three of them critically. Sweet cakes were handed out in celebration at Gaza’s main hospital in response to news of the bombing, Reuters reported. According to other reports from Gaza, celebratory gunfire was audible as the bombing was reported on the radio. When have you ever seen a single Israeli celebrate the death of one of its enemies?
Palestinian rocket and mortar attacks on Israel from the Gaza Strip have occurred since 2001. Between 2001 and January 2009, over 8,600 rockets had been launched, leading to 28 deaths and several hundred injuries, as well as widespread psychological trauma and disruption of daily life. According to research done by the Social work department at the Sapir Academic College, an estimated 15,000 people from Sderot suffer from PTSD (Post-traumatic stress disorder) and an estimated 1,000 are undergoing treatment.
Minister, have you noted the above dates and also noted that these attacks took place long before the very man who was responsible for them, Ahmad al-Jaabari, was assassinated? You speak as if nothing happened before his death and show, nor acknowledge any context, cause or reason.
You used another worn out propaganda term of Israel’s enemies, “extra-judicial executions”. What would you or the South African government do under the same circumstances? Demand extradition and would you succeed whilst your own citizens continue to be murdered as a result of the activities of this man, this terrorist?
You accuse Israel of “a violation of international law”. Let us investigate what some of the world bodies South Africa respects and acknowledges think:
These attacks, widely condemned for targeting civilians, have been described as terrorism by, amongst others, the United Nations and the European Union. They are defined as war crimes by human rights groups Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.
Bearing these facts in mind, the South Africa Government’s behaviour towards the conflict between Israel and the Gaza Palestinians is a mixture of naïveté and ignorance of the situation, context and history of the area and ultimately does no credit to South Africa’s standing in the world.
Without so much as an angry word, nor a stone across the Caledon River, and definitely not a rocket nor a mortar shell fired into South Africa, in 1998 South Africa massively invaded Lesotho. Was that a proportionate use of force?
What would South Africa’s ANC government do under the same circumstances and provocation that Israel has had to bear? Would the South African public not demand from its government that it react immediately and protect its citizens?
So Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, what exactly would be a proportionate use of force? A public statement and clarification from you would be most welcome and we await your response with interest.
David Hersch, The South African Israel Public Affairs Committee
CC: President Jacob Zuma
All members of the South African Parliament