Durban - Five hundred South African Jews - among them anti-apartheid veterans, prominent authors, musicians, doctors, judges and lawyers - have added their voice to the growing anger against Israel’s military assault on Gaza.
On Sunday, in a half-page advertisement in the Sunday Times, they said they were “appalled and devastated” by Israel’s assault on Gaza and called on like-minded people of the community to sign an online petition against the aggression.
They also distanced themselves from local Jewish organisations, accusing them of having “blind support for Israel’s disproportionate actions”.
Prominent Jews who signed the petition include former MP Ben Turok, Dr Ann-Marie Wolpe, the wife of anti-apartheid activist Harold Wolpe, authors Mark Gevisser, Maureen Isaacson, Antony Altbeker, musician David Kramer and High Court judge Dennis Davis.
They called for a permanent ceasefire in the region that has so far claimed the lives of more than 1 800 Palestinians and 67 Israelis.
The petition will be handed over to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli ambassador to South Africa Arthur Lenk and Avrom Krengel, chairman of the South African Zionist Federation.
According to the advert, some signatories had asked to remain anonymous out of concern that they may face intimidation or marginalisation in the community.
The petition says that more than 70 percent of the Palestinian casualties have been civilians, a quarter of whom were children. About 9 000 Palestinians had been wounded and 520 000 displaced.
“Prior to the assault on Gaza at least nine people lost their lives in clashes in the West Bank, including the murder of three Israeli teens - Naftali Fraenkel, Gilad Shaer and Eyal Yifrah - and the burning alive of Palestinian teenager Mohammad Abu Khdair; we condemn these murders and mourn these lives lost,” the petition reads.
“This is the third assault on Gaza in six years. Together with the seven-year blockade these assaults have severely damaged Gaza’s medical facilities, water and sanitation, and electricity infrastructure. Gaza’s economy has been crippled and there is a critical shortage of basic goods. Despite Israel’s physical withdrawal in 2005, Gaza remains unfree.
“We are proudly Jewish. We know that every human being is invested with inherent dignity, every life equal. Just as we resist anti-Semitism, we refuse to dehumanise Palestinians in order to make their deaths lighter on our collective conscience. We sign this statement in order to affirm their humanity and our own.”
They called for an immediate ceasefire and an “end to the death and destruction”.
The petition continued: “Beyond that we believe that the way forward must involve Israel lifting the blockade of Gaza, ending the occupation of the West Bank and fully complying with international law. Attacks on Israeli civilians and rockets fired into Israeli towns must stop; these are illegal, counterproductive and wrong.
Lubna Nadvi, spokeswoman for the KwaZulu-Natal Palestine Solidarity Forum, welcomed the petition and said many “people of conscious”, including Jewish people, were realising that there was “genocide” taking place in Gaza.
“This is a human rights issue and not based in a religious context although the Israeli government would want you to believe it is,” she said.
Mary Kluk, national chairwoman of the Jewish Board of Deputies said the Board as well as the signatories believed the tragic conflict needed to end.
“A negotiated peace for two peoples living in secure borders is an urgent priority. However, we do not apportion all the blame to one side; we believe as does the South African government that both sides need to end the conflict and begin to negotiate a peaceful future for all.”
Chairman of the SA Zionist Federation, Avrom Krengel, said this morning: “My only comment is that I look forward to their 37-page advert condemning the murder of 150 000 Syrians by Bashar Assad.”
Additional reporting by Kamcilla Pillay