By Tswelopele Makoe
This past week, the Desmond Tutu Centre for Religion and Social Justice hosted a webinar on the conflict in Palestine.
The virtual event hosted attendants from all over the world, including Dr Mitri Raheb, an established Palestinian scholar and pastor, who was one of the key presenters.
This webinar, titled Religious Software: Supporting and Maintaining the Occupation in Palestine focused specifically on the use of digital media in the repression of Palestinians.
This webinar was especially crucial, not only in showing solidarity for the scores of Palestinians that continue to get massacred in their own homes, but also for the circulation of pertinent information regarding this conflict.
Guests from all over the world were in attendance, highlighting the perilous contentions between Israelis and Hamas militants.
The conflict in Palestine has been ongoing for well over a month, with death and devastation taking place on both sides of the border that separates the Gaza Strip and Israel.
This turmoil escalated recently, with Israeli military forces swarming the Gaza Strip, one of the world’s most densely populated areas. The military forces launched increased air raids on Gaza, targeting civilian areas.
Entire districts have been decimated, hospitals and schools bombed, homes and shelters obliterated.
Gaza residents have streamed to hospitals and United Nations schools for safety, hoping that they will be protected by international laws that protect these areas.
In addition to this, the Israeli military have established a complete blockade surrounding the strip, effectively banning water, food, fuel, and electricity in this area for the past month.
There is no aid permitted to enter, and many Palestinians have resorted to sea water in order to survive.
This is a dire situation for masses of Palestinians, one that is truly exemplary of the devastation that can instantly befall modern-day societies.
In this past month alone, more than 11 000 Palestinians, and over 1 400 Israelis have been killed. This death toll includes over 4 237 children, including babies.
More than 25 965 people have been wounded, and this figure increases by the day. More than 1.5 million residents have been displaced and left defenceless and homeless, with no essential supplies and nowhere to go.
The Religious Software webinar shone a stark light on the gravity of the situation, highlighting the desperate and demeaning lengths that citizens have been forced to go through in order to survive the conflict.
This, all while they are being stripped off their possessions, their devices, their freedoms, and enduring the intimidation of their family members. Several Palestinians, even public figures, have been kidnapped and arrested for speaking out against this conflict.
What is clear here is that this war is not religious; it is a political intimidation and coercion, using state resources to do so. It is blatantly defying the human rights laws that are internationally upheld.
At least nine countries, including South Africa, have withdrawn their ambassadors or severed ties from Israel. Additionally, there is very little condemnation of this conflict, whereas other conflicts across the world, such as Ukraine, were heavily engaged, intercontinentally.
Furthermore, citizens across the world have been condemned, even punished, for speaking out against the brutality of the Israeli army.
Canadian journalist and Palestian Zahraa Al-Akhrass was fired due to pro-Palestinian posts on her social media. Al-Akhrass underscored the blatant lack of empathy for Palestine that has been evident across Western media platforms.
Democratic Alliance (DA) shadow minister Ghaleb Cachalia was also fired this past week, following his X (formerly known as Twitter) post that condemned the undeniable genocide taking place against Palestinians.
A Langara College (Canada) instructor, Natalie Knight, was also placed on indefinite leave following her remarks at a pro-Palestine rally. United in Struggle is among 25 groups who have defended Knight, saying “The aim of these attacks on Knight is not only to ruin her career and reputation, but to impose a freeze on public support for Palestine everywhere”.
Countless employees have dumped Artforum magazine after they fired David Velasco, the editor in chief, for publishing an open letter in response to the war.
There is also a clear proclivity by many institutions towards Israel. In Chicago (USA), charges were dismissed against a man who fired a gunshot after driving his Israeli-flag-covered car into a pro-Palestine demonstration of more than 1 000 people.
From news outlets in the public arena, to civic society organisations, people are actively being punished for their opinions on this horrific conflict. Much of the blow-back that is being received is unsubstantiated and dubious, at best.
The tensions that have arisen, not only in the Palestinian context but all over the world, has left many divided. The repercussions of the condemnation of the Israeli army have been striking and merciless and shows the breakdown of “freedom of speech”.
What is particularly chilling about this conflict, is the eerie similarity to apartheid in South Africa. Settlers against natives, the fight over land and resources, the horrendous human rights violations, the systematic and institutional repression of the Palestinians in their own land, is indistinguishable from the abhorrent history of our country.
As a nation that rose from the ashes of the apartheid regime, it is horrifying to watch the same system break-down another nation.
Furthermore, South Africans understand the sheer exertion and determination that is required to rebuild a nation following such a harrowing system.
The media played a major role in upholding the truth and rallying international support against apartheid South Africa.
Why then are they leaving Palestinians to suffer in silence? It is no wonder South Africans have been arduous in their condemnation of Israel. It is our inherent and sacred duty to uphold our responsibility towards our society, beyond our borders and seas.
From political, to social, to institutional, and particularly in the religious sectors of our society, should we be rebuking violence, genocide, and systemic repressions that are taking place.
It is the role of these sectors to not only govern actions and values, but to actively shape morality and promote humanity.
We cannot rely on global media to uphold their inherent responsibility: the promotion of transparency and accountability, all whilst scrutinising governments, reporting crime, and unearthing corruption.
What is evident in our contemporary context is that the media is under the guise of private entities that promote their own agendas. As much as the news can be manipulative and biased, it is manipulated in various covert ways.
As an institution, their sentiments often become entangled with other sectors of our society, such as civic society, educational institutions, and religious institutions, to name a few.
Our present-day techno-centric society ensures that the world is not reliant or deceived by mainstream news outlets.
Millions of people across the globe have openly and consistently lambasted the violence by the Israeli army, using social media, blogs, and broadcast media to expose truths that the mainstream media won't.
The use of social media has been pertinent to receiving first-hand accounts of the harrowing experiences of Palestinians that have been intentionally isolated from the world.
Social media has played a significant role in rallying support and various forms of activism for the victims of this conflict. It is our responsibility to educate each-other on the realities of this situation, and to act collectively and accordingly.
Martin Luther King Jr fondly said: “Genuine peace requires the presence of justice.”
We are building valuable networks, transcontinentally. Oftentimes, the experiences of the global south are overlooked, and it is pertinent that we solidify our own relationships in order to ensure a fortified future.
This war did not begin in October. This war is rooted in historical contentions, going back as far as the 1960’s. There has been a devastating impact on the Palestinians.
Much of what has taken place will never be returned. Palestinians will feel the impact of this conflict for generations to come. Wars only bring about strew of misery and degradation.
This cannot be whitewashed as a religious war, it is blatant genocide. I implore all the sectors and industries of our society to continue to collaborate in the efforts to #FreePalestine and restore their humanity.
The late Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who has been condemning the apartheid state of Israel for over a decade, poignantly said: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”
* Tswelopele Makoe is a Gender Activist. She is also an Andrew W Mellon scholar, pursuing an MA Ethics at UWC, and affiliated with the Desmond Tutu Centre for Religion and Social Justice. The views expressed are her own.