AS hundreds of people, including women and children, are mauled down in the recently intensified conflict between Israel and Palestine throughout the week, South African politicians and religious leaders are at each other’s throats over who should be blamed for the war.
In South Africa, there were those who strongly believe that Palestine’s Hamas, the Gaza Strip ruling party, should be held accountable for the bloodbath conflict, while others feel that the blame should be placed at the doorstep of the Israeli government for using apartheid system to occupy land belonging to the Palestinians.
The Freedom Front Plus accused the ANC of showing “its true colours by openly siding with a terror attack on Israel”.
This was while the former apartheid activist, who is now the Congress of the People (Cope) leader, Mosiuoa Lekota, criticised Anglican Church of Southern Africa (Acsa)’s Archbishop Thabo Makgoba for proclaiming Israel an apartheid state.
The Christian-based opposition party, African Christian Democratic Party, which described Hamas attack on Israel citizens as unprovoked, viewed Acsa’s declaration as “shocking, short-sighted, and disappointing”.
The more than seven decades old conflict worsened earlier this week when Hamas-linked militants ambushed Israeli towns and killed about 1 000 Israeli citizens.
And, according to Channel 4 News’s international editor Lindsey Hilsum, abducted more than 50 people to be kept as hostages in Gaza.
It was feared that citizens of other countries who were in Israel when Hamas launched the attack were also killed and kidnapped.
According to reports, the Israeli army responded by attacking Gaza, and killed hundreds of citizens and destroyed homes.
As the war continued this week, it was hard to figure out the number of casualties from both sides.
No one among South African politicians and influential religious voices have taken a neutral stance on this conflict. This has led to fear that this might ignite anti-Semitism and Islamophobia in South Africa.
ANC chairperson on international affairs, Obeth Bapela, who is also Public Enterprises Deputy Minister, put the blame on the Israeli government, which he accused of being an apartheid administration.
“The Israel side has been provocative all along. They are annexing more and more land of what was originally agreed at the international level in 1967,” Bapela told SAfm’s Sunrise show earlier this week.
He said Palestinians were feeling oppressed as “definitely they are oppressed with an apartheid on going there” and that they were desperate for independence.
Bapela said such occupation was always a bomb waiting to explode “because if you want freedom on your land and somebody occupies your land, you are definitely gonna have to resist, and resistance comes in all shapes and forms”.
Reacting to the ANC's position, FF Plus MP Corné Mulder said the ANC “unequivocally emphasised that South Africa's government supports Hamas's terror attack on Israel and, in so doing, it sided with a terrorist group against the rest of the world”.
“The ANC and government of South Africa herewith demonstrates that at its core, it is still no more than a liberation movement and is, therefore, unable to evolve into a government of a democratic country tasked with maintaining its own sovereignty.
“This attack is barbaric, without provocation, and can in no way be justified. The FF Plus reiterates its support for the state of Israel and recognises Israel's right to defend itself and its civilians by all means necessary,” Mulder said.
Soon after the Hamas attack, Lekota called the Sunday Independent to voice out his defence for the Israeli government and challenged Makgoba to prove that the Jewish authorities were running an apartheid state.
Lekota insisted that he never witnessed any discrimination when he and other MPs visited Israel and some parts of Palestine two years ago.
The enraged Cope MP said those who accused Israel of being an apartheid state misrepresented what the term was all about before South Africa’s liberation.
“I would like to ask Bishop Makgoba what apartheid he saw when he was there (in the Middle East) because I have been there.
“Please tell me you saw this apartheid in South Africa, and you saw that apartheid in Israel. What did you see? What exactly was happening there that used to happen in South Africa?” Lekota wondered.
Lekota, the former defence minister under then president Thabo Mbeki, accused Makgoba of misleading by calling all Christians to condemn the “apartheid” Israeli.
In its declaration, the Acsa said it was following the footsteps of Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, South African Council of Churches and Dutch Reformed Church Western Cape.
“When black South Africans, who have lived under apartheid visit Israel, the parallels to apartheid are impossible to ignore,” Makgoba said.
Lekota, who served a prison term in Robben Island with senior struggle stalwarts, including Nelson Mandela, insisted that the Israeli system can never be compared with South Africa under the then whites-only government system.
He said he learnt that there was harmonious racial, religious and cultural tolerance when he and other opposition MPs, including late former IFP president Mangosuthu Buthelezi, former FF Plus leader Pieter Mulder and ACDP leader Reverend Kenneth Meshoe, visited that country and the West Bank.
Drawing a parallel between the apartheid South Africa and current Israel authority, Lekota said in South Africa, there were toilets, parks, train coaches, restaurants and shops that were marked whites only.
He said in certain towns, all public toilets were earmarked for only whites, while African, coloured, and the Indian populations had nowhere to relieve themselves.
“You could not go to the same schools, and schools for whites were the best schools you could find around. If you go to Israel, I promise you, at a shop or restaurant, everybody goes to any place they want.
“If they want to buy clothes or if they want to buy this, they do that. So where is apartheid?” he said.
He said even universities in Israel were non-discriminatory. “You don’t find townships which are for Israelis and townships which are for the other section.
“If you go to their (Israeli) parliament, you will find representatives of the Palestinians as well as the representatives of Israelis, and they are in the same parliament. Now, what is this apartheid you are talking about?” he said.
He said during their visit, the MPs were taken to West Bank, where they met the party of late Yasser Arafat's political party, Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO)
“The only place we didn’t go is the Gaza Strip, and we could not go there because those people, the Palestinians who were hostile and refused to be part of the two state solution, didn’t want us to come there,” said Lekota.
He blamed some Palestine extremists in Gaza “who were not part of Arafat” for the trouble in that area.
“They are the ones who are continuing with all this fighting that is going on, including killings that happened a few days ago.
“They are the ones who are going on with this fighting as they don’t want peace at all. So, what do you do with people who don’t want peace? They killed people in Israel, leading to Israel reacting harshly,” he said.
ACDP leader Reverend Kenneth Meshoe said Mokgoba lacked objectivity in his assessment of what was going on between Israel and Palestine.
“The Archbishop has, in my opinion, discredited and jeopardised his chances of being a credible mediator in the Israeli/ Palestinian conflict by taking sides.
“Except for security concerns, there is no place in Israel that Palestinians are not allowed to access as it happened in apartheid South Africa. There are no amenities or buildings, schools or universities that are designated for Jewish use only as it happened in South Africa during apartheid.
“Labelling Israel an ‘Apartheid State’ is inaccurate, malicious, and will not help to promote peace and harmony in the Middle East. Its only purpose is to demonise Israel and to isolate her to delegitimise Israel’s existence,” he said.
The word apartheid in the context of the Israel/Palestine relationship is debated in a documentary called The Truth on Israel Palestine Conflict.
“With occupied Palestine territory, they (Palestine and Israeli communities) are absolutely separated, much worse that it was in South Africa.
“Apartheid means one side dominates another, and Israelis definitely dominate the life of the Palestine people,” said the analyst featured in the documentary.
To make their own conclusion about what is happening in Israel/Palestine, Sunday Independent readers can visit Youtube to watch a documentary called The Holy Land: Israelis and Palestinians Today by Rick Steves.