sun over the cyclone fence

Salam Shalom: Peace in a raging hot-bed of conflict is not A Bridge Too Far

PEACE has always elusively escaped the Middle East cauldron of the clashes between Israel and Palestine of the past 75 years. A temporary truce, struck on Friday, November 24 2023, spells new hope for the embittered warring factions: a historically belligerent and heavily-armed Israel versus the Islamic militant guerrilla movement, Hamas. A hostages-prisoners swop could pave the rocky road towards working towards achieving a peaceful settlement of this internecine war between two diametrically and diverse nations.

The weekend was greeted by cheering, singing and screams of joy as some hostages, including Thai and Filipino nationals, were driven to Freedom Road. Ululating crowds welcomed 24 Palestinian women activists and 15 teenage boys who were freed from prisons: “There’s nothing good about Israeli prisons, no food, they starved us and the situation is catastrophic,’’ one of the released people said.

Since its bombing of the Gaza Strip, Israel dived into a war footing, staunchly defended its relentless military attacks aimed at rooting out terrorism following Hamas’ barbaric invasion and has persistently rejected any calls for a ceasefire – not without the return of all 250 hostages.

South Africa knows too well the draconian measures in apartheid prisons. Apartheid Israel has dialled the clock to 360 degrees in its inhumane treatment of thousands of prisoners, ranging from children to teenagers, women, men and elderly people. The Israeli Defence Force (IDF) often reneges on the drop-off location of freed prisoners to frustrate families.

South Africa, since achieving its independence and democratic order 30 years ago, has put its best political foot forward and has, in many ways, triggered the construction of the long road to peace, racial reconciliation harmony, ending of apartheid-styled occupation, jackboot rule, ethnic cleansing and genocidal violence. This is the crux of the hot-button dispute between hawkish, far-right-wing and ultra-conservative Jewish leaders in Tel Aviv and the militant Muslim-Arab leadership of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank – a territorial triangle that makes up the Holy Land as both sides continue to claim the sacred soil of Jerusalem as their own spiritual-religious meccas.

Peace, after all against all expectations, is a possibility after all. The World War 11 epic story of the Allied Forces battling Nazi Germany on the frontlines of a brutal war rings true, captured in the movie, A Bridge Too Far. But after six weeks of a most horrific military attack by a well-oil and heavily-funded Israeli state against an oppressed and impoverished Palestine Authority and the senseless killings of 13 000 (and counting) civilian men, women and children under the Free Palestine banner, peace has been given another – and hopefully – a lasting chance.

In a replay of the Cold War politics underpinned by the protocol of Checkpoint Charlie, the mantra was to always exchange your prisoner at the middle of the bridge – on the Berlin bridge – the IDF has exchanged imprisoned Palestinian women and children in a dramatic swop for Israeli hostages who were captured by Hamas-Al Qassam Brigade during its October 7 blitzkrieg on Israel. This deadly assault, resulting in 1 200 killed, outraged the World and sparked one of the biggest attacks and counter-attacks in intra-civil war since the militant Tamil Tigers had waged a bloody 25-year internecine war.

Could this be a case of A Bridge Too Far for Israel’s return to South Africa?

President Cyril Ramaphosa and his foreign minister, Naledi Pandor, have not been pulling their punches in their condemnation of civilian deaths. Ramaphosa will sign off on the men, ANC’s majority vote – in an unholy alliance with the EFF, which sponsored the motion – on the parliamentary resolution to sever diplomatic relations with Israel: “President Ramaphosa notes and appreciates Parliament’s guidance on our diplomatic relations with Israel, particularly with respect to the status of the Israeli embassy in South Africa.’’

Ramaphosa welcomed the latest deal: “It is my hope that the achievement of this pause will strengthen efforts to achieve an outright end to the current conflict… a possible resumption of conflict … must be accompanied by tireless efforts to secure a durable political resolution of the decades-long challenge in the Middle East.”

However, the opposition Democratic Alliance’s Emma Powell poured cold water over the ANC vote as “simply political posturing and would harm the interests of the many South Africans living both in Israel and Palestine … our government has left more than 25 000 citizens to fend for themselves in a war zone, without access to emergency consular services.’’

The South African chapter of the Boycott Disinvestment Sanction Coalition’s Roshan Dadoo, long-time champions of a full-blown trade boycott of Israel, has welcomed the diplomatic demarche: “There is no role for diplomacy with a settler-colonial apartheid state that is guilty of genocide against a population that it occupies. South Africa should not be having relations with a state that perpetrates war crimes with impunity and treats the United Nations, international law and the rest of the world with utter disdain.”

In the meantime, the war has claimed some big casualties. Indian-origin, right-winger home
secretary Suella Braverman got the boot from Conservative Party British prime minister Rishi Sunak, for dispatching an anti-migration letter from her personal email and attempting to force the police to ban the massive march of 300 000 pro-Palestine supporters in London; in Toronto, protesters hounded Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau out of a Chinese eatery; the United States’ Joe Biden is bluntly faced with: “No ceasefire, no votes’’ Batting down the middle wicket, India is bowling for a two-state settlement but has put its money where its mouth is – its air force carriers have delivered tons of humanitarian aid to the besieged Gaza Strip.

And finally, the last word: “Momma, why are they pointing guns at us?” The South African-led Gift of the Givers Foundation’s project manager in the West Bank, Hanin Bargouti, shared this traumatic moment with me from her five-year-old son, Hassan, each day when she takes him to school through the checkpoint turnstiles: “Insha Allah, we’re fighting for our freedom. Salam. We need peace.’’

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MARLAN PADAYACHEE is a still-practicing and seasoned journalist and photographer, former political, diplomatic and foreign correspondent, currently a media strategist, consulting editor, freelance journalist and publisher at MapMedia GreenGold Consulting (Pty) Limited; recipient, 2021 Ammen Award for Excellence in Media, member, International Federation of Journalists, Southern African Freelancers’ Association (SAFREA), SA National Editors’ Forum (SANEF), and Institute for the Advancement of Journalists, recipient, USIS International Visitor and British Council Fellow and Life Member, Global Organisation of People of Indian Origin (Gopio International), board member, RK Khan Hospital  (2001-2022).

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