It is our tragedy that bigotry blinds us to the truth; yet we unashamedly publicly parade this bigotry as fact – as is the case with Allan Wolman’s letter (Middle East problems not ours, 9/9/2016 SEE BELOW). I attended the event on settler colonialism in Israel, held symbolically at a monument to ethnic cleansing by another settler colonial entity – the District Six Museum. A panel of ‘Palestinian Israeli’s’ – those who live within the borders of the state of Israel, established through violence and ethnic cleansing in 1948 – addressed us from personal and painful experiences not dissimilar to ours, surrounded by memories of District Six. Two of the participants from ADRID, an organisation for internally displaced Palestinians, simply and without rancour recounted how they were forced from their ancestral villages by Zionist militias prior to 1948 and forced to relocate elsewhere. In Lubya, and there were thousands of such villages, over 3000 residents were ethnically cleansed and forced to settle in Gaza, neighbouring countries and a few inside Israel. Nayif Hujjo described how his family had to sleep in the open for months just two kilometers from Lubya, but were prevented from returning by armed militia, and had to live under military curfew for many years thereafter. Many years later when they were allowed to go close to Lubya they noticed newly planted trees obliterating their village.
The Zionist strategy to erase any memory of ethnically cleansed villages was achieved by planting forests over razed villages. Such forests were funded and promoted by the Jewish National Fund (JNF), a quasi-governmental organisation which receives funding from both the Israeli government and Jewish communities around the world, and controls land exclusively for Jewish use. The JNF masks its role in ethnic cleansing under the guise of environmental agency, as it does locally in South Africa. Another symbolism of this meeting was that the forest erasing the village of Lubya is called the South African Forest – where South African Jewry funded ethnic cleansing in Israel.
Last year members of the SA Jews for a Free Palestine (SAJFP) took about 300 signed letters from South African Jews to the citizens of Lubya apologizing for the role played by South African Jewry in their displacement. This symbolic apology, reminiscent of our own TRC, was also about acknowledging and embracing a painful history. The current visit was in reciprocation of that visit. Needless to say, and not unlike South Africa, Palestinians seek land restitution.
Wolman vilifies SAJFP as ‘an outspoken anti-Israel fringe group’ – rather than a courageous group acknowledging the truth of history and apologizing for their community’s complicity. SAJFP should however take comfort that Jewish anti-apartheid activists were similarly ostracized by their community at the time, but embraced today out of expedience, but also the triumph of truth.
At the same meeting Advocate Myssana Morany from human rights organisation Adalah documented the continued ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in Israel where Bedouin communities are being forcibly removed from their ancestral lands in the Negev to make way for exclusive Jewish settlements. Ethnic cleansing did not end in 1948 or begin in 1967 – it is a daily experience of Palestinians.
Our struggles for Palestinian rights, Zimbabwean rights, or the rights of the Baha’i community, for example, do not blind us to our local struggles. We see them all as an undifferentiated struggle for human rights and a just, inclusive and more humane world. We hope that those like Alan Wollman will actively join us in all of these struggles rather than exploit a local issue to mask their support for injustice elsewhere. Lubya is testament to the inter-relatedness of our struggles. I implore your readers to watch the sensitively documented history of Lubya, aptly titled The Village under the Forest by Mark Kaplan and Heidi Grunebaum, which was the winner of the Audience Award for Best South African Film at Encounters Documentary Festival. Readers can view and then judge Wollman’s churlishness (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ISmj31rJkGQ).
Open Shuhada Street