Words Not Weapons | South African Jewish Voices for a Just Peace (JVJP)

by Oct 15, 2014Amandla Issue 35, Magazine

Many people within South Africa and the global Jewish community are determined in their attempts to portray the Jewish community as homogeneous and unified in their consensus in support of the Israeli government’s actions. We wish to add our voices to the growing number of Jewish people, in South Africa and globally, who disagree with this blind support for Israeli violence against a civilian population. We, South African Jewish Voices for a Just Peace, are proof that no such consensus exists.

We are diverse in background and perspective, and represent a broad cross-section of the South African community. What we have in common, however, is a firm belief in the core values of our Jewish tradition – peace, compassion and meaningful dialogue – as well as a commitment to speaking out against abuses of power and the perpetration of human suffering and injustice.

The escalating situation in the Gaza strip is a gross and unjustifiable affront to all of these values. The people of Gaza are refugees of the 1948 war. They have lived without freedom since this time, and have endured untold suffering under an illegal siege and harsh military occupation. They face the daily indignities of poverty, denied access to basic goods that free people enjoy and severe water and electricity shortages. Living under illegal occupation and blockade, those squeezed into this open-air prison are subjected to an endless and enforced misery.

The state of Israel, currently led by right-wing securocrats, will not negotiate with them in times of peace, because they have no urgent reason to. They will not negotiate with them in times of war, choosing weapons over words.

Whilst we reject the indiscriminate targeting of Israeli civilians by Hamas rocket fire, which is both morally wrong and illegal under international law, we believe that it is important to acknowledge the true context of Gaza in order to understand why some of its inhabitants have resorted to such desperate means.

Israel provoked this conflict, launching attacks on Palestinian leaders in apparent retaliation for a kidnapping to which Israeli police spokesperson Mickey Rosenfeld has admitted Israeli authorities knew Hamas wasn’t responsible for. This is a conflict of choice, not one of necessity.

In light of all of the above, we mourn deeply for the innocent children who have died, the families murdered, the civilians caught in the unceasing crossfire. We reject all association with these inhuman acts of cruelty and horror. No Jew, and no human being can in good conscience support this Israeli military aggression.

We hope for an enduring ceasefire and an end to this violence. More than that, though, we hope for a long-term peace in Israel and Palestine – a peace that can only be achieved through compassion, justice and redress, genuine negotiation and dialogue.

We are proud Jews with a conscience who object to acts of violence being carried out in our name. And we will not be silent in the face of such atrocities.

These past few weeks of intra-communal fighting could very well mark a tipping point in the struggle for dissent within the South African Jewish community. The numbers of those with a more critical outlook on Israel’s actions in the West Bank and Gaza are steadily increasing, despite remaining small in comparison to the mainstream community. A small space is being pried open where criticism of Israel by South African Jews can be heard. This has forced traditionally conservative structures to attempt to slightly moderate their positions.

In the past few days, both the head of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies and the chief rabbi of South Africa have issued calls to respect differing opinions. These statements are new and unusual. Before the Broomberg incident, there was no word from any formal structure on the right to a different opinion, the value of diverse views, or the need to maintain a civil discourse within the Jewish community. Instead, their unquestioning responses to the developments in Gaza bolstered contempt for those who dared to question their narrative.

Jewish Voices for a Just Peace (JVJP) is a group of Johannesburg and Cape Town Jews who wish to add our voices to the growing group of Jewish people around the world who dare to disagree with the blind support for Israeli violence against a civilian population. JVJP was born during the beginning of the ground invasion into Gaza. JVJP organised a picket to protest against the pro Israel rally and participated in a march in support of the people of Gaza in Cape Town. We are proudly Jewish and support the Jewish tradition of debate.

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