The silence, or the cheering on, this week by some governments and individuals, of the worst slaughter of Jewish people since the Holocaust has been shocking and sickening.
At the time of writing, unimaginable images and accounts continue to emerge of the butchering, burning alive, decapitation, mass rape, mutilation, and kidnapping on the weekend by Hamas insurgents of almost five thousand people in Israel. Victims included babies — medical examiners confirming that some had been decapitated.
Among the dead and hostages were also foreign nationals from 23 countries who happened to be working or traveling in the vicinity of the attack.
Yet instead of being outraged by a human atrocity and war crime some have declined to condemn Hamas’ actions. Among them the ANC which issued a statement effectively saying that Hamas’ calculated murder of mostly unarmed civilians was “unsurprising” considering the occupation of the Palestinian people with whom it stood. Meanwhile the South African government, though calling for peace, demanded the resurrection of the very same two-state solution that has been on offer five times and has been rejected five times by Arab countries and Palestinian leaders.
Adding to these statements was a third from the Anglican Diocese of Cape Town referring to the “scourge of the Zionist state” and the impossibility of “peace without justice”.
Nowhere in the statement was a single word that decried the barbarous depravity visited upon thousands of Jewish people and yet unquantified number of other nationals. One can only conclude that the writers of all three statements are breathtakingly ignorant, brainwashed or rabidly antisemitic.
Let us be clear, nobody, NOBODY, wants to see the Palestinian people suffer. Nobody is suggesting that their difficulties or aspirations are not important. And nobody is saying that the Israeli authorities or their policies are above reproach. But it would be a mistake to conflate the actions and motives of those in the South African liberation struggle with the behaviour and ideology of Hamas.
For one thing, the struggle against apartheid was based on the principles spelt out in the Freedom Charter. These were values of democracy, equal rights, freedom, friendship, and non-racism. Included were the inspiring words: “We pledge ourselves to strive together, sparing neither strength nor courage, until the democratic changes set here out have been won.”
Hamas, on the other hand, has no such values. It is avowedly Islamist with its roots in the transnational Muslim Brotherhood, together with entities such as al Qaeda and the Islamic State. Its fight is primarily a religious one aimed at establishing an Islamist state and enforcing religious dominance. And far from religious freedom of expression, its founding charter expresses the desire to obliterate both Jewish people and the Jewish state. In no way can Hamas jihadis be compared to the national liberation heroes who strove to build South Africa’s democracy for all. In fact, for jihadists the imperative is to enforce their interpretation of Islam upon the world.
This has been the case for Hamas ever since it took control of the Gaza Strip in 2007. That it still controls the strip is something seemingly diminished by those who present Gaza as “the world’s largest open-air prison’’. But in reality, Israel pulled out of Gaza unilaterally in 2005. Two years later Hamas took control and then proceeded to turn Gaza into a launchpad for rockets fired onto Israel’s civilian population. This, by the way, is a violation of the international laws of war for non-international armed conflict. These laws require that a distinction be made between soldiers and civilians – something that Hamas fails to do.
While is also true that Israel blockades Gaza’s perimeters, this is necessitated by the ongoing importation of missiles and their components by Hamas and the Islamic Jihad. These are then shot at Israelis living less than one kilometre over the border.
Still on the topic of Israelis across the border, it bears mentioning that these are neither “settlers” nor “neo-colonialists”. On this history is clear. Jews have inhabited the region for more than three centuries. Included in their ancient domain were the cities of Jerusalem and Hebron. These cities are inhabited by Jews to this day. These descendants of an ancient people who still speak their ancient language are no more “settlers” or “neo-colonialists” than the Khoisan are settlers in South Africa.
Another aspect in which Hamas is at odds with South African values is in the treatment of women. In its male-dominated culture women and girls must conform to a “modesty code” so strict that they may not ride bicycles. But the truly frightening depths of this misogyny came to the surface on Saturday when the first act of armed Hamas insurgents after breaching the border fence was to rape and kidnap scores young women attending a music festival. Not one, but many reports have emerged of young Israeli women and foreign nationals being brutalised and/or killed. Some of the survivors have reappeared in footage shot in Gaza, in which blood can reportedly be seen gushing from between their legs. In one particularly grim case the smashed body of a 22-year-old German national was placed into the back of an open vehicle and sat on and spat on by armed Hamas thugs who were being driven through the streets.
For many people such levels of depravity beggar belief, but the evidence is not hidden. Instead, footage, some of it taken by the perpetrators themselves, has been shared widely on social media, and in some instances, celebrated.
Shared ideology with ISIS
These rapes bring us back to Hamas’ shared ideology with ISIS. Who can ever forget the well-documented accounts of the abduction and rape of Yazidi girls and women by ISIS fighters, who then proceeded to auction some of these hostages as sex slaves at markets.
As if that’s not enough ISIS’s shared ideology with Hamas was made even plainer still this week by Abu Ubaida, the leader of Izz ad Din al Qassam Brigade, the armed wing of Hamas, who threatened: “We will execute each hostage if provoked”. These executions would also be televised, he added. The last time that the world heard taunts such as these was from Isis threatening to decapitate its prisoners on live TV, and then proceeding to do exactly that.
As South Africans – and especially as Christ followers – we cannot be apologists for deranged behaviour. As a freedom-loving nation we dare not cover, condone, or wink at barefaced evil when it manifests and stares us in the eye. Just as the authors of the Freedom Charter made it their responsibility to find courage and strength, we too must find the courage to speak truth into every situation.
No matter how it hurts, we must extend our gaze beyond our personal struggle history and refuse to be manipulated into unequal or unhealthy partnerships, always remembering the words of Martin Niemöller:
First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out — because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me.
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