Letters to the editor

PO Box 4176, Cape Town, 8000 or e-mail:chron@ctjc.co.za

Annexation article problematic

In her View from the Chair in the August issue of the Cape Jewish Chronicle Esta Levitas provides a false narrative supporting Israeli annexation of illegally settled areas of the West Bank.

Levitas maintains that the entire West Bank belongs to the State of Israel. Supporting Israeli sovereignty over the West Bank via manipulated narratives is a dubious position. Many Israel supporting South Africans are concerned that the SAZF has adopted this illegal proposition which places our community at a disadvantage in defending Israel.

Although annexation has currently been withdrawn as an active policy option, the Settler Movement in Israel remains a strong political force and the Government continues to provide substantial resources to Israeli settlements designed to create ‘facts on the ground’ by displacing Palestinians. It is therefore important to understand that illegal settlements pose an ongoing threat to the standing and security of the State of Israel including its democratic nature.

There is no question that the Israeli occupation is illegal.

Here are the facts: –

The internationally recognised borders of the State of Israel are the armistice lines of 1949. (Green Line)

In 1967 Israel occupied the West Bank and began to illegally establish settlements in violation of the 4th Geneva Convention. This despite its own legal advice, (The Meron Opinion) as well as UN Security Resolution 242 of 1967, which made clear the “inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war”.

More recently UN Security Council Resolution 2334 of 2016 affirmed that the settlement on all land occupied by Israel in 1967 is illegal. UN Security Council Resolutions are binding under international law. Any discussion regarding the West Bank has to take this reality into account.

Levitas ignores this reality. Her story reverts to post WW1 treaties where victorious Colonial Powers divided up territory from the defeated Ottoman Empire. Incongruously, she interprets these agreements to assign ownership of the West Bank to Israel. This is inaccurate. Then and now.

The Balfour Declaration (1917) espoused “the establishment in Palestine of a National Home for the Jewish people” without prejudice to “the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine”. Balfour was incorporated into the San Remo Conference. The result was not a Jewish state. It gave Britain a sole Mandate to govern Palestine. In fact, the British government confirmed that the words “in Palestine” meant that the Jewish National Home was not intended to cover all of Palestine. The British Mandate ended in 1948, the State of Israel was born and thus superseded all prior colonial arrangements including San Remo and Balfour. Levitas’ reference to post WW1 treaties as applicable to the present day is disingenuous to say the least.

Perhaps the most glaring failure of the Levitas View is the dismissal of Palestinian rights by asserting “there is no Palestinian nation, nor has there ever been”. Dismissing Palestinian rights violates Balfour itself. As Jews we must reject this terrible denial of the identity of another people. JDI requests that the SAZF disassociates itself from this particularly egregious comment.

The State of Israel represents all Jews. Facts matter, human rights, equality, justice and dignity matter.

JDI looks forward to a time when we can support the Fed without compromising these values.

Basil Dubb – on behalf of Va’ad Poel, JDI (Jewish Democratic Initiative)

Right of reply by Ben Levitas

In her View from the Chair, Esta Levitas quoted me and therefore I will reply.

The SAZF Cape Council agrees with JDI that “facts matter” and that “human rights, justice and dignity matter”. I hold that the historical facts I presented are correct and that at no time has the SAZF undermined the rights of any group or religion in Israel or elsewhere. When I say “that there is no Palestinian nation nor has there ever been” I mean what I say. Before 1948, when ‘Palestine’ was mandated to Britain the Jews living in ‘Palestine’ were considered ‘Palestinian’ and many of the founding fathers of Israel carried ‘Palestinian’ identity documents. The notion of ‘Palestinian’ referred to all the inhabitants of British Mandated Palestine, inclusive of Jews. The riots against Jews in 1929 and 1936 were known as ‘Arab’ riots not ‘Palestinian’.

In fact, the first Palestinian independence movement (PLO) was only created in 1963, by Yasser Arafat, who was born in Egypt. The PLO was formed well before ‘the occupation’, which proves that the conflict has nothing to do with the ‘occupation’. This does not mean that I, or the SAZF in any way deny or diminish the rights of the ‘Palestinian’ citizens of Israel to full participation in Israeli society, or even deny them the right to their own future statehood. In fact, the official standpoint of the Zionist Federation is for a two-state solution to preserve the very democratic and judicial rights that JDI are concerned about.

When Balfour, the British Foreign Secretary in 1917 promised the Jews a home ‘in Palestine’ the area of Palestine included the East and West Banks of the Jordan River. The East Bank was ceded to the Hashemite Kingdom for political reasons in 1921. JDI allege that ‘in Palestine’ was meant to exclude the ‘East’ and ‘West Bank’. The ‘West Bank’ was illegally occupied by Jordan after the war of independence in 1948 and not recognised by any states. Jordan immediately destroyed the Hadassah Hospital on Mt Scopus, the Jewish Quarter in the ‘Old City’ and razed all the synagogues to the ground.

Our major divergence of opinion with JDI relates to the way they view the areas which Israel conquered during the Six Day War. JDI sees them as ‘occupied’ whereas I prefer the appellation ‘Judea and Samaria’ which recognises the only times in their history when they existed as sovereign entities. JDI doesn’t even acknowledge them to be ‘disputed territories’! JDI only acknowledges the views of the United Nations, which is anything but democratic and known for its anti-Israel agenda. The General Assembly of the United nations is a tyranny of the majority, which overlooks and crushes the rights of minorities, like the Kurds, Crimean’s or Tibetans and therefore it is hardly an example for JDI to uphold as a protector of human rights.

JDI ignores all the many offers that Israel has made to surrender the ‘occupied territories’ in return for peace. JDI ignores all the negations of Israel’s right to exist. JDI blames only Israel, and keeps encouraging the ‘rejectionists’ by continuing to appease them. The ‘Palestinians’ have walked away from the negotiating table every time there have been peace talks and been rewarded for their steadfastness to make any concessions on the critical issues, such as the rights of Palestinian descendants to return to Israel.

JDI states as a categorical fact that “there is no question that Israeli occupation is illegal”. I challenge this. The Trump administration does not think it illegal. Many International legal experts do not think it illegal, particularly because the ‘West Bank’ belonged to no state. The majority of Knesset members do not think the ‘territories’ are illegal. Why does JDI challenge the democratic wishes of Israeli citizens?

JDI claims that the internationally recognised borders of Israel are the armistice lines of 1949. Can they name one Arab state that recognised these borders before 1979? JDI twists the interpretation of the 4th Geneva Convention to apply to Israel’s ‘occupation’ which is entirely erroneous, as Israel was attacked and inadvertently ended up being an occupier while defending itself.

Surely JDI needs to acknowledge that unilateral withdrawal as Israel did in Gaza, has had catastrophic consequences for Israel? While JDI professes to love democracy, I would presume it supports Israel negotiating with a corrupt Palestinian faction Fatah, whose leader denies the Holocaust.The other faction, Hamas, denies Israel’s right to exist, and is committed to Israel’s destruction. Israel has been struggling for eight decades to find a brave and credible partner amongst the Palestinians, with whom it can negotiate.

JDI fails to give credence to Israel’s Declaration of Independence which acknowledges the human and democratic rights of all its citizens. The SAZF views Zionism as a human rights movement and is fully in sync with Israel’s commitment to democracy and civil liberties. Israel has remained committed to preserve and defend these rights through great adversity and will continue to do so.

JDI should sing Israel’s praises as it is undeniably the only democratic state in the Middle East that upholds all the human values that our proud Jewish tradition teaches us.

The Cape Jewish Chronicle deems this matter to have been adequately handled with fairness to all parties concerned and no further letters on this topic will be published at this time. The CJC remains committed to ensuring that all voices are heard and that all our communal organisations feel they have a place in our publication.

Opinions expressed in this paper do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editorial Board or its sponsoring bodies. Letters submitted anonymously will not be printed. However, by agreement, the name may be withheld in the publication. Letters are published subject to space being available.

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