South African Jews call for ceasefire in Gaza

“We are a diverse group of South African Jews who are dismayed by the situation that is unfolding in Israel and Palestine”

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A protester at a pro-Palestinian march in Cape Town on 1 November holds up a poster to police. Photo: Ashraf Hendricks

An open letter signed by more than 500 South African Jews calls for an immediate ceasefire between Israel and Palestine.

“We are a diverse group of South African Jews who are dismayed by the situation that is unfolding in Israel and Palestine. Through it, the world has witnessed a catastrophic loss of life, and indeed, a loss of humanity. We mourn every life lost: Palestinian and Israeli,” the signatories write.

The letter also called for an end to the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories and for “the release of all hostages and detainees unjustly held both in Gaza and in Israeli prisons”.

Anthony Hodgson, who helped draft the letter, said that the process had been lengthy. They organised a meeting where they invited people who hold “different views and positions within the local Jewish community”, wrote several drafts, received feedback on the drafts, and tried to incorporate as much of it as possible.

“Among the people who signed this, they have vastly different views for a long-term solution. It’s clear from the communication we’ve had that people’s motivations for signing or endorsing are very different,” said Hodgson.

“The global call for Palestine solidarity has emphasised the need for as many people as possible to call for a ceasefire,” he said.

One of the signatories of the letter is veteran journalist Anton Harber. “I signed this letter because in the midst of all the hate-filled din from extremists from both sides, we need to reassert our shared humanity, the knowledge that Judaism values life above all else. We need to strengthen the voices of peace which are being drowned out by the extremists. We need to push back the war-mongers. That is why I signed,” he wrote.

Another signatory, Lisa Seftel, wrote: “The millions of people all over the world who have marched, petitioned and protested to support the call for a ceasefire and the cause of the Palestinian people need to be saluted. For South African Jews to make common cause with this call, as this statement does, is important in the face of increasing polarisation and the equation of Zionism and Judaism. The tragic events since 7 October, have demonstrated again that the future of this world is indivisible – we are all affected and we should endeavour to do what is in our means to pressurise for peace.”

Similar open letters have been published by members of South Africa’s Jewish community in response to past conflicts in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, such as this one in 2021.

Meanwhile, nearly 300 members of Stellenbosch University, many of them senior academics, have also signed a letter condemning the attacks on civilians in the conflict. “As members of the Stellenbosch University community, we join with countless organisations, NGOs, institutions, and governments around the world in calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza,” they wrote.

Thousands killed in conflict

Israel has controlled the Occupied Palestinian Territories – the West Bank and Gaza – since 1967. From 2008 until 6 October more than 6,400 Palestinians and over 300 Israelis had been killed in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (source: OCHA). Most of the Palestinian casualties before the current war occurred in Israeli military operations on Gaza in 2008 and 2014. (See this timeline on Al Jazeera.)

From the beginning of 2023 to 6 October, the OCHA reports that 237 Palestinians had been killed and 30 Israelis.

On 7 October 2023, Hamas militants entered Israel and killed approximately 1,200 people according to the Israeli government, mostly civilians and of many different nationalities, including Palestinians living in Israel. Hamas has called this Operation Al-Aqsa Flood. Israel responded with what it has called Operation Swords of Iron, a military bombardment and subsequent ground assault on Gaza.

As of Sunday night more than 11,000 people, including more than 4,500 children and more than 3,000 women, in Gaza have been killed. This is according to the Gaza health ministry. But as the Financial Times explains, the ministry “said it was having ‘significant difficulties’ in compiling the data due to communications blackouts in the territory and it estimated that a further 3,000 citizens were missing or under the rubble of buildings destroyed in fighting”.

The Financial Times further reports: “The ministry on Monday described al-Shifa [hospital complex] as being under a ‘complete siege’, saying there were more than 100 bodies that were beginning to decompose and there was ‘the smell of corpses’ everywhere. It said that 8,000 displaced people were sheltering at al-Shifa, but there was no food or fresh water.”

Human Rights Watch has accused Israel and Palestinian armed groups of “war crimes during the current hostilities”. The organisation states: “Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups deliberately killed hundreds of civilians in Israel on October 7, 2023, and took more than 200 hostage. Israel then cut electricity, fuel, food and water to Gaza’s population and severely curtailed life-saving humanitarian aid, all of which are acts of collective punishment.”

Human Rights Watch has also called for countries supplying arms to Israel and Palestinian militias to stop doing so or risk being complicit in war crimes.

Detainees and hostages

The Israeli justice system’s approach to Palestinians is too complex a subject to describe in any detail in this article. Thousands of Palestinians, tried by military courts, are serving time in Israeli prisons. Furthermore, as of 6 October there were over 1,200 Palestinian administrative detainees in Israel. Under Israeli law they can be held indefinitely without facing trial or any charges (see Al Jazeera article on this).

In the Hamas attack of 7 October, over 200 Israelis, mostly civilians, as well as a few foreign nationals, were abducted and are being held hostage in the Gaza Strip. Hamas has demanded the release of Palestinian prisoners in exchange for the hostages.

Since then, according to Palestinian officials, numerous Palestinians have been arrested by Israel, nearly doubling the number of incarcerated Palestinians in Israel to over 10,000, reports Al Jazeera.

TOPICS:  Israel-Palestine

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