Published in Al Qalam newspaper
The Afro-Middle East Centre hosted its first international conference last week, bringing together key academics, activists and politicians, in a three day symposium entitled, “Locating Ethnic States in a Cosmopolitan World: the Case of Israel”. The conference, which took place in Pretoria, was targeted at the policy-making community.
The conference was initiated by Deputy Minister of International Relations, Ebrahim Ebrahim, who stressed that South Africa is willing to be engaged in seeking justice for Palestinians.
Each of the speakers who presented papers, are strong voices in the struggle for justice for Palestinians, amongst them, Avi Shlaim and Oren Yiftachel who are part of a small but growing and significant number of revisionist scholars emerging from within Israel.
Shlaim, is a renowned author and professor of International Relations at Oxford University. In a momentous decision, he announced that he no longer views a two-state solution for Israel/Palestine as viable, declaring that, “speaking about a two-state solution is like flagging a dead horse.” This is sure to have an impact in academic and policy-making circles, as Shlaim is not without influence. The professor, who is of Iraqi Jewish descent also called Zionism the “greatest PR success story of the 20th century” and urged Palestinians to be aggressive in bringing to the worlds attention the incessant strategy of force and violence used by the Zionists.
Yiftachel is a Professor at Ben-Gurion University in Beer-Sheva, Israeli university and also one of the board members of B’Tselem, an organization which, “endeavours to document and educate the Israeli public and policymakers about human rights violations in the Occupied Territories, combat the phenomenon of denial prevalent among the Israeli public, and help create a human rights culture in Israel.” He maintains a strong position against Israeli atrocities and for him, the solution lies in a confederation, where there would be freedom of movement, full democracy, one currency and where Jerusalem would be an autonomous, bi-national region.”
Other speakers included the well-known Dr Azzam Tamimi – who emphatically stated that Palestinians will never sit down and accept what has and is happening to them. He said, “The beginning of any process that is meaningful requires an acknowledgement of what has happened to the Palestinian people. The Zionists must acknowledge that they were wrong to make us pay for the atrocities of the Nazi’s.”
Professor Fouad Moughrabi, head of Political Science at the University of Tennessee, emphasized the importance of cultural resistance, through art, film and music, which keeps the memory and history of Palestine, and thus the struggle, alive.
Dr Jamal Zahalkha, an Israeli Arab Politician, who represents the Balad party, which he heads, in the Knesset, enlightened listeners about the realities of living as an Arab in Israel, including the difficulties faced in marriage, movement and freedom of expression.
Founder of “Electronic Intifada” and author of “One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse” Ali Abu Nimah called on all South Africans, particularly the South African government, to join the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement. Abunimah maintained that only an economic, academic and cultural embargo on the Zionist state would change the situation. Abunimah was passionate about the role that South Africans need to play, and stressed that it was essential that the South African government make a stand against the injustices perpetrated by the apartheid state of Israel as this would “create the momentum for more governments to join the civil society coalition”.
Rafik Abdus Salem of the Al Jazeera Centre for Studies was also a guest speaker at the conference. The Afro-Middle East Centre and the Al Jazeera Centre for Studies have entered into an affiliation to facilitate the sharing of information between the two institutes, and Al Jazeera also contributed to the funding of this conference.
Whilst the speakers differed on the exact nature of a solution to the conflict, it was unanimously agreed that justice for Palestinians is the main objective.
Local participants included prominent figures such as Professor Adam Habib, Professor Steven Friedman, leading member of the Palestinian Solidarity Committee in South Africa – Salim Vally and former Minister Ronnie Kasrils, who closed the conference with an appeal to the South African government to join the international community in the fight against Zionism. Kasrils reminded the crowd of former President Nelson Mandela’s words, “we South Africans cannot be free until the Palestinians are free.” The success of the conference was apparent by the dearth of follow-up offers made from the diplomatic community and the participants. It was obvious, from all the papers presented, that South Africa has important role to play in this struggle.