22 June 2015
To the Young People of South Africa,
The Palestinian Students’ Campaign for the Academic Boycott of Israel (PSCABI) is a student body which is a part of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI). PSCABI calls upon all people, particularly students and the youth, all over the world to stand in solidarity with Palestinian students by boycotting Israeli academic institutions for their complicity in perpetuating Israel‘s illegal military occupation and apartheid system.
PASCBI notes with great disappointment that certain young South Africans have considered partaking in an arranged travel tour to Israel which is arranged and financed by the South Africa Israel Forum, the South African Zionist Federation and South African Friends of Israel. The purpose of this trip in the invitation to young leaders has been touted as an opportunity for “future leaders to come and experience for themselves the intricacies of life in the Middle East and Israel” and “to hear the concerns and achievements reached in safeguarding the rights and freedoms of the diverse communities living in Israel from top lecturers and keynote speakers”. The invitation also states that the young leaders “will be taken to different locations within Israel to get a better understanding of the political environment, threats, ambitions and results involved in the Middle East conflict” and furthermore posits that the “trip will create a platform for constructive debate after hearing fair and unbiased keynote speakers that will allow our guests to make informed decisions on the problems facing the Middle East conflict.”
We are firmly of the view that this trip is nothing more than a sanctions-‐busting junket similar to the 1980s junkets to apartheid South Africa organised by such groups as the South Africa Foundation (that operated in the United States of America) or the Strategy Network International (that operated in the United Kingdom) which specifically focused on trying to undermine the boycott of apartheid South Africa. The alleged intentions of the trip to Israel are disingenuous. It refers to the complicated nature of the issues involved. There is nothing complicated about injustice, oppression and occupation. These are simply moral evils.
From previous itineraries of similar trips arranged by the South Africa Israel Forum, the South African Zionist Federation and South African Friends of Israel, it is obvious that the list of destinations and speakers on such a trip are designed to provide a skewed view of Israel and the Israel-‐Palestinian issue. These young leaders will visit Tel-‐Aviv, certain parts of historic Jerusalem and religious sites, walk around European style markets, stores and avenues and engage with certain sectors of minority communities who have been co-‐ opted into Israel’s infrastructure of privilege and dispossession. It is no different to a trip that was organised for people to visit South Africa during the apartheid period. On this trip, visitors would be taken to South Africa’s gleaming white cities such as Johannesburg and Cape Town. These visitors would wander around sophisticated urban spaces replete with modern stores, restaurants and sprawling university complexes looking at buildings demonstrating modernity and commercial success. Places of non-‐Christian worship will be pointed out in the city centres as apartheid South Africa’s commitment to freedom of religion (without informing the visitors that the non-‐white adherents of these religious communities were expelled from the city to live in poorly resourced and far flung townships). Meetings would have also been arranged with the governing elite of the Bantustans and members of non-‐white communities who were co-‐ opted into the Tricameral Parliament in the 80’s for them to misinform the visitors about how great the apartheid government of South Africa was and how minority rights were protected and that the anti-‐ apartheid struggle was just an anti-‐white smear campaign against a just and liberal society. These guests would not have visited a single black township, witnessing acts of apartheid brutality towards the black population. They would not be informed of apartheid South Africa’s policies on arrest and torture and the lack of due process. They would not have noticed that black people were not permitted into white cities and spaces without a pass. They would have not been apprised of the unequal treatment and distribution of government spending towards different racial groupings. All of the same will be done on the trip to Israel. In short, it will be a sham to cover up discrimination, oppression and occupation and to break the boycott against Israel.
Visitors will not be taken by Palestinian anti-‐apartheid activists to the occupied Palestinian West Bank to observe the indignities that ordinary Palestinians face daily at routine check points and to witness the limitations on Palestinians freedom of movement. No trip to Hebron by Breaking the Silence will be planned for the young leaders to witness the overt discrimination and assaults that the Palestinians, the majority population of the town, are subjected to at the hands of bigoted settlers who receive the protection of the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF). The implications of Palestinians Wall on Palestinian life and its illegality will not be discussed. Visitors will not be briefed on the military presence in the occupied territories, the arbitrary arrest and torture of Palestinians, including minors, who receive no due process or fair trial and are incarcerated for prolonged periods of time. These young leaders will not interact with these oppressed Palestinians, listening to sad tales of dispossession and oppression, of their olive groves uprooted, their homes demolished and their schools damaged by settlers and the IDF. The guests will not be informed of the tremendous amount of resources spent on illegal Israeli settlements and the sparse resources made available to Palestinians. No mention will be made of the unequal rights which Israelis and Palestinians are entitled to. A trip to the Al-‐Aqsa mosque may take place, but the guides will be sure not to mention the restrictions that some Palestinians face regarding entrance to the site. Finally, these young leaders will not visit Gaza, a strip of densely populated Palestinian land that has been under siege and bombed indiscriminately by the IDF.
All whom the guests will interact with are individuals who have been co-‐opted by Israel, like apartheid South Africa’s Bantustan elites and members of its Tricameral Parliament. These young leaders will not visit Israeli human rights organisations such as B’Tselem or engage with Palestinian Christians from the largest Palestinian Christian organisations such as Sabeel or members of the Kairos Foundation. No arrangement will be made for guests to visit Al-‐Qaws to understand the challenges which queer Palestinians face.
It is clear that such trips only serve to distract from Israel’s egregious crimes against Palestinians and to break the boycott against Israel. As Palestinian students, who routinely suffer under Israel’s occupation and who are not provided with the same rights and opportunities which Israelis have, we do not welcome such trips as they seek to cover-‐up Israeli crimes and undermine the growing BDS campaign which Palestinian youth and students support. For young South Africans to partake in this trip would be an attack on our dignity and our struggle in the same way that such a trip during the period of South African apartheid would be disrespectful to the non-‐white population. Furthermore, it would be a departure from South Africa’s proud struggle legacy. We condemn this trip to Israel and call upon all young South Africans not to partake in a junket that only serves to further entrench discrimination, oppression and occupation.
Palestinian Students Campaign for the Academic Boycott of Israel (PSCBI)