I am truly honoured to be invited back to speak you again. Shukran. Thank you, Imam Rashied Omar for the invitation. The past few months have been busy. I am deeply grateful for the financial support from some members of this Congregation. They made possible my attendance at three international conferences during the past four months dealing with nonviolent strategies for justice and world peace.
Although the world is in terrible turmoil – inshallah, God willing – now is the dark before the dawn. I pray and am hopeful that the world is on the brink of a new era in which we might even dream of the end to wars and their consequent devastation.
I would like to share with you the latest Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign strategy that has emerged from my participation in these three conferences. The BDS campaign is a nonviolent initiative modeled after our South African experiences in the 1980s. Its objective is to end the illegal Israeli occupation of the Palestine territories.
Apartheid South Africa and Israel during the 1970s and 1980s had a secret alliance. South Africa, to a large extent, paid for development of the Israeli war business when Israel was then teetering on bankruptcy. This now imposes upon South Africa a special responsibility to expose what has become a menace to the international community.
I returned to Palestine in June. We were four South Africans, part of a delegation of twenty internationals from eight countries meeting with the BDS committees in Ramallah and Nablus. These discussions were followed by meetings in Tel Aviv with the Israeli Coalition of Women for Peace.
We were briefed extensively about the Israeli arms industry which now exports to 130 countries, and which grotesquely boasts that Israeli weapons are battle-tested on Palestinians. The decision was made that we internationals should focus our BDS attention on Elbit Systems.
Elbit accounts for 45% of Israeli arms exports, and also has factories in the US, England, Australia, Brazil and other countries. Elbit leads the world in drone and surveillance technologies that have had such devastating impact on civilians (especially children) in Gaza, where almost two million people face genocide.
A few weeks after our conference in Palestine, five British peace activists in July occupied the Elbit factory near Birmingham, and closed it down for two days. The trial of these daringly bold activists was scheduled for September 13th.
On behalf of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign I wrote to the court asking for the charges to be dismissed. At my request, the Irish Nobel Peace Laureate Mairead Maguire also wrote to the court on behalf of the Nobel Laureates. We don’t know whether the court paid any heed to our letters, but the charges against three of the five were dropped. The case against the remaining two has been postponed until November so we are now planning the next interventions.
The Israeli lobby is panicking about the success of the BDS campaign. A bill presently before the US Senate would impose fines of up to US$1 million and imprisonment for up to 20 years for promoting BDS. Yet boycotts have a long and honourable history in the US – from the Boston Tea Party to the civil rights campaign – so the Bill has been severely criticized by constitutional lawyers as violating the First Amendment of the US Constitution.
Before the visit to Palestine, I had received an invitation to speak in August at a World Beyond War conference in Minneapolis. I then decided to accept that invitation, and to speak to an overwhelmingly American audience about Israeli apartheid and war crimes. My presentation in Minneapolis was well received, so I was invited back to Washington DC last month to speak on Divestment.
Even in war and gun-obsessed America, there is at last a beginning to understanding that weapons do not bring security. On the contrary, weapons and wars are now threatening the very survival of humanity. World Beyond War is an initiative of peace activists and environmentalists, and is closely associated with the Green Party.
Also resulting from my visit to Minneapolis, the cover of the new 2017 curriculum entitled “Study War No More” depicts the international war business wrapped in US dollar bills.
The “Resistance Broken AK-47” is the work of Ralph Ziman who left South Africa in 1983 as a conscientious objector, and is now a film producer in Hollywood. The photograph taken from a drone is of a 120 metre wheat-paste image on the Grand Parade in front of Cape Town’s City Hall. The image was created as public art in 2014, and graced the Parade for six weeks.
Ziman’s intention now is to place a permanent Broken AK-47 sculpture cast out of melted-down weapons in a prominent Cape Town position by this-time-next-year. He has already painted murals on walls in Manenberg and South Central Los Angeles.
With the hurricanes in Houston, Florida and Puerto Rico, even the Trump administration is having difficulty against overwhelming evidence in denying that the US war business has catastrophic consequences for the environment. World Beyond War is challenging myths that war is “natural” and inevitable, and that the US goes reluctantly to war to ensure the country’s defence and to bring peace and stability to the world.
The Study War No More curriculum can be downloaded from the internet. It is free of charge, but now needs to be taught in churches, mosques, synagogues, schools, colleges, and to politicians.
Just days before I left for Washington, we had the March to Parliament on September 13th in support of the Rohingyas in Myanmar. Thank you to those who participated, and to the organizers who did a fantastic job at such short notice. Thanks to media coverage, the message was even heard in Washington and in Tel Aviv.
A courageous Israeli human rights lawyer Eitay Mach, whom I met in Tel Aviv in June, has dedicated his life to exposing the human rights atrocities associated with Israeli weapons exports to the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, Rwanda, Myanmar and other countries. Perchance and to the huge embarrassment of the Israeli government, Mack’s court case exposing exports to Myanmar was already scheduled to be heard in a Tel Aviv court on September 25th.
Israeli arms companies including Elbit have been supplying the Myanmar military dictatorships since the 1950s. The Israeli Defence Department declared that these exports to Myanmar will continue, and claimed that the Tel Aviv court has no standing in the matter because it is a “diplomatic issue.” Making a mockery of the Israeli judicial system, the court prohibited publication of its verdict.
Israeli defiance of the international community, including US, EU and British arms embargoes to Myanmar, is not dissimilar to the arrogance we remember of the apartheid government during the 1980s.
Ironically, this now gives peace activists another opportunity to intervene in the resumed Elbit case in England in November. In addition in the US, where Elbit is listed on the Nasdaq stock exchange, and in the European Union where the SWIFT system in Brussels authenticates interbank financial transfers.
SWIFT is essentially a giant computer that links 11 000 banks in over 200 countries. We at the PSC are seeking an EU order requiring SWIFT to suspend financial transfers to and from Israeli banks until the Israeli government meets stipulated conditions set by the BDS movement, namely:
- The immediate release of all Palestinian political prisoners,
- The end of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank (including East Jerusalem and Gaza), and that Israel will dismantle the apartheid wall,
- Recognition of the fundamental rights of Arab-Palestinians to full equality in Israel-Palestine, and
- Acknowledgement of the right of return of Palestinian refugees.
Israel has so far got away with its apartheid, war crimes and genocide simply because it does the dirty work for the US war business and NATO in destabilizing the Middle East and Africa. Israeli banks are an essential element in laundering the financial proceeds into the Israeli economy of weapons exports and related plunder of natural resources in Myanmar, the DRC, Angola, Zimbabwe and other countries.
The objective of SWIFT sanctions is to balance the scales between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators so that — in contrast to the discredited and failed “peace process” — meaningful discussions can proceed.
Focussing the BDS campaign on Elbit is part of the nonviolent BDS strategy not just to isolate the Israeli government, but also to weaken a venal industry that perpetuates and profits from wars and instability all over the world. Major financial institutions such as the Norwegian Pension Fund and Barclays Bank have already divested from Elbit because they do not want the reputational damage of being associated with such a notorious company.
Finally, may I encourage members of this Congregation to join the Palestine Solidarity Campaign? The PSC needs more members to bring the BDS message to Parliamentarians and the media, and to expose Zionist smears of anti-Semitism as simply a smokescreen to obscure the realities of Israeli war crimes and crimes against humanity.
We meet monthly in Rochester Road, Salt River, and are a secular organization of Muslims, Jews, Christians and people of no faith who are united in the belief expressed by President Nelson Mandela that South Africa will only be truly free when Palestine is free.