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The Jewish Report Editorial

Your reality and mine

  • GeoffEditorial
The age-old saying that the first casualty in any war is the truth, applies equally today. One victim of the past two weeks in Israel is the sense that we actually understand what is going on - that our perception of reality is close to the truth.
by GEOFF SIFRIN | Jul 16, 2014

Start with miniscule Israel, in which borders with hostile enemy territory are all almost within spitting distance, including its central hub, Tel Aviv. An article in Ha’aretz by a Tel Aviv resident tells how that city, regarded by many Israelis as “another country” or “the state of Tel Aviv”, suddenly almost became part of Israel because Hamas’ rockets from Gaza actually reached it; sirens sounded and residents had to move into stairwells and other safe spots.

But, says the writer, “…Friday, sirens and rockets notwithstanding, the line at midday in the supermarket on Ibn Gabirol was as long as usual, and the streets were just as busy. Early on Saturday morning the old-timers and die-hards were marching briskly along the Mediterranean promenade as they always had done, literally taking the situation in their stride.”

Tel Avivians continued sipping their cappuccinos, as if 1 000 rockets weren’t being fired on Israel, the IDF wasn’t bombing Gaza and some 170 Gazans hadn’t been killed. War? What war?

South African Jews with relatives and friends in Israel have watched television and computer screens in alarm, seeing smoke trails of rockets hurtling skywards from Gaza towards Israel, and worried about their loved ones amidst the chaos. But in fact there hasn’t been much chaos and Israeli life has gone on pretty much as normal.

No doubt, one reason is the incredibly successful Iron Dome rocket defence system and the IDF’s sophistication, which have allowed Tel Avivians and others to continue business as usual. Of course, there’s always the possibility things could get worse and the “war” might actually become the reality.

For South African Jews, the reason for the current round of hostilities seems obvious and clear: three Israeli teens were kidnapped and killed, a Palestinian teen was killed in response, Hamas began firing hundreds of rockets from Gaza, and Israel had no choice but to respond to protect its citizens. It didn’t want this conflict and indicated repeatedly that if the rockets stopped, the IDF would stand down.

The chain of events was so clear-cut, even people in the ANC and others traditionally hostile towards Israel, would understand it that way, even against the backdrop of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land, which they saw as the reason for all attacks on Israel.

But it isn’t so simple. ANC Deputy Secretary General Jessie Duarte issued a statement talking only about the brutal Israeli attack on Gaza targeting innocent civilians, implicitly suggesting Israeli actions to be Nazi-like, - “we… are reminded of the atrocities of Nazi Germany: surely we must ask the people of Israel has the term ‘lest we forget’ lost it[s] meaning?” - and not even mentioning Hamas or the rockets. As if the Israelis had got out of bed one morning and said: “Let’s go and bomb Gaza!”

Jewish organisations, predictably, went ballistic, calling on her - and the ANC - to retract and apologise for her statements which were “abhorrent and beyond the pale of civilised discourse”.

ANC Secretary-General Gwede Mantashe said pretty much the same thing as Duarte to the Jewish Report: It’s all about Israel bombing and killing innocent people in Gaza. He didn’t seem to even hear the questions about Israel trying to protect its citizens from 1 000 Hamas rockets.

Mantashe and Duarte are not fools and aren’t shy of telling the truth as they understand it. So, what is reality? Are they simply playing politics with the truth and looking to the next election, making sure their words appeal to South African Muslim voters, who far outnumber the country’s paltry 70 000 Jews? In this reality, Israel must always be cast as the villain, never as the party on the defensive.

There is little chance that these different perceptions of “reality” will ever coincide. All we can hope for is that a framework for peace will one day be agreed on, so the differences can be expressed through talking and arguing, rather than killing.

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