Hamas-supporting mob ‘an assault on human rights’
“I’ve never experienced such vile violence and antisemitism in my life,” said Jonathan Cohen*, who was attacked on the Sea Point promenade last Sunday, 12 November. Cohen was strangled, kicked, hit, scratched, dragged, maligned, and almost pushed into the ocean by violent extremists targeting a prayer gathering for Israel.
The extremists, who didn’t have a permit to hold a protest, descended on Sea Point after politician Mandla Mandela called for people to disrupt the prayer gathering when he was speaking at an anti-Israel march in Cape Town the previous day.
The co-ordinator of the prayer gathering, Vivienne Myburgh, says, “They broke a 75-year-old man’s finger. They threatened to shoot a woman. They stabbed a man in the arm. There were knives and guns. They burned a prayer shawl [tallis] and Israeli flags with glee. I tried to grab destroyed posters and flags, but the police told me, ‘Your life is worth more than this’, so I had to leave them.” Cohen, whose real name has been withheld for his security, was attacked by a mob who surrounded him shouting “Allahu Akbar!”
“The mob kept pushing forward, and the police weren’t able to hold them back,” he says. “It felt as though they were trying to push us into the ocean. This is when the chant, ‘From the river to the sea’ developed a new, frightening dimension in my mind. They screamed, ‘Viva Hamas!’, ‘Murderers!’ and ‘Hitler didn’t kill all of you guys just so that we could all see exactly why he did it.’ This was along with swear words, insults, and threats of bodily harm. I was hit on the head, and they grabbed at my Israel flag scarf.
“When I resisted, they began to kick, drag, scratch, and grab at me. A crowd of about 70 or so people were trying to get to me. I was whisked into a car of a Christian couple who drove me to safety. I want this story to be heard to unmask the terrifying nature of censure brought on by Pagad [People Against Gangsterism and Drugs] and some of the pro-Palestinian supporters, and for an end to be put to this aggression,” says Cohen. “My hope is that we can counter their intention to cower us Jews into silence.”
Pagad National Co-ordinator Haroon Orrie, wearing a Hamas headband and speaking outside Sea Point police station after the arrests, said, “These brothers have been unjustly incarcerated by the Zionist protectors of this country. We see how they’ve persecuted us in these courts under the instruction of the Zionist regime of the world. The time for action is here. We share one objective: to rid this country of Zionism.
“They want to weaken us, because they don’t want us to come here [to Sea Point], week after week,” said Orrie. “[These men] haven’t committed a crime! They were provoked!” Earlier, in Sea Point, he said that the people of Gaza were crying out, “Save us from this nation! Save us from this community [implying the Jewish community]!” He also said, “If you want to support the Zionist state of Israel, don’t think you can walk freely in this country.”
Police dispersed extremists using stun grenades and water cannons. South African Police Service (SAPS) Western Cape media liaison, Warrant Officer Joseph Swartbooi, told the SA Jewish Report, “Sea Point SAPS registered four criminal cases for further investigation. Three suspects were arrested and detained on a charge of public violence and made a court appearance in the Cape Town Magistrate’s Court on 13 November. Sea Point police are also investigating offences in terms of the Regulations of Gatherings Act and two counts of assault.” Two firearms were seized.
Those arrested were released on bail around midnight on 12 November, and the charges were dropped.
Extremists in Sea Point wore Hamas headbands; “Death to Zionists” t-shirts; and raised Hamas, Hezbollah and ISIS (Islamic State) flags. Outside the police station after the arrests, Pagad spokesperson Cassiem Parker said ISIS had no connection with the Palestinian cause, and implied that the ISIS flags were planted in the crowd.
Myburgh says they expected 2 000 to 3 000 people to join their prayer gathering. “SAFI [South African Friends of Israel] condemns the forced shutdown of the Concerned Clergy Western Cape’s prayer rally,” says SAFI spokesperson Bafana Modise. “Intervention by SAPS became necessary arising from Hamas supporters assailing the police with projectiles.
“Video footage of this gross violation of South African human rights is available,” Modise said. “Witness accounts confirm that Christian women were physically assaulted. SAFI condemns this violent disrespect of South Africans’ right to freedom of speech and peaceful assembly. This comes after physical assaults on Christians outside Parliament last week.”
“Hamas, known for suppressing freedom of speech in other parts of the world, seems to have influenced its supporters on South African soil,” Myburgh says. “One Hamas supporter interviewed on SABC refused to condemn the actions of the mob, stating that ‘any Israeli flag is not welcome in South Africa’, and that they should be ‘burned’.”
Cape Town Mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis condemned the violent extremists, saying, “This violence deserves the condemnation of all Capetonians who value free expression in our open democracy.”
Daniel Bloch, the executive director of the Cape South African Jewish Board of Deputies, says, “Hamas supporters think it’s their right to threaten and harass Jews and Christians in this country. Does our government condone these infringements on South African rights and these violent protests?”
Said conflict resolution specialist Andre Vlok, “I believe we saw the poorly hidden hands of a few individuals and groups, either having common cause or working in support of their own agendas. For example, it’s no secret that the city administration and local government have political enemies who would seek to benefit from any errors made by local government and law enforcement agencies.”
Mark Shaw, the author of the recently released book Breaking the Bombers: How the Hunt for Pagad Created a Crack Police Unit, says, “While Pagad has now effectively split into two, the core group of the original Pagad, who seem to have taken the lead here, have a demonstrated history of violence including being linked to the bombings of the late 1990s and early 2000s.
“After the bombings of civilian and state targets and the assassination of state officials [in the 1990s], they lost community support. I think they see this period as a chance to build mass support again. Taking the lead at the police station after arrests is a classic example of that.
“The rhetoric also unsurprisingly targets the state as ‘Zionist protectors’ – a classic Pagad sleight of hand used in the past. Though it’s possible that they will resort to violence, I think they understand that the state wouldn’t tolerate it. We can expect more inflammatory rhetoric.”
Vlok says the presence of ISIS, Hamas, and Hezbollah flags and regalia “is clearly designed to inflame already emotional situations. Above all, we find the possibility of sheer antisemitism. It’s an age-old conflict truism that people rally around flags and symbols, and if you want an enemy, you need to provide some of these symbols for your followers.”
*Not his real name. Name withheld for security reasons.