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Mayfair a one-way street of Israel hatred

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You may have driven along Johannesburg roads like Vilakazi Street and Beyers Naudé Drive, named after a distinguished Zulu poet and Afrikaner anti-apartheid activist respectively. Now, you can drive on Palestinian Street, as Krause Street in Mayfair, Johannesburg, has been nicknamed.

About 50 graffiti messages that are pro-Palestine or anti-Israel have been painted on the wall along this street. The messages include “Israel has no history – only a criminal record”, and “Barbaric apartheid Israel kills women and children to steal Palestine land!”

“It’s terrible,” says SA Jewish Report photographer Ilan Ossendryver. He came across the graffiti as he often goes to Mayfair to buy spices. “Mayfair used to have a shul and was a very Jewish area, so I also drive there to look around,” Ossendryver says.

He says the graffiti appears to have been painted recently with Royal Paints paint, and the painters might be a group of people from Fordsburg who were doing a lot of street signage.

Craig Pantanowitz, the deputy chairperson of the South African Zionist Federation, says the paintings “promote a one-sided narrative that ignores the complexities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Painting Israel as a villain while disregarding the historical context and the legitimate security concerns faced by the nation, and ignoring the crimes of Hamas and the plight of the hostages undermines efforts to find a peaceful resolution to the conflict and the end of Hamas rule over Gaza.

“As residents of Johannesburg, we must stand together against hatred and intolerance in all its forms. We must unequivocally condemn the vandalism and dissemination of anti-Israel propaganda on our streets. Instead, as a community, we must redouble our efforts to alert the world to the dangers of this extremism for Jews, South Africans, and the entire world.”

There has been overt support for Palestine in Mayfair before. In November last year, Mayfair residents organised an event to promote unity in the community and create awareness and raise funds for the Palestinian cause, according to broadcaster Salaamedia.

As of 2014, Palestinian pastries at King Arabic Sandwiches in Mayfair were selling well. This bakery was opened by a Palestinian couple who arrived in Johannesburg from the al-Shati refugee camp in Gaza. One of their offerings was iced petits fours emblazoned with the Palestinian flag.

Pantanowitz says suburban Johannesburg streets have become “the unfortunate canvas for a disturbing display of anti-Israel sentiment. Posters and messages, laden with vitriol and misinformation, have been plastered across public spaces, spreading hateful rhetoric and fuelling tension. Such actions not only undermine efforts towards peace and understanding, but perpetuate division and hostility within the South African community.”

Johannesburg isn’t the first province to jump on the pro-Palestine art bandwagon. In Durban, the Durban Wall of Existence on the corners of Currie and Springfield roads is another mural expressing solidarity with Palestine. It was unveiled by members of African Artists Against Apartheid, KZN Palestine Solidarity Forum, and SA Muslim Network.

In Cape Town, a Palestinian flag is painted across a block of 20 to 25 flats in Astana Street, Bo-Kaap, the product of a team of artists and residents who painted it ahead of Reconciliation Day last year. It’s reportedly the largest among several murals painted across homes in the picturesque Bo-Kaap in a community solidarity campaign titled “Murals for Gaza”.

The Palestine Chronicle quoted organiser Obeidullah Gierdien as saying, “Flags tear and weather, people march, but you can march for only so many hours, but a mural is something that can be destroyed only when someone actively destroys it. Other than that, a mural is here to stay.”

One mural there depicts a timeline of “the history of the occupied land, beginning with the birth of Zionism through to the Balfour Declaration, the Nakba, the Intifada, up to the present day”.

In 2018, the SA Jewish Report reported that Bo-Kaap activists compared their struggle to retain the area’s heritage to the Palestinian struggle, and Mandla Mandela addressed the Bo-Kaap Youth Movement about showing support for Palestine in the area and making it “a no-go zone for all apartheid Israel products”.

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