By John Weaver
An increasing number of South African Christians are being deported from Israel for being critical of the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Those deported have included internationally-renowned figures, such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Justice Richard Goldstein, Head of the United Nations fact-finding mission, who was investigating violations of international human rights laws in the Palestinian territories, in connection with the Gaza War.
Over the last decade, many South African political activists and volunteers from various religious organisations have been refused entry into Israel, bodily searched, and held in detention for hours before being deported – with little to no assistance from the South African Embassy in Tel Aviv.
Recently, some Christian volunteers with the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Israel/Palestine (EAPPI) have been denied entry into Israel, including Siphesihle Dlungwane, who recently arrived back in South Africa after being deported.
Meanwhile, The South African Council of Churches (SACC) delegation, which returned last month from a visit to Israel-Palestine, released a particularly harsh statement, slamming the Israeli occupation and accusing Israel of being an apartheid state.
“Based on the information before us, it is clear that Israel is structured in a way that fits and even surpasses the description of an apartheid State, which robs Palestinians of their citizenship and treats them in a discriminatory way,” said the SACC, a comment endorsed at a recent SACC national conference.
“With our experience of apartheid that the whole world recognised and condemned as a crime against humanity, we see the treatment of the Palestinians by Israel as worse than apartheid,” said the SACC in a statement.
“We are concerned that the world that condemned apartheid has closed its eyes to the pain and suffering of Palestinians in the occupied areas.”
The delegation of nine church leaders, led by SACC President, Bishop ZiphoSiwa, visited Tel Aviv and Nazareth in Israel; Hebron, East Jerusalem; and Bethlehem in Palestine, which has been occupied since 1967.
“We decry the fact that the Palestinians have been occupied for fifty years now without any sign of an end to this occupation,” said the SACC.
“We strongly condemn this illegal and unjust occupation of the land of Palestine; the violation of your rights and human dignity; the destruction of your sources of livelihoods and the demolition of your homes and properties.”
The delegation further stated that it rejects the wall that cuts through homes in the West Bank, causing division and alienating Palestinians from their properties.
Israel’s siege of the Gaza Strip was also condemned, with the SACC stating that the coastal territory had been turned into “the largest prison in the world.”
“As we experienced apartheid, we do not want another people, and definitely not those who live in the Holy Land, to have their humanity diminished because of external cultural and other factors,” said the SACC.
“We are wondering if the ultimate answer is not a single non-racial and secular state where a person’s race, ethnicity and faith have no determination of the human worth and citizenship of the individual, and where all can worship freely and appreciate the cultural diversity that enriches society,” concluded the SACC statement.
Meanwhile, about 100 activists demonstrated at Tel Aviv’s Habina Square in support of the government’s decision to send African asylum seekers to third country, days after a large protest against the treatment of Ethiopian Israelis.
The African Asylum seekers’ rally came just after another that saw a 1,000-person-strongmarch in Jerusalem against “racism and violence towards Israel’s Ethiopians.”
The pro-deportation protest attracted about 100 residents of south Tel Aviv to the square who are supporters of the government’s plan. The activists held signs bearing slogans, such as, “Yes to deportation, as soon as possible.”