David Saks

With Hamas neutralised, perhaps there is hope for the future - says David Saks

David Saks writes for the Sunday Times:

With Hamas neutralised, perhaps there is hope for the future

Antisemitism has soared since October 7, including in South Africa, but Israeli military successes against Hamas might pave the way for a calmer period in the Middle East

For the past six weeks distressing images have come out of Gaza, following Israel’s attempts to eradicate Hamas and take back its hostages. It is important to remember how we got here. On the sabbath of October 7, coinciding with the Jewish festival of Shemini Atzeret, an incursion of major proportions from Gaza into southern Israel took place. The carnage wrought by Hamas was unprecedented.

The grim realisation sank in that the greatest act of mass murder of Jews since the Holocaust had taken place. It was further learnt that nearly 250 people had been taken back to Gaza as hostages. Video footage of the massacre recorded by the terrorists themselves and thereafter triumphantly broadcast throughout the electronic media revealed that many of the killings had been of an unimaginably hideous nature, with victims of such bestial acts including even babies.

Despite the fact that Hamas (unlike the Nazis of old who sought to conceal their genocidal crimes) rushed to publicise what it had done, it was not long before the usual atrocity denialism began surfacing. From a South African point of view, perhaps the most shocking instance of this came from the minister of international relations & co-operation, Naledi Pandor. In a statement issued by her department Pandor claimed that the South African Jewish Board of Deputies was repeating “discredited information” about what had taken place and that this was “part of the arsenal of dehumanisation tactics” that was being used to justify the casualties being suffered by the Gaza population.

It immediately called to mind the modus operandi of Holocaust deniers, who in the face of overwhelming evidence persistently claim the Nazi genocide to be a Jewish fabrication aimed at extorting reparations from Germany as well as for other nefarious purposes.

All this has significantly exacerbated the trauma and insecurity that the Jewish community in South Africa is inevitably feeling. This statement alone would be sufficient evidence of the frightening extent to which South Africa’s foreign policy has been taken over by radical jihadism, but it is hardly the only indication. In the immediate aftermath of the October attacks, the government and the ruling party issued statement after statement that, rather than condemning the atrocities, intimated all too plainly that Israel had brought them upon itself.

Not once was any empathy displayed towards the shocked and grieving Jewish community, nor at any time were condolences conveyed to the Israeli ambassador. Instead Pandor travelled to Iran, the regime responsible for funding and arming Hamas as well as other radical Jihadist groups such as Hezbollah. She also notoriously made a phone call to the Hamas leadership in which, according to Hamas itself, she assured the movement of South Africa’s support.

Following intense criticism by Jewish leaders and others, the government began including condemnations of the terror attacks in its pronouncements but stopped well short of condemning Hamas itself. It also signally failed to add its voice to those around the world calling for the release of the hostages, despite this being a prerequisite for bringing about the ceasefire it is demanding.

Among the many questions all this raises is whether, when all is said and done, the government and the ANC are motivated less by a genuine concern for the Gaza population than by an obsessive hatred towards Israel. After all, when the leaders of people you care about act in ways that can only seriously harm and endanger those over whom they rule, the logical response must surely be to denounce such policies and urge that they be changed. Look long and hard through the innumerable government statements over the years, however, and you will not find a single occasion when Hamas is condemned; such condemnation is reserved for Israel and Israel alone.

When Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza 18 years ago, it was hoped that it would address what was supposedly the root cause of violent Palestinian resistance, namely the “occupation”, and so pave the way to a new era of peaceful coexistence. This never happened. Instead Hamas, which has never deviated from its stated aim of destroying the Jewish state, was elected to office, from there going on to rout its relatively more moderate Fatah opponents in a bloody civil war and impose a dictatorial regime.

In the years that followed, it continuously carried out rocket attacks against Israeli towns and settlements. All the while, it diverted foreign aid towards building underground strongholds and sophisticated tunnels covering some 500km, a phenomenon without precedent in the annals of warfare. In addition to greatly contributing to the impoverished conditions in which most Gazans live, these installations, in flagrant contravention of international law, were built in or near civilian installations such as hospitals, schools, mosques, recreation centres and private houses. It was from these areas that attacks on Israel were carried out, all but ensuring that civilians would be among the casualties in the inevitable Israeli reprisals that would follow.

Hamas has been and continues to be guilty of multiple war crimes. They include the bombardment of civilian areas (more than 40,000 missiles have been fired at Israel from Gaza since the 2005 withdrawal); cross-border incursions and murders of Israeli citizens; embedding its military activities in the heart of its own civilian population; and the taking of civilian hostages as a means of blackmailing Israel. None of these and other human rights violations by Hamas has ever been condemned by the South African government, nor have we seen any meaningful condemnation coming from civil society, the media, religious leaders or academia.

All this has significantly exacerbated the trauma and insecurity that the Jewish community in South Africa is inevitably feeling. Apart from the natural religious, cultural and historic bonds that it has with Israel, there are few who do not have close relatives, friends or colleagues living there. To that must be added the alarming upsurge in antisemitic attacks around the country, a number of them involving violent assault, the vandalising of Jewish property including cemeteries, targeted boycotts against Jewish businesses, and, perhaps most concerning, inflammatory statements on public platforms inciting harm against Jewish schools in Cape Town.

These are indeed exceedingly dark and difficult times, yet there may be grounds for hope. The destruction of Hamas’s military capacity in Gaza has already largely been accomplished and with both Hezbollah in Lebanon and Iran having apparently stepped back from initial threats of provoking a regional war, we are likely to soon see the complete and hopefully permanent removal of Hamas from governance. This should pave the way for a new order in the Middle East, making possible renewed efforts towards negotiating a durable peace with Israelis and Palestinians coexisting along side one another, as neighbours, not enemies.

• Saks is associate director, South African Jewish Board of Deputies

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