Q&A with Bassem Eid

Bassem Eid, founder of the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group. Photo: Provided

Bassem Eid, founder of the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group. Photo: Provided

Palestinian journalist Bassem Eid is the founder and former director of the Jerusalem-based Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group. The South African Jewish Board of Deputies brought him out to speak about his work at various universities around the country during Israel Apartheid Week (IAW). This is his fourth time in South Africa.

What is your background?
I grew up in a camp in the Old City in Jerusalem. We were evacuated for no reason, one year before the 1967 war. I worked for B’Tselem [The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories] from the start of the first intifada [uprising], but I resigned because I was more interested in monitoring the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) violations of their own peoples’ rights.

What kind of work did you do there?
We released reports, six times a year that looked at the violations and atrocities committed by the PA, under the Yasser Arafat regime.

Did you feel this was more important to focus on than what the Israeli Defence Force was doing?
Yes, because it is more painful to commit these atrocities against their own people. For me, it became about defending Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. For them, the PA became another kind of occupation, and because of their corruption, these people have been left hopeless.

What is the solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?
There is no solution right now. The major problem right now is the lack of leadership on both sides. They will both have to wait for the coming generation. The right-wing Israeli government and the old faction of leaders on the Palestinian side.

Is Israel an apartheid state?
No, it isn’t. South African apartheid has never existed in Israel. Palestinians can study and receive medical care, which are the two most important rights.

What do you think about IAW?
It adds more hate to existing hate. South Africa has a propagandist notion towards the conflict. The money that is thrown at IAW should be used for South Africans who need it in the fight against poverty. BDS (Boycott, Divestement and Sanctions) is a prelude to genocide and the destruction of the Palestinian people. They have no idea what’s going on, they’re just adding more fuel to the flame.

RELATED STORIES:

Wits Vuvuzela, IAW [VIDEO]: Israeli Apartheid Week 2014 wraps up, March 18, 2014

Wits Vuvuzela, Israel apartheid concert round two, August 23, 2013

Wits Vuvuzela, Israel vs SRC, May 31, 2013

 

IAW: Peace tent promotes dialogue

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TALK TO ME: Students from Israel engage Witsies under the SAUJS’ ‘Peace Tent’. Photo: Tracey Ruff

Origami paper doves under the so-called ‘Peace Tent’ were the only birds to be seen on the university lawns yesterday as rain dampened the start of Israeli Apartheid Week activities (IAW).

Despite the gloomy weather, Witsies came out in significant numbers to support the ‘Peace Tent’, erected by the South African Union of Jewish Students (SAUJS) as part of their Give Peace Wings project. 

For the Purpose of Peace

“We [the SAUJS] decided to set up the Peace Tent [because] the truth is we are never going to get anywhere unless people sit down, discuss, and have rational debate,” said David Isakow, 3rd year Media and Psychology. “We … want to raise awareness about people coming together and making dialogue.”

The initiative encourages any student, irrespective of religion, culture, or political affiliation, to come into the tent and actively participate in dialogue surrounding a number of African and Middle Eastern issues. The idea of the tent is to encourage people to talk.

Visitors were also encouraged to fold an origami dove. “By making a [paper] dove, you are making a [contribution] towards peace”, Isakow said.

Africans for Israel

On Tuesday, Serge Tshibangu, PhD (CompSci) candidate, spoke in the tent about his experience as an African visiting Israel two years ago. Born in the DRC, Tshibangu now lives in South Africa. “Israel is a country that needs African support,” he said. Issues could always be solved “by talking to each other,” Tshibangu added.

Two Israeli students, Kokit Hylo and Eyal Cohen, told Wits Vuvuzela they had volunteered to come to South Africa to “promote education about Israel across the world because of a lot of misinformation [about the conflict in Israel]”.  Cohen, who is also part of an Israel awareness project called Stand with Us, felt it was important to “share his personal experience of Israel” with South African students.

Wits students who visited the tent were generally positive about the intiative. Safiyya Paruk, 1st year MBBCh, believes the Peace Tent is a “good thing to have [as] it brings things into perspective”.

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GALLERY: Israeli Apartheid Week 2014

The annual, and usually controversial, Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW) kicked off at Wits University this Monday. The event was unusually subdued but certainly more colourful than those in recent years.

The big divide, physical and otherwise

The South Arican Union of Jewish Students have erected what they call a peace tent on the library lawns. Not much foot traffic under the tent today. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa

The South Arican Union of Jewish Students (SAUJUS) have erected what they call a peace tent on the library lawns. Not much foot traffic under the tent today on account of the rain. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa

Walking on the library lawns today Witsies were met by two separate installations across from one another symbolic of each side of the ongoing Arab-Israeli conflict.

On the eastern most side of the lawns stood spray-painted signs heralding the start of “Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW) 2014”. On the western most side stood a big beige “peace tent” erected by the South African Union of Jewish Students (SAUJS).

The peace tent remained deserted during lunch, as the persistent rain kept students from walking across the water-logged lawns to the tent and its contents. Inside they would have found notice boards with information on how to fold peace doves and “images that show the positive and peaceful side of life in Israel,” said SAUJS chair, Ariela Carno.

Right across from the tent, the Wits Palestinian Solidarity Committee (PSC) hosted the first of many film screenings planned for IAW on campus.

The documentary Occupation 101: The Voices of the Silenced Majority, screened at lunch drew a decent crowd of students who were there to watch in support and in an effort to learn more about IAW.

Mpho Sibiya, 2nd year BA said: “I actually just came to find out more about the whole Israel/Palestine thing. I don’t know if I can say I support the cause or not.”

PSC president Tasneem Essop and deputy chair Alex Freeman addressed the students before the screening.

Contested peace

Israeli Apartheid Week 2014 is the biggest yet, garnering international support from various political and social players. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa

Israeli Apartheid Week 2014 is the biggest yet, garnering international support from various political and social players. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa

Essop explained that IAW is an effort to highlight apartheid in Israel and with the help of a global boycott movement to drive the boycotted state into negotiations, as was done in South Africa not so long ago.

In response to the lack of an official stance by Wits University, Essop said: “The university should have a stance,” and this is why the PSC will be having a debate with vice chancellor, Adam Habib this coming Friday to try and challenge the “free space for all” view they currently hold.

In response to a question about the peace tent, Freeman said: “They (SAUJS) don’t really want peace”. He added that at present SAUJS has a Zionist stance and this is the reason he will never join them, even though he is Jewish.

Once the 2006 documentary directed Abdallah Omeish and Sufyan Omeish got started the information given by Essop and Freeman came to life onscreen through the lived experiences of people in Israel.

The documentary was originally made with the express purpose of debunking misrepresentations of Palestinians to the American public, said Essop.

Sibiya said she had been moved by what she had seen, “I didn’t understand the extent of the problem.”

Israel apartheid concert round two

SRC vice president-internal Tokelo Nhlapo, promised that they (SRC), would give Wits Vice-chancellor a “political baptism”. Photo: Nolwazi Mjwara

SRC vice president-internal Tokelo Nhlapo, promised that they (SRC), would give Wits Vice-chancellor a “political baptism”. Photo: Nolwazi Mjwara

 

By Emelia Motsai, Thuletho Zwane and Ray Mahlaka

Wits has arranged for another Israeli musician to perform at the university to make up for the concert that was disrupted in March.
After a concert was disrupted on March 12, the university asked the organisers how they could make up for the disruption “for those who had bought tickets but were not able to enjoy the concert”, according to Vice Chancellor Adam Habib.
A group of about 50 students, including at least nine SRC members, disrupted a concert by Israeli-born pianist Yossi Reshef in March. The concert happened during Israel Apartheid Week. Eleven students were later charged by the university for contravening the university’s code of conduct. Habib said the university and the SRC were meeting on Monday to discuss the issue.

Not on Our watch

[pullquote align=”right”]Habib said if he listened to everything the SRC had to say, his role as a vice chancellor would mean nothing[/pullquote]
SRC internal vice president Tokelo Nhlapo said they are “going to debate them. If they fail to debate us, we will use civil non-violent protest to show that the university is being used to cleanse the bloody image of Israel.”
Nhlapo said the concert would not happen on their watch. “We are not going to be silenced by the charges.”
Habib said that, even though the SRC was chosen to represent students, they should realise they did not represent the student body on all issues. “I have in my office a whole range of petitions saying they do not agree with what the SRC did and that I must continue to prosecute.”
Habib said if he listened to everything the SRC had to say, his role as a vice chancellor would mean nothing: “They would just tell me what to do.” University management wanted to “make sure the reputation of the university is not impugned”.

Sitting one the fence

Habib said the music department had been tasked with organising the new concert. They could not secure Reshef so another Israeli musician had been invited.
Habib denied the university had “taken sides” on the Israel-Palestine issue: “You can’t be a free space for ideas and say that one side is allowed and the other is not.”
Nhlapo disagrees. “We think it is hypocritical that the university will fight for the Dalai Lama but refuses to stand up to Israel.” He said they would not allow Habib to go against the values that Wits stood for.
“We are going to give Habib a political baptism.”
The concert will take place on August 28 at the Great Hall. The South African Zionist Federation said it would be open to everyone. The students who were charged are now facing disciplinary hearings, which will resume on September 25.
“If we are going to be expelled for protesting, then I don’t want to be a part of this university,”
said Nhlapo.

 

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Wits accused 11 complain VC is “player and referee”

THE ELEVEN charged Wits students have raised concerns about the chairperson presiding over their disciplinary hearing.

Advocate Jennifer Woodward was appointed by Vice Chancellor Adam Habib.

“The chairperson was appointed by the same vice chancellor who is prosecuting us,” said SRC secretary Tasneem Essop.

“The vice chancellor is a player and a referee. It doesn’t make sense. How can you charge students then decide who the judge is,” said SRC international student affairs officer Pearl Pillay.

Habib defended the appointment of Woodward and called her a “senior and well-respected” advocate. He said the Wits Legal Office recommended the appointment of an independent person which was supported by management.

He said the recommendation was made because of the case’s “potential reputational risks and the need to ensure a fair, transparent process.”

Habib said the committee holding the hearing was independent and its decision could be reviewed and appealed by a committee appointed by University Council.

The students were charged with contravening the university’s code of conduct after they disrupted a concert by an Israeli pianist during a protest for Israel Apartheid Week in March.

The 11 charged students have resigned to losing the case. They said the hearing process was biased and fraught with double standards and inconsistencies.

SRC president Sibulele Mgudlwa said: “The judge was frustrated and disallowed our lawyer from getting instruction from us. Our lawyer was scolded and shouted at but when the same behaviour was showed by the prosecutor, it was ok.”

Essop told Wits Vuvuzela the venue of the disciplinary hearing was moved without the charged 11 students’ knowledge. She said they were scolded by Woodward when they arrived late at the new venue and were not allowed to explain why they were late.

Habib confirmed the inquiry venue was changed but said the SRC’s legal representative team was made aware of the change.

Essop and Pillay said the judge was “extremely patronising” and treated the charged 11 students “like children”.

“We got a gag order for tweeting. The university threatened to charge us with more misconduct charges. What is the university scared of?” said Essop.

Pillay said the charged students were ordered not to tweet during the trial after Deputy Vice Chancellor Prof Yunus Ballim was offended by something he saw on twitter.

“The next day, the prosecutor printed 68 pages of our tweets. The judge asked us not to tweet. We wanted the media to know,” said Pillay.

Habib told Wits Vuvuzela Woodward decided a “trial by media” was not best for the circumstances “given the manifold and diverse interests in the case”.

He said while the media wasn’t allowed to attend the inquiry, “there were no objections should the student wish to comment to the media outside.”

SRC president Sibulele Mgudlwa disputes this and said the accused students wanted the media to be present.

“We made calls for the media to be there and for the trial to be public. The university and the disciplinary hearing presiding officer [Woodward] has rejected our calls.”

Mgludlwa said they [the students] haven’t laid a formal complaint against the university but “we might be writing a letter of complaint to the vice chancellor” depending on what their lawyer advises.

The trial of the 11 Wits students will resume August 13.

Related articles

Wits Vuvuzela. Wits 11 cry foul July 19, 2013

Wits Vuvuzela. Israel vs SRC May 31, 2013

 

Israel vs SRC

The SRC said they weren’t surprised the university was under financial pressure from Israel lobbyists not to drop the charges against 11students charged for disrupting the performance of an Israeli-born pianist.

“[The SRC] suggest our refusal to do so [drop the charges] emanates from the pressure from donors who support Israel. There have indeed been some individuals who have threatened to withdraw their donations,” said Habib and Nongxa on a Business Day article.

SRC secretary Tasneem  Essop said “It is easy to draw a link between the university refusing to drop the charges and the financial threats made from donors who support Israel”. She said the reason the charges were not dropped is because financial and political pressure from Israel lobbyists.

Eleven students, nine of which are SRC members, were charged with possible contravention of university rules after they protested at the performance during Israel Apartheid Week

“11 members of the Wits community allegedly violated university rules, impinged on the rights of others, broke up the concert and in effect violated academic freedom, we acted and subjected them to disciplinary hearings,” said Habib and Nongxa.

 Essop added that a day after the March 12 protest, at about 8.am, Habib and Nongxa released a statement distancing themselves from the student protest.

“They were in New York, they received threats from pro-Israel lobby,” said Essop.

She said the university chose to charge the 11 students but didn’t do anything when they were assaulted by members of security and were sworn at by people attending the Israeli-funded concert.

“We were called monkeys, savages, Muslim agitators. We were even told to ‘go back to the jungle where you belong’ but the university chose to charge the 11 students and did nothing [about the Israeli supporters],” said Essop.

Habib said they have not received any written complaint about the allegation: “If the SRC feels that this has happened, they should lay an official complaint and the matter will be investigated as per due process.”

Habib and Nongxa said Wits was neither a political party or a civil movement. “Wits has not taken a position to boycott Israel,” they said.

Mbuyiseni Ndlovu a PHD politics student who is one of the 11 students charged said the statement was nonsense:  “Israel implements systematic racial discrimination. We can’t be neutral in such a state. Wits took sides during Apartheid. Wits took sides with the Dalai Lama. They can’t claim this neutral nonsense.”

The disciplinary hearing against the 11 charged students has been postponed to July 16.

SRC faces dissolution over charges

The Wits Student Representative Council (SRC)  is pulling out all the stops to get misconduct charges dropped that could result in the dissolution of the SRC.

SURVIVOR SRC: SRC President Sibulele Mgudlwa claims intimidation.    Photo: Mia Swart

SURVIVOR SRC: SRC President Sibulele Mgudlwa claims intimidation. Photo: Mia Swart

The incident under scrutiny relates to the disruption of a musical recital by the Israeli born pianist Yossi Reshef. The disruption was part of a protest during Israeli Apartheid Week.  Nine members of the executive of the SRC are charged for not going through proper processes for protests, creating a hostile environment and refusing to obey orders from the university.

These are among other charges such as pushing members of university security, aggressively stomping feet, shouting, chanting, failing to respect the rights and freedom of the attendees at the concert. In addition, they “demeaned and/or humiliated and/or created an environment of intolerance”.

SRC president, Sibulele Mgudlwa said: “According to the SRC constitution if you are found guilty, then you can’t be a member of the SRC.”

Outgoing Vice Chancellor Loyiso Nongxa, issued a statement saying  senior counsel has been appointed to act in lieu of a student discipline committee to chair the hearing, and to carry out all of its functions. And “as such, he or she will make a decision as to whether or not to publish details of the disciplinary proceedings”.[pullquote]“It’s just an environment that is not conducive to student governance.” [/pullquote]

Nongxa said if someone is found guilty, the person presiding decides on “the appropriate sanction”.

The SRC as a whole could not be disbanded, but it will work on a “case by case” basis. If enough members are found guilty and asked to step down, re-elections could be held or the vice chancellor can appoint a temporary SRC council.

SRC Vice President External, Joy Phiri said: “Finding a guilty verdict directly suggests that it is inappropriate for student leaders to fight just causes and that in itself is a negative message that I don’t think the university wants to tag along to.”

Phiri said that the charged members would take all the legal recourse in their power.  SRC vice president internal , Tokelo Nhlapo suggested that they won’t just step down but will appeal the case.

Mgudlwa said:  “It’s an intimidating experience and it really hampers how you do your job.” He added that students come and ask for assistance but between assisting students, the SRC have to address the charges, organize protests, put together press releases and organize responses.

It’s just an environment that is not conducive to student governance.”

If there was an emergency SRC, it would take a whole month to organise as new nominations of candidates have to be called for, as well as submissions and manifestos.

The university has to check whether the students are registered students at Wits and if they are legitimate and credible candidates. After the nominations have been approved, the circuses and the voting process would follow.

It now has more than 100 endorsements to call for the university to drop the charges against them. The endorsements come from a range of  organisations including the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) and South African Students Congress (Sasco).

 

 

 

 

SRC member stops “racist wall”

Wits SRC member Tokelo Nhlapo, in the red beret, and another student paint over the wall painted for Israel Awareness Week.

Wits SRC member Tokelo Nhlapo, in the red beret, and another student paint over the wall painted for Israel Awareness Week. Photo: Ray Mahlaka.

Vice-president internal of the Wits SRC, Tokelo Nhlapo, wearing a Palestinian Solidary Alliance (PSA) t-shirt, and a fellow student painted over last week’s mural from Israel Awareness Week.

The South African Union for Jewish Student (SAUJS) painted the wall in conjunction with an exhibition to raise awareness for refugees in Israel.

Nhlapo said: “I am stopping the racist wall, as it is wrong. Most of these countries (portrayed on the wall) have signed a peace treaty with Israel. I don’t think Israel wants peace, if they did want peace they would stop the illegal occupation of Gaza”.

When asked by Wits Vuvuzela if painting over the artwork was within Nhlapo’s mandate he said that any student in the university had an obligation to uphold the values “we hold dear in our heart” and that any act which contradicts that must be stopped. Nhlapo further explained that “the UN has established that Zionism is racism”.

According to Nhlapo, the MSA (Muslim Students Association) and the PSA have lodged a complaint with the Dean of Students Prem Coopoo, “who approved the artwork”.

Earlier in the day, Wits Vuvuzela took photos of the wall which had been defaced with black paint.

 

A student walks past the Israel Awareness Week mural which was defaced with black paint. Photo: Jay Caboz

A student walks past the Israel Awareness Week mural which was defaced with black paint. Photo: Jay Caboz