Archive | July 2015

Israel’s penalty fees for student trip ‘immoral’

Written by Yazeed Kamaldien

Students who wanted to pull out of a recent sponsored trip to Israel would have had to pay a R40,000 penalty fee, angering a local lobby group running a campaign against the Zionist state.

Bram Hanekom, board member of the national Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Against Israel (BDS) lobby group, told Weekend Argus on Friday this was “immoral”.

He said they considered assisting students who had already signed up if they wanted to pull out of the trip earlier this month.

The South Africa-Israel Forum (SAIF), which organised the trip, has meanwhile come under fire from the ANC for allegedly trying to lure its members on “propaganda holidays” of Israel.

Israeli media reported the student delegation represented the ANC but the party said none of its members are allowed to travel to Israel on behalf of the party or in their personal capacity. It is investigating the students who went on the trip.

Weekend Argus read an extract from a document the trip’s delegates had to sign before heading off to Israel.

It compelled invited participants to repay costs if defaulting and also “agree to keep the tour itinerary confidential and will not share it with third parties”.

It reads: “By signing below and accepting the invitation to come on this trip, I understand that if I do not show up at the airport for departure, I will be responsible to reimburse the South Africa-Israel Forum and South African Union of Jewish Students my full R40,000 participation cost with 30 days of 4 July 2015.”

Hanekom said this “indicates a desperation of these organisations”.

“BDS has never offered money to pay these fees. It’s our view that the fees should not be paid. But in the event where a student decides not to go, we would consider fundraising to help a poor student to make a moral choice,” said Hanekom.

“We know they’re targeting other students, particularly those who look like they have bright futures. They want these young people to lobby for them.”

Nthabiseng Molefe, one of the students who went on the sponsored trip, told the local Jewish Report newspaper last week BDS “offered her R40,000 not to go on the trip”.

The newspaper reported Molefe told it BDS “had offered her (Molefe) and other delegates R40,000 each in cash to buy them out of cancellation waivers they had signed with SAIF”.

Jewish Report further describes Molefe as a “typical example of what a future ANC leader in SA looks like”.

The newspaper also reported this “group was unique in that they were all young, black, youth leaders holding influential positions in ANC structures, or organisations supporting the ANC”.

“They included the niece of a senior government minister… There were also high-ranking members of traditionally anti-Israeli organisations such as the SA Students Congress (Sasco); Wits SRC’s secretary general; and members of the ANC Youth League.”

Sasco said it did not want its student members to participate in these trips even though “some of our members and leaders have”.

It decided to “temporarily suspend all our members who participated in this propaganda trip to Israel pending disciplinary hearing”.

Local Israeli lobby groups have meanwhile condemned Sasco and the ANC for an “uncalled for attack against students”.

The SA Zionist Federation (SAZF) and SA Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) issued a joint statement questioning why the students should be condemned for “simply exercised their democratic right to freedom of thought and association”.

“No official ban has been placed on members of government or the ruling party traveling to Israel,” it said.

“There is nothing in any way illegitimate in bringing future young leaders to Israel to provide them with first-hand perspectives on what is happening there.”

Obed Bapela, a deputy minister in President Zuma’s office, said the ANC would push ahead with its investigation into the student trip.

“It’s going to be more a listening session, not a disciplinary. We want to hear what has happened and now they ended up going there and whether they were representing the ANC, or if it was the host who was parading them as the ANC,” he said.

Bapela is head of the party’s international relations committee. He said the party would “engage with Israel towards Palestinian freedom”.

“We have been engaging. Former ministers have looked to find a solution. Israel can learn from us. We are available,” said Bapela.

“Let them try their luck to recruit more ANC members. We will not change our stand. Our members will not travel to Israel.”

ANC to investigate students’ paid trip to Israel

Written by Yazeed Kamaldien

The ANC is set to investigate a group of Joburg students who allegedly represented it on a paid trip to Israel – an attempt to “embarrass us” – said one of the party’s top officials yesterday.

This comes after prominent Israeli newspaper Haaretz published an article and photograph on its website on Friday about the trip.

The article was headlined: “South African community in Ra’anana meets young ANC leaders”.

Haaretz newspaper in Israel reported on its website the students were representing the ANC, which the party denies.

Haaretz newspaper in Israel reported on its website the students were representing the ANC, which the party denies.

Haaretz reported the tour was organised by the South Africa Israel Forum (SAIF) for an 18-member delegation traveling to Israel with an “open mind”.

It reported SAIF’s director Dan Brotman said “some of the participants, who will be future leaders in South Africa, were under enormous pressure not to come or received threats over being kicked out of their political parties”.

“Some of the participants, who told Haaretz they are in Israel on a personal capacity, said they supported the ‘boycott Israel’ movement because they were getting one-sided information,” reported Haaretz.

Brotman, originally from the United States, told Haaretz: “The goal is not to make them pro-Israel, but to expose them to a narrative they really don’t hear in South Africa.”

The ANC’s Obed Bapela, a deputy minister in President Jacob Zuma’s office, dismissed the trip as a “campaign by Israel to distort our stand on Palestine”.

Bapela said the ANC would investigate the matter.

“I’m the head of the ANC’s international relations committee and I must know about all trips the ANC undertakes,” said Bapela.

“The ANC did not send anybody to Israel. The ANC was also not represented by anyone. We will investigate this. We will summon the students.

“Israel wants to recruit young people. They are offering free trips and holidays to embarrass the ANC.”

He added: “We have a clear position that supports Palestinian freedom. No leader of the ANC in its private capacity or for the party will visit Israel. It will be putting the ANC in disrepute.”

Ntuthuko Makhombothi, president of the South African Student’s Congress (Sasco), said yesterday the delegation included students from Wits and Joburg universities in Gauteng.

“The students have been offered a holiday trip to Israel. I don’t have the exact names to give you now. They could not afford this,” said Makhombothi.

“They are offered other things that we don’t know.”

He added: “We believe our members participated in a propaganda trip in Israel. This trip is an attempt to paint a glossy picture.

“It is known that we are one of the organisations that has called for a boycott against Israel, and for divestment.

“We will take a decision on what to do with those members who have taken a position outside the policy of our organisation. This is just an attempt to derail us in our solidarity with Palestinians.”

Bapela said they wanted to hear from the students what happened on the trip.

“We don’t know if it’s Sasco who said they are representing the ANC or if Israel is saying this because they know Sasco is part of the ANC,” said Bapela.

Weekend Argus obtained a SAIF “Young Leaders Israel Tour” itinerary that outlined its objectives. It includes a “walk through military bunkers”.

Zak Mbhele, a Democratic Alliance parliamentarian, went on a similar SAIF trip recently. The former spokesman for Western Cape premier Helen Zille yesterday said it was “not a propaganda trip”.

“It was a study tour. It was about exposing the delegates to the reality on the ground. We met with different civil society activists in Israel, including a Jewish activist who supported the boycott against Israel,” said Mbhele.

“There was never a sense of pro-Israel propaganda. If you are going to have a strong opinion on Israel, at least you should go there.”

Mbhele said he was “surprised by how diverse Israel is, in terms of race and culture”.

“My opinion didn’t change much. There is a sympathy for the Palestinian cause, but at the same time I start getting very agitated when arguments start talking about Israel being illegitimate,” said Mbhele.

Israel has meanwhile denied entry into Palestinian territories for another parliamentarian, the ANC’s Blade Nzimande, in April.

The higher education minister subsequently called for an academic boycott against Israel.

Just a few days ago, Nelson Mandela’s Treason Trial co-accused Denis Goldberg issued a statement slamming “Israeli propaganda holiday trips”.

“Succumbing to free trips to Israel is to do harm to the cause of the Palestinian people just as people who visited (apartheid) South Africa broke the boycott during the sanctions did harm to our movement,” said Goldberg.

“I think its important not to go. I think it’s important to refuse to go… and not get bought and lose your moral compass by going because it’s just a free trip. What nonsense is this? One should have moral principles.”

Weekend Argus yesterday contacted the South African Zionist Federation and also the Jewish Voice for Just Peace but could not get comment from local Israeli supporters.

This article appeared on the front page of the Weekend Argus newspaper in Cape Town, Western Cape, on 12 July 2015.

This article appeared on the front page of the Weekend Argus newspaper in Cape Town, Western Cape, on 12 July 2015.

Pakistani teen Malala’s life shown on big screen film

Written by Yazeed Kamaldien

If the trailer is anything to go by, the upcoming documentary film about Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Malala Yousafzai is going to be an inspiring tale that leaves viewers in tears.

Yousafzai, 17, was a victim of Taliban brutality in Pakistan’s Swat Valley when she made her way home from school in 2012. She was reportedly targeted for “speaking out on behalf of girls’ education in her region”.

Poster for the documentary film about Malala Yousafzai. Picture Supplied

Poster for the documentary film about Malala Yousafzai. Picture Supplied

The documentary film, He Named Me Malala, documents the teenager’s journey and relationship with her father Ziauddin Yousafzai.

American filmmaker Davis Guggenheim follows Malala’s story from a gun victim in a hospital, to the youngest Nobel prize winner.

Since the Taliban shooting, Malala has launched a fund to work towards girl’s education and continues lobbying world leaders to assist in these efforts.

The film’s trailer shows how Malala’s story reached the hearts of millions of supporters. It also shows snippets of her visit to famous American talk show host Jon Stewart when she was a guest on The Daily Show.

Viewers will see more of “her close relationship with her father who inspired her love for education, to her impassioned speeches at the UN, to her everyday life with her parents and brothers”.

Guggenheim’s lense focuses on Malala’s home life and global efforts. It is described as an “intimate portrait” which “gives us an inside glimpse into this extraordinary young girl’s life”.

The film includes Malala’s famous words: “One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world.”

Ziauddin Yousafzai says in the film’s production notes that he believed in the power of education and passed that on to his daughter.

“My father did not want me to teach. I was a defiant son. I believed in the power of education to change the world, so I put every penny I had into opening a school for girls,” he says.

“Malala grew into the incredible young woman she is today, because of great teachers.”

He adds: “People ask me what is special about my mentorship that has made Malala so bold and courageous. I tell them, ‘Don’t ask me what I did. Ask me what I did not do. I did not clip her wings, and that’s all’.”

Guggenheim sais Malala’s “bravery in the face of adversity brought us to tears”.

“Spending the last 18 months with Malala, her father Ziauddin and their family has been one of the great experiences of my life. We have the opportunity to share their moving story with the world.”

Cuban Five prisoner’s friendship with priest kept him strong

Written by Yazeed Kamaldien

Prison walls were enough to keep Cuban Five activist Gérardo Hernandez locked up, but it could not keep out compassionate supporters like Father Michael Lapsley from Cape Town.

Over the last 12 years, the two men had met only once a year for a few hours in different US prisons where Hernandez was jailed.

Father Michael Lapsley meets Cuba’s former political prisoner Gérardo Hernandez at the District Six Museum in Cape Town. Picture Yazeed Kamaldien

Father Michael Lapsley meets Cuba’s former political prisoner Gérardo Hernandez at the District Six Museum in Cape Town. Picture Yazeed Kamaldien

Hernandez was one of five Cuban intelligence officers arrested in Miami, US, in 1998 for alleged conspiracy to commit espionage, conspiracy to commit murder, and acting as an agent of a foreign government.

After their arrest and imprisonment, the officers became know as the Cuban Five, which included Antonio Guerrero, Ramón Labañino, Fernando González and René González.

During the apartheid years, Lapsley was an ANC activist exiled in Zimbabwe. He had built ties with Cuban officials while there.

South Africa’s apartheid era operatives sent him two religious magazines that contained explosives, leaving him without hands, an eye and shattered ears.

Lapsley later returned to democratic South Africa and launched the Friends of Cuba Society to lobby for the release of the Cuban Five and also for an end to US sanctions against their country.

Lapsley said he was traveling to the US when he decided he would meet one of the Cuban Five jailed where he was going and it turned out to be Hernandez.

“I was going to California and Gérardo was at a high security prison at that stage. I called up that prison and asked for the prison chaplain. I said I want to visit him. That was the beginning of the journey,” said Lapsley.

Father Michael Lapsley with Gérardo Hernandez when he was still imprisoned in the United States. Picture Supplied

Father Michael Lapsley with Gérardo Hernandez when he was still imprisoned in the United States. Picture Supplied

When the Cuban Five visited Cape Town this week, it was the first time Lapsley would see Hernandez not wearing a prison uniform. The two had taken a photo together after each annual prison visit.

“Every visit to Gerardo was bittersweet,” recalled Lapsley this week.

“He was becoming a close friend but I was meeting him incarcerated among people who had committed the worst crimes.

“Every time I went to see him, there was always a desire that we should not meet again in prison. But the day would come when we would walk in Havana or in Cape Town. It was always next time, next time, next time.”

Hernandez said their first visit more than a decade ago left him inspired.

“When I first heard his (Lapsley) story, I left the visitor’s room very proud and eager to tell the prisoners who visited me. I still do that today. I feel very honoured and proud to be able to say he’s my friend,” said Hernandez.

“In prison, you need to get your strength from somewhere to resist every day.

“Other prisoners told me, ‘You have a life sentence and I have a life sentence. But I see that you are never depressed. You never feel bad.’ Outside support made a big difference.”

Apart from the annual visits, the two also wrote letters to each other, reconnecting Hernandez with Africa once more.

He had previously been to Angola where he participated in the Battle of Cuito Cuanavale in 1987, fighting against opponents that included the apartheid military.

Lapsley continued mobilising a local grassroots lobby group calling for the release of the Cuban Five. US-Cuba relations remained tense, following various confrontations between the superpower and the socialist regime.

It was only late last year that President Barack Obama from the US agreed to a prisoner swop, seeing the release of four remaining Cuban Five prisoners – one of them had completed his jail term by then.

Lapsley said this was an “incredible joy” and he was “trying to stop myself from crying” when he met Hernandez earlier this week in Cape Town.

“You struggle for words… Gerardo was always immensely hopeful but there were times when I was thinking if it’s really going to happen,” said Lapsley.

“It was a victory for all of us, humanity, justice, compassion and human decency.

Often in struggles for justice it takes generations before victory. This was reminiscent of the day when we heard Mandela came out of prison.”

The Cuban Five held a number of public meetings this week and also met with Parliament’s international relations portfolio committee.

South African parliamentarians agreed to lobby the US government to lift its economic sanctions on Cuba.

Saudi Arabia’s destruction of Islamic sites under scrutiny

Written by Yazeed Kamaldien

Saudi Arabia’s controversial destruction of Islamic heritage sites, particularly linked to Prophet Muhammad, has again come under scrutiny by a local author.

Cape Town-based writer Naeema Limbada, who has traveled a number of times to Saudi Arabia, recently launched her book Remembrance of Islamic Sacred Sites.

It details various sites Limbada visited, including places in Saudi Arabia that have been destroyed.

Cape Town author Naeema Limbada. Picture by Yazeed Kamaldien

Cape Town author Naeema Limbada. Picture by Yazeed Kamaldien

Back in 2006, another Cape Town author and veteran journalist Shafiq Morton documented in his book, Notebooks from Makkah and Madinah, that the headquarters of Islam was the “only place in the world where people have seen fit to destroy religious sanctuaries”.

Over the last decade, Limbada traveled to nine countries in search of documenting significant sites for Muslims. In Saudi Arabia, she also met with a heritage official who confirmed the destruction of local sites.

It was on her second trip to Mecca, the Saudi Arabian city which houses Islam’s holiest mosque, that she was spurred to start documenting these sacred sites.

Naeema Limbada's book cover. Picture Supplied

Naeema Limbada’s book cover. Picture Supplied

“When I first went to Mecca I had an incredible experience and wanted to share it with my three daughters,” said Limbada.

“Then when I took my daughters there two years later one of the sites I’d visited was buried. It couldn’t be seen. That disappointment prompted me to document the sites and the stories about it.”

The Saudi government has meanwhile demolished these sites to prevent idolatry, which Islam forbids.

The New York Times newspaper last month interviewed Irfan al-Alawi, director of the London-based Islamic Heritage Research Foundation, who confirmed the “destruction of more than 95 percent of the historic sites near the holy cities of Mecca and Medina”.

The newspaper reported that al-Alawi said “scores of tombs have been destroyed; a house associated with Muhammad’s first wife, Khadija, was replaced with a bank of public toilets; and a home believed to have belonged to his companion Abu Bakr was razed to make way for a Hilton Hotel”.

It continued: “At the same time, the Saudi government has filled Mecca with increasingly modern buildings that include the world’s third tallest building and, soon, its largest hotel.”

Limbada said she penned her book with the traveler in mind. She wanted to preserve a sense of place, despite the various sites being destroyed.

“Even though those sites are not there, just by standing on that spot where it was, and knowing what was there, it spiritually uplifted me,” she said of her journey.

“Knowing what happened there, you could stand there for hours just thinking. You transport yourself to a different era.”

Limbada said also drew “inspiration from reading lots of historical books” when she embarked on her research.

“I followed in the footsteps of iconic works. The aim was to make this information about our heritage available for future generations,” said Limbada.

“I visited sites where one of Prophet Adam’s sons is buried. I went to the sites of Jesus, who Muslims acknowledge, in Jerusalem. I cover sites that are important to Muslims and Christians.”

Limbada also visited ancient architectural wonderlands like Petra in Jordan and Egyptian ruins. She sought out tombs of Muslim saints too.

Along the way, she “climbed a lot of mountains in Mecca” and had to dispel myths “tour guides who want to make money” sell eager tourists from afar.

In one instance, said Limbada, it “took me three years to untangle and confirm the burial site of one famous Muslim saint buried in Iraq”.

“You must do your own research before listening to what tour guides tell you. I have consulted with heritage officials and religious leaders to confirm facts,” said Limbada.

“It was a tough job. I visited libraries in different countries and got people to translate documents from Arabic into English.”

Limbada said she also followed Prophet Muhammad’s advice when he said one should seek knowledge even as far as China.

“I was in China with my husband when someone in a restaurant was talking about a sahaba (companion of Prophet Muhammad) who is buried in China,” said Limbada.

“I took a taxi and went to this site. Found the place and researched it. A lot of people don’t know about it.”

Limbada said she was impressed in Turkey where the “Ottomans have a done great job in saving a lot of Islamic heritage sites”.

“They are still doing things to preserve these sites. Unfortunately in Syria, Iraq and Iran these sites have been destroyed. In Mecca and Medina sites are also being destroyed,” said Limbada.

“Our heritage is being destroyed and that saddens me.”

Morton confirmed in an interview that Saudi authorities had “even cut down trees that were planted by the Prophet Muhammad because they said people would worship the trees”.

He laid blame with Saudi’s “intolerant” version of Islam referred to as Wahabbism.

In his book, he wrote: “The silent majority, the house of Sunni Islam, has not yet awoken to its ideological hijacking – and not has it fully responded to the senseless obliteration of its rich historical legacy in its very devotional heartland.”

The New York Times reported Saudi authorities were meanwhile turning the birthplace of Wahabbism into a tourist attraction.

It said the “Diriyah complex, on the outskirts of Riyadh… will feature

parks, restaurants, and a series of museums”.

This is the area where “more than 250 years ago… the Saudi royal family… endorsed the doctrine of Sheikh Muhammad ibn Abdul-Wahhab and followed it to wage jihad against anyone who rejected their creed, gaining control of much of the Arabian Peninsula”.

It reported “hundreds of laborers are rehabilitating mud palaces once home to the Saud family and building museums celebrating its history”.

For more information about this book contact Naeema Limbada via naims.limbada@gmail.com