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Rhodes campus outraged at Israeli action

Date Released: Fri, 1 August 2014 12:00 +0200

A PETITION condemning the ongoing violence in Gaza has been signed by more than 300 members of the Rhodes University community. The list of 318 names includes acting vice-chancellor Dr Sizwe Mabizela, honorary doctorate holder Zackie Achmat and Rhodes alumnus and journalist Niren Tolsi.

An open letter accompanying the petition reads: "The escalating catastrophe is not an isolated incident but part of a persistent and systemic oppression of the Palestinian people. "In light of this, we take the view that solidarity with the people in Gaza needs to move from expressions of moral outrage towards effective political action."

Mark Heywood, executive director of Section 27, in a separate statement, also spoke out against the violence. "Section 27 is deeply distressed by the relentless and indiscriminate abuse of military power by the Israeli government against civilians in Gaza, including children. "These continuing and targeted attacks have led to the deaths of more than 1 200 civilians, of whom at least 200 are children, over the past three weeks," he said. Heywood said the war and its consequences was a gross violation of all human rights, "particularly the Palestinian people's right to life, dignity, health and education".

He condemned statements by the SA Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) which called Israel's military operation "necessary and unavoidable". In response to the petition, chairwoman of the SAJBD, Mary Kluk said: "We ... believe strongly that we should not be importing this tragic conflict onto our shores. "We are encouraged by the reportback from the South African delegation, which proposes a far more constructive and supportive role in finding a peaceful outcome."

She was referring to a special envoy sent by President Jacob Zuma to the conflict zone which called for "a resumption of negotiations towards a permanent resolution to solve the conflict". Professor Robbie van Niekerk, who also signed the petition, said the entire campus community was largely unified against what was taking place in Gaza.

The signatories said they felt a moral obligation to take a "clear position against the ongoing violence". "We would like to add our voices to the growing demand that the South African government severs all links with Israel, including trade and investment, and expels Israel's ambassador and recalls ours."

Israel's ambassador, Arthur Lenks, said: "I believe in dialogue between Israel and South Africa, and that we have very much to do together because there are a lot of shared interests between our two countries. "I think it's very important to keep those channels of communication open." 

By Vuvu Vena