All Eyes on Rafah

As South African Jews for a Free Palestine (SAJFP), we are heartbroken and horrified by the ongoing genocide and ethnic cleansing being committed against the Palestinian people. We are terrified and find it hard not to despair knowing that Israel has now turned its weapons on Rafah, previously declared a “safe zone”, to which over a million Gazan residents were violently driven from their homes and who are now living in tent cities. The entire population is already facing the imminent threat of starvation, dehydration, and disease.

A large proportion of the South African Jewish community comes from the remnants of Eastern European Jewry. SAJFP members therefore grew up learning a living history of the Nazi Holocaust. We were taught about the horrors committed during that time in great depth, with the heartbreaking privilege of hearing stories directly from survivors. Watching Israeli soldiers committing acts we recognise from those stories while Israeli government officials call for further cruelty evokes a chilling sense of deja vu.

It seems obvious that Netanyahu and his government have been purposefully building to this point. The forced evacuations, subsequent bombing of areas declared “safe zones”, and further evacuations pushing the majority of Palestinians in Gaza to the Egyptian border seem to have all led to this point. 

This intention is not new. Zionism has been trying to Judaize the entirety of historic Palestine for more than a century and there has been continuous dehumanisation and dispossession leading to the catastrophe unfolding today. The early decades of the 20th century set the stage for mass murder and displacement during the Nakba in 1948. The occupation in 1967 of East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip furthered their aims. In the decades since, Israel has progressively tightened the restrictions on Palestinian life, often using measures from the Oslo Accords as justification while continuing to build illegal settlements on stolen Palestinian land.

The past few years have shown a heightened urgency from the Israeli government and large segments of the public to carry out the ethnic cleansing of the whole of Palestine, which has culminated in the genocide we are currently witnessing . The intention of a ground invasion of Rafah is obvious – to force Palestinians in Gaza to become permanent refugees in the Sinai Desert or face total annihilation. Even those Western powers who up until very recently have actively facilitated the genocide are now voicing their concerns, so blatant is this goal.

Throughout the past four-and-a-half months we have been repeatedly reevaluating how best to act against these abuses committed by Israel. While we have been steadfast in our dedication to Palestinian liberation, thus far our actions have not been enough. Although hundreds of thousands of people around the world take to the streets every week to demand a ceasefire in Gaza, many of their governments continue to actively support Israel’s military onslaught. And even though the International Court of Justice ruled that Israel has to stop killing civilians in Gaza and facilitate extensive humanitarian aid, it has in fact intensified the brutal military offence and campaign of starvation. Yet, we cannot and will not give up hope that if even more voices join in demanding an end to the genocide, we can make a difference while there is still time.

It is already too late to prevent the massive extent of destruction in Gaza and an unimaginable loss of life. Nevertheless, we appeal to the humanity of people everywhere to speak up before the catastrophe worsens exponentially. If you have been horrified by the genocide, yet remained silent, now is the time to make your voice heard. If you have been ambivalent to the fate of the Palestinian people, now is the time to search your soul and ask yourself why. South African Jews, who have not yet questioned the morality of the Zionist project, is support for this genocide the legacy you want to leave for future generations? We urge you to reconsider your stance. We are here to support you as you start questioning what you were taught. 

From the depth of our concern for the people of Gaza – the more than two million children, fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, and grandparents, all with their own stories, dreams and sorrows – we urge all people and governments of the world to consider the question they face, heartbreakingly articulated by Gazan poet Mosab Abu Toha:

Where should people go? Should they

build a big ladder and go up?

But heaven is blocked by the drones

and F-16s and the smoke of death.