A Black South African’s Visit to Israel

lesiba bapela
by Lesiba Bapela

I went to Israel expecting to witness an apartheid state, but I immediately understood that I had been misled.

There is a difference between somebody who is exposed and someone who is informed. I recently took part in an educational tour to Israel and Palestine. This was a remarkable exposure trip, coordinated by South African Israel Forum.

I am now in a good space to distinguish between the Israeli and Palestinian narratives and I realize that the aim was not to make me (and fellow young leaders) pro-Israel, but rather for us to be more exposed to a narrative that is not often heard in South Africa.
Like many other colonized countries, Israel was liberated in 1948 from the British system. However, from the year of liberation onwards, there have been severe conflicts between Israel and its neighboring countries, and in later years, between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. I was surprised to find that Israel has made peace with most of its former adversaries; however, the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations have proven to be very challenging and complex for both parties.

A fascinating feature of the country is its patriotism, seen with the presence of the Israeli flag in every part of the country, even in Tel Aviv (the financial capital and economic hub of the country).
The Israeli sense of patriotism and cultural desire to better its society, no matter the race, gender, religion or political affiliation of its citizens became very evident to us, wherever we went. I went to Israel expecting to witness an apartheid state, but I immediately understood that I had been misled.
During my trip, something became very clear to me: the current conflict is more religious than political. Lack of knowledge yields obtuse decisions and thinking, but I am truly inspired to have explored institutions of higher learning in Israel, wherein lie the element of peace and hope for the country’s stability.

I have noted that these Israeli universities are products of diversity and unity, yielding an environment full of tolerance. Institutions of higher learning, and students in general, are in search of, and are partaking in, a common fight for a peaceful solution.

Another observation I made during the trip was the vast difference between Israeli and Palestinian cities. In Israeli communities and kibbutzim, people embrace respect, social norms and communal values, largely promoting peace and coexistence.

However, in Palestinian cities and the Kalandia refugee camp, in Ramallah, controlled by the Palestinian Authority, the modus operandi is completely different. Many people there do not practice what they preach in the media. They believe that the radical political influence of Hamas violence toward Israeli Jews is the defining factor for their liberation, according to their own right. As they openly expressed to us, they believe that the country should have Palestinians as first-class citizens and Israelis as second-class citizens. Moreover, I can say that there will never be two bulls in one kraal, hence, a two-state co-existence seems almost impossible for both countries, at this point in time.

I am not a Christian, nor am I religiously affiliated, but I am inspired by Christians, particularly the Bible Church that seeks to promote the difference and importance of culture, tradition, politics; using the Bible as the navigator to peace. Clearly, even if like myself you are not a believer, you can be open-minded enough to learn that stability within the region requires more than just religious intervention.
I was inspired by the Palestinian Christian population in their approach toward peace with Israelis and their willingness, unlike Muslim nationalists, to lay down arms and denounce violence against others.

In summary, “variety is the spice of life,” thus I believe that people should not rely on what is portrayed and projected by the media, because, when it comes to Israel, it presents one-sided information and propaganda. I recommend that other South Africans take the time and make the effort to ensure that they visit Israel and Palestine, or at least make the effort to investigate both sides, before making decisions about Israel.

I decided to write this article because I, personally, will no longer allow other people to use our tragedy, as the survivors of apartheid, for their own agenda.

Knowledge is power and instead of being a victim of misinformation, I intend to be an ambassador of peace in this very complex and difficult conflict.

Your sense of solidarity should be informed. And the problems between Israel and Palestine should never be compared to South African Apartheid; the current conflict is completely different: it is not a racial conflict and from my perspective, it is far more religious than it is political.

This article originally appeared in the Jerusalem Post.

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