An open letter to Archbishop Desmond Tutu
Copies to members of The Elders
From Maurice Ostroff
September 8, 2009
I am deeply saddened by your recent outright condemnation of Israel. As an admirer of yours, I recall how during the dark days of apartheid, you courageously defied criticism by other Black leaders when you maintained communication with then Prime Minister of South Africa, the late P.W. Botha and I believed it was possibly through your intervention that he actually made some tiny concessions towards human rights. You explained at the time that Moses reasoned with Pharaoh.
Having personally experienced the horrors of apartheid, and having been an active member of the anti-apartheid Springbok Legion when you were but ten years old, I know exactly what you meant when you told about being unable to believe your eyes when the much beloved and respected, Father Trevor Huddleston doffed his hat to your mother. Am I correct in recalling that his nickname was Makhapile?
I was struck by the tearful empathy visible on your face on TV, while you were listening to the gruesome evidence in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and I believe that the stance you have taken against Israel is understandable in the light of the limited information available in world media. In fact I would share your outlook if I were exposed only to the same sources, including many vociferous Israeli critics. But, I also sincerely believe that you have an open mind and that your integrity will not allow you to ignore alternative relevant information that may influence your opinions. With great respect, I therefore offer the following comments.
1. Education towards peace
I suggest that one of the most valuable contributions the Elders can make would be investment in “Education towards peace instead of violence” not only in Israel and Palestine but also in all countries suffering from violence. Such a program would provide a high return in enabling progress towards political solutions.
Such a program is urgently needed in the Israel-Palestine situation because of the cold fact that Palestinians, who have been taught to hate from early childhood and who are continuously exposed to incitement to violence in mosques and in local media, naturally have difficulty in accepting good relations with their demonized neighbors.
There can be no hope for a peaceful solution while the PA TV airs songs praising terrorists, including the first Palestinian woman suicide terrorist and sermons like those of Dr. Ibraham Madi, who mandates suicide bombing as a religious necessity or those of Dr. Ahmad Abu Halabiya, Rector of Advanced Studies at the Islamic University in Gaza who demands that “Jews must be butchered”.
The frequently quoted concept of a cycle of physical violence in which one side attacks, the other retaliates and so on is fallacious in that it ignores the essential component of incitement that fuels the vicious cycle. The obvious remedy is to cut off the incitement fuel supply..
Probably, because of lack of knowledge of Arabic, your group remains unaware of the prevalent insidious incitement to hate and to genocide, propagated on official PA State TV as well as in mosques and schools. This incitement continuously stokes the violence and it would be surprising if the present generation brought up on this diet of hate-the-Jew and the infidel would be prepared to live peacefully with a Jewish state as their neighbor. After all, Hitler’s awful crimes against humanity started with this kind of abuse of words.
Incitement to kill Jews starts in infancy and continues in the schools. Even schoolbooks written by the PA Education Ministry teach that Jews should long for death, from Allah himself. A typical example of the incitement is the cartoon shown here depicting Jews crushing Palestinians to drink their blood, a precursor to the current Swedish libel of Israeli soldiers killing Palestinians to harvest their organs.
The following excerpts from an article by Itamar Marcus, director of Palestinian Media Watch, are evidence of the blatant unambiguous incitement to genocide readily verifiable by your mission. ( http://hnn.us/articles/743.html )
A member of the Palestinian Council of Religious Edicts, spelled it out on PA TV: “Jews are Jews. We must slaughter them and kill them, as per the word of Allah
The obligation to kill Jews is presented not only as a religious precept, but has been cited repeatedly as a historical necessity. A senior religious leader, explained: “The battle with the Jews will continue, because the Prophet has decreed it… ‘The Day of Resurrection will not come until the Muslims make war against the Jews and kill them, and until the Jew hides behind a rock and tree, and the rock and tree says: ‘Oh Muslim, servant of Allah, a Jew is behind me, come and kill him!’…”
Jews are repeatedly dehumanized in words and cartoons as animals – monkeys, pigs, donkeys, rats, worms, scorpions, spiders and octopuses. A political cartoon in the official Palestinian daily defined the Jew as “the disease of the century.”
Because the incitement is in Arabic, I recommend that your mission avail itself of the valuable services provided by two organizations that translate Arabic programs to English. They are
Middle East Media Research institute (MEMRI)
http://www.memri.org/ email firstname.lastname@example.org
and Palestinian Media Watch (PMW) http://www.pmw.org.il/ email email@example.com
2. Reaching for the light at the end of the tunnel
In order to conceptualize the benefits of Israelis and Palestinians existing in peaceful coexistence, it is instructive to reflect on the halcyon days before the outbreak of the second intifada when Israelis flocked to the Palestinian territories on weekend shopping expeditions and Palestinians equally enjoyed visiting Israeli shopping malls.
Prior to September 2000, Palestinian and Israeli business people and merchandise were moving feely without interference between the West Bank Gaza and Israel to the mutual benefit of both. 146,000 Palestinians were working in Israel and the settlements (about 22% of total Palestinian employment) income from Israel accounted for about 20% of Palestinian GDP, and the importance of this source of income for the Palestinian economy cannot be ignored in any plans for alleviating the present distressing situation.,
Many projects were in the pipeline for joint ventures in the West Bank that would have fostered cooperation between Jews and Arabs, created employment and redistributed municipal tax revenues to depressed Palestinian areas. Israeli business people were actively pursuing paths of mutual cooperation and assistance with Palestinian counterparts.
Historian and author, Prof Ephraim Karsh, has shown that within a brief period after the 1967 war, Israeli occupation had led to dramatic improvements in general well being, placing the population of the territories ahead of most of their Arab neighbors. The number of Palestinians working in Israel rose from zero in 1967 to 66,000 in 1975 and 109,000 by 1986, accounting for 35% of the employed population of the West Bank and 45% in Gaza. Close to 2,000 industrial plants, employing almost half of the work force, were established in the territories under Israeli rule. During the 1970s, the West Bank and Gaza constituted the fourth fastest-growing economy in the world-ahead of such “wonders” as Singapore, Hong Kong, and Korea, and substantially ahead of Israel itself.
In reflecting on the path from which we digressed on the outbreak of the second “Intifada” in September 2000 let’s consider ways and means of reversing the trend and reaching instead for the light at the end of the tunnel.
3. Avoiding repetition of mistakes
Among the cooperative ventures that have been forfeited by needless hate, were promising investment and employment opportunities along the “seam-line” between Israel and the West Bank and Gaza as well as in areas under the jurisdiction of the PA. A successful industrial zone was created at Erez which grew to employ about 5,000 workers in some 200 businesses half of which were Palestinian-owned. They produced everything from plastics to car parts and continued to do so even as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict raged. This was part of a larger Gaza Industrial Estate (GIE), slated to provide up to 50,000 jobs. In addition a joint industrial zone was planned south of Tulkarm intended to provide jobs for more than 5,000 Palestinians. Additional areas were planned for Jenin and the Kerem Shalom area near Rafah in Gaza.
But all these positive efforts were unfortunately thwarted. The GIE zone became the target of deadly Palestinian attacks leading to closure of the enterprise. In one typical attack, a female suicide bomber detonated a bomb at the Erez Crossing killing four Israelis and wounding 10 as well as destroying part of the facility. Hamas and the Fatah Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades claimed joint responsibility.
One of the Palestinian factory owners, 40-year-old Ashur Salha, told Haaretz newspaper “It’s simply stupid. Whoever ordered the bombing must have known that 30,000 mouths depend on our employment here. After all, this hurts us [the Palestinians] much more than it does the Israelis.”
You will also recall that when Israel disengaged from the Gaza strip, American Jewish donors bought more than 3,000 greenhouses from Israeli settlers in Gaza for $14 million and transferred them to the Palestinian Authority. Former World Bank President James Wolfensohn, who brokered the deal, put up $500,000 of his own cash.
The greenhouses were a centerpiece of Palestinian plans for rebuilding Gaza after 38 years of Israeli occupation and were slated to provide jobs and export income for Gaza.
But on Sept. 13, 2005 MSNBC reported that Palestinians looted the greenhouses walking off with irrigation hoses, water pumps and plastic sheeting in a blow to fledgling efforts to reconstruct the Gaza Strip.
4. THE ANC, THE PLO and HAMAS
While your empathy for the PLO as fellow freedom fighters is understandable, the parallels between the ANC struggle against apartheid and the Palestinian struggle are not congruent. Whereas the ANC Charter nobly states “South Africa shall strive to maintain world peace and the settlement of all international disputes by negotiation – not war” article 9 of the PLO Charter declares the direct opposite. It states bluntly that the armed struggle is not merely tactical, it is the overall strategy. The Hamas charter leaves no doubt that there is absolutely no room for peaceful negotiation. Article 13 unambiguously states, “Initiatives, and so-called peaceful solutions and international conferences, are in contradiction to the principles of the Islamic Resistance Movement. There is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad.”
Nor would the ANC tolerate the incitement to indiscriminate violence against uninvolved civilians, (women, children and invalids alike), which continues in mosques and PA controlled media and is taught in schools from the earliest age.
5. THE CONTINUING INCARCERATION OF GILAD SHALIT
While writing, I am tempted to appeal to your eminent group of sincere persons dedicated to preventing human rights abuses, to assist in relieving the suffering of Gilad Shalit, who is not even permitted a visit by the Red Cross.
By way of contrast, Palestinian prisoners in Israel enjoy visitation rights, including conjugal visits, access to telephones, newspapers, television and radio broadcasts, lawyers’ visits and even academic studies at state expense.
The continued mental torture of Shalit’s family compounds the crime immeasurably. What greater torture can there be than tormenting parents with 24/7 anxiety for three years about whether their son is dead, and if alive in what condition? To compound the heinous crime, Hamas recently held a public rally during which a boy dressed in IDF uniform masqueraded as Gilad Shalit reading a letter in Hebrew, telling the jeering crowd, how he misses his parents.
No human being with a conscience can refuse to protest this diabolical cruelty.
6. ISRAEL and APARTHEID
Israel like most states in the world, including South Africa, is far from perfect. We have our warts, but apartheid is not one of them. The recent brouhaha in Israel about certain religious schools in Petach Tikvah refusing to accept some Ethiopian pupils allocated to them, is an excellent example, not of Israeli racism as many have eagerly rushed to exclaim, but the exact opposite. Immediate, vigorous protests by Members of Knesset, the media and the general public soon reversed the situation, evidencing a committed adherence to the concept of equality enshrined in the Declaration of the State which declares that Israel will “ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex”
The litmus test is that, in complete contrast to the despised South African laws, which enforced apartheid, the Israel high court upholds the civil rights of all citizens without distinction. Nevertheless, one can always find a few parallels between Israel and apartheid; as one can with almost any other country, even the new South Africa. Only today it was reported that a South African was granted refugee status in Canada.
Even Britain more closely resembles an apartheid state than Israel. For example, Trevor Phillips, leader of the Commission for Racial Equality has warned that British society is becoming more divided by race and religion and that the nightmare of fully fledged ghettos could happen in the country.
The London based Independent Race and Refugee News Network (IRR) produced statistics revealing that in 2003-04, there were 52,694 racist incidents and an alarming increase in racially motivated murders as well as a devastatingly high incidence of Black deaths in custody. Their reports also show that the percentage of persons living in unfit dwellings is much higher for all ethnic minority groups than for their white counterparts. Sounds very much like apartheid does it not?
Of course, any informed logical person realizes that these statistics, quoted out of context, reflect a completely unrealistic picture of Britain, with its laudable history of racial tolerance, universal justice and strenuous efforts to ensure racial equality.
An unblinkered visit to an Israeli hospital will convince the most biased individual about the complete absence of any form of racial discrimination. Arab and Jewish doctors collaborate easily and in some hospitals Arabs outnumber Jewish patients. Especially noticeable after bombing incidents, is the equal treatment given to victims and perpetrators. An Israeli nurse has been quoted saying, “All patients are human beings, but sometimes when we experience these terrible deeds and see the mangled bodies of victims, we have to suppress our emotions when treating the perpetrators. It is so difficult to understand how they can do the inhuman things they do”
The Hadassah Medical Organization treats thousands of patients of diverse ethnic backgrounds annually, without any trace of discrimination. Its international reputation for promoting peace in the Middle East region by providing equal treatment to Palestinians and Israelis was recognized by nomination for the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize.
Does this remotely resemble the apartheid we knew in South Africa?
As Nelson Mandela remarked when the Elders was formed, your group can speak freely and boldly, indicating that you are not required to defer to stereotyped popular prejudices and preconceived opinions, nor to use misleading mantras like “occupation” and “apartheid” but rather to dig deeper for the truth, so that in Mandela’s words, together you will work to support courage where there is fear, foster agreement where there is conflict, and inspire hope where there is despair.
May I respectfully suggest sir, that you refer to two short video presentations that I submitted to the Goldstone Mission, containing some information not readily available in mainstream media They are available at
This open letter is being publicized as will any response I hope to receive from you.