Could ‘ubuntu’ help the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

The philosophy of kinship and cooperation could pave the way for a two-state solution.

November 25, 2011 01:01
4 minute read.
A painting of Walter Sisulu in Cape Town

A painting of Walter Sisulu in Cape Town 311 (R). (photo credit: REUTERS)

As a South African, I am proud of our ubuntu heritage and the humanitarian values which underpin our new democracy. Ubuntu, an African word, describes a philosophy of kinship that brings people together for a common purpose.

At the same time, as a Zionist, I am deeply committed to Israel and to looking for signs of ubuntu and cooperation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority that could lead to a two-state solution.

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I do not in any way agree with the political analogy between Apartheid and the Israel-Palestinian situation. In this conflict, we are talking about two separate nations, unlike the South African situation of one nation, and therefore using the SA political paradigm in an attempt to solve the crisis is futile.

However, I do find an analogy that is appropriate in the attitude of the majority of people – politicians, civil society and NGOs on both sides, to the solving of the conflict. This was also prevalent in the run up to a democratic South Africa.

With this belief, I, as part of a group, visited Israel and the Palestinian territories, met with politicians, civil society and NGOs which would give us an on the ground, first-hand information concerning the views and opinions of both sides of the conflict.

This approach evidenced not only the deep divisions and lack of trust that exists between these two peoples, but also the commonality of the responses on both sides. Speakers on both sides of the divide blame the other for the halt in negotiations and equally express a sincere desire for a two-state solution and peaceful coexistence.

These majority views do not however, encompass the views of the right-wing fringes, held equally by extremist factions in both the Israeli and Palestinian camps. Neither of these factions advocate for a two-state solution or peace, advocating for a one-state solution and therefore the virtual destruction of the other.

Examples of this on the Israeli side is Mayor Shaul Goldstein of the Gush Etzion settlement, who lays claim to the biblical definition of Israel which includes Judea and Samaria (the West Bank). Among the Palestinians, the extreme view is expressed today by Hamas in its charter which calls for the total destruction of the Jewish state of Israel.

“Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it,” the charter states.

Yet other extremists also deny that the Jewish people today are descendents of the Jews that lived in the land in biblical times.

Both these extreme voices, in my opinion are heretical and will do nothing to bring about dialogue between these two nations.

“Dialogue” is a word implicit and sacred in our ethos of ubuntu, which led to a peaceful evolution to democracy. In the South African context, extremist voices within the Nationalist Party, African National Congress (ANC) and others were overwhelmed and ultimately silenced by the dialogue, which the majority on both sides, political and civil believed in.

Inspired by ubuntu – a humanitarian stance entrenched in the leadership of the ANC, and epitomized by Nelson Mandela, Oliver Thambo, Walter and Albertina Sisulu and many others, relegated the extremists on both sides to the fate of the dinosaur, doomed for extinction.

I believe that one must look for a humanitarian solution to conflict.

By humanitarian, I mean containing and hopefully preventing loss of life on both sides, while a solution is being sought. In looking for a solution there are two methods one can adopt in righting perceived wrongs on either side:

1. Highlighting, criticizing and condemning the perceived mistakes or errors of each side. This would also apply to the strategy of boycotting and the Russell Tribunal. Whichever side this approach is aimed at leads to a widening of the chasm that already exists, thus making dialogue and negotiations even more difficult, if not impossible, merely reinforcing the current distrust and antipathy that exists.

2. While one needs to acknowledge fully the mistakes and wrong actions on both sides, it is imperative to look for a commonality, identifying the main political, civil and NGO trends, and most importantly acknowledging the fears of the other.

This approach implicitly acknowledges the possibility and hopefully the viability of a two-state solution. Implicit in this method, is the concept of dialogue and not isolation. I emphasize once more that it was dialogue that led to a democratic, peaceful South Africa with ubuntu fostering understanding of the “other” in the conflict situation.

To achieve the goal of looking for the ubuntu factor in this conflict situation, I would like to give credit to both the Israel and Palestinian embassies in South Africa and their respective governments in Jerusalem and Ramallah who facilitated our visits to both regions. The equal warmth and graciousness with which we were received by both sides show the commonality of the belief not only in democracy, but the desire for a two-state solution and peace for both nations. The political leaders on both sides, and the electorate they represent, indicate a large majority on both sides accepting a two-state solution and coexistence.

I do hope that this initiative will be the beginning of a framework of transparency in which a solution can be found, leading the two peoples, through understanding and dialogue, to being two great nations living side by side in peace.

The writer is vice chairwoman of the South African Zionist Federation.

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