South African Human Rights Delegation to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories 2008

In July 2008 a group of South Africans visited Israel and the West Bank. Here is a record of some of the statements and press reports on that visit. (I have placed this here on 4 November 2023 and may update it as more articles from the trip are located.)


Pre-mission statement: South African Human Rights Delegation to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories July 2008

30 June 2008

Mission Statement

We are South Africans who have struggled for human rights, both before and after the fall of Apartheid. We have sought to institute and defend the values of our new Constitution: freedom, equality and human dignity. We are committed to personal and public integrity and to the governance principles of transparency, accountability and openness.

We believe that human rights are interconnected and indivisible. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We know that global stability is important for all of our prosperity. Similarly, we are committed to upholding international law and human rights.

We believe that Israelis and Palestinians have the right to security, sovereignty, and self-determination within the framework of justice, international law, and human rights.

We undertake this mission to Palestine/Israel for a few modest purposes:

South African Human Rights Delegation to Israel-Palestine July 2008

Details of Trip

Who is hosting the delegation?

The South African Human Rights Delegation delegation will be hosted by the Joint Struggle Coalition, a new coalition of organizations, activists and local popular committees dedicated to the joint Palestinian-Israeli non-violent struggle against the Occupation. This coalition includes: The Popular Committee of Budrus, the Popular Committee of Bidu, the Popular Committee of Bil’in, The Popular Committee of Na’alin, ACRI (Association for Civil Rights in Israel), Adalah, Yesh Din, Combatants for Peace, Breaking the Silence, Ta’ayush, and other organizations.

Where will the delegation be and what will it be doing?

Based in East Jerusalem, the delegation will hear lectures by leading scholars, on Israel and Palestine, and the history and effects of the post-1967 occupation. Each day will be devoted to studying different aspects of the occupation, and its context. These will range from the construction of the Fence/Wall and the struggles against it, political violence and its costs, the “policy of separation” implemented in Hebron, the continued expansion of settlements in and splintering of East Jerusalem, the issue of Palestinian political prisoners and its effects on Palestinian society, and restrictions on movement, livelihood and rights. Meetings will also take place in cities such as Nablus and East Jerusalem, as well as the refugee camps in the area. Significant time will also be spent in Israel to better understand the complexities and sentiments bearing on the political situation. Thus the delegation will visit the Holocaust memorial museum Yad Vashem, guided by an expert historian of the Holocaust, will visit the Supreme Court to engage with the Chief Justice, and will hear from both Israelis and Palestinians who have lost family members in the conflict. There will be a strong focus on the legal issues, and thus top Palestinian and Israeli human rights lawyers will accompany the group.

Itinerary Highlights

Biographies of members of the South African Human Rights Delegation to Israel/Palestine 5-11 July 2008

Zackie Achmat has been called the most important South African dissident since Nelson Mandela. He began his political career at age 14, as an anti-apartheid organizer, and was later the leader of South Africa’s gay rights movement, one of the most successful in the world. He is most widely known as the founder and chairman of the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), a grassroots movement that works to secure AIDS treatment and prevention for all South Africans. When he pledged not to take antiretroviral medicines until all South Africans could obtain them, Nelson Mandela pleaded with him, at his home, to begin drug therapy. Achmat respectfully refused Mandela, and held firm in his pledge until August 2003 when a national congress of TAC activists voted to urge him to begin taking his medicines; shortly before the government announced that it would make antiretroviral drugs available to the public. For his political leadership, Achmat won the inaugural Desmond Tutu Leadership Award, the Jonathan Mann Award for Global Health and Human Rights in 2003, and the Nelson Mandela Award for Health and Human Rights in 2003. He was named one of TIMEeurope’s “Heroes of 2003”, and was voted in the Top 100 Great South Africans, as well as being nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Jonathan Berger is head of policy and research at the AIDS Law Project. He also represents the law and human rights sector on the Programme Implementation Committee of the South African National AIDS Council and is an honorary research fellow at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. After serving as the legal education and advice officer at the National Coalition for Gay and Lesbian Equality, Jonathan clerked for Justice Kate O’Regan of the Constitutional Court. He holds degrees in architecture and law from the University of the Witwatersrand, as well as a Master of Laws degree from the University of Toronto. Until late 2007, Jonathan chaired the board of the Lesbian and Gay Equality Project. He was integrally involved in the successful Constitutional Court challenge to the exclusion of same-sex couples from the marriage laws of South Africa. He also participated in lobbying and advocacy leading to the adoption of the Civil Union Act, 2006. He publishes widely on health, human rights, social justice litigation strategy, and the use and limits of law in social struggle.

Geoff Budlender is a practising advocate (barrister). In his student days he was acting President of the anti-apartheid National Union of South African Students. He then worked for three years as a lawyer mainly in representing people charged with political offences against apartheid. In 1979 he was one of the founders of the Legal Resources Centre, South Africa’s first public interest law centre. He fought cases involving forced removal of Africans from their land, the influx control laws which prevented free movement of Africans, and detention without trial. >From 1996-2000 he was Director-General of the Department of Land Affairs in the new democratic government. He then returned to the Legal Resources Centre to undertake constitutional litigation. He is now in private practice as an advocate. He regularly appears in the Constitutional Court. He has taken on cases dealing with the death penalty, land rights, housing rights, social welfare rights, and the state’s duty to provide medicines to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV at birth. He has served as an acting judge of the High Court.

Edwin Cameron is a Justice of the Supreme Court of Appeal of South Africa. During apartheid he was a leading human rights lawyer, and after apartheid has become a respected critic of his government’s AIDS policies. He chaired the governing council of one of South Africa’s major universities, the University of the Witwatersrand, for more than ten years between 1998 and 2008, and remains involved in many charitable and public foundations. He is the author of the prize-winning internationally-published memoir, Witness to AIDS, and has received many high honors for his legal and human rights work, including a special award by the Bar of England and Wales in 2002 for his ‘contribution to international jurisprudence and the protection of human rights’. His international stature is recognized by his election as an honorary fellow of the Society for Advanced Legal Studies, London, an Honorary Fellow of Keble College Oxford (2003), and an Honorary Bencher of the Middle Temple, London (2008).

John Copelyn, a former Member of Parliament for ANC, heads the Investment Group for South Africa’s biggest labor union in the textile and clothing industry (Sactwu), with over 100,000 members. Under his management, Sactwu Investment Group has developed a capital base of R4 billion from an initial investment of R2 million. The capital provides university bursaries to all children of its members, a full welfare program for members, and a substantial HIV AIDS program covering worker education, testing and counseling, home care, and ARV treatment. In a twenty year career as a trade union leader Copelyn negotiated the first agreement recognizing an unregistered non-racial union; negotiated the merger of several union groups into South Africa’s giant broad-based federation COSATU; drafted the constitution for COSATU; served on COSATU’s central and national executive committees; and negotiated the National Peace Accord, a non-violent process to regulate disputes between political groups. From 1976 – 81 he was a banned person in South Africa.

Dennis Davis is a Justice of the Cape High Court, and President of the Competition Appeal Court. He was educated at the Universities of Cape Town and Cambridge, and is now a Professor of Law at UCT. He is a former director of the Centre for Applied Legal Studies (CALS), a former head of the Centre for the Abolition of the Death Penalty, and was selected as a technical advisor to the Constitutional Assembly negotiations for South Africa’s democratic Constitution. He has been the well-known host of two television programmes Future Imperfect and Judge for Yourself. He has authored books on constitutional law, tax, insurance, criminology, and South African politics, as well as over 100 articles in academic publications. A former student activist, Justice Davis remains an outspoken voice in the South African public domain. He is also a former Chairman of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (Cape Council).

Farid Esack is currently Professor of religion at Harvard University. He is scholar of Islam who cut his teeth in the South African struggle for liberation. He studied in Pakistan, the UK and Germany and is the author of Qur’an, Liberation and Pluralism, On Being a Muslim, An Introduction to the Qur’an. His current major field of interest is Islam and AIDS. Professor Esack served as a Commissioner for Gender Equality in South African and has taught at a number of universities in South Africa, Europe and the United States. In 2000, he co-founded and still works with Positive Muslims, an organization working with persons living with AIDS. His current writing projects reflect different dimensions to what he terms ‘prophetic responses to power and marginalization’: Beyond Victimhood, Reflecting on Palestine Through South African Eyes, Whose Qur’an – A Guide to Progressive Islam, and AIDS and Islam – Between Scorn Pity and Justice.

Andrew Feinstein was an ANC Member of Parliament for almost eight years. Prior to serving in Parliament he worked as a facilitator in various negotiations processes that led to South Africa’s first democratic elections. Andrew is the author of the best-selling political memoir After the Party: A Personal and Political Journey Inside the ANC. He is currently writing a book on the global arms industry and how it undermines accountable democracy. His journalism has been featured in the Guardian, the Telegraph, Prospect, the New York Times, der Spiegel, the BBC’s Focus on Africa, Africa Report and a host of South African media. He regularly provides comment and analysis on the arms industry, corruption, public policy and South African politics on the BBC, Sky, CNN and Al Jazeera. Andrew is the son of a Holocaust survivor and is married to a Bangladeshi Muslim. (Andrew is one of the co-organisers of the trip.)

Andrew Forrest (58) is the Deputy Editor of the multiple award-winning independent newspaper, the Mail & Guardian. Educated at Dulwich College in London, and Michaelhouse and Wits University in South Africa, he has worked at a wide range of Southern African newspapers over the past three decades. In addition to the M&G, these include Business Day, The Star, The New Nation and the Times of Swaziland. Divorced with two grown-up sons, he lives in Johannesburg.

Nathan Geffen has served as the national manager, treasurer and director of policy for the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), South Africa’s foremost activist organization, credited with changing government policy on HIV. He has been intimately involved in most of TAC’s major projects since 2000. He is the editor of TAC’s magazine, Equal Treatment. He has published many articles and book chapters on HIV/AIDS, human rights and the importance of the scientific governance of medicine. He has also spoken out and written about human rights abuses in Zimbabwe, Israel and elsewhere. He recently led the massive civil society effort to provide political and humanitarian assistance to over 20,000 foreigners displaced by xenophobic violence in Cape Town. (Nathan is one of the co-organisers of the trip.)

Pregs Govender was a Member of Parliament for ANC from 1994 until her resignation in 2002. The author of Love and Courage: A Story of Insubordination, Pregs served as an activist, teacher and trade unionist in the struggle against apartheid. She led South Africa’s first Workers College and managed the WNC, a coalition through which women shaped South Africa’s transition. As a Member of Parliament, Pregs initiated South Africa’s “Gender Budgeting”, which has been studied and utilized by more than 70 countries since. She was the only MP to register opposition to South Africa’s arms-deal in the 2001 Defence Budget Vote and resigned in May 2002. Pregs received the first Ruth First Fellowship for courageous writing and activism. She now builds leadership based on insubordination to the politics of hate and greed and chairs the Independent Panel of Experts reviewing South Africa’s Parliament.

Fatima Hassan is a senior attorney at the AIDS Law Project (ALP). She co-ordinates monitoring of the anti-retroviral treatment programme, and has coordinated key litigation against government, big business and pharmaceutical companies involving issues of non-discrimination and access to affordable and sustainable treatment for people living with HIV/AIDS. She convenes the Joint Civil Society Monitoring Forum (JCSMF), and is a board member of Medicins Sans Fronteires (MSF) and Open Democracy Advice Centre (ODAC). In earlier years Fatima was a student activist, and worked at the Constitutional Court of South Africa under Justice Kate O’Regan. She was awarded the Franklin Thomas Fellowship by the Constitutional Court to pursue an LLM at Duke University, which she completed in 2002. The Mail & Guardian selected her as one South Africa’s top 100 movers and shakers, as one of South Africa’s noteworthy women, and as one of the top 20 under 40 year olds to influence the country in the next decade.

Barbara Hogan grew up in Benoni, an industrial town. She was the first woman to be elected as a Junior Deputy-Mayor in South Africa. Arrested for the first time in anti-government protests at the age of 18, she became a student activist and joined the embryonic black trade union movement that was later to emerge as COSATU, the largest trade union federation in South Africa. In 1977, Barbara joined the banned, underground political wing of the African National Congress (ANC). In 1981 she was arrested and sentenced to an effective 10 years imprisonment for High Treason for so-called political offences. Her release came in 1990, one week after the unbanning of the ANC. Elected to Parliament in 1994, she served as Chair of Finance Portfolio Committee and the Standing Committee on the Auditor-General and helped draft the financial clauses of the new Constitution.

Doron Isaacs is the Coordinator of Equal Education, a community-based civil society formation working for educational quality and equality in South African schools. Equal Education recognises that education was a tool to both entrench apartheid, and to resist it, and that present-day transformation in South Africa requires equal education for all. Doron has degrees from the University of Cape Town in business and law. In 2003 he was Secretary General of Habonim, a Jewish youth movement committed to a progressive Jewish identity, and to a just resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Thereafter he became active in student politics on issues including HIV-AIDS, judicial independence and Israel-Palestine. He established the Student Society for Law & Social Justice in 2007 and has provided legal support to the Treatment Action Campaign in certain legal challenges. (Doron is one of the co-organisers of the trip.)

Zubeida Jaffer has been a journalist for the past 27 years. She works independently and is an Honorary Research Associate at the University of Cape Town’s Centre for African Studies. She holds an MSc degree in journalism from Columbia University in New York and bachelor degrees from Rhodes University and the University of Cape Town. She started her career at the Cape Times in 1980, and has written for a wide-range of publications in South Africa and abroad. Her work has earned her numerous local and international awards. These include the Muslim Views Achiever Award as well as the Honor Medal for Distinguished Service to Journalism from the University of Missouri. She is also the first woman in Africa to have won the coveted foreign journalist award from the National Association of Black Journalists in the USA. Ms Jaffer is also known for her community activism which earned her at least two spells in apartheid South Africa’s notorious detention centres. Her memoir, Our Generation, eloquently tells the story of her emotional journey through the years of South Africa’s turbulence into a new democracy.

Jody Kollapen is the Chairperson of the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC), a constitutional body set up in terms of Chapter 9 of the South African Constitution to protect and promote human rights. He was appointed by President Mandela on the recommendation of Parliament and reappointed for a second term by President Mbeki. President Mandela also appointed him to interview and make recommendations on persons to be appointed to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Between 1981 and 1992 he practiced law in Pretoria, during which time he represented persons prosecuted under apartheid laws. He served as the National Director of Lawyers for Human Rights from 1994 until 1995. His areas of interest include human rights within the administration of justice, equality, and socio-economic rights. He currently serves on various national and international human rights bodies, including the Legal Resources Centre and the Foundation for Human Rights. He has spoken on human rights internationally and written extensively on human rights and constitutionalism.

Janet Love is the National Director of the Legal Resources Centre, South Africa’s largest public interest law firm, with over 100 members of staff. She has had extensive involvement with disaster management, water management and economic development, at national, regional and UN level. As an ANC Member of Parliament, Janet chaired the National Assembly Portfolio Committee on Agriculture, Water Affairs and Forestry from 1994-1999. In the earlier part of this period she was directly involved in drafting the new Constitution, as a member of the Constitutional Assembly’s Constitutional Committee. In 1993 and1994 she served as Deputy Executive Director of the Transitional Executive Council (TEC), the body responsible for handling the transition to democracy. In this capacity she was responsible for six sectors: finance, defence, intelligence, policing, foreign affairs and local government. From 1991-1994 she was part of the ANC negotiating team, and the management team of CODESA, the body that oversaw the negotiations. This process included the demobilization of armed forces, as well as the creation of transitional arrangements to create an appropriate climate for South Africa’s first democratic elections. From 1987-1991 Janet was a member of the ANC underground: she was part of “President’s Project” which included Operation Vulindlela. In 1999 she was awarded a twenty year service medal by Umkhonto weSizwe.

Jack Lewis was born in Cape Town in 1955. In 1976 he was banned for five years in by the apartheid government while still a student at Rhodes University in the Eastern Cape. In the 1980s he was politically active in the anti-apartheid movement. He initiated NGOs providing community health services and educational support to school students and post-school vocational training to young adult school leavers. He completed a Ph.D in economic history in 1983. From 1985 to 1993 he lectured on political economy. In 1993 he formed Idol Pictures where he continued his exploration of historical and contemporary issues in development, education and culture for a mass television audience. In 1999 he established Community Health Media Trust – a not-for-profit company which produces Siyayinqoba Beat It! – which provides a platform for people with HIV and those affected by the epidemic, to make their voices heard on television. The 7th edition of this series is currently in production. Jack believes that television has a vital role to play in the construction of a thinking, critical civil society voice in African democracies.

Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge was dismissed from her position as Deputy Minister of Health by President Mbeki in August 2007. This made world headlines. Nozizwe had been the only member of Mbeki’s cabinet to publicly question his denialist views on HIV/AIDS, to champion the scientific governance of medicine, to speak candidly on the poor state of health in the country, and to call for treatment for all South Africans suffering with AIDS. She was the only member of cabinet awarded an A+++ rating by the Mail & Guardian in its annual ministerial review. The backlash against her dismissal indicated the esteem with which she was held by the South African public, and hastened the decline of Mbeki’s prestige in the ANC. Previously she served as Deputy Minister of Defence from 1999 to 2004. She remains an ANC member of Parliament, and has recently been Acting Chair of Caucus. She has also recently been elected a member of the party’s NEC, its highest body. She was a member of the ANC underground from 1979. She has a long-standing record of supporting the rights of women. She served on the Transitional Executive Council and the Reconstruction and Development Task Team in positions relating to the status of women. She is Second vice-president of the Co-ordinating Committee of Women Parliamentarians, a body affiliated to the Interparliamentary Union. She has studied at the universities of Natal, Fort Hare and Cape Town. She is married to Jeremy and has two sons, Martin and Simon. She is a member of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers).

Thabo Makgoba is the Most Revered Archbishop of Cape Town and Metropolitan of the Anglican Church. He is therefore the head of the Southern African Anglican Church, which has around four million members in six Southern African countries. At 47 he was the youngest person to be elected Archbishop, the position previously held by Desmond Tutu and Njongonkulu Ndungane. The Archbishop holds a Masters degree in Educational Psychology and has an interest in theological education, rural development and maternal and infant deaths. He has recently spoken out on the situation in Zimbabwe, calling for a UN arms embargo, and against the xenophobic violence in Cape Town. He grew up in Alexandra Township, Johannesburg, and today lives with his wife Lungi and their son Nyakallo and daughter Paballo in Bishopscourt.

Mondli Makhanya is the Editor of the Sunday Times. He was previously Editor of the Mail & Guardian. A regular commentator on the BBC, SAfm, Radio 702 and television current affairs programs, he started his career in journalism at the old Weekly Mail in 1990 where he was the paper’s Cape Town bureau chief and a business writer. Makhanya also interned at Newsweek magazine in New York. In addition, he was a political writer and Deputy News Editor of The Star and Associate Editor of Sunday World. Makhanya is on the national council of the SA National Editors’ Forum.

Jeremy Routledge was an activist in the Anti-Apartheid struggle in the 1980’s. A founder member of the Durban Conscientious Objector Support Group, the End Conscription Campaign, the National Education Crisis Committee, and the nonracial teachers Union NUESA, he was detained during the state of emergency. In 2004 and 2007 he spent periods of 3 months in Palestine – Sawarheh and Jayyous – with the World Council of Churches Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme, monitoring the occupation, the separation barrier and checkpoints. He also facilitated Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) workshops for both Palestinians and Israelis. A chemical engineer by training, Jeremy managed the Science Education Project training black science teachers and taught at the nonracial Uthongathi School. After the democratic elections he managed the Quaker Peace Centre and now coordinates the activities of Phaphama Initiatives providing AVP training for refugees and inmates at Pollsmoor prison. In addition, he is launching a training programme to train Gender Reconciliation facilitators.

Jonny Steinberg is the author of several books about everyday life in the wake of South Africa’s transition to democracy. Two of them, Midlands (2002), about the murder of a white farmer, and The Number (2004), about a Cape Town prison gangster, won South Africa’s premier nonfiction literary award, the Sunday Times Alan Paton Prize. His latest book, Three-Letter Plague, documents the arrival of antiretroviral medicine in a rural town at the heart of South Africa’s AIDS pandemic. Steinberg wrote a newspaper column for six years on the leader page of Business Day, a national financial daily. His journalism is collected in Notes from a Fractured Country (2007). He was educated at Wits University in Johannesburg, and at Oxford University, where he was a Rhodes Scholar. He is currently living in New York, where he is writing a book about a community of African immigrants in that city.

Post-mission statement: SA Human Rights Delegation to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories

Concluding Statement

We are 23 South Africans from diverse backgrounds.

The primary intention of our visit to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories was to understand the reality. Rather than attempting to bring solutions, or to spend our time here debating solutions, we came to learn, and to witness first-hand the suffering, pain, anger and human rights abuses. While it is clear to us that there should be freedom and security for all who live here, our deepest concern is that suffering and human rights be addressed as the basis for moving towards a resolution. We have been deeply affected by what we have seen, and intend to engage in this regard, in our personal capacities, with all our communities and constituencies. We intend to be sensitive to the anxieties and perspectives that exist, and to use our visit to promote thoughtful discussion within and between our communities.

We also came to support what we understood to be a new and small movement of Palestinian-Israeli joint non-violent struggle. We found this, and it surprised us. Our hosts have proved that Israelis and Palestinians can and are working together to bring freedom and equality for all people in Israel and Palestine. This work is characterised by mutual respect, true partnership, and a willingness to take personal risks for each other. We are immensely struck and moved by the courage and integrity of these people. Amidst the increasing difficulties under which all people are living, this work brings hope and the promise of a real peace, with justice, equality and security, in the future.

We would particularly like to recognise the joint work being done in occupied territory in Silwan, Bidu, Bil’in, Budrus, Na’alin and Hebron. This work is being done by the popular committees of these villages and cities, along with organisations including Ta’ayush, Children of Abraham, Anarchists Against the Wall, Combatants for Peace, Breaking the Silence, Active Stills, the Parents Circle, B’Tselem, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, the Coalition of Women for Peace, and Yesh Din.

Letter to editor of the SA Jewish Report

2 September 2008 (date the letter was sent)

Dear Editor

Ze-ev Krein blames Doron Isaacs for what he believes are the shortcomings of the Human Rights Delegation to Israel and the West Bank. He suggests that Isaacs has manipulated and duped 22 people with substantial records of campaigning for human rights. Krein’s suggestion is silly. None of us is naïve or gullible enough to fall prey to the far-fetched scheme Krein alleges. We joined the tour knowing its agenda and cognisant of its implications. We are all individuals with differently nuanced views about the conflict - though we all share a belief that human rights should be respected.

But it is Krein’s claim that we are ‘anti-Israel’ that is most misconceived. We are neither anti-Israel nor pro-Palestinian. We do not seek the destruction of the state of Israel. We seek peace on just terms. We participated in the tour to lend support to principled and courageous Israelis and Palestinians working together to this goal. The locus of their work is in Jerusalem and the West Bank and not Gaza or Sderot. Our objective was to see and understand the circumstances within which they operate.

Krein clearly cares deeply about the future of Israel. He would therefore do well to heed the concerns raised by members of the group. While he might not agree with all we say, when 23 diverse and experienced South Africans raise serious worries about Israeli human rights abuses perpetrated on the West Bank, we suggest it is worth considering whether there is some merit in our claims. We are hardly the first to make these criticisms. It need hardly be added that we too care about Israel and Palestine. We also care about Muslim and Jewish relations in South Africa, which are imperilled by differences over the middle-east. It is in the spirit of making a very small difference toward improving these conflicts that we participated in the tour and commented on what we saw.

Signed: - Janet Love - Edwin Cameron - Dennis Davis - Andrew Feinstein - Nathan Geffen - Zackie Achmat - Jack Lewis - Zubeida Jaffer - Farid Esack - Fatima Hassan - Barbara Hogan - Geoff Budlender - Jonny Steinberg - Jody Kollapen - Jonathan Berger

Selected media articles on the 2008 Human Rights Delegation

An old email of mine (Nathan Geffen) notes these URLS too which all appear to be broken and unavailable on the Internet Archive as of 4 November 2023: