August 29, 2002
Reminders of Durban
Protests mar the U.N. conference in South Africa.
If pro-Israel activists hoped that the U.N. conference on sustainable development would pass without the anti-Israel attacks that characterized last year's U.N. summit against racism, they have been proven wrong.
On each of the conference's first two days, Palestinian supporters attempted to turn a parallel meeting of nongovernmental organizations also taking place in Johannesburg into a forum to slander Israel -- for, among other things, allegedly torturing Palestinian children, stealing Palestinian land and poisoning Palestinian water.
Yet Israeli and Jewish activists seem better prepared this year than they were at the racism conference in Durban, South Africa, where they were shocked and overwhelmed by the vehemence of the anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic attacks.
The local representatives in the Jewish caucus, led by the South African Jewish Board of Deputies and the South African Zionist Federation, had prepared kits for Jewish organizations covering a wide range of issues, including answers to media distortions against Israel. Some 50 media kits have been distributed.
In addition, pro-Israel activists are fighting back more vigorously than last year. On Monday, some 50 students shouted down the wife of jailed Palestinian militia leader Marwan Barghouti, who is awaiting trial on terrorism charges, when she accused Israel of torturing her husband and sought to compare him to Nelson Mandela.
The pro-Israel activists wore T-shirts urging pro-Palestinian activists to "Stop hijacking the summit" for their partisan purposes.They also burst into peace songs in various languages, including Arabic.
Embarrassed by its poor handling of the Durban summit, the South African government has sought to dampen Palestinian attempts to obscure the conference's environmental objectives through anti-Zionist attacks.
South Africa's foreign affairs minister, Nkosazana Zuma, warned potential demonstrators that illegal protests would not be tolerated at this year's conference, which runs through Sept. 4. Indeed, when pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli demonstrators squared off Monday over the Barghouti allegations, police intervened within minutes.
The Palestinian Solidarity Committee of South Africa is planning demonstrations throughout the two-week summit. It will continue activities across South Africa through Sept. 28, the two-year anniversary of the intifada.
Tensions flared again on Tuesday, when a scuffle broke out between Palestinian supporters and young Jews, mostly Israelis, taking part in the nongovernmental section of the conference some 15 miles from the main center.
The Jewish group, largely students, held Israeli flags aloft during a presentation by Israeli representatives on solar energy. In addition, a South African man held a South African flag. Palestinian supporters tried to remove the flags by force. Police again quickly broke up the incident.
Earlier, a delegation of several dozen Palestinians held a demonstration in which they accused the Jewish National Fund of using state land to maintain an apartheid regime.
The Palestinian booth at the summit has no environmental information, but much material attacking Israel. The Palestinians say they are too busy defending themselves from Israeli actions to worry about the environment.
Palestinians at the conference are trying to gather signatures on a petition calling on Israel to free Barghouti, and for the South African government to close its embassy in Tel Aviv and freeze ties with Israel. The petition also urges support for the Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Al Aksa Brigade terrorist groups, The Jerusalem Post reported.