A South African pro-Palestinian activist has deplored the oppression of Palestinians in the West Bank at the hands of Israeli settlers, whilst also noting his own experiences of xenophobia in the region. Itani Rasalanavho, who hails from Soweto, has been working as a volunteer in Hebron over the past month as part of the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme for Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). He has been documenting his experiences on Facebook, on his page called From Soweto to Hebron.
The EAPPI was established in 2002, after a number of churches in the West Bank called on the international community to assist in bringing about an urgent intervention in the Israeli occupation of Palestine. The organization regularly sends activists to observe the situation in the area. Rasalanavho is part of the 63rd EAPPI team to visit the West Bank.
Having arrived in Palestine during the middle of Israel’s 50 day siege on the Gaza Strip, he recallled that tensions has been at an all time high. Upon entering the West Bank itself, the team were witness to many young Palestinian children who were agitated and angered by the current situation and who were eager to defend themselves.
“This is something they have inherited from their parents and grandparents. It is not good for them mentally and physically. It is not normal,” he said.
The city of Hebron is unique in the sense that, it is the only settlement within the West Bank where natives and settlers live side by side. As a result, Rasalanavho said the tensions between the respective sides were more evident there than anywhere else. He also noted that the team itself had experienced numerous xenophobic threats at the hands of settlers.
“There is one famous settler called Anat Cohen, she is very famous for xenophobic attacks, and she had been calling us Nazis. We have been called Nazis and baboons, and there was a point when we were at a Palestinian cemetery and we were told that that is where we belong,” he noted.
Despite the constant attacks, Rasalanavho said the team had learned to deal with such situations, by avoiding any retaliation and simply walking away.
“Immediately when they start attacking you, you can just smile and greet as you move away from them. It kind of embarrasses them, because they are trying to pick a fight so that you can respond and get arrested,” he said.
Despite their oppression, he said the Palestinian natives continued to carry a sense of hope that they would one day be liberated.
“In each and every city and refugee camp that I have been to, there is a symbol and a graphic of a key. This signifies the hope that one day they will open the gates into the towns and villages which they have been driven out of,” he said. VOC (Mubeen Banderker)