By Justice Nkomo and Tshediso Mangope
Growing up in South Africa, our families directly suffered under the unjust systematic racial discrimination known as apartheid. Our parents and grandparents witnessed the inhumane cruelty of apartheid first-hand.
Naturally, when we heard about Israel allegedly unleashing policies victimizing Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, similar to the South African apartheid experience, we were drawn to support the solution presented to us: the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement isolating and punishing Israel. We felt then that this was our chance to help dismantle discriminatory tactics harming Palestinians, and we embraced this opportunity to ensure that no one would fall victim to any semblance of apartheid ever again. And so we joined BDS.
During our time in high school and college, we each assumed various leadership positions including serving in the African National Congress Youth League, the Young Communist League of South Africa, the South African Students Congress at the University of the Free State, serving as elected Branch Secretary of the South African Communist Party for two consecutive years, and leading the African National Congress Youth League at the University of the Witwatersrand.
In 2013, one of us joined a group of ten other students and violently interrupted a concert by Israeli-born pianist Yossi Reshef on campus, as part of the BDS campaign against Israel — resulting in suspension from the university. The other worked as an organizer of Israeli Apartheid Week.
It is against this background that we travelled to Israel and Palestine to learn more about the conflict. And we returned back home to South Africa completely changed people. We were shocked by the amount of falsehoods upon which our views on Israel were constructed. As a consequence, we have committed ourselves to correct these falsehoods and help the people of Israel and Palestine to find a lasting resolution.
Contrary to the strategy of BDS, we are not convinced that demonizing the state of Israel and completely exonerating the other party is a correct way of facilitating peace.
Our view is that the rest of the world must afford the parties involved maximum space to negotiate and find lasting peace. Based on our experience, we are diametrically opposed to BDS’ refusal to recognize the right of Israel to exist and its commitment to isolate Israel.
This week, we are traveling throughout California speaking at UC Santa Cruz, San Jose State University, UC Santa Barbara and San Diego State University to share what we have seen firsthand, and to debunk the lies spread by proponents of the anti-Israel BDS movement on college campuses in California, across the U.S., and all over the world.
Our story is unique, and our truth stems from a deep yearning for peace in the world. We are determined South African student activists on a mission to right a wrong that we once actively engaged in. We are interested in contributing positively to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, and sharing our journey with as many student minds as possible.
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