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Guest Post: The Key is Compassion

I feel overwhelmed by the killing currently taking place in my two adoptive homelands, South Africa and Israel. In a country with 40% unemployment and with one of the world’s highest disparities between rich and poor, South Africa has been rocked by some of the most violent worker strikes since the apartheid era. Only three months ago, we bared witness the police shooting of 47 (mostly workers) at the Lonmin mine, which was reminiscent to many of the 1960 Sharpeville Massacre. Similar protests have spread to other parts of the country, and during one such protest near Cape Town four days ago, a 28 year-old farm worker was shot dead by the police; a photo of him lying in cold blood was plastered on the front pages of the daily newspapers.


At the same time, violence has severely escalated between Israel and the Gaza Strip, with rockets landing near Tel Aviv for the first time since the Gulf War. Air raid sirens are blaring in Jerusalem for the first time since 1967, and civilians in both Israel and Gaza are living in fear of when the next rocket or bomb will land in their vicinity.


I do not waste my energy blaming one side over the other in either conflict. The mine workers have serious grievances which need to be addressed, and their refusal to work is an expression of the exploitation and poverty which have not been adequately addressed by the democratically- elected government. The South African Police Service does its best to protect the public, but one must scrutinize the level (or lack) of training its officers receive in how to respond to these strikes.


Israelis, particularly in the south, have been living for many years under the threat of rocket attacks. This is no way to live, and Israel has the right to defend its citizens. While I am no conspiracy theorist, as a civically-inclined Israeli citizen, it is hard for me to ignore the correlation between the current escalation in conflict and the upcoming Israeli general elections. As the saying goes, “Don’t change horses in midstream.”

Hamas brutalizes its people and its refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state has been detrimental to the peace process. However, Hamas’ state terrorism does not negate the genuine suffering of ordinary Gazans, who are for the most part living in deplorable conditions.


The only way I keep myself sane during such turbulent times is by applying compassion to all parties involved and by not entering into polarizing political debates, especially on Twitter. I believe that the level of violence in both South Africa and Israel/Gaza is going to get worse before it gets better, and all one can do is empathize with the people whose suffering is the result of such violence. In both conflicts, the core issues at hand are scarce resources, disconnect between elected governments and their citizens, and an ingrained culture of violence. However, this does not stop me from fantasizing about a peaceful South Africa and Middle East, b’Ezrat Hashem/Insha’Allah.


Dan Brotman made aliyah to Israel from Boston in 2005 and returned to the US in 2008. He graduated from the University of Oregon and currently lives in Cape Town, South Africa. You can follow him on Twitter at @DGBrotman.