By Craig Snoyman
Can one have memories of something that never happened to you? There is a phenomenon in psychology that is referred to as false memory. Basically not only can the mind be used, it can also be manipulated. Different scenarios will produce different effects. I know that I wasn’t at the original UN Conference Against Racism, known as Durban 1 but still have clear memories of it.
In 2001, I was a freshly minted advocate, but still had strong ties with labour and one particular trade union. It was a small mining trade union and I had a very good relationship with its General Secretary.The unionists knew I was Jewish but it made no difference. On 11 September 2001, I received a surprise visit from Vuyani, the GenSec. He was full of the joys of the world! He had just returned from Durban and was bursting with news. He and a bunch of his comrade unionists had been bussed down to Durban to attend a big conference. They hadn’t paid for anything. They were put up in a hotel and were given food and there were lots of other unions there as well. It was the first time that he had seen the sea. He saw “Coffee” (Kofi Anan) and he was sure that I would be interested to know that he saw Yasser Arafat as well. He thought that he saw lots of other famous people as well, but he couldn’t remember their names, but it was those two that were pointed out, that he remembered. There were so many people there and there was lots of shouting and protests and also some toy-toying. But everybody was busy and there was lots of talk about “Jews” and “Israel” and “Palestine” and everyone was waving posters about Israel and Apartheid.
And then he produced his prized possessions. He took off his jacket to show me the T-shirt that he had been given. “They were just giving them to everyone” he said but he could only get one. It was a T-shirt with an image, I can’t remember it image clearly but I think it was a child hiding behind an adult. The writing on the shirt is still engraved in my memory: “Mohammed al-Durra Killed for being a Palestinian”. Vuyani told me that he was keeping the shirt, but he had got a special present for me because he knew that I was Jewish. He opened up his plastic packet and pulled out a book. “They were giving these away and I knew that you would want one!” Out popped a soft-cover book with large writing on the front cover “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion”. I was dumbfounded. I know that I must have reacted because he asked me what was wrong. I can remember telling him that the book was banned and that he must destroy it. I don’t have much recollection of the rest of our meeting.
So that’s what I remember of the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance held at Durban in 2001. I can remember my wife phoning me later in the day telling me that “they’re bombing America”- which turned out to be the terror attack on the World Trade Centre in New York, but my memories of Durban are stronger than my memories of New York.
It’s really ironic; I’m sure I must have known about al-Durra before but it probably never rang any bells. Then, suddenly, it was in the forefront of my mind. I had grown up hearing about the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and even as a secular Jewish boy in a government school I knew it was virulently antisemitic. This is what what Durban I and all the other subsequent Durban conferences have been about – lies and hatred!
The killing of Mohammad al-Durra occurred about a year before the conference during the ongoing Intifada. Video footage taken by a freelance Palestinian television cameraman was screened by France 2. The footage shows Mohammed being given cover by his father as they crouched behind a concrete cylinder. Mohammed was crying and his father was waving. They were seen to be caught in the crossfire between the Israeli military and Palestinian security forces. Then there was a burst of gunfire. Mohammed slumped, having been mortally wounded by gunfire and died soon after. The footage gained mega-traction and was distributed worldwide. Israel, initially admitted to killing al-Durra and this was the position when the conference was held. (Israel subsequently withdrew its admission.) Israel was the self-confessed villain, the killer of innocent Palestinian children. The world didn’t want to hear anything else, they lapped it up. It was a vindication of their previously held opinions. A year later, it was still big news. By all accounts, the T-shirts of al-Durra must have flooded the Durban conference. It was the perfect foil for the conference, which in hindsight, was a premeditated orgy of anti-Zionist and antisemitic hate.
Winston Churchill once said that a lie will fly around the world before the truth has had time to put on its pants. The al-Durra narrative flew around the world many thousands of times before the truth found its pants. Slowly but surely the story started falling apart. The France 2 journalist admitted that he didn’t see the incident, he relied on his Palestinian cameraman. Then there were lengths of time that were missing from the video clip. After the shooting, the clip went blurred. Then the Palestinian cameraman denied what he had sworn to in his affidavit, refuting his early oath that al-Durra had been shot in cold-blood. Then discrepancies entered into the matter. – If he was shot and killed why was there no blood on the scene? Where were the bullets? Initially, the cameraman said the bullets were collected by the Israelis. Later Mohamed’s father said the Palestinians had all the bullets. There was a problem with the time-line of the incident; it didn’t correlate. Mohammed’s father, who claimed to have been hit in the leg by nine bullets was also shown to be a liar as the scars on his legs were pre-existing., even although his Palestinian doctor on the day confirmed there were gunshot wounds to his leg. In 2012, when the medical records of the father were finally examined, the wounds were found to be completely different from those previously described. No bullets were ever produced, no inquiry by the Palestinians was even done and there was no inquest. Israeli soldiers denied that the incident could have taken place in the manner described. The Palestinians refused the Israelis access to the body and any medical records. In a subsequent Israeli recreation of the incident, it was found that if al-Durra was shot on the scene then the shots would have been fired by the Palestinian security forces. Seven years after the incident, the general view was that either the Palestinians shot al-Durra or it was a Pallywood set-up. (On Appeal, the French Court was of a similar opinion, reversing the lower court finding of defamation of France 2) So by 2012, some twelve years after the al-Durra incident took place, it was shown to be a scam, but the damage to Israel and its reputation was irreparable. Vuyani didn’t have a clue who Mohammed al-Durra was, but he – and no doubt thousands of others – went around wearing this shirt, proclaiming the blood libel on a daily basis.
The availability of the book “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” was equally amazing. South Africa, with its much touted “best-in-the-world” Constitution, prohibiting hate-speech made no attempt to prevent the distribution of the book at the Conference. Hitler’s “Mein Kampff” was also freely available. Apparently, the only thing not freely available were the Jewish participants and Jewish protestors at the conference, “whose safety could not be guaranteed” and had indeed withdrawn in fear of harm to life and limb, their voices having been drowned in the melee.
Somewhere in the recesses of my mind, I recall the Protocols as originally being a French creation from the nineteenth century and then adapted to the Russian condition. My google sources of reference state it as being a Russian creation of the early twentieth century, and recesses of my mind seem to be far more vast than my active memory. Maybe it’s just another of my false memories! But then my recesses have difficulty distinguishing one antisemite from another. The import of this locus classicus of antisemitic poison is to record a series of meetings held in Basel, Switzerland in the late nineteenth century. Ring a bell? Herzl’s first Zionist Conference just happened to be held in Basel at that time. The report details 24 meetings in which the Jews plan to create a world state under their control. If the Jew’s liberalism (then, as now a dirty word) could not subvert the world then the Jews would do it by socialism. Another bell starts ringing – Jews and the Menshevik party of Russia were becoming a threat to the Tzar with their (socialist) trade union activism. It was also published at the same time as the start of another pogrom against the Jews in Russia. The Protocols explain that the Jewish plots would proceed but if the Jews failed in these attempts, then all the capitals of Europe would be sabotaged. Another bell ringing? The Balkans was a tinder box at the time. The Protocols was rapidly translated into the languages of international discourse – English, French and German – the world had established the cause of all the problems in the world.
It was the Jews’ fault.
Churchill’s proverbial pants again took time to get pulled up. By 1921, the Protocols had been authoritatively discredited as a fraud and a hoax. Yet despite numerous and regular proofs of its falsity, it remains a widely published book and freely available, even at a World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, a hundred years after its publication. In Durban, as with the Protocols, the perfect evil villain had been created and again attacked with little fear of actual consequence. The world didn’t want to hear anything else, they lapped it up. The Durban Conference established the cause of all evil in the world. It was Israel’s fault, and it was officially, and solely, identified as such. The need for a legitimate antisemitic, anti-Zionist body also translated into world discourse – the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction (BDS) – was evolved to fight the greatest evil that the galaxy (and beyond) has ever known – the evil Zionist oppressor, of course!
That, to me is what Durban I was all about. All these famous people in Mandela’s South Africa proudly and vocally heaping blame on Israel for the world’s trouble and all based on lies, fraud and hoaxes. It was only in Israel that senseless violence against innocent children took place. It was only in Israel that Nazism had resurrected its head. It was only in Israel that racism existed. It was only in Israel where Zionism had been translated into a dominating and racist ideology used for oppressing people. It was only because of Israel that intolerance and hate and violence in the world existed. And for that, Israel – and only Israel – deserved excoriation. Excoriated they were, lead by past and future Nobel Peace Prize luminaries such as Koffi Annan, Mary Robinson, Yasser Arafat and our own Nelson Mandela!
This disgracefully fraudulent House of Cards has not fallen. Churchill’s pants have been pulled up but to no avail. We are on the eve of Durban IV, the rehash. Many “western” democracies have pulled out of the conference. There is only one small voice shouting about the despicable nature of the attack on Israel and that is from the world’s “oppressor” itself. Why should anyone choose to believe Israel anyway? The West has done its part; it withdrew from the conference. Should one expect more? Maybe just a small expression of condemnation? It doesn’t seem that the world thinks so.
I sit with my false memories, transposed from a naïve trade unionist and realize that these false memories are what we South Africans refer to as “msmallinyana skeletons”(small skeletons). The United Nations, however, sits with the entire stinking, rotting corpse of Durban 1 on display on the outskirts of its opening of Durban IV.
About the writer:
Craig Snoyman is a practising advocate in South Africa.
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