In his joint-author response of 5 June to my article of 3 June about the role of children in the recent confrontations on the fence between Israel and the Gaza Strip, Jeremy Gordin graciously states that he admires my memoirs, Between two Fires. If he and his co-author, Roy Isacowitz, were to refer to those memoirs, they would find a statement by Raymond Suttner of the South African Communist Party (SACP) which sums up one of the key points I made: "We need to take more determined steps to win the propaganda war as to the meaning and cause of the violence."
Before we get to that, let us dispense with the red herring of Sharpeville introduced by Messrs Gordin and Isacowitz. That demonstration was organised by the Pan-Africanist Congress and took place more than 20 years before the African National Congress (ANC) and its allies in the SACP and Umkhonto we Sizwe launched the "people's war" with which I drew comparisons. Sharpeville was also an essentially peaceful demonstration upon which the police opened fire. The demonstrators who stormed the border fence last month were armed with molotov cocktails and other things.
My two critics claim that I do not know much about Israel/Palestine. This is another of their red herrings, for – beyond callously asking "so what?" – they evade the fundamental question I posed: Were the children who participated in the allegedly peaceful demonstration "deployed in order for somebody to be able to claim that Israel had committed a crime by killing them?"
Let me then ask two related questions arising from the article by Nasser Ayalasa I cited: If you know that Israel is armed to the teeth, and if you believe that its forces are prone to open fire indiscriminately, why "instigate" children to join your demonstration? Do you have the moral right to do this?
The use of violence in the expectation that it would provoke counter violence was one of the components of the "people's war" waged from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s by the SACP and its ANC and Umkhonto allies. Its first use was in Sebokeng and other townships in the Vaal Triangle in 1984.
Another example was in the White City part of Soweto in 1986. A crowd which included militant youths who were throwing stones and petrol bombs was confronted by police. Hidden in the crowd were Umkhonto operatives with AK-47s. They fired at the police and then melted into the crowd so that any retaliation by the police would kill not the operatives but the supposedly unarmed demonstrators. A few days later the ANC blamed the police for 30 deaths and said, "We do not regret that our people have sacrificed their lives for the cause".
Attacks on the police were designed to make black townships ungovernable and enable revolutionary operatives to seize control of them. But the media and the world were watching, and the revolutionaries were also determined to win the propaganda war. In this they were cynical, ruthless, and brilliantly successful, partly with the help of allies in the media.
An essential component of the propaganda war was to blame all the violence on the National Party government and its supposed "Third Force" allies. In the process, the role of the ANC and Co in stoking violence went largely unreported by the media, sometimes through ignorance but often deliberately.
Messrs Gordin and Isacowitz bring up the question of funerals. That they get right. Another component of the strategy was to exploit funerals of people shot by the police. As a journalist on the Sunday Times wrote, they have become "roadshows of death" in which "burial proceedings have been honed into slick publicity operations geared to mesmerise the world's news media".
I touch on some of these issues in Between Two Fires. Plenty more can be found in IRR research published in People's War: New Light on the Struggle for South Africa, by Anthea Jeffery, and in The Liberal Slideaway by Jill Wentzel. I commend both books to Messrs Gordin and Isacowitz.
* John Kane-Berman is a policy fellow at the IRR, a think-tank that promotes political and economic freedom. If you agree with what you have just read then click here or SMS your name to 32823.