Andrew Donaldson writes on the old struggle warhorse’s delight in what happened on October 7th
A FAMOUS GROUSE
RONNIE Kasrils, the Struggle Trump, is a strident critic of the Israeli government and a champion of the Palestinian cause. He has been so for many years now. It was no surprise, then, to learn of the old warhorse’s enthusiastic and gleeful support for Hamas and the October 7 massacres.
That said, I was however taken aback somewhat by Kasrils’ response to Wendy Kahn, the national director of the SA Jewish Board of Directors, following her statement decrying his celebration of the jihadist atrocities.
This was a lengthy broadside against the Zionists and the “multitude of racists” in Israel that not only likened the al-Qassam brigades, the armed wing of Hamas, and their “exceptional military ingenuity” to Umkhonto we Sizwe but also managed to include the Vietcong, the Taliban and the Algerian National Liberation Front.
It was, in many respects, vintage Kasrils — doctrinaire raving with lashings of alternative facts, untruths and self-aggrandising guff. There was this paragraph, for example:
“Anyone who understands military action would know there is such a thing as informed assessment. Whether the Israelis and Zionists like Kahn like it or not, that operation will go down in history as a towering military accomplishment. I repeat again, that this is what I saluted as a student of guerrilla warfare.”
A student of guerrilla warfare, it is tempting to suggest, in much the same way that Julius Malema was a student of woodwork.
But such an appraisal, alas, fails to appreciate the true nature of Kasrils’ memorable military career, an unforgivable oversight when one considers the lengths he has taken to inform us of his derring do as a freedom fighter.
Back in 2011, for example, a somewhat awed BBC correspondent reported that, 50 years previously, a sweating Kasrils had crawled through a maize field at night in Durban to plant an explosive device on the front door of a municipal labour office. The so-called Red Pimpernel told the Beeb:
“Using a World War II approach, I sandbagged it to get the maximum effect. The timing device was a Heath Robinson affair that involved a condom and a capsule containing sulphuric acid. I hung around the centre of town until I heard the sound of the explosion. Then I caught a bus and went home. I trembled a lot and I was glad it was over, but I was elated. As I waited for the morning papers, I had a very large glass of whisky to relax.”
Several large whiskies were presumably also taken on the evening of 7 September 1992. Relaxation was certainly needed following the events of that day.
Readers will recall that about 80 000 protesters led by Kasrils and fellow senior ANC members Chris Hani, Cyril Ramaphosa and Steve Tshwete had marched on Bisho, the Ciskei capital, in a bid to force the resignation of Brigadier Oupa Gqozo, the bantustan’s leader.
Gqozo had wanted the march outlawed, but a Ciskei magistrate ruled that the protest could go ahead — provided it was confined to the “independence” stadium outside Bisho and did not enter the capital. The ANC dismissed the order; it did not recognise the court’s jurisdiction, and declared it would proceed with its plans to occupy Bisho.
The Ciskei Defence Force, in response, erected a razor wire barricade on the South Africa-Ciskei “border” to prevent marchers from entering the capital. This did not deter Kasrils and, perhaps after another of those informed assessments, he elected to lead a charge at the barricade in a bid to break through the Ciskei lines. The soldiers opened fire, killing 28 marchers and injuring more than 200 others.
The Goldstone Commission was later tasked with investigating what we now know as the Bisho massacre. It recommended that strong action be taken against Gqozo and the Ciskei authorities. The commission also castigated Kasrils for his irresponsible action in provoking the security forces into opening fire.
The commission, it could however be argued, ignored or did not recognise the strategic propaganda victory Kasrils had secured that day. The military mastermind had once again demonstrated to the world the barbarity of the apartheid regime and the desperation with which its stooges would cling to power. Learned as he may be, it must be said that Judge Richard Goldstone is probably not a student of guerrilla warfare.
But back to Gaza, where the humanitarian crisis brought about by Israel’s furious and brutal pursuit of Hamas has alarmed and dismayed even the most loyal of its Western allies.
On Wednesday, for example, Al Jazeera reported that more than 16 000 Palestinians have been killed in the Israeli offensive. Meanwhile, the Israeli military has admitted killing two Palestinian civilians for every Hamas militant in its campaign to eliminate the group.
An IDF spokesman has described the ratio as “tremendously positive”. Appearing to confirm reports that Israeli forces had killed about 5 000 Hamas militants since October 7, spokesman Jonathan Conricus brashly told CNN: “I can say that if that is true — and I think that our numbers will be corroborated — if you compare that ratio to any other conflict in urban terrain between a military and a terrorist organisation using civilians as their human shields, and embedded in the civilian population, you will find that that ratio is tremendous, tremendously positive, and perhaps unique in the world.”
Kasrils would no doubt strongly object to such a statement. He believes the IDF, which he accuses of pursuing its objectives with “genocidal contempt for humanity”, are piss-poor when it comes to military capabilities.
Commenting on the the horrific attacks on Jewish settlements and a music festival in southern Israel on October 7, Kasrils has suggested that “a significant number” of the civilians killed that day had died in the cross-fire, shot by Israeli soldiers.
“Reports reflect that some of the Israeli soldiers were poorly trained and operating in panic-stricken mode,” he has written. “So much for the IDF’s mythical invincibility. To be sure there is footage of civilians being shot by attackers. But those classifiable as attackers comprised Hamas and Islamic Jihad fighters, [as well as] those from other military groupings and a random crowd of civilian followers. The latter point is important.”
In other words, the Israeli civilians who died that day were not killed by Hamas, Kasrils would have us believe, but by these other fighters and, of course, the IDF itself. “Moreover,” he said, “Hamas had no idea there would be a musical rave underway as they moved onto the towns and villages of southern Israel. There were armed guards at that event, and their presence may well have led to further cross-fire.”
Any reasonably young person will tell you that raves and musical festivals are widely-publicised events. But that is “informed assessment” for you. (It’s not surprising that Kasrils is a former minister of intelligence. The portfolio is the natural province of the bullshit artist.)
“There is clear evidence of civilians being killed by the Israeli Defence Force (IDF),” he has charged. “It is an established fact that IDF helicopters arrived at the music festival with missiles and shells. The Electronic Intifada quotes an Israeli newspaper stating that several helicopters ‘emptied their bellies’ and returned to base to reload. An IDF pilot estimates they killed 120 there and destroyed all the vehicles.”
Claiming that your enemy has perpetrated atrocities on itself in an attempt to win sympathy for its cause is, of course, one of the oldest tricks in the book. The fascists did it in Spain after the Nazi Condor Legion firebombed Guernica, for instance. Even first-year students of guerrilla warfare know this. Throw in a few freelancers, though, and we’re in masterclass territory.
I don’t take the Electronic Intifada myself so I’m not sure how reliable a news source it may be. Their reports have no doubt “thoroughly debunked” the “lies” about the systemic gang rapes carried out by Hamas that day. But the veteran war correspondent Christina Lamb, author of the acclaimed Our Bodies, Their Battlefield: What War Does to Women (William Collins, 2020), is perhaps to be more trusted in these matters.
Writing in the Sunday Times, she has detailed the “unimaginable horror” facing those tasked with carrying out the single largest investigation into sexual violence in Israel’s history.
One member of Zaka, a religious organisation that collects the remains of the dead in order that they may be buried in accordance with Jewish tradition, told Lamb that, after collecting bodies from kibbutzim and the music festival site, it appeared that the attackers’ mission “was to rape as many as possible”. Lamb writes:
“He describes finding two girls’ bodies in a field, both shot in the head, legs apart, one with shorts ripped and shot in the vagina and the other with jeans pulled down and bruises on her legs…”
Elsewhere, at a military morgue, a volunteer told Lamb:
“Opening the body bags was scary as we didn’t know what we would see. They were all young women. Most in little clothing or shredded clothing and their bodies bloodied particularly round their underwear and some women shot many times in the face as if to mutilate them.
“There faces were in anguish and often their fingers clenched as they died. We saw women whose pelvises were broken. Legs broken. There were women who had been shot in the crotch, in the breasts … there seems no doubt what happened to them.”
Captured Hamas fighters, Lamb continued, admitted to their Israeli interrogators they were instructed to “whore” and “dirty” the women.
However, and even as organisations like UN Women are finally acknowledging and condemning these atrocities (a full two months later), Hamas continues to insist that its fighters do not rape women. One of its officials told the Washington Post that the organisation considers “any sexual relationship of activity outside of marriage to be completely haram”, or forbidden by Islam.