Losing Sleep in South Africa

By Elke Weiss, December 17, 2013

To the Honorable International Relations Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane,

As South Africa is in the news due to the death of Nelson Mandela, I felt it was time to follow his example and speak of social justice.

I am sorry that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has caused you to lose sleep.  Obviously, you don’t have larger problems to worry about  in your country like:

South African police say 64,000 rapes were reported in the country last year, and many experts say the numbers are under reported. In fact, according to some theories, in the time it takes to read this letter, eight women in your country were raped.

A staggering unemployment rate of 24%.  If one includes those who have given up on finding a job, South Africa can boast an unemployment rate of 35.6%.  

60 percent of South Africa’s children live in poverty. A third lived in households where no adult was employed and nearly 2 million children lived in informal houses and backyard dwellings. A third of children do not have access to drinking water at home.

28% of South African schoolgirls have HIV, because of statutory rape by older men. 12% of the entire South African population has AIDS.


Each day an average of nearly 50 people in South Africa are murdered. In addition to these 18,000 murders each year, there are another 18,000 attempted murders. 


And that’s just in South Africa proper.  If you want to look outside, you could look into Darfur, Sudan, Eritrea, Kenya, and Somalia for vile human rights violations you should actually lose sleep over.  Do I need to list the horrors there? If not, please Google it.  I assure you, the abusive government practices of your immediate neighbors will definitely keep you awake at night.

We have something in common though. The conflict keeps me up at night too.

What keeps me up is Israel is under attack. The cities of the South are already being forced to spend much of their time in bomb shelters, and you might want to look into Sderot, a place where a lot of people are losing sleep.  Rockets have already penetrated further into Israel, including the neighborhood where the majority of my family live, well within the Green Line.

What keeps me up is I have six cousins there under the age of eight. I fear for them to live in a world that is dangerous.  I fear for outbreaks of violence that would make ordinary activities like going to a playground, riding the bus, playing aside and getting a slice of pizza dangerous. I fear them growing up in a world of suicide bombers, of mass shootings, of rioting. I fear them losing their innocence and their joy. I fear for their parents and grandparents, who just want to give them ordinary and happy lives.

What keeps me up is have cousins and friends who are in reserves. I fear them being yanked away from their loving partners and families and having to fight another bloody military operation. I fear them being physically wounded.  I fear them mentally scarred by war, by the loss of friends, by the horrors that conflict brings.  I fear them dying in war, when they have so much to live for.

What keeps me up often is the thought that someone I care about might be kidnapped, like Gilad Shalit. Two nights ago, I woke up at three at the morning, having dreamed that one of  my friends was tied in some dark closet, malnourished, sun-deprived, isolated, and helpless.

Two months ago, when twenty-year old Tomer Hazon was kidnapped and murdered by a co-worker, I had a week of nightmares of this happening to someone I treasured.

Last month when nineteen-year old Eden Atias was stabbed to death for daring to ride a bus, I had a lot of sleepless nights and checked Facebook for each of my Israeli loved ones before bed.

Most of all, what keeps me up is that people want to strangle the lifeblood of my homeland. They want to stop Israelis from commerce and academic achievement, to make it impossible for them to earn decent salaries and have a quality of life. They egg on opponents to continue a fruitless battle to destroy Israel as a country instead of providing incentives to achieve a peaceful solution to the conflict.

I doubt my letter will change your mind, but I would hope you’d go to Israel and see a country that has flaws, but also so much potential. Meet young soldiers of twenty who bravely walk in front of their troops, saying “follow me.” Meet peacemakers like Ronny Edry who started the “Love” movement between Iranians and Israelis. Meet innovators at the Technion who are perfecting incision free surgery. Meet a young country that is struggling to rise above enormous adversity and be a beacon of humanity. I could link you to everything as covered online, but please come yourself, and see us for who we really are.

Or don’t. Whatever helps you sleep at night.

Best wishes,

 Elke Weiss

Elke Weiss

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