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Muslims in South Africa still reeling after fatal attack on pro-Palestine family

The attack on the family sent shockwaves across a Muslim community already traumatised by Israel's ongoing war on Gaza
The Hoosen-Preston family were attacked early on Sunday morning in the South African eastern port city of Durban [Facebook/MEE]

South Africans are still trying to make sense of a horrific attack on a Muslim family that left one woman dead and two others in intensive care last week, as speculation that the deadly assault may be linked to the family's pro-Palestine views continues to spiral.

The murder made international news earlier this week - and spiked racial and religious tensions in the country - after a video showed a 44-year-old man from a prominent Jewish family admitting that he had attacked the family because they had allegedly made light of the troubles faced by his cousins in Israel.

Grayson Beare, the adopted but estranged son of Julian Beare, chairperson of South African Holocaust and Genocide Foundation, stabbed Halima Hoosen-Preston to death. She was 49.

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He went on to stab her husband Sean and their 18-year-old son Adam, in view of their 13-year-old daughter Sophia, who managed to escape unscathed.

Beare has been since charged with murder and two counts of attempted murder. 

Fatima Asmal, a spokesperson for the family, told Middle East Eye that the community and police were slowly trying to piece together the exact circumstances of the tragedy.

Asmal said that the family confirmed the accused was not a stranger to the Hoosen-Preston family. He was, however, an acquintance whose former wife was friends with the family but they had very little contact with him previously.

Asmal said that Beare broke into their home in the early hours of Sunday morning. 

"He forced himself into the house. He broke a window and went in and began attacking them," Asmal said.

In the police report, shared with MEE, the reporting officer said the motive of the attack was unknown, "although a 10-year-old survivor has told the police that the suspect stated that he was stabbing them because they supported Palestine. The man also allegedly threatened to rape the little girl".

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The family has since corrected the record saying that the young girl was 13 years old.

In the viral video, Beare says he had rejected religion and described himself as a former Zionist.

Asmal said she, too, watched the viral video in which "he tried to justify his heinous actions by stating that he was provoked by Halima laughing upon hearing that his relatives had died in Israel [but] the Preston family has made it clear that they are viewing this as purely a criminal matter and want it to be dealt with accordingly".

Likewise, in a statement released by Sean Hoosen-Preston, who remains in hospital with his son after suffering multiple stab injuries, the family said they were still trying to process the tragedy before speaking more about the incident. 

"When we have sorted out the statements with the police and we know what we can and cannot release, we will make an official statement. The police have given us our space because the injuries have been critical and the whole family is in trauma. But that should be happening soon, so until that takes place we are going to limit what we say," Sean Hoosen-Preston told MEE.

South Africa's National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) did not reply to MEE's request for comment.

Shockwaves across the country

The attack on the Hoosen-Prestons on Sunday sent shock waves across a Muslim community already traumatised by Israel's ongoing war in Gaza, which has killed 36,000 Palestinians and injured tens of thousands of others.

In a country known to the rest of the world as a bastion of pro-Palestine activism, the murder has prompted tough questions about the possible dangers associated with it, especially as pro-Israel supporters begin to lose ground.

Several South African pro-Palestine activists have told MEE that death and rape threats have been routine from pro-Israel supporters since 7 October.

In South Africa, the pro-Israel lobby has been incensed over the stance of the South African government in taking Israel to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) with the accusation of genocide.

Organisations like the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) have described South Africa's effort at the ICJ as "inverting reality" and as "antisemitic".

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"The fact that South Africa has bought into this inversion, to the extent that it has taken Israel to the International Court of Justice, can only be interpreted as antisemitic," the SAJBD said.

In response to the attack on the Hoosen-Prestons, mainstream Jewish organisations in South Africa, like the SAJBD, said they were outraged by the incident and called for a thorough investigation. 

"In this highly charged environment, we call for calm from all communities so that justice can prevail," the SAJBD said.

However, in a statement issued by the anti-Zionist group South African Jews for a Free Palestine (SAFFP), the organisation inferred that it was mainstream South African Jewish organisations who were "fanning the flames of hatred among us".

"They may claim that the alleged perpetrator is none of their responsibility. They cry instead that anti-Zionism is antisemitism - a crime in South Africa - but do not have the substantive cases to back their claims, often against those who see Zionism as an explicit articulation of racism," the group said.

"This heinous act should not and cannot be seen in a vacuum. Similar to the stabbing and murder of the  Palestinian child in the US, the perpetrator was groomed by media lies and disinformation, and the conflating of pro-Palestinian people with terrorists," the KwaZulu-Natal Palestine Solidarity Forum said in a statement.
The Beare family immediately distanced themselves from the accused, condemned his actions and alleged that he had been previously treated "for an array of substance abuse and psychological issues".

"While nothing we say or do can reverse these violent actions, as a family, we stand with the Hoosen-Prestons and offer them our full support. We were also horrified by his deeply upsetting comments that we heard in the video currently circulating. We totally reject any association with what he said and what he has done," the statement added. 

The defence team also said in its submission that the accused was diabetic, bipolar and suffers from schizophrenia.

His case has been postponed to 11 June.

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