It is with great humility and honour that I write this article on behalf of the Palestinian people and its leadership in 2017 and in the month of October. This month marks the centenary of the life and legacy of Comrade President Oliver Reginald Tambo, an international figure in the struggle against apartheid and solidarity with the oppressed people of the world, including us Palestinians.
In 1976 already Tambo said: “It behoves me… to express our unswerving solidarity with the just cause of the Palestinians.” Throughout his years he remained consistent in his support of the Palestinain struggle against Israeli oppression, and in 1992 he said: “I reaffirm the principled solidarity of the African National Congress and the people of South Africa with the struggle of the Palestinian people.”
The situation of the Palestinian people under the Israeli occupation remains dire due to the repressive, destructive and colonial policies and practices that continue to be perpetrated by Israel, in grave violation of international law, with impunity, as the international community continues to fail to hold Israel accountable in accordance with the law.
Combined with the Israeli government’s rejection of peace and relentless provocations and incitement, this situation has deepened the sense of insecurity among the Palestinian people and the hopelessness regarding any possible redress of this appalling injustice.
The year 2017 marks 70 years since Nakba Day (Day of the Catastrophe) when the Israeli military forces dispossessed over half of the indigenous population of Palestine in 1948 from their homeland, and destroyed more than 400 Palestinian villages and towns. It also marks 50 years since the Israeli military occupation of Palestinian territory including East Jerusalem in 1967 and yet Israel continues its violations and illegal practices, besieges Palestinian cities and villages, holds thousands of Palestinian political prisoners in its prisons, and has the intention to further the construction of thousands of settlement units on our land.
The confiscation of Palestinian land by Israel will leave no room for our people to establish a state and it destroys the very foundations of the two-state solution and the chances for peace and stability.
Clearly, Israel is bent on entrenching the military occupation and its illegal settlement enterprise, further reaffirming its intentions of displacing Palestine and replacing it with “Great Israel”.
Furthermore, Israel persists with its illegal and immoral blockade on Gaza, which continues to gravely impact the 2-million Palestinian civilians, who are suffering a dire socio-economic and humanitarian crisis deliberately caused by the occupation, despite the repeated calls to end the blockade, which constitutes collective punishment prohibited under international law.
At the same time, Israel continues its arrests and detention raids throughout the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. Palestinian civilians are being detained daily, with young men and boys especially targeted by the occupying forces that routinely assault, humiliate and severely abuse, including torture, Palestinian civilians arbitrarily arrested or detained. We call for this illegal practice to end and for Israel to release the approximately 7,000 Palestinian prisoners it holds captive in its prisons and detention centres.
Israel, the occupying power, has imposed a regime of apartheid on the Palestinian people which closely resembles the apartheid system that existed in South Africa. However, Israel has over the years been accused of being worse than the apartheid by South Africans who have experienced apartheid such as South African human rights activists, including ANC members who on their return from visiting Israel and Occupied Palestine in July 2008 explained that, “When you observe from afar you know that things are bad, but you do not know how bad. Nothing can prepare you for the evil we have seen here. It is worse, worse, worse than everything we endured. The level of apartheid, the racism and the brutality are worse than the worst period of apartheid.”
It is no longer useful to waste time in negotiations just for the sake of negotiations, what is required is the end of the occupation in accordance with the international legitimacy resolutions. The inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, including to self-determination and freedom, are non-negotiable, and cannot be subject to the occupying power’s goodwill or lack thereof.
It is imperative that the international community assumes its moral, human and legal responsibilities and puts an end to Israel’s lawlessness and its system of apartheid and ethnic cleansing; accountability should include punitive measures and sanctions before it is too late.
Palestine continues to fulfil all its obligations under signed agreements with Israel despite its continued denial to recognise Palestinian rights, mainly our right to self-determination, and Palestine’s right to exist.
On behalf of the Palestinian people and the Palestinian leadership, allow me to reiterate to the South African government and people our sincerest appreciation and gratitude over the principled role South Africa plays in advancing the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, including its efforts exerted to mobilise support at the regional and international levels.
South Africa and Palestine’s friendship is based on our common struggle and similar experience against the former apartheid regime and the current Israeli occupation respectively. This experience has created a strong bond between our two countries on the basis of a union of struggle for liberation, freedom, justice and equality. Our similar experiences have consequently also ensured the full-hearted support and active involvement from South Africa towards the Palestinian plight; support that is much needed in our struggle towards freedom.
Allow me also to seize this opportunity to reiterate the welcoming of the recommendation of the National Policy Conference of the African National Congress on downgrading South Africa’s representation to Israel, as we look forward to your support in recommending its adoption by the general conference of the ANC in December 2017. We believe such a step would place pressure on Israel to put an end to its illegal violations of Palestinian human rights, including settlement expansion, and to provide a positive atmosphere for launching a political process that will lead to the end of the Israeli occupation and the establishment of the independent state of Palestine.
In the words of President Mahmoud Abbas before the Joint Sitting of the South African Parliament on March 2006, I quote, “We have learned from your struggle that peace is possible when justice and equality prevail. No matter how powerful the enemy is, it cannot defeat the will and determination of the people to live free and dignified. As much as we wish to live in peace with our Israeli neighbours, we are determined in upholding our national rights in our country, to reach the day when we have a free, independent and democratic Palestine, which will contribute towards the stability and prosperity of the Middle East.”
Your unwavering solidarity with our just struggle for freedom, peace and independence is a strong message to our people in their path to freedom and self-determination. Your solidarity is also a message to the occupier to free themselves from their sins and end the cruel occupation of our land, and to acknowledge our human rights and recognise the state of Palestine in accordance with international law.
It also delivers an important message to the new generation of South Africans to preserve the principles and values which were adopted by Oliver Tambo in the struggle against the apartheid regime.
We Palestinians gain inspiration and hope for justice in Palestine from the significant role that South Africa plays in leading the international solidarity with the Palestinian people. Indeed, your message of solidarity and support is a pillar which we rely on as we continue to face an extremely difficult and challenging situation. DM
Photo: Palestinian Ambassador to South Africa Hashem Dajani.
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