South Africa has recalled its ambassador to Israel to protest against Israeli armed forces killing over 40 “peaceful” Palestinian protesters in Gaza.
It was not clear on Monday evening if ambassador Sisa Ngombane would eventually return to Tel Aviv, since the ANC had in December already decided to downgrade South Africa’s embassy to a liaison office.
Some South African officials expressed the hope that the recall of Ngombane would be the first concrete move towards the expected downgrade.
However, a Department of International Relations and Co-operation official pointed out that Ngombane had been recalled to Pretoria “until further notice”. This raised the possibility that he might return.
The Jewish community in South Africa said the decision to recall Ngombane was “outrageous”, because Israel had the right to defend its own border and its own citizens against Palestinians being incited by Hamas to storm the security fence and attack Israeli civilians.
The Palestinians killed on Monday were protesting against what the South African government called the “provocative” inauguration of the new US embassy in Jerusalem.
Both Israel and Palestine claim Jerusalem as their capital and so all states have so far avoided the controversy by stationing their ambassadors in Tel Aviv. But on Monday US President Donald Trump kept a campaign promise by moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, formally recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and provoking widespread protests among Palestinians.
The move was also criticised by some world leaders and Pope Francis who expressed his “deep concern” about the move.
“The South African government condemns in the strongest terms possible the latest act of violent aggression carried out by Israeli armed forces along the Gaza border, which has led to the deaths of over 40 civilians,” Ndivhuwo Mabaya, spokesperson for the Department of International Relations and Co-operation, said in a statement:
“The victims were taking part in a peaceful protest against the provocative inauguration of the US embassy in Jerusalem.
“This latest attack has resulted in scores of other Palestinian citizens reported injured, and the wanton destruction of property.
“Given the indiscriminate and grave manner of the latest Israeli attack, the South African government has taken a decision to recall Ambassador Sisa Ngombane with immediate effect until further notice.
“As we have stated on previous occasions, South Africa reiterates its view that the Israeli Defence Force must withdraw from the Gaza Strip and bring to an end the violent and destructive incursions into Palestinian territories.”
South Africa maintains further that the violence in the Gaza Strip will stand in the way of rebuilding Palestinian institutions and infrastructure.
“The routine actions of the Israeli armed forces present yet another obstacle to a permanent resolution to the conflict, which must come in the form of two states, Palestine and Israel, existing side-by-side and in peace.
“Like other members of the international community, South Africa is disturbed by the latest deadly aggression and reiterates calls made by several member states of the United Nations for an independent inquiry into the killings, with a view to holding to account those who are responsible.”
The South African Jewish Board of Deputies and the SA Zionist Federation said in a joint statement on Monday that Pretoria’s decision to recall its ambassador was “outrageous” and showed double standards.
The two organisations representing the Jewish community said they regretted the loss of life of civilians, but that “Israel as a sovereign state has the right to defend its own border and its own citizens. Israel is facing a real danger with the incitement by Hamas of its own population to storm the security fence and attack Israeli civilians.
“By withdrawing its ambassador, South Africa is essentially walking away from playing any meaningful role in finding a sorely needed resolution to the conflict.
“The rhetoric used by the government has already spilled into anti-semitic comment on various social media platforms and the biggest losers are the South African Jewish community, and other peace loving South Africans.
“This is a victory only for extremism in the Middle East. We call on the South African Government to reconsider its decision immediately.” DM
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