MIDDLE EAST CRISIS
Naledi Pandor denies supporting Hamas attack on Israel
International Relations Minister Naledi Pandor confirmed that she did speak to the Hamas leader to discuss getting humanitarian aid into Gaza.
The fog of the war between Hamas and Israel, already pretty dense, got a lot murkier on Tuesday, 17 October.
South Africa denied an alleged Hamas statement thanking International Relations Minister Naledi Pandor for supporting Hamas’s brutal incursion into Israel when she spoke to the organisation’s leader Ismail Haniyeh.
Government officials first denied that Pandor had spoken to Haniyeh at all. Then Pandor’s office confirmed the call, but insisted she had only discussed how to get humanitarian aid into Gaza.
Meanwhile, 10 days into the conflict, President Cyril Ramaphosa on Monday this week first criticised Hamas for its “wanton attack on civilians in Israel” – while also repeating his earlier criticism of Israel for its bombardment of Gaza.
“While international law recognises the right of [the] oppressed and people who defend themselves to use arms as a means of struggle and defence, that right must be exercised within the bounds of the Geneva Conventions,” Ramaphosa wrote in his weekly newsletter.
“The images of the killing of civilians in Israel by Hamas just over a week ago and the ongoing killing of civilians in Gaza by Israeli forces goes against the tenets of international law, which prohibits the targeting of non-combatants, especially women, the aged and children,” Ramaphosa said.
Ramaphosa’s more even-handed approach appeared to be a response to sharp criticism, especially from some in South Africa’s Jewish community, of what it perceived as the government and the ANC’s one-sided position on the warfare, blaming the attack by Hamas entirely on Israel for its occupation of Palestine territory and offering no criticism of Hamas.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Middle East Crisis News Hub
Some in the Jewish community was further outraged on Tuesday when it emerged that Pandor had spoken on the phone to Hamas leader Haniyeh and that Hamas had allegedly issued a statement thanking her for supporting its attack on Israel.
“According to Hamas, Minister Pandor expressed support for its surprise attack on Israel in which Hamas targeted civilians and took hostages,” said a statement by Karen Milner, chairperson of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies.
“Minister Pandor has chosen a side in this war. She has engaged with an Islamist Jihadist Organisation and in so doing has dragged our country into very dangerous waters.”
Daily Maverick was unable to confirm if Hamas had in fact issued such a statement. One statement circulating on social media appeared to be fake as it referred to Pandor as “he”.
It said: “The head of Hamas’s political bureau, Ismail Haniyeh, received a phone call from the South African foreign minister, where he confirmed South Africa’s support and solidarity with the Palestinian people and the people of Gaza in the Al-Aqsa, and expressed his sorrow and regret for what the Palestinian people experienced in Gaza.”
“The Al-Aqsa” appears to be shorthand for the “Al-Aqsa Flood” the name which Hamas gave to its incursion into southern Israel on 7 October.
“The head of the movement praised South Africa’s position and solidarity with the Palestinian people in Gaza and the efforts it is making to stop the crimes of the occupation and send aid,” the alleged Hamas statement continued.
The SA government first flatly denied that Pandor had called Haniye at all, according to reports. News24 said presidential spokesperson Vincent Magwenya told it that such a call from Pandor would have been impossible.
“There was no call. There wouldn’t have been a call… We don’t have a bilateral relationship with Hamas,” he was quoted as saying.
But shortly after that the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (Dirco) confirmed the call – though it insisted that Pandor had only discussed how to get humanitarian aid into Gaza and had not supported its attack on Israel. Dirco added that she had called Haniyeh at his invitation.
“The Department of International Relations and Cooperation (Dirco) wishes to confirm that Minister Naledi Pandor received a request to call the Hamas Leader Ismail Haniyeh to discuss getting Humanitarian Aid to Palestine.
“During the call, and in line with the Government’s position, Minister Pandor reiterated South Africa’s solidarity and support for the people of Palestine and expressed sadness and regret for the loss of innocent lives both Palestinians and Israelis,” the statement read.
“Minister Pandor and the Hamas Leader discussed how to get the necessary Humanitarian Aid to Gaza and other parts of the Palestinian Territories.
“The reports that Minister Pandor also offered support for the ‘Battle of Al-Aqsa Flood’ are untrue and meant to impugn the Minister and the Government of South Africa.
“Minister Pandor’s call with the Hamas leader is in line with South Africa’s readiness to engage all interlocutors as part of facilitating dialogue to end the ongoing conflict.
“South Africa therefore calls on all sides to seize the opportunity for peace as opposed to violence, and for the international community to actively advocate for the implementation of its own International resolutions and establish a credible peace process,” it continued.
Read more in Daily Maverick: ANC calls for a halt on planned Israeli strike in Gaza
A few questions remain unanswered. Like, what was the outcome of the discussion about delivering humanitarian aid to Gaza? As it happened, the European Union had just announced on Monday that it was launching an EU Humanitarian Air Bridge operation consisting of several flights to Egypt to bring lifesaving supplies to humanitarian organisations on the ground in Gaza.
“The first two flights will take place this week, carrying humanitarian cargo from UNICEF including shelter items, medicines and hygiene kits,” it said.
South Africa’s Gift of the Givers charity has been active in Gaza throughout the crisis, providing water and other humanitarian aid to the embattled residents.
In his newsletter, Ramaphosa wrote: “It has never been our nature as South Africans to reserve our empathy only for those with whom we share an ethnic, racial, religious or cultural affinity. As South Africans we have made it part of our national DNA to stand firm against all forms of prejudice including racism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and xenophobia.”
“The harrowing deaths of Israeli and Palestinian civilians is a shock to our collective humanity,” he added.
“The wanton attack on civilians in Israel and the siege of Gaza and the decision to forcibly expel a population of over one million people from Gaza, together with the indiscriminate use of force, lays the basis for further suffering and death on a huge scale.”
He concluded: “The only way to bring about peace is the fulfilment of the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people to human rights, dignity and nationhood.” DM