Gift of the Givers’ Ahmed Abbasi, killed in Gaza, honoured at Cape Town cathedral
A free Palestine and a reminder of love were the key messages at an interfaith service in Cape Town for Gift of the Givers Gaza office head Ahmed Abbasi, who was killed in the ongoing Israel-Hamas war.
‘We are all here for one purpose: our love for the people of Palestine,” said Xola Hector Mafilika from the Khayelitsha Religious Forum at an interfaith service at Cape Town’s St George’s Cathedral on Sunday evening.
The interfaith service was held in memory of Dr Ahmed Abbasi, the office head of the humanitarian organisation Gift of the Givers in Gaza. He was killed alongside his brother Dr Mustafa Abbasi on 16 November in an Israeli bomb strike as they emerged from a mosque after morning prayers, according to the aid organisation.
Read more in Daily Maverick: People are dying here – the faces and stories behind the escalating death toll of the Israel-Gaza war
At Sunday’s service, religious leaders included Imam Rashied Omar of the Claremont mosque, along with members of South African Jews for a Free Palestine, representatives of the Catholic Church and Cape Town Mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis. Former international relations minister Lindiwe Sisulu was also present.
The service was led by Father Michael Weeder, the dean of St George’s Cathedral. The church was packed with people from all faiths, with some waving Palestinian flags and others wearing the keffiyeh, a traditional headscarf worn by Palestinians.
“Soon this will be over, soon Palestine will be free,” Mafilika said.
‘Just an ordinary Palestinian’
During the service, a recording by Gift of the Givers founder Dr Imtiaz Sooliman was played. He missed the service because he was recovering from surgery.
Sooliman described Abbasi as a “great man” who gave his life for service.
Abbasi was a pharmacist who joined the humanitarian organisation in 2013. He had three children.
“Father Michael Weeder, thank you for giving honour to a man you don’t even know,” Sooliman said.
“This is not a head of state, a minister, a person of high rank, he’s just an ordinary Palestinian but he works for Gift of the Givers and that makes him special, even if I say so myself.”
Speaking on the announcement by President Cyril Ramaphosa that SA was referring the Israeli government’s actions in Gaza to the International Criminal Court, citing the targeting of hospitals, Sooliman said: “We thank South Africa, a small country in the south of the continent who was brave enough and bold enough to stand up against everyone else.”
Read more in Daily Maverick: Ramaphosa asks International Criminal Court to probe war crimes charges against Israel
“We need more countries with guts and courage to emulate South Africa’s example of the truth.”
On Tuesday, 21 November, Parliament will vote on an Economic Freedom Fighters’ motion that calls on “the government to close the Israeli Embassy in South Africa and suspend all diplomatic relations with Israel”.
Read more in Daily Maverick: All for Gaza ceasefire, but EFF motion to cut ties with Israel may be a step too far for ANC
During the service, chants of “Free, Free Palestine” were heard. Father Peter John Pearson, who represented the Catholic community, said, “Our battle today is against injustice.”
Megan Choritz, a representative from the South African Jews for a Free Palestine, received applause when she read from a letter that the organisation sent to Gift of the Givers following Abbasi’s killing.
“His death, and that of his brother who died alongside him were senseless, brutal, unfair. As South African Jews, we want to say loudly and clearly — the bombs that killed them were not dropped in our name,” she read.
“The voices of Jews who decry the ongoing violence are rising around the world as we recognise what is happening in Gaza as an old familiar trauma: genocide. We will continue to speak up, continue to disavow any claims that this war is waged in our names, or in the name of Judaism.”
Since Hamas’s attacks in Israel on 7 October, in which about 1,200 people, mainly civilians, were killed and about 240 hostages taken, Israel has launched airstrikes and a ground attack in Gaza while largely blocking supplies of food, water, electricity and medical supplies in what the government says is aimed at defeating Hamas. By Sunday, at least 13,000 people in Gaza, including some 4,000 children, had been killed in the conflict, according to Gaza’s health ministry.
Delivering a fiery sermon, the Rev Allan Boesak said young people at a march on 1 November, which called for the closure of the Israeli embassy, reminded him of young people in the 1980s who stood up for what was right.
Boesak said there was a “sacred” bond between South Africa and Palestine and made reference to former president Nelson Mandela’s remarks that South Africa’s freedom was incomplete without Palestine’s freedom.
During his sermon, Boesak took aim at the government and said, “We must do what we must do — shut down that embassy” and cut trade ties with the Israeli government.
“We will not stop until this occupation is over because we have a promise to keep,” said Boesak. He received massive applause from the audience. DM