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By downgrading its embassy in Israel, South Africa stands on the right side of history


Dr Basem Naim is a member of the International Relations Bureau of Hamas. Find him on Twitter: @basemn63

Pretoria’s downgrading of its Tel Aviv embassy and the ANC’s support for the liberation of the Palestinian people goes against the current international trend of shielding Israel and protecting it from repercussions for its policies and its disenfranchisement of millions of Palestinians.

The recent announcement by South Africa’s Foreign Affairs Minister Lindiwe Sisulu that South Africa will not replace its ambassador to Israel and that its office in Tel Aviv has no political, trade or economic development co-operation mandates is an unprecedented step in support of the Palestinian people at a global, political level.

This choice comes from the South African people themselves and is a grassroots response to Israeli occupation. At the ANC’s National Conference in December 2017, members came from across the country to discuss and adopt policies — including the resolution directing the South African government to downgrade its embassy in Tel Aviv. The ANC accurately described the resolution as “a practical expression of support to the oppressed people of Palestine” — a move that goes beyond symbolic support for Palestine.

Pretoria’s implementation of this ground-breaking resolution is a refreshing change and goes against the current international trend of shielding Israel and protecting it from repercussions for its apartheid policies and its disenfranchisement of millions of Palestinians.  

While the people of the world sincerely pledge support and solidarity with the Palestinian people and our liberation struggle, their governments are quick to placate the Israeli occupation regime. As we have seen — particularly in the Arab world — political and financial interests on the international stage have led many leaders to normalise relations with Israel and welcome the Israeli apartheid regime.

South Africans feel — and we have heard from many of them directly — that they owe a debt to the Palestinians.

South Africans drew courage and strength from the support so generously given by the Palestinian people even though they themselves lacked freedom,” Nelson Mandela said in August 1998.  

Now that we have achieved our freedom, we have not forgotten our friends and allies who helped us liberate ourselves. As former beneficiaries of selfless international support, South Africans have a duty to lend a supportive hand to others seeking justice and equality,” Mandela continued. 

South Africa’s move is, effectively, the launch of an official international boycott campaign against Israel.  History teaches us that there are no easy victories in the fight for justice. Successes were achieved only after years and decades of struggle, ignited by brave moves in courageous countries. South Africa’s history and struggle against the apartheid regime is proof of this. Its beginnings were difficult and costly. It faced fierce resistance from the international community, especially in the West.  

Governments in North America, Europe and elsewhere placed South Africa’s freedom fighters on their terrorist blacklists, and closed their doors on them. But in the end, the apartheid regime succumbed to growing popular pressure.

A shared history connects South Africa and Palestine. Our freedom fighters trained alongside each other in camps in North Africa and Eastern Europe, where both stood in mutual solidarity for self-determination. Like you, we are also the targets of well-funded, sophisticated media campaigns waged against us throughout the world that seeks to isolate and falsely label us as “terrorists”. 

Heeding Nelson Mandela’s warning from 1998, South Africa has not forgotten its friends and allies, and consistently provides diplomatic solidarity with Palestine at international forums such as the United Nations, Non-Aligned Movement, BRICS and SADC. At the African Union (AU), South Africa has stood firm and spoken out strongly against Israel’s normalisation campaign on the continent and its attempts to obtain observer status at the AU. 

The achievement of Palestinian unity is also important to South Africans. Several efforts have been made in South Africa to bring the Palestinian parties together to achieve reconciliation.

We Palestinians appreciate what the South African government is doing and we recognise the importance of reducing its diplomatic representation in the Israeli occupation regime.

With the re-election of Benjamin Netanyahu and his racist, right-wing coalition, we will see the worsening of the situation of Palestinians — whether in the West Bank, Jerusalem, in the Gaza Strip or inside the Zionist state.

As we brace ourselves for further onslaughts from the apartheid state of Israel, we hope that South Africa’s downgrading will, ultimately, result in the implementation of full sanctions on Israel — just as numerous states in the 1970s and 1980s downgraded and severed relations with apartheid South Africa to achieve the liberation of South Africans.

Palestinians require such strong action to end more than half a century of occupation and 12 years of siege and blockade so that we might see the return of all Palestinian refugees and the establishment of a Palestinian state. The world has been fooled by 25 years of negotiations that pretended to be about addressing Palestinians’ right to self-determination but was, in reality, an excuse for Israel to create Palestinian Bantustans that it controlled. These are not negotiations based on a balance of power; they demand the complete surrender of Palestinian rights and dignity. 

History will remember those who stood by us in our struggle against apartheid and occupation; those who did not equate the occupier and the occupied. South Africa stands on the right side of history. DM 


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