THE ANC issued a statement on Monday in which the liberation movement reaffirmed its support for the cause of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and the occupied West Bank. In itself there is nothing wrong with the statement, but the SA Jewish Board of Deputies and opposition parties reacted as if the ANC and President Cyril Ramaphosa had expressed support for terrorism and specifically for Hamas.
Nowhere could I find a statement linking the ANC's political interests with those of Hamas. In fact, Ramaphosa has made a clear case about the untenable situation of the Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and the fate of the people of Gaza, where the military operations after the brutal violence of Hamas in southern Israel make survival in this impoverished landscape a living hell.
In Ramaphosa's statement, which was discussed in detail earlier in the week at the ANC national executive committee meeting, the president wrote: “Like many people around the world, South Africans have watched with great anguish and pain the devastating violence and destruction in Israel and Gaza since Saturday last week."
And: “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. Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Palestine as well as Israel as they go through these difficult times."
As a foundational philosophy, this should be an ideal for all South Africans.
Clearly, the president and the ANC are being careful not to get back into the trenches of geopolitics, as was the case with the inept handling of the war in Ukraine. Ramaphosa quite rightly calls on all parties to the conflict to respect international law, and by implication he recognises the right of Israel to act militarily against Hamas: “While international law recognises the right of oppressed 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."
Anyone with even just a peripheral sense of the horror when your children and other loved ones are trapped in a warzone or any life-threatening situation should understand the injustice of civilians, the unarmed, the defenceless and children living amid the barrage of retribution. Regarding this, the ANC president wrote: “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."
There can be no doubt that Israel and Hamas — with their complex but inhumane justifications — are complicit in infanticide on a large scale.
Note that Ramaphosa's statement describes Hamas's violence against the citizens of Israel as “killings". Thus, there is no question of condoning Hamas's misdeeds. As in almost every other paragraph in the statement, Ramaphosa adheres to involving both parties in human rights violations. “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."
Israel controls almost everything that enters Gaza, except apparently the weaponry of Hamas. However, almost every reputable international organisation has condemned Israel's announcement that food, water and electricity to Gaza would be cut off. And, if you have any human dignity or respect for human lives, you should also condemn it. Ramaphosa states this reality in elementary terms: “Acts of collective punishment like cutting electricity, food, water, medical and other essential supplies to civilian populations are abhorrent, as is the deliberate destruction of people’s homes."
All responsible people should have an understanding of this point of view. Giving a million people 48 hours to leave one of the most densely inhabited residential areas in the world constitutes no real attempt to ensure the safety of innocent people. Gaza is plagued by the most unimaginable poverty, and it is not possible to carry out a logistical operation of such magnitude in a humane fashion, especially when conducted amid the unimaginable violence of long-range missiles. For Israel, this is a military issue, and airstrikes are one of the ways to destroy the more than 1,500 underground tunnels from which Hamas operates, but for families without the logistical capacity to move from there at once, it is a nightmare of destruction and violence.
It recently became known that Naledi Pandor, South Africa's Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, supposedly discussed possible humanitarian support for the people of Gaza in a telephone conversation with Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh. After a meeting in Doha, Qatar, with Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, Haniyeh also held talks with Malaysia's Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim and Turkey's Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan, all leaders who have expressed strong support for Hamas's murderous Operation Al-Aqsa Flood on October 7.
Most international leaders would avoid being associated with Haniyeh, precisely because it may indicate support for the kind of international terrorism linked to Iran. For example, Haniyeh met President Tayyip Erdoğan of Türkiye in February 2020, after which the US State Department issued a statement: “President Erdoğan's continued outreach to this terrorist organisation serves only to isolate Türkiye from the international community; it harms the interests of the Palestinian people and undermines global efforts to prevent terrorist attacks launched from Gaza."
Pandor's argument that she only discussed humanitarian support with Haniyeh would have been more credible if she hadn't been so loosely firing shots over the bow of what she refers to as American imperialism. The perception that she is sympathetic to Hamas, and would involve South Africa in her personal struggle, is not unfounded. The politically naive Pandor should be wary of what can be done in the name of “humanitarian support".
By the way, Pandor and ANC secretary-general Fikile Mbalula underestimate our intelligence with the contention that her conversation with Haniyeh was only about humanitarian aid. If you really wanted to provide assistance to the people of Gaza, you would contact the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, not Hamas's coordinator of military violence.
It is not only Western countries that regard Hamas as a terrorist organisation, run from Doha through a dense network of illicit financial transactions. Nor does Hamas deny its involvement in international arms smuggling. For South Africa, a link with Hamas would have enormous consequences. South Africa has been greylisted since February 24 by the Financial Action Task Force, an intergovernmental organisation with a mandate to combat money laundering and the financing of terrorism. Rumours that South Africa's financial systems are a transit route for international terrorism have been circulating for a long time.
Haniyeh is probably one of the more moderate Hamas leaders, but there is no doubt he could be linked to terrorism. There is no way he was not fully aware of the carefully planned and bloody killing of hundreds of people in southern Israel. In fact, the Israelis directly blame him as the mastermind behind the recent violence and murders of residents of a kibbutz and young people at a music festival.
Yet, in December 2010, Haniyeh said at a news conference in Gaza: “We accept a Palestinian state with the 1967 borders, with Jerusalem as its capital, the release of Palestinian prisoners and the resolution of the issue of refugees. If the Palestinian electorate approves such a peace deal with Israel, we will abide by it despite the historic stance of Hamas on the issue."
The ANC is often tempted to explain the Palestinian conflict in an African context but this does not lead to a proper understanding. The comparison with apartheid by the ANC and some international observers, and using it as an explanatory framework for the political problems of the Middle East, serves to stigmatise the formation of the state of Israel. But the reality is that South Africa's historical political injustices cannot in any way serve as a blueprint for understanding the conflict between the Palestinians and Israel.
And while the ANC often claims that our history of conflict resolution would make us the ideal mediators to help settle international disputes, nothing is further from the truth. The historical genetics of the Middle East conflict are too far removed from the theology of liberation for South Africans to play any such role, even as mediators.
The ANC was founded in 1912, and it is reasonable to argue that the roots of the liberation struggle were established as recently as the 17th century (1652). Apartheid's political roots are closer to colonialism and slavery than to the ancient existential conflicts of the Middle East. The historical and religious connections between the Jewish people and the land of Israel come from ancient times, with events and references found in religious texts such as the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) and the Torah.
The name Palestine presupposes a landscape with historical boundaries that most likely include areas within the geography of the state of Israel. Historical records indicate the existence of Jewish kingdoms in the region, such as the kingdom of Israel and the kingdom of Judah. These kingdoms had their capitals in places like Jerusalem. It makes more sense to refer to the territorial dispute between the Palestinians and the Jews as a highly complicated geographical issue, rather than in terms of the land issue plaguing South Africa.
Israel also sees these historical borders as sources of an existential security risk. It is difficult to foresee a political agreement that will deal satisfactorily and conclusively with these geographical issues and security risks. Ramaphosa's assumption that “the only way to bring about peace is the fulfilment of the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people to human rights, dignity and nationhood" is therefore theoretically simple yet politically almost impossible. But that this pursuit is unachievable does not make it any less legitimate.
The instinctive hysteria of opposition parties when it comes to South Africa's foreign policy, and the way in which the media sometimes uncritically buys into politicians' agenda-laden narrative, creates fertile territory for keyboard warriors to package cheap philosophy as legitimate truths. I don't think Ramaphosa has a full understanding of the complexities of the Middle East conflict, but it is also clear that he has learned important lessons from South Africa's naive handling of the war in Ukraine.
I agree with the president's statement on Monday, and so should all reasonable people. It might help if he sent his foreign minister for diplomatic training and reminded her that international relations are often clouded by superficial activism.
♦ VWB ♦
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