ANC MP Mandla Mandela has called for “apartheid Israel” to be charged with genocide and crimes against humanity following the recent killing of dozens of protesting Palestinians by Israeli forces.
“We support the South African government and other UN member states that have called for an independent inquiry into the most recent killings and hold those responsible accountable for these heinous actions,” he said in a statement issued after he accepted a memorandum following a solidarity march through the streets of Cape Town to Parliament by what is estimated to be thousands of sympathisers.
Waving the Palestinian flag and brandishing placards with the names of some of the people killed in the Middle East, the masses marched to the gates of Parliament where the statue of Louis Botha was draped in the Palestinian red, green, white and black.
ANC deputy secretary general Jessie Duarte slammed the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) during her address for its comments against the government’s decision to withdraw the South African ambassador from Israel.
The government’s decision came after the Israeli defence force killed at least 58 people and wounded more than 2 700 as they protested along the Gaza border against the US opening its controversial new embassy in contested Jerusalem.
“I am speaking to you as a South African citizen and a member of the ANC who was taught: whatever we want for ourselves we must wish for others,” Duarte said.
Support from Jewish organisation
“I don’t care if the SAJBD calls us terrorists, we are going to speak what we speak here today. Children, women and defenceless people were shot and the truth is, our comrades in Palestine have come to a point where they have nothing left to lose except their lives.”
The SAJBD said in a statement that the government’s decision to recall ambassador Sisa Ngombane from Israel was “outrageous and displays gross double standards”.
“While we, the South African Jewish Board of Deputies and the SA Zionist Federation, regret the loss of life of civilians, we recognise 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.”
In contrast, the organisation South African Jews for Free Palestine took part in the mass protest, with member Heidi Grunebaum telling the crowd that she was part of a growing number of Jewish people saying “it’s enough” to Israel.
“These daily features of life and death for Palestinians constitute the international crime of apartheid. This is the catastrophe that is denied,” Grunebaum said.
Call for right of return
“This is the ongoing state of war and hatred that Israel continues to stoke. This is the catastrophe committed in our name as Jews. This is the catastrophe that we have not been allowed to acknowledge. To this we say, it is enough.”
The ANC-led march was named after the #GreatReturnMarch in Palestine where protests were held along the Gaza-Israel border from March 30 to May 15.
The main message of the march in Palestine is a call for the right of return for Palestinian refugees who were driven from their homes in the territories taken over by Israel during the 1948 war, known as the Nakba.
ANC provincial secretary Faiez Jacobs said the SA government’s decision to recall the ambassador was welcomed, but their demands remained clear.
“We call on the South African government to implement the ANC’s 54th conference resolution, which calls for the immediate and unconditional downgrade of the South African embassy in Israel to a liaison office,” Jacobs said.
“We demand implementation of this resolution which has key words ‘immediate’ and ‘unconditional’. This is our one and clear demand.”
Tutu ‘distressed’ by killings
Various organisations supported the government’s actions following the recent events in Gaza.
The Ahmed Kathrada Foundation’s executive director Neeshan Balton endorsed the call for the government to downgrade the Israeli embassy and additional state-level sanctions.
“It is important that we continue raising our objection to the occupation, colonialism and apartheid that Palestinians have been subjected to for the better part of the last century.”
The National Union of Metal Workers of South Africa (Numsa) called for a more decisive approach.
“We should have no dealings with apartheid Israel and we must double our efforts to pressurise the rest of the world into doing the same,” Numsa general secretary Irvin Jim said.
Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu said that he was “deeply distressed and broken-hearted by the massacre perpetrated by the state of Israel in Gaza”.
“I pray to God to open the eyes and hearts of all citizens of the Holy Land – and of political and religious leaders across the world – to assist them to recognise our common humanity and membership of God’s family.”