Rupture Ties with Israel Now!

At which point will the South African government decide that it no longer views it morally acceptable to retain ties with Israel? This question has arisen in many quarters and more frequently now than before.

With solidarity campaigns in support of Palestinian human rights mushrooming all over South Africa and led by the alliance partners, a greater emphasis is being placed on renewed demands for boycott and isolation of Israel.

COSATU, the South African Communist Party, Azapo as well as the PAC – in addition to a broad range of NGO’s and other civil organizations – have all called on the government to suspend ties with Israel. Many of them have also demanded that the ambassador of the Zionist state be expelled and the South African counterpart in Tel Aviv be recalled.

The ongoing Israeli aggression in the Occupied Territories continues unabated, despite lifting the siege on the Palestinian Authority headquarters, where Yasser Arafat was incarcerated and subjected to the most disgraceful and humiliating treatment.

Israeli tanks and troops are at present pulverizing parts of Nablus. Images of buildings, including homes and other institutions being bulldozed and flattened, follow hard on the heels of the massacre, even if some prefer to call it call it war crimes, in Jenin. As international relief organizations battle to gain access to the devastated areas in order to provide much-needed lifelines, the UN fact-finding mission has been abandoned.

And while the world anxiously awaits and hopes, much against hope, that the toothless Kofi Annan will read the riot act to Ariel Sharon’s envoy: the siege on Christianity’s most sacred site, the Church of Nativity continues. Incredible as it sounds and looks, the fact that the birthplace of Jesus Christ in the heart of Bethlehem has been placed under the military control of the Israeli Defence Force, who are shelling this noble sanctuary, demonstrates both the ruthlessness and barbarity of the Sharon government.

Visual accounts of death and destruction inflicted upon a helpless Palestinian population and the accompanying tales of suffering and pain imposed its dispossessed masses is a terrible indictment on the international community – which does not exclude the South African government.

While deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Aziz Pahad has correctly castigated Israeli violations and advanced the argument that security cannot be based on military strength alone, unless President Mbeki announces a rupture in ties with Israel as a prerequisite to advance fundamental human rights for the Palestinians, such statements of censure will unfortunately remain rhetorical.

Failure by South Africa to initiate appropriate punitive measures will signal to Israel that its recalcitrant conduct and defiance of international laws and conventions is condoned. Not only will it discredit the Mbeki government’s leadership in the Non-Aligned-Movement, it will also raise serious doubts about the global vision of the African Union.

There is no doubt that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has poisoned international relations since the end of World War II, and to allow Israel to literally get away with murder will entrench a fortress mentality where only power counts.

In addition, reluctance to disengage until the United Nations says so, will also undermine the DFA’s commitment to democratize the Security Council, which is regularly held hostage by veto powers possessed by five countries, including Israel’s closest ally, America.

Has it not dawned on the South African government that Israeli display of aggressive conceit is a direct consequence of paralysis displayed by successive United States administrations?

Indeed, now is the time for a major initiative by President Mbeki to wrest control of the uncertain fate of Palestine from the dismal and preposterous policies of the Americans as reflected in the following words of a senior US diplomat:

“The Israelis are our allies and we are here to support them. The Palestinians are the weaker party and they will have to take it on the chin. They have to do what we tell them, it’s not fair, but that’s the way it is.”

(Mr. Iqbal Jasarat is Chairman of the Media Review Network, which is an advocacy group based in Pretoria, South Africa.)