The South African Palestine Solidarity Committee called upon the South African government to cancel the proposed invitation to Deputy Prime Minister of Apartheid Israel, Ehud Olmert, to visit South Africa. Olmert is scheduled to have talks with state officials, supporters of Apartheid Israel and business people in two weeks time. Olmert’s proposed visit comes in the wake of meetings between ten senior Likud Party representatives and South African officials and Cabinet Ministers. According to an official statement the South African government views Olmert’s trip as part of ‘mediatory’ efforts to bring about peace in the Middle East.
PSC’s scepticism of this intention though is given further credence by a number of press reports which inform them that Olmert’s visit is really to seek to ”cement economic ties between the states via a protection of investment treaty”. Far from promoting peace, Olmert’s visit will merely give credibility and legitimacy to Apartheid Israel.
The PSC finds the invitation to Olmert deplorable. Palestinians and supporters of justice around the world have just commemorated the 22nd anniversary of the Sabra and Shatilla massacre of 3 000 largely women and child Palestinian refugees in Beirut (even an Israeli court found that Sharon was complicit in this). This week marks the fourth anniversary of the second intifada (uprising) against the Israeli occu pation. Occupation Forces continue to massacre Palestinians with helicopter gunship missiles and tank shells. The latest outrage is in the poverty stricken Jabalya refugee camp in the Gaza where scores of civilians have been killed and homes destroyed.
According to B’tselem, an Israeli human rights group, the occupation forces have killed over 500 children since September 2000. From the beginning of this year over 400 unarmed Palestinian civilians have been killed. B’tselem’s report underscored Israel’s collective and comprehensive war against Palestinian society, including the demolitions of homes and the wanton destruction of farms, orchards and infrastructure as well the sweeping internment of Palestinian civilians for long periods of time. According to the report, Israel now interns some 8000 Palestinians under appalling conditions, including 360 children and minors. Moreover, the report pointed out that as many as 7000 Palestinian homes were destroyed by the Israeli army during the past four years. These are crimes against humanity.
During the darkest days of apartheid, Nelson Mandela refused P.W. Botha’s offer of freedom in exchange for the Bantustan sytem and the renunciation of the armed struggle. Madiba understood the futility of such an engagement with Botha. International condemnation and isolation of South Africa, combined with mass internal resistance, ensured that negotiations with the National Party began with the release of political prisoners and on the premise that democracy would take root. To suggest that the current Israeli regime seeks a similar solution is preposterous. Israel continues the building of the Apartheid wall (in violation of the ruling of the International Court of Justice which our government played an active role in securing), stealing more Palestinian land and leaving the citizens of the West Bank and Gaza in a Bantustan system of hellish prisons.
The government of South Africa must remember that Olmert was one of the Zionist extremists who opposed even the flawed Oslo Accords as he feared they might one day lead to a Palestinian state. As mayor of Jerusalem he oversaw the construction of many settlements (illegal under international law) and declared that the city would remain ìunited under Israeli control for eternityî (also illegal). That South Africa should entertain Likud, a vicious racist party which makes the AWB during its heyday look moderate is a disturbing development in our country.
The importance of building an international movement to help defeat Apartheid South Africa is a lesson we now apply to Israel. Engaging with Sharon and a Likud administration bent on the elimination of the remaining Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza is damaging to any prospects of peace. It merely legitimises the current Israeli government and gives credence to the idea that Israel can make peace without the international isolation, sanctions and boycotts which were so vital to the South African experience. And that it can impose a ëpeaceí without even having to discuss it with the Palestinian people. What Sharon and his gang really want is the ‘peace’ of the graveyard.
Two weeks ago, at a gathering of anti-war movements in Beirut, close to 250 organisations from 54 countries unanimously endorsed a boycott campaign against Apartheid Israel. Recently, the influential Anglican Peace and Justice Network (APJN) agreed to be part of the rising support among churches, universities and trade unions in the West for a divestment campaign modelled on the popular boycott of apartheid South Africa. APJN said it would press leaders of the 75 million Anglicans and Episcopalians worldwide to impose sanctions on Israel after an eight-day visit to the occupied territories. In July, the general assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States which has 3 million members, voted overwhelmingly for a boycott of Israel. Some Scandinavian churches are also pressing for a boycott of Israeli goods.
The South African government which should be in the lead in promoting a sanctions campaign against Israel is instead working against this. It is squandering the moral high ground earned by our people through great sacrifice.
The PSC notes the South African government’s current co-operation with the prosecution of mercenaries in Equatorial Guinea and Zimbabwe. We applaud such actions but ask why the government has failed to engage in steps to prevent and prosecute the hundreds of South African mercenaries serving the interests of illegal occupations in both Palestine and Iraq. The PSC asks for consistency in foreign policy and the implementation of measures to bar South Africans from serving in the Israel Defence Force and private American war firms.
The PSC finds it deeply distressing that South Africa chooses to forge closer ties with the racist and apartheid regime of Israel rather than building international opposition and pressure for peace and justice. The PSC will hold protests on 16th October across South Africa to highlight our solidarity with Palestinians under occupation and in the diaspora and to oppose Olmert’s visit to South Africa.