On the 10th of July, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (South Africa) convened an urgent media conference in response to the escalating massacres of the Palestinian people in Gaza. Various other political and social forces joined the PSC, as the groups united to announce a series of demands to the South African government, the international community and the Occupation.
In front of a crowded hall and with a significant presence from the media at the COSATU Trade Union building, speakers explained their demands of cutting diplomatic relations with Apartheid Israel and calling for a comprehensive popular campaign to isolate the regime. Speakers at the conference included: Willie Madisha (president of COSATU), Eddie Makue (general secretary of the South African Council of Churches), Ali Halimeh (Palestinian Ambassador to South Africa), Virginia Tilley (academic and author), Na’eem Jeenah (chair), Salim Vally (Palestine Solidarity Committee and Patrick Craven (spokesperson for COSATU).
The delegates of the various organizations represented in the speakers panel, issued the following declaration at the end of the conference, to lead the way to further action:
We, delegates of organisations and movements that represent and have the support of the majority of South Africans, oppose and condemn the Israeli atrocities in Palestine and we make the following call:
â¢ We call on the South African government to immediately recall the South African ambassador from Tel Aviv and to begin the process of ending diplomatic relations with Israel;
â¢ We call on all South Africans to establish a strong, forceful and determined boycott and sanctions campaign against the Israeli apartheid state until the end of the occupation.
â¢ We call on South Africans to identify a national day of action in solidarity with the Palestinian people and to observe it with rolling mass action around the country.
â¢ We call on the South African government to ensure that no South African serves – in any capacity – in the Israeli Occupation Forces and that any South African citizen doing so will be prosecuted under the Regulation of Foreign Military Assistance Act;
â¢ We demand that Israel immediately withdraws all Israeli Occupation Forces from Gaza and ends the occupation of Palestinian lands;
â¢ We demand that Israel abides by the provisions of international humanitarian law and human rights law, and refrains from imposing collective punishment on Palestinian civilians (as per the UN Human Rights Council declaration issued on 6 July 2006);
â¢ Call on Israel to release all detained Palestinian ministers and legislators and to release all political prisoners – including hundreds of women and children;
â¢ We call on the EU to stop the severe sanctions imposed by Europe on the Palestinian Authority as a penalty for exercising their democratic right and electing a government of their choice. This by itself is a brutal intervention on behalf of the occupation;
â¢ We call on the United Nations to implement the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice on Israel’s Apartheid wall;
â¢ We call on the United Nations to ensure that Israel fulfils its obligations in terms of international law.
The latest round of bloodletting in Palestine started on the 9th June when Israel shelled a beach in Gaza, gruesomely killing eight civilians and injuring 32. Four days later, Israeli aircraft fired missiles at a van in an extrajudicial assassination of two Palestinians in Gaza City. A second barrage of missiles fired shortly afterward killed nine Palestinian bystanders. Last Tuesday, Israeli warplanes fired air-to-ground missiles at a university in Gaza City, causing extensive damage. This was the second time in less than a week that Israeli warplanes targeted the largest institute of higher education in the occupied territories, with more than 15,000 students. A few days earlier, an Israeli F-16 fighter dropped a large bomb on the campus. The bombing of Gaza’s main university was part of a campaign of war crimes against the Palestinian people – especially in Gaza – including the bombing of the office of the democratically-elected Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, the destruction of Fatah offices, the destruction of Gaza’s only power plant, the bombing of boarding schools, orphanages, charity committees, clinics, the capture and detention of more than 120 lawmakers, officials and government ministers.
Many of the detained politicians were kept in solitary confinement and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert tacitly admitted that the democratically-elected officials were hostages to be used as bargaining chips for the release of an Israeli soldier taken prisoner by Palestinian liberation fighters near Gaza. Israel also, in a letter to Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, warned that it would consider assassinating Prime Minister Haniyeh.
The destruction of the power station in Gaza plunged the world’s most densely populated region into total darkness, forcing 1.3 million Gazans to be without cooking, lighting or cooling facilities. Hospitals, including prenatal wards, suffered because of the power outage.
These attacks followed a Palestinian resistance operation and the capture of an Israeli soldier. Let us be clear: the Palestinian operation was not a “terrorist attack”; its target was not civilians; it was deliberately planned against a military target. And the soldier is not an Israeli child kidnapped off an Israeli street; he is a soldier with the fourth largest army in the world, engaged in a war against a civilian population and captured while he was in active duty in that war. In terms of international law, he is a legitimate target; in terms of the Geneva Conventions, the Palestinians – as an occupied people – have a right to resist the occupation with any and all means necessary. Let us also be clear that until this resistance action, most Palestinian groups had maintained a unilateral 18-month ceasefire, not attacking any Israeli targets even when provoked by the murder of Palestinian civilians, including a large number of children.
And, let us note that the Palestinian resistance groups have made it clear they are willing to release the soldier if Israel would release hundreds of Palestinian women and children who are languishing in Israeli dungeons.
Israel has been emboldened by the meek international response against its atrocities in Gaza and has threatened to step up the obliteration of Palestinian civil infrastructure and the Palestinian people. Statements by Israeli political and military officials indicate that the next phase could likely be the deliberate bombing of schools, water installations, media outlets, public transportation systems and hospitals. One Israeli army general was quoted as saying, “This time, there will be no red lines, and all aspects of Palestinian life will be under attack.” The number of Palestinian martyrs in the past 72 hours, mostly civilians, is almost 60. Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, also made the astounding statement that “the lives and well-being of Sderot’s [Jewish] residents are more important than the deaths of dozens of Palestinian innocents.” The Associated Press quoted Olmert as saying, “I want no one to sleep at night in Gaza. I want them to know what it feels like.” For Israel, the life of a Palestinian is barely worth consideration in comparison to the life of a Jew. Their value belongs to a different order of magnitude. A number of Israeli rabbis question the very humanity of Palestinians. While attempting to apologize for the recent deaths of 14 Palestinian civilians by Israeli shelling, Mr. Olmert reportedly asserted that “threatened” Israeli lives are “even more important”.
Israel’s refusal to negotiate the release of its soldier, coupled with threats to assassinate Palestinian officials, has prompted even the soldier’s father to accuse the Israeli government of seeking to “achieve deterrence at the expense of my son”.
Journalist Graham Usher says one of Israel’s aims in this invasion “is to force the Palestinian government from office via a rising curve of pre-emptive strikes.” “The ouster,” he says “has little to do with the government’s refusal to recognise the legitimacy of the Jewish state — a rejection that suits Israel since it frees it from having to deal with an elected Palestinian Authority. It has more to do with Hamas’s success not only in surviving the siege but in enshrining resistance as a central policy in its and any future National Unity Palestinian government, courtesy of the recently agreed Prisoners’ Document.”
Another aim, Usher adds, “is to repair the battered status of Israel’s ‘deterrence’. It is now clear to most Israelis that the relative quiet they enjoyed for the last year or so was not due to their army’s military prowess. It was due to the Palestinian ceasefire, observed above all by Hamas’s military arm, Izzeddin El-Qassam. Since it was renounced, 200 mortars have been fired into Israel, four soldier abductions have been attempted or carried out and two soldiers and one settler have been killed.”
Particularly concerning is Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s statement that, “It is going to be a long war.” Clearly, Israel will stop short of nothing less than the complete destruction of Gaza and the enslavement of its 1 million inhabitants.
The day after Olmert’s statement, Zeev Boim, a close aide to Olmert and former deputy-defence minister, urged hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in northern Gaza to start packing or else! “As far as I am concerned,” he said, “the inhabitants of Beit Lahya and Beit Hanun should start packing right away.” Avigdor Lieberman, another Israeli parliamentarian, called on the Israeli air force to carry out a carpet-bombing of Palestinian residential areas. Can one imagine the response if such threats of genocide or ethnic cleansing were made against Jews or any other community? But, it seems, when directed against Palestinians, the international community accepts threats of genocide as normal.
Israeli columnist, Gideon Levy, said in the Ha’aretz newspaper last week: “It is not legitimate to cut off 750,000 people from electricity. It is not legitimate to call on 20,000 people to run from their homes and turn their towns into ghost towns. It is not legitimate to kidnap half a government and a quarter of a parliament. A state that takes such steps is no longer distinguishable from a terror organisation.”
Israel is fighting the legitimate resistance of the Palestinian people; it is fighting the Palestinian Authority; it is fighting the Palestinian people as a whole. Its actions and atrocities are all a part of its collective punishment of the Palestinians. Such collective punishment is illegal under international law, as per Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention (“No protected person may be punished for an offence he or she has not personally committed”) and Article 75 of Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions. Israel forgets that you cannot bomb a people into submission, and that moral right is ultimately stronger than the executioner’s menace. As South Africans we know this only too well.