Address by Minister Pandor to the Conference of Palestinian Heads of Mission in Africa, Sheraton Hotel, Pretoria
His Excellency the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Palestine, Dr Malki,
Her Excellency, the Ambassador of Palestine to South Africa, Amb Hanan Jarrar,
Excellencies, the Ambassadors of Palestine to countries in Africa,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is my pleasure to warmly welcome our brothers and sisters from Palestine to South Africa. We are honoured that you chose South Africa as the venue for this important meeting.
The meeting here today could not have come at a more critical time in the history of your struggle for freedom and independence. The shifting sands in the geopolitical landscape of the Middle East present new challenges, as some countries might be considering new alliances in a changing world. We don’t know how this will impact the struggles of the Palestinian people and those we considered allies in your struggle. While some might be wavering in their commitment to the Palestinian cause, South Africa will remain steadfast in our support of your just quest for freedom, justice, and independence.
The Palestinian narrative evokes experiences of South Africa’s own history of racial segregation and oppression. As oppressed South Africans, we experienced first-hand the effects of racial inequality and discrimination, and we identify fully with the struggle for freedom and self-determination in Palestine.
Our position on Palestine has always been clear, consistent, and convergent with the broader international community. We will continue to support all efforts aimed at the establishment of a viable, contiguous Palestinian State, existing side-by-side in peace with Israel, within the internationally recognised 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital, in line with all relevant UN resolutions, and international law. We are aware that actions by Israel have sought to erase this possibility, this is the desire of the people of Palestine, and we support you.
South Africa affirms that the only way to achieve peace and stability in the Middle East is through reaching a lasting peace between Palestine and Israel, and restoring the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people, in accordance with the two-state solution and the relevant UN resolutions.
Israel’s continued pronouncements about the annexation of large parts of the West Bank and the building of additional settlements further undermines the prospects of peace and are glaring examples of violations of international law. Recent developments in Ukraine and the response of the most powerful in support of Ukraine should now make if plausible for the west to support the legitimate struggle of Palestinians.
Israel has consistently offended the UN charter and ignored territorial integrity and sovereignty. Since 1967, for over half a century, Israel has constructed over 160 settlements and outposts on land seized from the Palestinian people on which over 600,000 Israelis are living.
Since the adoption of the first UNSC resolution on the situation in Palestine in March 1948, and despite all subsequent resolutions, the international community has failed to ensure that these resolutions are implemented, and no concrete action has been taken to address the blatant violations of these resolutions.
How many more reports do we need that call Israel out on their unfair treatment of Palestinians and point out that Israel is implementing apartheid? That was a central part of Amnesty International’s ground-breaking report earlier this year, and the allegations were echoed by Israeli non-governmental organisations such as B’tselem, as well as Human Rights Watch and the UN Human Rights Council’s report “International Commission of Inquiry to Investigate Violations in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem. ”The latter report found Israel guilty of gross human rights abuses towards Palestinians. South African Dr Navi Pillay played a leading role as part of this Inquiry.
The Al-Mezan Centre for Human Rights report that was released in June this year shockingly recalls that over the last 15 years, Israeli military attacks have killed 5,418 Palestinians in the besieged Gaza Strip – 23% of the victims were children, 9% were women.
The fifteenth anniversary of the 2007 closure of the Gaza strip by Israel deprived its more than two million residents of opportunities to better their lives. The closure has devastated the economy in Gaza, contributed to fragmentation of the Palestinian people, and forms part of the Israeli authorities’ crimes against millions of Palestinians.
These reports are significant in raising global awareness of the conditions that Palestinians are subjected to, and they provide credence and support to an overwhelming body of factual evidence, all pointing to the fact that the State of Israel is committing crimes of Apartheid and persecution against Palestinians.
South Africa has urged the international community and the UN to ensure the safeguarding of the rights of the Palestinian people. In this regard, we welcomed the Special Session of the Human Rights Council, which was held in May last year, and we trust that the necessary action will be taken to follow-up on the Commissions’ findings.
South Africa’s view is that strong action to support Palestine must be taken by the UN and a committee on apartheid should be established under the auspices of the UN General Assembly to verify meets the criteria. If an apartheid state of the International Court of Justice should also be playing a stronger role in charging those linked to human rights violations.
In this regard, South Africa calls on UN Member States, as well as the international community to support efforts aimed at resolving the Israel/Palestine conflict and to continue putting pressure on Israel as the occupying power. South Africa calls upon the international community to work tirelessly for the attainment of peace, and to provide strong humanitarian, economic and political support. Advocating for the rights of the Palestinian people must be accompanied by material and practical support.
South Africa is concerned at the continued human rights violations in the occupied territories and again reiterates that such violations only contribute to the fostering of hatred. Israel’s security and that of its future generations does not lie in the annexation of all Palestinian territories, the imprisonment of Palestinians, the erecting of high concrete walls and checkpoints, or the continued blockade of Gaza. Rather it lies in a peaceful and stable neighbour, a sovereign and independent Palestinian State, whose children, like Israeli children, can go to school, play, attend places of worship and compete in sporting activities in peace and security.
This can be achieved through sustained dialogue, negotiations and mediation, by both sides respecting one another and through compromise and understanding.
As Former President Mandela said, at a banquet in Cape Town for visiting President Yasser Arafat in 1998, I quote: “Our own humble experience has shown that negotiated solutions can be found even to conflicts that the world has come to regard as insoluble. It has taught us that such solutions emerge when former opponents reach out to find common ground”.
Your Excellencies, I cannot address this distinguished group of Ambassadors and not raise the issue of the African Union Commission’s decision to grant Israel Observer Status at the AU last year. As most of you know, this decision was taken unilaterally and without adequate consultation with all AU Members. The decision to grant Israel Observer Status is even more shocking in a year in which the oppressed people of Palestine were subjected to bombardments and continued illegal settlements on their land. The AU strenuously objected to the deaths of Palestinians and the destruction of civilian infrastructure. The decision by the AU Commission in this context is inexplicable.
The unjust actions committed by Israel offend the letter and spirit of the Charter of the AU. The AU embodies the aspirations of all Africans and reflects their confidence that it can lead the continent through the practical expression of the goals of the Charter, especially on issues relating to self-determination and decolonisation. Israel continues to illegally occupy Palestine in complete defiance of its international obligations and relevant UN resolutions. It is therefore incomprehensible that the AU Commission chooses to reward Israel at a time when its oppression of Palestinians has been demonstrably more brutal.
South Africa objected to the granting of official observer status by the African Union on 22 July 2021. The matter was raised by South Africa at the AU on 6 February, at the 35th Ordinary Session of the AU Assembly, the decision to grant Israel observer status was unanimously suspended. In this regard, a committee will be set up to study the issue and the conclusions thereof to be presented at the AU Summit in 2023. I trust that this mistake will be corrected.
Your Excellency, against this backdrop, the meeting here in Pretoria is of particular importance, as it gives us an opportunity to chart our way forward in determining how we will put Palestine back onto the agenda of countries on the Continent. I trust that some of the important deliberations that will be undertaken during the Conference will serve as a guide on the way forward, particularly with regards to the continued and unwavering support for the Palestinian cause on the African continent.
Your Excellencies, allow me once more to convey our warmest greetings and a message of friendship and solidarity to the Palestinian People.
I wish you a fruitful and successful Conference.