Cape Town - Cape Town’s city centre was brought to a halt on Saturday when as many as 40 000 people joined protesters across the globe in a pro-Palestine demonstration, in what could well be the biggest march of its kind the city has seen.
The crowd included a number of Jews and Christians, who joined Muslim protesters in the march from Keizersgracht to the gates of Parliament.
Similar rallies took place on Saturday in France, the US, Britain, Australia, India, Ireland and Norway.
They marched against a backdrop of further fatalities in the Middle East on Saturday. Sapa-AFP reported that Israeli warplanes pummelled Gaza with 40 air strikes that killed at least five Palestinians. Hamas militants had fired at least 57 rockets, leaving international mediators scrambling to rescue ceasefire talks. Gaza emergency services said at least five men were killed in Israeli raids, two travelling by motorcycle through Al-Maghazi refugee camp, and three pulled from the rubble of the Al-Qassam mosque in the middle of the enclave.
Israel said it had carried out more than 100 strikes in Gaza since Friday, 40 of them since midnight.
Palestinian medics say those strikes killed 10 people, the latest deaths in the conflict that has killed at least 1 900 Palestinians and 67 people on the Israeli side, almost all soldiers, since July 8.
In Cape Town on Saturday, the rally featured posters and balloons in the colours of the Palestinian flag, and T-shirts representing various NGOs, political movements and ideologies. Also on display was a large banner bearing the names of Palestinian children killed.
A groups of Jews who joined the march carried placards reading “Jewish not Zionist”.
Zandie Sherman told Weekend Argus she was Jewish, but did not support Israel.
“Not all Jews are Zionists. Some of us are scared to speak out because we are bullied, shamed or ostracised by our families if we speak against Israel,” she said.
“There are many Jews around the world that do not support Israel, and what it does to Palestinians. Israel believes that all Jews support it. But this violence won’t be done on behalf of me.”
Addressing the crowds, Marthie Momberg, one of the leaders of Christian organisation Kairos Southern Africa, accused many South Africans of disconnecting “from the principles of international law and basic decency” when it came to Israel.
“They confuse nostalgia for the biblical Israel with the modern state of Israel. This blinds and deafens them,” she charged.
Also among the marchers was Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, who declared: “We will not become haters. We are lovers.
“We are lovers of justice. We are lovers of freedom… Tell the world: ‘I oppose injustice. I am not anti-Jewish’.”
He added: “We were against injustice, oppression… everything that is evil. We did not become anti-white… I ask one thing: their struggle must be a just struggle. But it must not be that you say we are against Jews. We have Jews here who support our struggle.”
Nelson Mandela’s grandson, Mandla Mandela, an MP, also joined the march, promising that he would take the crowd’s demands to Parliament.
He quoted his grandfather: “Our freedom is not complete without the freedom of Palestinians… This is your Parliament. We will take action.”
Western Cape ANC leader Marius Fransman said: “We are pushing for Palestine to become an independent state … we are struggling for the freedom of humanity”.
Trade union Cosatu, however, challenged the ANC-led government for its “indecisive responses and pandering to the Zionist lobby”.
“We have called for trade, cultural and academic ties with Israel to be terminated,” it said.
The government recently said it would not recall South Africa’s ambassador to Israel, nor expel the Israeli ambassador.
Palestinian ambassador Nofal Abdel Hafiz, based in Pretoria, told Weekend Argus after the rally that the “South African government has done a lot”.
“We can’t tell it to expel the Israeli ambassador. That’s a matter it needs to decide on,” he said.
But Hafiz condemned Arab states for not doing more to assist Palestinians.
A group of protesters said they had travelled from Port Elizabeth to join on Saturday’s rally. Nomakhosa-zana Tyatya said they “came to Cape Town this morning”.
“We felt it’s a good thing to support Palestine. We were under apartheid. Their situation is the same,” she said.
Zim Keye added: “Our government must chase away the Israeli ambassador and our ambassador must come back from Israel.”
Erminio Fancel, from the Netherlands, said he had been to Palestine and Israel a “few years ago and spent two months talking to both sides”.
“I was very objective, but once you start talking with people from either side that changes. The inequality and apartheid is so visible there,” he said. “People are suffering much more on the Palestinian side.”
Emmanuelle Daviaud, who came from France but has lived in Cape Town for 22 years, said:
“I think it’s important to block Israel. I’ve been following the situation for years, and what happened now in Gaza is about territory and power. I don’t have an anti-Jewish position, but an anti-Zionist position.”
The police and City of Cape Town authorities confirmed that about 40 000 people joined the march on Saturday, with police spokesman Colonel Tembinkosi Kinana saying that no incidents were reported. Several other organisations however, including SA March for Gaza, disputed the figures, suggesting that more than 100 000 people were involved in the march.