’Covid-19 has highlighted the importance of collaboration’
On International Women’s Day, Palestinian ambassador to South Africa, Hanan Jarrar, reflects on the choices she made that led her to Pretoria.
“There were two options” she explains, “but I said yes to South Africa”.
Jarrar’s work in the ministry of foreign affairs in Palestine focused primarily on relations with Latin America and the Caribbean.
“Africa was not on my radar”,” she says, “but that didn’t faze me. I always like to think out of the box, and so I did my homework, as I always do, when I make decisions.”
“The deeply rooted friendship between the people of Africa and the people of Palestine, including a long-shared history against oppression, were the catalysts in my decision to accept the post in South Africa”.
Most of Jarrar’s time in office has been during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The pandemic has highlighted the importance of international solidarity. This is what is important, and makes a difference because people become more aware of the need for multilateral forums and the importance of collaboration. This is something I really believe in, as a diplomat, an activist, a woman, and as a mother.”
Jarrar’s daughter, her eldest child, is at university abroad. Her two sons live with her in South Africa’s diplomatic hub city. She says the boys have adapted well to living in a new country, during a pandemic. “The boys love South Africa, and my youngest is learning two local languages at school”.
Jarrar believes we are each an accumulation of our past experiences.
“I was 14 years old in 1987, during the first Intifada (uprising), “ explains Jarrar. The Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation lasted until 1993. Her parents encouraged her to focus on getting an education, like most middle class parents who felt the best way to resist and overcome the Israelis was to arm yourself with education.
She started out as a translator for Arab and international relations. The interactions and engagements led her to enrol for a Master’s degree in International relations and diplomacy. On completion, she joined the Ministry of Women Affairs as director of International Relations and was involved in several key projects.
“I want to encourage women to work on themselves, to study, to search for knowledge, to be well-rounded, to educate themselves, to arm themselves with information and to take the initiative to help others along the way”.
“It is about seizing opportunities when they present themselves. Think out of the box. I believe hard work can help you achieve your goals. I am here because I had the courage to ask myself what it is that I want from life, and I pursued that.”
Jarrar believes her greatest strengths are her dedication to her work, and her quest for knowledge.
“We are learning,” she says, “and that is what I want my children, and all young women especially, to do: learn, learn, learn! Never say that I know. That means you have stopped learning. We are always learning. Even by chance, we learn.”
“I am not afraid to learn and to ask questions. I always try to find answers when I need to. I have the courage to cross lines sometimes to deliver on my mandate.”
A year on, and what does she think about the choice she made just over a year ago?
“I love the continent, the people of the continent, the simplicity of the people here. I love the vibe.”