Palestinian demonstrators run for cover from Israeli fire and tear gas during a protest against the US Embassy move to Jerusalem and ahead of the 70th anniversary of Nakba, at the Israel-Gaza border in the southern Gaza Strip. Picture: Reuters

For the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Palestinians in Gaza have been gathering weekly to demand their freedom and right to return. 

Palestinians, who have lived under a brutal siege, blocked off by land, sea and controlled by air, are daring to show the world that, despite being stateless and refugees, they are unwilling to remain silent in the face of Israel’s illegal acts.

Israel has, in turn, used the opportunity to gun down Palestinians: since the start of the protests, Israel has gunned down 111 Palestinians and injured thousands. In one day alone, Israel killed 62 Palestinians, including an 8 month-old baby. Those killed include children, journalists, the elderly and even two paraplegics. No one is immune. The reason is simple: because Israel has been allowed to get away with murder. 

To be clear, Israel is not defending anything; in fact, it is instigating murder. Those protesting are doing so peacefully, Israeli soldiers stationed hundreds of metres away have erected dirt mounds to be able to shoot down towards Gazan protesters; not a single Israeli civilian is anywhere nearby and not a single Israeli soldier has been injured. At each juncture, Israeli soldiers have faced a choice: whether to gun down Palestinians or whether to allow them to protest. Israeli soldiers have deliberately chosen to gun down Palestinians. 

To make matters worse, we Palestinians are blamed for our own deaths. Israeli pundits, seeking to justify the unjustifiable, have sunk to new lows to try to absolve Israel of its murderous ways. Whether the claim that there are “no innocents in Gaza,” as pronounced by Israel’s Minister of War or the claim that protests are not home grown demands for freedom, Israel is grasping at straws to justify its murder machine. But while Israel may try to wash its hands, no one is fooled, for no matter what Palestinians do, Israel will always find ways to justify its ethnic cleansing machine. 

For Palestinians, and for South Africans, this is not new. One only needs to recall the Sharpeville massacre in South Africa and the apartheid regime’s response to understand that what Israel is doing is the same: dehumanising Palestinians to make it easier to kill us. 

And kill they will, unless they are stopped. As we mark seventy years of the Nakba – the ethnic cleansing of Palestine – it is now clearer than ever that Israel cannot tolerate even peaceful dissent.

Now is the time for the world to state clearly that it will not accept Israel’s murderous ways; that Gaza is not the playing ground for Israel to test out its weapons on Palestinians or make them the targets of sniper training. Israel must finally face the full force and effect of the international community, just as South Africa faced consequences for its apartheid regime.

South Africa recalling its ambassador is a good step but not enough. For when the killing subsides and Israel returns to its normal practices of land theft, settlement expansion, home demolitions and besieging Palestinians, South Africa’s ambassador will return to Tel Aviv under the radar and diplomatic ties will resume as usual. This time, however, a different response is needed: it is time to cut off ties with apartheid Israel and demonstrate to the world that South Africa – a country that suffered under apartheid – will take the lead in ending it.

Undoubtedly there will be those who state that the Arab states have yet to take this stance; that the Arab states (and in particular Saudi Arabia) has not stood by Palestine. On this they are correct: the Arab states (and not the people of those states) have failed Palestinians, repeatedly, just as other, more powerful countries around the world have failed Palestinians. But while the Arab states have failed Palestinians, they cannot be placed on the same level as Israel: for it is Israel that is occupying Palestine; it is Israel that is denying us our freedom; it is Israel that is ethnically cleansing us and Israel that is murdering us. The Arab states do not speak on behalf of Palestine; Palestinians speak on behalf of Palestine and it is us Palestinians who are calling for Israel to be boycotted and for sanctions to be placed on it. The world does not need to take its cue from weak, despotic Arab regimes nor the quisling Palestinian leadership. It should take its cue from those brave Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, who despite more than a decade of Israeli blockade and siege, continue to stand tall, demanding freedom and life, and who refuse to back down even in the face of Israeli snipers.

We are at a junction point in Palestine, just as South Africa was once, with nations forced to choose whether they support freedom or support subjugation and oppression. Standing in the middle of the road, or enacting small symbolic gestures is not enough any longer. The time has come to choose. I hope that South Africa chooses freedom. 

* Diana Buttu is an internationally known lawyer based in Jerusalem who has been an advisor to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and was part of the Palestinian Negotiations Unit.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.