African nations divided on Israeli-Palestinian conflict

The war between Israel and Palestine has left Africa divided. Picture: Ahmad Gharabli.AFP

The war between Israel and Palestine has left Africa divided. Picture: Ahmad Gharabli.AFP

Published Oct 15, 2023


Dr Sizo Nkala

The long-running Israel-Palestine feud has found its way to the global headlines, as it so often does. This after Hamas, which rules Palestine’s Gaza Strip, orchestrated the most devastating attack in southern Israel on October 7, which killed over around 1,200 people. More than 100 Israelis were taken hostage.

Israel reacted swiftly by declaring war against Hamas, which has been conducted on a scale not seen before in their constant squabbles. Israel’s Minister of Defence ordered a complete siege on Gaza, which cut off food, fuel, and electricity supplies to Gaza’s more than two million inhabitants. About 6,000 bombs have thus far been dropped by Israel, targeting areas believed to be infiltrated by Hamas agents, which has razed many of Gaza’s buildings to the ground, killing over 1,500 people, injuring thousands, and displacing many more.

Israel has also mobilised 300,000 of its soldiers to prepare for a ground offensive, and vowed to flush out Hamas people, once and for all. The conflict has divided global opinion, with some arguing that Israel has a right to defend itself against Hamas, while others insist that Hamas’ attack on Israel was justified, citing Israel’s continued occupation of Palestinian land and allegations of segregating the Palestinian population in a manner that many say resemble apartheid in South Africa.

The US and the West have come out in strong support for Israel’s disproportionate response, even sending military aid to the Jewish state. The US swiftly deployed warships and aircraft to Israel to provide it with whatever it needs to sustain its attacks on Gaza. The United Kingdom also sent two of its Royal Navy ships to the Mediterranean to support Israel. Other powers, such as China and Russia, have urged a cessation of violence and encouraged the warring parties to go to the negotiating table.

The United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, struck a more balanced tone, condemning both Hamas’ attack on Israel and the latter’s disproportionate response, which has left Palestinian civilians in a dire situation. He expressed concern about Israel’s complete blockade of Gaza, which he argued may be a violation of international law, but vowed that the UN will continue making efforts to get aid to the Palestinian people.

The Israel-Palestine conflict is one that Africa has had a lot to say about, especially because, for many in the continent, it brings back memories of the much-maligned apartheid South Africa. The African Union (AU) also added its voice on the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine through a statement released by the AU Commission. The statement called for an end to the military attacks and encouraged the parties to negotiate a two-state deal, which is the only solution to the long-running conflict. The AU argued that conflict is caused by the denial of the fundamental rights of the Palestinian people, especially their right to an independent and sovereign state.

However, the AU member states have adopted varying positions on the situation. On the one hand, there are countries like Ghana, Kenya, Morocco, and Rwanda, who have come out in strong support of Israel while condemning Hamas attack. The Kenyan President, William Ruto, who has proved to be a staunch western ally, called for the international community to hold the “perpetrators, organisers, financiers, sponsors, supporters and enablers” of the attacks on Israel accountable.

In its statement, the Rwandan government said it “extends its deepest condolences and sympathy to the Government and the People of the State of Israel following attacks on Israeli territory”. Ghana said while it supports Israel’s right to defend itself, it encourages the government of Israel to exercise restraint in its response.

On the other hand, South Africa encouraged a de-escalation of violence and attributed the conflict to “the continued illegal occupation of Palestine land, continued settlement expansion, desecration of the al-Aqsa Mosque and Christian holy sites, and ongoing oppression of the Palestinian people.” The statement went on to say that “violence, killings, imprisonment, forced removals, illegal settlements, and the continued siege of Gaza are not conducive to resolving the conflict.”

The Algerian government said it “strongly condemns the brutal air strikes by the Zionist occupation forces in the Gaza Strip, and which caused many casualties, including children and women.” It pledged its support for Palestine and urged the international community to take action against Israel for its systematic and indiscriminate attacks on Palestine.

The sample of the statements from African governments are a reflection of how polarising the Israel-Palestine conflict has been in the continent. This has also been evident in Israel’s failure to secure an observer status to the AU. While its bid for an observer status is supported by 21 countries, it has been blocked by countries like South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Algeria on account of its occupation of Palestinian territory. Geopolitics is at play here. The countries that support Israel, including Morocco, Kenya, Rwanda, and Ghana, retain close relations with the West and, therefore, have aligned their positions with western governments. Countries that support Palestine, while not anti-West by any means, seem to be doing it out of a principled position against what they perceive as apartheid and illegal occupation.

With such divisions between individual countries, Africa’s position on the Israel-Palestine conflict will remain ambiguous. This weakens the continent’s ability to influence the trajectory of this age-old conflict, which has been characterised by episodes of unspeakable tragedy.

*Dr Nkala is A Research Fellow at the University of Johannesburg’s Centre for Africa-China Studies

**The views do not necessarily reflect the views of Independent Media or IOL