By Louis Oelofse
Various organisations, including the ANC, Cosatu and the SA Communist Party, have urged the government to sever diplomatic ties with Israel by recalling the country's ambassador.
The call was made on Thursday during a march on the Union Buildings, organised by the Palestinian Action Group (PAG), by more than a thousand protesters.
In a memorandum, the group also demanded that South Africa institute sanctions against the Jewish state, end all arms deals with Israel, and investigate South Africans being recruited into the Israeli Defence Force.
The group refused to hand over the memorandum to two officials from the department of foreign affairs, claiming their rank was too low.
"Our government must start taking the struggle of the Palestinian people much more seriously," PAG organiser Naheem Jeenah told the jeering crowd.
Two separate memoranda were also prepared for the US and Israeli governments. The PAG drew parallels between the struggle of South Africans against apartheid and that of Palestinians against "the unlawful occupation of Palestine by the Israelis".
The PAG called on the Israeli government to withdraw from refugee camps and the occupied territories, sought the introduction of an international force to protect the Palestinians, and also urged recognition of the Palestinian state.
Jeenah said the past few weeks had seen more violence against the Palestinian people, "even more than during the 1967 war".
ANC MP and member of the parliamentary committee on foreign affairs, Ebrahim Ismail Ebrahim, called Israel a racist state and condemned the "brutal action" by the Israeli Defence Force against the Palestinians.
The SACP's Mazibuko Jara said Israel was "nothing more than an apartheid state" supported by "imperialist America". "How long are we (South Africans) going to watch Palestinians being slaughtered?" he asked.
Protesters echoed the calls by political and other leaders with banners proclaiming that Israel and Zionism were equal to ethnic cleansing and racism. Protesters also called for the continuation of the Palestinian uprising. One poster called the US, Israel and Britain an "axis of evil".
The march went off without incident but organisers were unhappy that police prevented them from marching to the US and Israeli embassies. Police said they had denied the request because of security concerns.