The conflict between Israel and Palestine is not a conflict at all, but a struggle for liberation and South Africa should consider its responsibility to protect that, said Na’eem Jeenah, executive director of the Johannesburg-based AfroMiddle East Centre.
Jeenah participated in a diplomatic conversation around the Israel-Hamas war currently raging on in the Middle-East.
The gathering, hosted by the Human Sciences Research Council and Africa Institute of South Africa took place on Thursday with Jeenah, African Politics Professor Chris Isike and Ambassador of Iran to South Africa, Mahdi Agha Jafari in conversation.
Jeenah presented a short history into what lead to South Africa’s role and position in the ongoing war.
“When it is said that South Africa is biased and in favour of the Palestinians, we must remember that the democratic government in 1994 inherited a set of international relations. Among them was extremely strong relations with the State of Israel.”
He said that when the democratic government took power, it began its international policy on the basis that it wanted to engage and have relations with as many countries as possible.
This has resulted in South Africa having the second largest number of foreign missions in the world.
“After 1994, South Africa had to balance relations with Israel by opening relations with Palestine,” he said.
“The government has relations with the Israeli State and the Palestinian State but not the political parties itself. The difference needs to be understood because sometimes many of us conflate the state and the party.”
He urged South Africa to consider its responsibility to protect democracy but added that it was a tough battle “even though South Africa is used to tough battles”.
“You have on the one side a state that is guilty of massive violations of international law and on the other side a nation that is occupied, colonised and subjected to apartheid practices,” Jeenah said.
“It is not a conflict, but it is a struggle for liberation for the latter.”
Isike said that it was important to find a solution rather than focusing solely on which side was right.
He said that focusing on who was right had often led to a deadlock and prevented progress in resolving this conflict.
He spoke of a “macro level approach” that saw people as human beings and not based on “history, right or might”.
Agha Jafari described the days that were passing as “sad” because of the intense crimes taking place in the region.
“For the first time in history, Palestine has taken a offensive position,” he said.
“Israel is reaping what it sowed by imposing a complete block on peace over the last few decades.”
Iran has taken a firm position behind Palestine.
On Saturday, October 7, Hamas, a militant Islamist group that controlled Gaza since 2006, fired rockets into Israel, killing more than 1,200 Israeli civilians and soldiers. The unprecedented, multipronged assault of Hamas on Israel from the Gaza Strip has resulted in an intense response from Israel.
The government of Israel has imposed a “complete siege” on Gaza, depriving it of water, food, electricity, and medicines.