This is a year of painful anniversaries for the Palestinian people. One hundred years ago Arthur Balfour — with the stroke of a colonial pen — declared Palestine a Jewish homeland, thus beginning Zionism’s colonial onslaught in our country.
It is also 70 years since the beginning of the Nakba, when 78% of our homeland was stolen and 600 000 of us were forced to become refugees — strangers in our own homes, seeking refuge elsewhere, while our land was taken over by colonising settlers.
This year also marks 50 years since the start of the second Nakba against us, Israel’s 1967 occupation of the remaining 22% of our homeland, during which Israel has exerted full control over Palestinian lives in Gaza, the West Bank and Jerusalem.
This is also the 10th anniversary of Israel’s siege of Gaza, sealing its borders, creating the largest open-air prison in the world, and launching three, mostly aerial, wars on the territory.
We will soon mark 25 years since the beginning of the Oslo Accords, an empty process that pretended to be about addressing Palestinians’ right to self-determination but was, in reality, an excuse for Israel to create Palestinian Bantustans that it controlled. Oslo was not a deal based on a balance of power. It demanded the surrender of the weaker side.
These “negotiations” served Israel well, allowing it to buy itself time while it established more colonial facts on Palestinian ground, stealing land to build settlements in violation of international law and establishing 700 000 settlers in these illegal creations. Palestinians were subjected to checkpoints and an apartheid wall that smashed the West Bank into hundreds of islands surrounded by a sea of Israeli control.
Resistance to Israel’s military occupation has been criminalised and the Palestinian Authority co-opted to maintain and police the Zionist occupation through security co-ordination with Israeli occupation forces.
What did Palestinians get for 25 years of negotiations? Public assurances from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that there will never be a Palestinian state, and that Palestinians will never achieve self-determination.
Even former United States secretary of state John Kerry admitted that the “current Israeli government has publicly declared they are not ever for a Palestinian state”. The Israeli government has spoken; its choice is continued occupation and apartheid.
The world must respond to this decision with isolation, as the world replied to apartheid in South Africa.
Numerous social movements across Africa have responded to this call. South African religious, civil and political society has consistently supported the Palestinian struggle.
The South African Council of Churches, the Council of African Independent Churches and the United Congregational Church of Southern Africa support a boycott of Israel until it dismantles its apartheid regime. The University of Cape Town will soon consider the implementation of an academic boycott of Israel.
Less than two months ago, the Africa-Israel Summit, scheduled to take place in Togo in October, was postponed indefinitely after much mobilising and campaigning by African and Palestinian civil society groups and certain African governments. South Africa was among the first to announce its boycott of the summit. Morocco, Egypt, Tunisia and Algeria followed suit and lobbied other states to do the same.
The recommendation of the ANC at its policy conference earlier this year, about the downgrading of South Africa’s relations with apartheid Israel, is the next step in the African response to Israel’s colonialism. In December, the ANC will debate that recommendation. The move will imitate the decision taken by numerous states in the 1970s and 1980s to downgrade and sever ties with apartheid South Africa.
The ANC conference’s adoption of this resolution will mark the beginning of a new phase — globally — in the struggle to isolate the racist Israeli state and for the liberation of the Palestinian people.
Clearly, South Africans have not been fooled by Israeli rhetoric about dialogue and negotiations while it continues to violate international law and the rights of millions of Palestinians and commits war crimes.
When I was in South Africa two years ago, as part of a Hamas leadership delegation hosted by the ANC, activists there reminded me that Western powers initially declined to support the work of the Special Committee against Apartheid established by the United Nations general assembly in 1962. These powerful nations, mostly former colonisers and their allies, argued that a boycott of apartheid was not necessary; they preferred “constructive engagement”.
It was left to Algeria, Ghana, Guinea, Nigeria, Somalia and others from the Global South to press for international sanctions.
The Palestinian people now look to South Africa and Africa for support in our struggle against settler colonialism and apartheid. African and Palestinian liberation movements have long stood in mutual solidarity for self-determination, whereas Israel has consistently supported colonial and neocolonial powers on the continent.
A century after the Balfour Declaration, 70 years after the Nakba, 50 years after the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Jerusalem and Gaza, 10 years of an inhumane siege on Gaza, we Palestinians are still here, as determined as ever to achieve our freedom. Africa’s solidarity is a major pillar in our struggle. “Constructive engagement” has no place in this solidarity. We depend on our African allies to support our resistance by isolating Israeli apartheid.
This was first published in Mail & Guardian, 29 November 2017