When I applauded Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan for his firm stance against "normalisation" with Israel earlier this month, a friend posed an interesting query. Is it true, he asked, that Israelis don't need visas for travel to South Africa?
This was an important and timely question, because this embarrassing issue has been swept under the carpet for too long. The answer is yes, it is true; no visas are required for Israeli citizens to get into South Africa.
What's more, while Israelis are exempt from this bureaucracy, Palestinians are not. Regardless of their faith or political affiliation, not only are Palestinians forced against their will to endure Israeli apartheid in ghettos across the occupied territories, but they also face the humiliation of having to comply with apartheid-based visa regulations imposed by the South African immigration authorities.
The details provided on the Department of International Relations website make clear the shamelessly hypocritical double standards that are applied. In addition to having to apply for visas and the delay that the lengthy process entails, Palestinians have extra burdens placed upon them which do not apply to Israelis; they have also to provide proof of medical insurance, proof of a hotel booking and proof that they have sufficient funds for their stay.
There are a host of restrictions applicable to Palestinians but not to Israelis, yet we are led to believe that South Africa opposes Israel's brutal military occupation of Palestine. In fact, by applying such measures on Palestinians wishing to travel to South Africa, the government in Pretoria remains an active participant in Israel's illegal, immoral and unjust occupation.
There cannot be any "ifs" or "buts" about such a contemptible, racist application of visa regulations favouring Israel but punitive towards Palestine. This matter needs to be redressed without delay, and it must be explained urgently by the immigration authorities why double standards are applied which prejudice a people already subjected to the severest of occupations.
If the policy has been in place since the apartheid era, we have had more than 25 years to make the change, so why hasn't it been done yet? And while officials look into this, they might also explain why Israel's national carrier, El Al, is allowed to have armed Shin Bet security officials —an agency involved in war crimes — on board its aircraft at Johannesburg's O R Tambo International Airport, in direct violation of security policies at "Key Points".
This controversial issue was exposed by both Media Review Network and Carte Blanche on the eve of the 2010 FIFA World Cup held in South Africa. Nothing seems to have been done about it, though.
Solidarity activism in support of Palestine's freedom struggle against settler-colonialism will remain out on a limb unless drastic measures are taken to ensure that South African government policies favourable to Israel are decimated. The current treachery by despotic Arab regimes under the guise of "normalisation" with the colonial state is to be expected precisely because they are tyrannical dictatorships. South Africa does not fit that mould, and having been freed from the clutches of apartheid, its constitutional values underpinning human rights and dignity cannot be compromised by continuing to pander to Israeli racism.
Whether the South African government is simply turning a blind eye to the security infringement at the country's premier international airport and the denial of visa-free entry for Palestinians, or pretending to be ignorant of the transgressions, it is an intolerable situation. The ANC-led government will have to do much more than an "embassy downgrade" to demonstrate real commitment to the cause of justice for Palestine, which it is supposed to be advocating.
The current visa requirements should be reversed without delay by lifting the requirements imposed on the Palestinians and imposing them on Israelis. The settler-colonial state has to understand that the world is aware of its apartheid nature and that its brutal occupation is unacceptable to the people and government of South Africa. We rid ourselves of one apartheid regime; we cannot support another.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.