Natural allies: South Africa and Palestine

South Africans and Palestinians share a history of fighting racism, repression and colonialism

Natural allies: South Africa and Palestine File Photo

By Hassan Isilow


Many South Africans support the Palestinian struggle because they believe what is happening to Palestinians under Israeli occupation is similar to what they experienced in the apartheid era.

“South Africans who have tasted the bitter fruit of apartheid, racism and discrimination have a natural affinity with the Palestinians, who are subject to a tyrannical form of oppression,” Iqbal Jassat, a leading member of the Media Review Network, a South African advocacy group, told Anadolu Agency.

Whenever Israel strikes Palestine, he said, thousands of South Africans express their solidarity with the latter by staging demonstrations, vigils, marches and boycott campaigns.

“South Africans of all races and creeds are keenly aware of the terror Israel unleashes on the Palestinians,” he said.

Suraya Dadoo, an author and activist, says South Africa shares deep and historical links with Palestine.

“If you speak to veterans of South Africa’s anti-apartheid movement, they will tell you that the Palestinians were in the trenches right alongside them in the fight against colonialism,” she said.

According to Dadoo, who co-authored a book entitled “Why Israel?”, Palestinians -- including late leader Yasser Arafat -- had been close allies of the African National Congress (ANC) during South Africa’s fight against apartheid.

“Both South Africa and Palestine have fought for freedom, liberation and anti-colonialism,” she told Anadolu Agency in Johannesburg.

The South African government often refers to the close relations between Arafat and late South African leader Nelson Mandela.

South Africa established diplomatic relations with Palestine in 1995 -- a year after the end of white-minority rule.

Ever since, Pretoria has remained highly critical of Israel’s continued mistreatment of the Palestinians, including its longstanding policy of building illegal Jewish settlements on Arab land in the occupied West Bank.


Last week, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa told Parliament: “Our support for the struggle of the Palestinian people is not merely a product of history. It is a refusal to accept that a people should be continually denied the right of self-determination in violation of international law.”

Ramaphosa went on to urge other countries to support the Palestinian cause, saying: “Those who live in conditions of liberty and democracy have a responsibility to those who struggle against occupation.”

Last year, Pretoria recalled its ambassador from Tel Aviv after dozens of Palestinians were killed by Israeli troops while demonstrating against a decision by Washington to relocate its Israel embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

At the time, South Africa’s Foreign Ministry condemned Israel’s “indiscriminate and grave” attacks on unarmed Palestinian protesters.

Condemnations notwithstanding, many South African activists would like to see their government sever relations with Israel.

“Twenty-five years since the dawn of democracy [in South Africa], it is sad that the ANC government has not led any initiative to isolate Israel, apart from resolutions still awaiting implementation,” Jassat said.

According to Jassat, solidarity movements in support of Palestine “are doing remarkably well” in South Africa.

“Numerous campaigns are underway, including the all-important Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement,” he said.

BDS is a global movement aimed at ratcheting up economic and political pressure on Israel with a view to ending the country’s decades-long occupation of Palestinian land.

Several Jewish activist groups have also emerged in South Africa to challenge the Zionist narrative by speaking out in defense of Palestinian rights and expressing solidarity with the Palestinian quest for statehood.

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