For the past 50 years, Israel’s occupation of Palestine and control of Palestinian lives in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem has, terrifyingly, become an accepted part of our international political landscape. So too, has the humiliating permit regime that controls every aspect of Palestinian life from cradle to grave; detention without trial; torture; home demolitions and the ongoing theft of Palestinian land. Israel’s occupation and colonisation of Palestine has become ever-more entrenched, because the world refuses to take effective action.
One cannot deny the unwavering solidarity for Palestine across South Africa, and other formerly occupied and colonised nations of the Global South. There have also been some important victories. In 2011, for example, Palestine joined the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) as a full member. The following year, its UN status was upgraded to non-member observer “state” rather than “entity”. In April 2015, Palestine formally became a member of the International Criminal Court (ICC). Almost three-quarters of UN members, representing 80 per cent of the world’s population, now recognise Palestine.
These triumphs, though, while important, have not won Palestinians their rights or freedom. Israel will not cease being an oppressor simply by waking up one day and realising the brutality of its policies. We know through painful experience that freedom is never given voluntarily by the oppressor.
For 50 years, Israel has been able to continue with its violent occupation of Palestine, without having to suffer any repercussions to its economy or global standing. There are many countries around the world that face retribution from the international community for breaching international norms, but Israel is not one of them. In fact, Israel experiences the opposite. It has very obviously committed war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Gaza Strip, and violates the rights of millions of Palestinians on a daily basis. In return, it is rewarded with trade agreements, diplomatic immunity at the UN and over $3 billion dollars of aid from the United States every year.
Israel enjoys international legitimacy by offering the world empty rhetoric about negotiations and diplomacy. In fact, it has effectively used 25 years of “peace” talks to buy it time to colonise more Palestinian land.
During those talks, Israel has had the power to decide when will be the right time to end its illegal occupation. In 25 years, Israel has never found the right time, and has asked the world to wait. “Wait”, however, has come to mean “never”.
In February, Gilad Erdan, Israel’s Minister of Public Security, Strategic Affairs and Information, was up front about this. “I think all the members of the cabinet oppose a Palestinian state,” he said, “and the prime minister first among them.” Israeli leaders currently in office, from Benjamin Netanyahu down, are skipping the lip-service paid to “dialogue”, “talks” and “negotiations” and admitting openly that Palestinians will never have their freedom. Yet, the Israeli government has still not suffered any consequences for denying Palestinians their right to self-determination.
In December, South Africa’s ruling party and the continent’s oldest liberation movement, the African National Congress (ANC), will be holding its national elective conference. While the ANC has long pledged its solidarity with the liberation struggle of the Palestinian people, it must decide on more clear and actionable resolutions at this conference. The ANC of the Western Cape Province joins the collective of provincial branches within the ANC in supporting the immediate downgrading of diplomatic relations with Israel, as a meaningful step towards holding the occupying state to account.
Delegates at the ANC conference have more than just power; they have a moral responsibility — and a real opportunity — to send Israel this clear message: “Fifty years of ‘temporary’ occupation is too long. The rights of Palestinians must be realised; the occupation must end.”
Words that are not backed up by action simply indicate to Israel that it may continue with its occupation, colonialism and apartheid. If we are to have meaningful solidarity with Palestine, then we must move beyond our previous symbolic gestures and turn our words into action. After fifty years of occupation, that is what the Palestinian people deserve and need.