Flying the banner of Palestine

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The campaign to boycott, disinvest and call for sanctions of the apartheid state of Israel must therefore continue with great fervor.

Way back when in matric, a seat was secured for me in the public gallery of the National Assembly. The occasion was the address to the joint sitting of the houses of parliament by the president of the state of Palestine. It was August 1998 and those were exciting years for South Africa.

But it wasn’t just any seat in the public gallery. The ticket secured was one as a guest of the chairperson of the National Council of Provinces; who just so happen to be the national chairperson of the ANC at the time as well. The seat was therefore in the Speaker’s box and when the Palestinian delegation arrived and took up their seats, no one but Saeb Erekat sat down next to me. Goosebumps ran down my neck that day as they continue to when thinking of that moment.

A day before the world remembered the sixteenth anniversary of the death of President Yasser Arafat it bade farewell to Dr Saeb Erekat. November is proving to be a very special month for the Palestinian people. The most important date of course being 29 November, the international day of solidarity with the people of Palestine, in commemoration of United Nations General Assembly Resolution 181 being passed on that day in 1947 calling for the partitioning of Palestine into two states.

It was therefore appropriate for ANC member of parliament, Faiez Jacobs, and ANC member of the Western Cape provincial legislature, Khalid Sayed, to host the Palestinian ambassador, Her Excellency Hannan Jarar, in Cape Town during November. The ambassador had a busy schedule drumming up support for the Palestinian cause.

Her visit included providing PPEs to a local school, meeting with the Muslim Judicial Council, visiting the Bo-Kaap and the Palestinian Museum as well as meeting with worker leaders in Cosatu. On the last evening of her two-day visit, she was able to sit down with a number business leaders and opinion makers for a conversation with long-time activist, Judge Siraj Desai.

The ambassador reminded us about the exploitative nature of the apartheid state of Israel and how only Israel will benefit from its new found relations with states such as the UAE, Bahrain and the Sudan. This writer reminded the audience that, for example, in 2019 trade statistics between South Africa and Israel was grossly in the apartheid state’s favor. In that year alone, South Africa imported goods from Israel to the tune of 193 million US dollars while Israel only imported goods from South Africa to the tune of 91 thousand US dollars.

The apartheid state of Israel is colonial and expansionist in nature. If it can occupy the Palestinian Territories for decades and exploit even the fragile and small economy of the Occupied Territories what makes other countries, those normalizing relations with it as well as South Africa, think that Israel would want a relationship that is mutually beneficial?

The campaign to boycott, disinvest and call for sanctions of the apartheid state of Israel must therefore continue with great fervor. But even more so, we must be able to start building people-to-people relations with the Palestinian people. This is the sort of solidarity that they need. Not just merely words.

Cooperation in areas of business, law, media, sports, among others were identified by those gathered at the dinner. We must be able to establish a South Africa-Palestine business chamber as well as ensure legal and media support to the Palestinian cause. On more relaxed level, sport too could be used to ensure that the people-to-people relations between Palestinians and South Africans.

The question of Palestine remains the foremost important one today in the world and specifically in the Middle East. Israel, assisted by some sectarian sentiments, have tried to shift the focus onto Iran. But just as the question of Palestine is not a Muslim one but a human one, so too we must not reduce the challenges within the Middle East to Iran.

Israel was and remains the most viable threat to a peaceful and prosperous Middle East. If there is anyone who knew this all too well then it was the late Saeb Erekat.

By Dr Wesley Seale. Wesley Seale has a PhD international relations.