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President Cyril Ramaphosa, on behalf of the South African ANC-led government, has expressed “deep concern” given the unilateral decision by the United States government to withdraw from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. More commonly known as the “Iran deal”, the deal, negotiated by the members of the United Nations Security Council together with Germany and the European Union, sought to re-integrate Iran back into the international community as an equal partner while at the same time seeking to bring stability to the Middle East.

At its 54th National Conference, held in last year, the ANC welcomed this deal that lifted the sanctions against Iran. At that stage, the ANC encouraged the South African government to do all it could to ensure that Iran was reintegrated into the family of nations. As President Ramaphosa stated in his statement, the Iran Deal was a victory for multilateralism. The ANC will certainly continue to support such multilateral efforts.

However, while the situations in Iran, Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Bahrain must receive our attention, we must not forget the plight of the Palestinian people. There can be no true peace and stability in the Middle East unless we resolve the question of the establishment of a free and independent state of Palestine, the status of Jerusalem and the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland. Only once we have addressed these, will the entire region be on the road to stability and peace.

We may suggest that the focus on the Iran Deal, the discussion around it and the sidelining of the Palestinian question becomes pertinently important today as we approach the seventieth anniversary of the establishment of the State of Israel and the displacement, dispossession and dispersal of the Palestinian people, known as an-Nakba, which means ‘catastrophe’ or ‘disaster’. 

As some attempt to take our attention away from the quest for an independent Palestine and the implementation of the right of all Palestinians to return to their homeland, the international cries for justice for Palestinian brothers and sisters must reverberate through the capitals and cities of the world.

In 1948, in the aftermath of the Palestinian war and the declaration of the state of Israel, nearly a million Palestinians were expelled, deported or fled the Palestinian territory. Today, they and their descendants in neighbouring Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, together with those still living in the West Bank, Gaza and in Israel itself number nearly six million. This excludes Palestinians in other parts of the world.

As in 1948, the destruction of Palestinian towns, villages, homes, businesses, farms, among other properties, to this very day, continue to be destroyed by the Israelis. Statehood continues to be denied to a people who have suffered and continue to suffer grievously at the hands of the apartheid state of Israel. Today, despite numerous United Nations Security Council Resolutions, far more outnumbering those against Iran, the Israeli regime continues the occupation of the Palestinian Territories and perpetrates gross human rights violations against Palestinians.  

15 May, Nakba Day, also known as Palestine Day, is a symbol of international solidarity. Throughout the last seventy years, various forms of commemoration have taken place inside of Israel, the Occupied Territories, the Arab world as well as in the international community. It is a day whereby the international community is reminded that there will be no peace in the Middle East, including with that of Iran, unless we see the establishment of a free and independent state of Palestine, with East Jerusalem as its capital, and the guaranteed rights of all Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland.

In this year, when we commemorate the centenary birthdays of Comrades Albertina Sisulu and Nelson Mandela, we may remind ourselves of the fact that international solidarity was one of the cornerstones of our fight against apartheid. Together with internal mobilisation and mass resistance as well as the armed struggle, the international campaign was pivotal in isolating the apartheid regime. 

The liberation movement could simply not afford to allow the world to forget about the struggle to free South Africa. As the ANC, in particular, we had to ensure that we kept Apartheid South Africa and the atrocities perpetrated against our people high on the agenda of the international community.

Comrade Albertina Sisulu played no small part in this campaign of international solidarity, working in the trenches inside and outside the country, garnering international support and funding for campaigns such as the eventual establishment of the United Democratic Front. At the same time, the imprisoned Comrade Mandela became the face of our international campaigns with events such as the “Free Mandela” concerts becoming symbolic of the demand for the release of all political prisoners.

It is for this reason, understanding the importance of international solidarity, that the ANC has boldly adopted resolutions in support of the struggle of the Palestinian people. The ANC condemned the extraordinary, unprecedented and provocative decision by the same United States administration to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and to move its embassy there.

As a consequence of this action, yet still believing in dialoguing and engaging with the Israelis, the ANC resolved that our government must unconditionally downgrade the South African Embassy, based in Tel Aviv, Israel, to a liaison office. In the light of this development pronounced by the United States government, our movement called upon Palestinians to review the viability of the two state solution. 

At the same time, the ANC has found it necessary to encourage interaction with Palestinian social bodies, especially those working for peace and women’s groups, in order to solidify this international solidarity. Importantly too, the ANC has called for ongoing talks and unity among the Palestinians in order to garner a sustainable and lasting peace.

At the same time, civil society, in particular, must mobilise for the international community to pressurise Israel into negotiating a just settlement for Palestine based on UN resolutions. If international pressure can be placed on Iran, then why can’t pressure be placed on Israel?

Israel wants us to forget about Palestine and shift our focus to other issues such as Iran. We must not allow that; humanity cannot afford that!

As South Africans, we counted on the support and solidarity of our international friends and comrades. We therefore have an obligation towards those who continue to fight for their own freedom.

Nakba Day is about remembering the catastrophe caused on 15 May 1948. We must this Nakba Day take the opportunity once again to remember that we dare not forget about Palestine. As we remember the Palestinians in exile, we remember those words of old from the exiles in Babylon:

“If I remember you not, Jerusalem, Let my right hand wither, And let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth.”

Jessie Duarte is the Deputy Secretary General of the African National Congress (ANC)  

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