Upping the ante in the fight for justice in Palestine

Alvin Botes is the Deputy Minister of International Relations and Cooperation in South Africa. Picture: Katlholo Maifadi/DIRCO News

Alvin Botes is the Deputy Minister of International Relations and Cooperation in South Africa. Picture: Katlholo Maifadi/DIRCO News

Published May 21, 2024


By Alvin Botes

As Palestinians marked the 76th Nakba Anniversary last week, the Biden administration notified the US Congress that it plans to send another US$1 billion in arms to Israel, including tank ammunition, mortars, and tactical vehicles.

The audacity to continue arming Israel when it is escalating its brutal assault on Rafah and other parts of Gaza is outrageous to say the least. It is as if students at US universities and colleges across the country had never risen up in protest against their government’s continued arming and financing of Israel in the midst of the genocide it is carrying out in Gaza with impunity.

While America’s youth are calling for an immediate ceasefire and divestment from Israel, the US continues to act as the enabler of this genocide, forcing Palestinians into even deeper levels of starvation and desperation as they fight for their very survival.

Just this week more than half a million Palestinians seeking refuge in Rafah were displaced.

Recently convoys of Israeli Occupation Force tanks crossed the border towards Rafah accompanied by waves of violent air and artillery bombardment.

Occupation aircraft carried out fire belts and launched violent raids on the neighbourhoods east of Rafah. Rafah is home to 1.5 million Palestinians. It is the last refuge in Gaza for those displaced by Israeli action, and the last viable centre for public administration and the provision of basic public services, including medical care.

Since the start of the military action in Rafah, Israel has seized control of both the Rafah and the Karem Abu Salem crossings, effectively controlling all movement in and out of Gaza, and cutting off all critical humanitarian and medical supplies, goods, and fuel.

Israel has further prevented medical evacuations and has treated evacuation zones as extermination zones as evidenced by the destruction of hospitals in Gaza and the discovery of mass graves in other major hospitals in the Strip.

It is not as if right wing Israelis are even trying to hide their true agenda when it comes to Gaza.

While Palestinians marked the Nakba, right wing Israelis, including government ministers, marched in Sderot calling for the resettlement of Gaza and the expulsion of Palestinians living there. Speakers included Israel’s National Security Minister Ben-Gvir said, “We must return to Gaza now,” and backed the “voluntary migration” of Palestinians from Gaza. Unfortunately, it is this vision that the Israeli government is carrying out as it starves the people of Gaza, destroys the last vestiges of Gaza’s health system, and refuses entry of any meaningful humanitarian aid in the face of mass starvation.

These realities on the ground necessitate that we escalate our struggle in support of the Palestinians into high gear.

We did that last week in South Africa as we hosted the inaugural Global Anti-Apartheid Conference on Palestine in Johannesburg, which was well attended by activists from around the globe who came together to forge a common vision and action plan for the way forward.

It is hoped that the anti-apartheid movement on Palestine will become a global force as it did against apartheid in our own country and contributed towards bringing down the oppressive and brutal apartheid system.

Without active global solidarity, where ordinary citizens and shareholders demand divestment from companies that do business with Israel and support its military machine, it will take much longer to change the reality for the Palestinians and for them to win their freedom and self-determination.

The time is now to bring down the last vestiges of the colonial settler project in the Middle East.

We also need to up the ante in terms of our support for Palestine within multilateral organisations, particularly at the UN. We are greatly encouraged by the adoption of the UN General Assembly draft resolution that recommends to the UN Security Council to reconsider favourably the application by the State of Palestine for full membership of the United Nations.

Our President Cyril Ramaphosa believes that the support to this UN resolution shown by 143 countries is a further demonstration that the world is listening to the cries of the Palestinians. The US voted against the resolution along with Israel, Argentina, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, and Papua New Guinea.

While it is true that the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land is not the only illegal occupation in the world, it is however the longest and deadliest one. Moreover, it is also the only place in the world from which a call was issued by the occupied people to the international community to use economic activism tools such as boycott and divestment to help end the occupation. It is incumbent on all of us to make our voices heard and to take meaningful action, as history will judge inaction as complicity.

The fact that today there has been non-compliance by the State of Israel to the provisional measures ordered by the International Court of Justice on March 28 this year is a grave violation of their obligations as a State Party to the Geneva Conventions and exposes their inhumanity and lack of respect for every facet of international law.

The Court sought to prevent Israel from causing irreparable harm to the rights invoked by South Africa under the 1948 Genocide Convention in respect of the ongoing siege of Gaza.

The Court agreed with our assertion that the situation in Gaza had deteriorated significantly since the Court’s Order of January 26, as a result of Israel’s failure to comply with that Order. Therefore, it was necessary for the Court to indicate further provisional measures.

As the Court put it, “Palestinians in Gaza are no longer facing only a risk of famine, as noted in the Order of January 26, but that famine is setting in, with at least 31 people, including 27 children, having already died of malnutrition and dehydration”. Those figures have increased dramatically since that statement by the Court.

The Court unanimously ordered Israel to: take all necessary and effective measures to ensure, without delay, in full co-operation with the United Nations, the unhindered provision at scale by all concerned of urgently needed basic services and humanitarian assistance, including food, water, electricity, fuel, shelter, clothing, hygiene and sanitation requirements, as well as medical supplies and medical care to Palestinians throughout Gaza, including by increasing the capacity and number of land crossing points and maintaining them open for as long as necessary. Israel has literally ignored the Court’s order and continued its military onslaught on Gaza.

South Africa is not giving up on the legal mechanisms available to the international community to deal with Israel’s intransigence. On May 10 South Africa once again returned to the ICJ to seek an urgent order for the protection of the Palestinian people in Gaza from grave and irreparable violations of their rights under the Geneva Convention given Israel’s ongoing military assault on Rafah.

The urgent application follows the escalation of Israel’s assault on Rafah, which poses extreme risk to humanitarian supplies, basic services into Gaza, the survival of the Palestinian medical system, and the very survival of Palestinians in Gaza as a group. South Africa contends that the attack on Rafah further worsens the prevailing situation and causes irreparable harm to the rights of Palestinians in Gaza and that the situation has changed significantly since the Court’s Order of March 28.

As South Africa, we are calling for urgent interventions and investigations of all actions that continue to cause irreparable prejudice to the rights of Palestinians, including the use of Artificial Intelligence (‘AI’) for targeted killings. South Africa has therefore requested that the Court indicate further provisional measures which include that the State of Israel immediately withdraw and cease its military offensive in the Rafah Governorate. South Africa is also requesting that the Court order Israel to immediately take all effective measures to ensure and facilitate the unimpeded access to Gaza of UN and other officials engaged in the provision of humanitarian aid and assistance to the population of Gaza. Access should also be given to fact- finding missions, internationally mandated bodies or officials, investigators, and journalists, to assess and record conditions on the ground in Gaza and enable the effective preservation and retention of evidence. Israel must ensure that its military does not act to prevent such access, provision, preservation, or retention.

These measures will require the immediate withdrawal of the Israeli forces from the two crossings to allow for the unimpeded movement of medical personnel, including the UN and other humanitarian personnel and medical evacuees, as well goods and services that are vital to addressing the adverse conditions of life faced by Palestinians in Gaza.

South Africa remains firmly of the view that the necessary condition for the effective implementation of the Court’s provisional measures is a permanent ceasefire in Gaza. We call on the international community, including the allies of the State of Israel, not to turn a blind eye to the ongoing genocide in Gaza. The gross human rights violations perpetuated by Israel have escalated to incomprehensible levels of cruelty, hate and extreme violent oppression. The world must do far more to end the persecution of Palestinians, including that of the thousands of innocent women and children. If there is non-compliance with the Court’s directives, it is up to the global community to ensure adherence when it comes to the sanctity of humanity.

*Alvin Botes is the Deputy Minister of International Relations and Cooperation in South Africa.

** The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of IOL or Independent Media.

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