Israel-Palestine war: What if we get a ceasefire?

We have a shared history with Palestine — of imperialist invasion, land theft, colonialist exploitation, and the brutalisation of apartheid. We share a history of struggle — for our land, for historical justice, and for the freedom of our people, says the writer. File Picture: Armand Hough / Independent Newspapers

We have a shared history with Palestine — of imperialist invasion, land theft, colonialist exploitation, and the brutalisation of apartheid. We share a history of struggle — for our land, for historical justice, and for the freedom of our people, says the writer. File Picture: Armand Hough / Independent Newspapers

Published Jan 2, 2024


By Dr Allan Boesak

In the dying days of 2023, the people of South Africa were able to claim a major victory in our struggle for Palestine. At last, we have something to be proud of. The South African government finally took a meaningful step towards genuine solidarity and took the Israeli apartheid regime to the International Court of Justice, charging genocide. That’s the first real initiative it has taken, and it deserves credit, as we must credit South Africa’s people, without whose persistent pressure this never would have happened.

We are now waiting for other countries to join the case, while we are hoping that this time, the ICJ will be able to set aside its fears and biases, overcome the impunity Israel regards as its birth right, and, not intimidated by the US and its Western allies, actually haul that criminal, genocidal regime in Israel before the court.

Palestinians are sitting inside a tent at a camp for displaced people in Deir al-Balah in the central Gaza Strip, where most civilians are taking refuge as battles continue between Israel and Hamas. Picture: Majdi Fathi/NurPhoto / AFP

The debates about the feasibility of all this are raging across the globe – experts say that legally speaking, genocide is “notoriously hard” to prove – and while nothing is certain, this is highly significant. The international accolades are justified. I hope the government, seeing the positive reactions, is contemplating sending a diplomatic envoy to lobby as many countries as possible to support this action.

Still, post-1994 South Africans know the folly of politics born of and stuck in euphoria. So we remain insistent: South Africa can and must do more. The “half a loaf” argument is not worthy of mention in the face of genocide. Consequently, some have accused us of shifting the political goal posts.

First it was official support of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign, cutting all political, cultural, and trade ties with apartheid Israel; then the closing of our embassy in Tel Aviv; then shutting down the Israeli embassy. Now it is the ceasefire and the responsibility to think beyond.

The government disingenuously argues it has done all of it except for BDS, using all the arguments the South African apartheid regime and its business allies made in the 1980s. It has not, however. They conveniently forget that Ms Lindiwe Sisulu downgraded our embassy in Israel after the 2014 Gaza war — an act for which President Ramaphosa, despite the ANC resolution, punished her quite severely.

Amid the unconscionable dilly-dallying of the Ramaphosa government, the Israelis withdrew their ambassador after weeks of vigorous protests with hundreds of thousands in the streets. So we were deprived of the significance of that act, signifying severe disapproval of a nation’s behaviour, as if the Israelis had the moral high ground and we were the delinquents. The ANC brags that South Africa has our own embassy in Ramallah, but is that recognition of our historical ties and affirmation of political justice not entirely logical? And the fact that Palestinians can now travel here without visas — is that really something to loudly take credit for? Every imperialist from the US or the UK has been doing so for years.

So no, this is not shifting the goal posts. This is the logic of political consistency, historical continuity, and embodied solidarity. We should do more because our history has bestowed upon us political and moral authority that almost no other country has, and Palestinians acknowledge that.

We have a shared history with Palestine — of imperialist invasion, land theft, colonialist exploitation, and the brutalisation of apartheid. We share a history of struggle — for our land, for historical justice, and for the freedom of our people. We share the fight against settler-neocolonialism. From the genocide of the San and Khoi, the Herero and Ovambo people in Namibia, the genocide in Rwanda, and the 10 million Congolese slaughtered by Leopold II, Africans know genocide when we see it. Those secret agreements with the old apartheid capitalist classes have taught us costly lessons about the quality of leadership — about the designs of the West for us but essentially without us — so we understand the failures of Western plans for “two-state solutions” and their insistence upon them, even if there is every reason for Palestinians to distrust them profoundly as the Nakba continues.

In the 1980s, I argued that one’s stand on apartheid was the ethical standard for the integrity of one’s politics and the authenticity of one’s faith. For years, I have applied that same argument to the Palestinian struggle. It is more true today than ever. For all these reasons, and not just because Nelson Mandela understood and articulated it so well, I consider the “special relationship” we have with Palestine not merely a political pact or one of historical resonance, but a sacred bond. We must not only do what we can; we must do what is in our control.

Former president Nelson Mandela and anti-apartheid and human rights activist Dr Allan Boesak. File Picture: Obed Zilwa / Independent Newspapers

We can lay charges and make petitions to international courts, but we know the ultimate decisions and processes are not in our control. We can support resolutions at the UN, but veto power is not ours. So while we are fighting for fundamental reforms at the UN, as the ANC rightly argues, we must do what is immediately in our power. We must not surrender our agency to the vagaries of international institutions, even though it creates convenient space for excuses after the fact.

Unlike Mr Biden, we cannot pick up the phone to Mr Netanyahu and threaten to cut all aid if he does not stop the war. Unlike some Arab countries, we cannot threaten to cut off oil supplies if the genocide does not stop. Those Arab countries do not seem to care enough for Palestinians, and we now know that Joe Biden only wants the genocide to be over and done with so that he can shift the conversation to plans “after Gaza” and “beyond Hamas," all in time for the November elections. We also know that those plans for all of them are inextricably connected with those rich oil and gas reserves off Gaza’s north coast.

US President Joe Biden listens to Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as he reads a statement in Tel Aviv on October 18, 2023, amid the ongoing battles between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas. File Picture: Brendan Smialowski / AFP

But we must do what those countries will not do. Decisively, and not accidentally, ending all diplomatic relations with Zionist Israel is in our power. So is the cutting of all trade, including all arms trade, and sanctions. As is closing our ports to Israeli ships or ships doing trade with Israel. So too is vigorous enforcement of the Regulation of Foreign Military Assistance Act of 1998, preventing South Africans from joining the Israeli Defence Force and murdering Palestinian babies in our name and with our tacit approval. All that is in our control. Taking these actions will immeasurably strengthen the calls for a ceasefire and the end of the war. This is not shifting the goal posts, nor is it extraordinary; it is the logic of political faithfulness, embraced solidarity, and revolutionary common sense. But it all takes leadership.

This logic compels us to ask deeper questions, like what happens if we do get the ceasefire if the war does come to an end? Who will then prove to be the real friends of Palestine?

Our gratitude for the rise in global solidarity with the cause of Palestine is deep and sincere. The sight of those millions on the streets of every major city across the world over the last month or so has gladdened the heart and strengthened the resolve of every freedom-loving person. At last, the Palestinians had what oppressed South Africans enjoyed for at least the last stretch of our struggle against our old apartheid: solid international support, and again, as with us, not so much from governments but from their people, exerting extraordinary pressure on those governments. Putting such visible and visceral distance between themselves and their governments on this issue can actually produce a change of policies, perhaps even of government.

But I keep thinking of the once vibrant, seemingly unstoppable Black Lives Matter movement. I was there when Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson, Missouri. The streets erupted. I preached in Ferguson, feeling like I was back in the 1980s. In 2020, the killing of George Floyd sparked a truly global protest movement. It was an amazing phenomenon. In 2022, police in the US killed more people than they had in a decade, yet the protests were minimal. I know this is not just fatigue. It has something to do with the power of systems and the resilience of empires. But what about the resilience of the people? People’s power is not only political; it is also emotional.

So I must ask: What we see now is truly unprecedented. But what happens when the bombs stop falling? Will the protests subside when Palestinian children are no longer maimed and killed by snipers and when the babies are no longer slaughtered? What happens after Gaza, when we have the ceasefire? While the ICJ deliberate legal points and the UN debates the “After Gaza” resolutions, when will those oil companies want to turn those agreements and signed contracts into cash? Who will stand up and stand in for Palestine then?

We know those Western governments do not care. All of them, with the US at the forefront, have deep roots in racist, supremacist, and imperialistic histories. All of them have deep historical, political, and economic affinity with colonial and neo-colonial ideologies, which they have turned into lethally successful projects for over five hundred years. History shows that they care little for Jews. Zionism, however, is their adopted spawn, their indispensable ally in the quest for the retention of global hegemony. As regards the present genocide, following Hannah Arendt and Aime Cesaire, historian Sarah Churchwell reminded us that “European fascism visited upon white bodies what colonial and slave systems had perfected in visiting upon black and brown bodies.” Sacrificing Palestinians on the altar of capitalist, imperialist greed is nothing new.

Arab countries, apart from what has become known as “the Axis of Resistance,” are not real friends of Palestine either. They have allowed Israel’s settler-colonial project to grow and take hold for 75 years. They were open to Trump’s “Abraham Accords,” even though it meant the tacit acceptance of an exclusivist, Jewish-religious state with no Muslims or Christians.

If it were not for October 7, that idea would still be alive today. In meeting after meeting, the Arab organisations gave Palestine little more than wordy statements. The country that is really putting itself at risk is small, impoverished, blockaded Yemen, even after seven years of war with Saudi Arabia and the UAE, heavily backed by the US. With the dead bodies still piling up, we are still not sure where Russia or China stand. It is safe to assume that China has plans for Gaza’s reconstruction. Who in the world is better at that than China?

On October 7, 2023, Hamas launched up to 5,000 rockets at Israel from Gaza as gunmen infiltrated towns across the south of the country in a surprise attack they are calling Operation Al-Aqsa Storm. Graphic shows situation report in Israel and Gaza. Graphic: Graphic News

So can South Africa, with our historic and sacred ties to Palestine, with the memories of our struggle still fresh in our minds, with our slow, but growing understanding of the difference between freedom and gentrified, neo-liberalist enslavement, and our people’s commitment to, and love for Palestine, visible in every picket, every protest, and every march, offer Palestinians a sustainable, enduring partnership in this phase of their struggle, as well as the next?

Can we, with the Palestinians, in the face of Smotrich’s “re-occupied” but ethnically-cleansed Gaza, Netanyahu’s “Greater Israel”, or the Christian Zionists’ “biblical Israel”, articulate the vision for a single, secular, and inclusive democracy with equal rights for every person guaranteed under, and protected by law, and begin to work toward it?

Our expressed desire for leadership on the international stage cannot be based on our anti-apartheid credentials, not since those credentials have been so fatally degraded by the betrayals of the ANC. Nor can it be rooted in the DA, that most successful neo-colonialist, now openly Zionist, project on the continent. That kind of leadership needs a vision that is not stuck in the failed, and fake solutions of the last 50 years, but a vision that sees, discerns, and understands the difference between Zionist, imperialist designs for Palestine and genuine desire for freedom of the Palestinians themselves. Only that kind of leadership can stand beside Palestinians to properly grapple with the question: what comes beyond the ceasefire?

* Dr Allan Boesak is anti-apartheid and human rights activist.

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