By: NADEGE BIZIMUNGU
In his 1997 address at the International Day of Solidarity with Palestinian People, Nelson Mandela, the late South African president, reaffirmed his support for Palestine in famous words we have seen on posters and social media for the past two weeks.
“But we know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians; without the resolution of conflicts in East Timor, Sudan, and other parts of the world.”
These words remind us of the parallels between the Palestinian struggle, the Black South Africans’ fight against apartheid, and the global solidarity among colonised peoples.
South Africa’s political apartheid ended in 1994, three years after Mandela gave this famous address. Unfortunately, the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians has not stopped since 1997; if anything, it has only been worse.
As I write this, at least 248 Palestinians, including 66 children, have been killed in Gaza and Israeli-occupied West Bank since the latest violence escalated on May 10. In Israel, 12 people have died, including two children.
Although Israel and Hamas confirmed a ceasefire last Friday, the blockade on Gaza is still ongoing; Israel continues its illegal occupation of Palestine and abuse of international law.
On the African continent, we have seen ongoing pro-Palestine protests and solidarity statements from artists, politicians, intellectuals, and other ordinary Africans on social media. However, we cannot ignore the increased Israeli presence on the continent for the past decade.
Israel’s Zionist propaganda comes dressed in military training and trade deals, which normalizes relations with this apartheid regime.
To restore African solidarity with Palestine, we need to acknowledge the role our countries have played in the current violence against Palestinians, and unpack why our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of Palestinians.
Israel has been developing diplomatic ties around the world since the start of the illegal occupation of Palestinian land in 1948, in an attempt to scam the international community into legitimizing its ethnic cleansing of Palestinians.
Most Global South countries, including African countries, have occasionally supported Palestine in the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA).
This relationship was completely changed in the late 60s. The end of the Six-Day War in 1967 marked Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights. It became clear to most African countries that Israel was a colonial state.
When the recent Israel assault on Gaza started on May 10, Moussa Faki Mahamat, the African Union Commission (AUC) chairperson strongly condemned the Israeli forces’ violent attacks against worshipers in the Al-Aqsa Mosque and bombing of the Gaza Strip, in a statement that was released on May 11.
However, although the African Union claims to support Palestinian people, African countries have normalized and allowed Israeli presence on the continent for the past decade, which directly legitimizes its settler colonialism.
The extent of normalization varies from country to country, but we cannot deny Israel’s growing quest to develop diplomatic ties in different African countries. This normalization has detrimental effects on both Palestinians and ordinary Africans.
Israel currently has full diplomatic relations with 41 out of 46 sub-Saharan African countries and embassies in 11 out of 54 African countries, including Rwanda, Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya and Cameroon.
This support for Israel can be partly linked to the rise of Pentecostalism and evangelical Christianity in some Sub-Saharan countries.
We have also seen a rise in the growing cooperation of Israel with different African countries in the areas of technology, defense, and counterterrorism projects. The Israel Defense Force (IDF) trains the police and military of countries like Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, and Tanzania, and Israel is a major supplier of arms and military tech to most African countries.
“Most of these African countries have relations with Israel in order to have more weapons; more military training and more policing to suppress their own people,” says Rabab Abdulhadi, Palestinian scholar and founding Director of the Arab and Muslim Ethniticities and Diasporas (AMED) Studies at San Francisco State University.
“What they get from Israel is not actually something that improves the lives of the people. So when some African leaders develop these relations with Israel, some of them just want tools they can use to suppress opposition and stay in power.”
We must understand that any country that has normalized relations with Israel directly contributes to the ethnic cleansing, apartheid and aggression against Palestinians.
There is no doubt that Palestinians have long supported struggles everywhere. Palestinians have also taken explicit inspiration from the US civil rights movement and the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa in developing their Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
In her 2015 book, Freedom is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson , Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement, Angela Y. Davis draws the parallels of the struggles in Ferguson and Palestine to illustrate the necessity of transnational solidarity between movements.
In 2014, during the Ferguson uprising in the US, as those protests erupted, Palestinian activists were the first to express solidarity, which helped strengthen global solidarity for Black Lives Matter.
At the same time, Palestinian activists started sharing tips with protestors in Ferguson on how to deal with tear gas. This moment reminded the rest of the world of the connections between police brutality in America, US imperialism, and Palestinian resistance.
“Anytime people rise up to liberate themselves, it is another loss for the colonial project, and another win for Palestinians,” says Abdulhadi.
There are a lot of pro-Palestine grassroots movements and activists on the continent who are currently organizing in different ways. One of these is Kenya-Palestine Solidarity Movement (KPSM), a group founded in 2015 to create awareness about the struggle in Palestine.
“The biggest fight ahead for us is the fight of delegitimizing and exposing Israeli colonialism, racism and apartheid. For this to happen, every vote counts, be it that of India, Brazil, Portugal or Botswana. And Israel perfectly understands that,” says Ramzy Baroud, a Palestinian-American journalist and editor of The Palestine Chronicle.
There is equally a need for us to hold our governments accountable.
“The more the governments are accountable, the more they are representative of the people, and the less they are going to engage in hidden secrets deals and military training behind people’s backs. It becomes more in the open,” added Abdulhadi.
The Israeli Zionist propaganda is very much strengthened by the way we talk about what’s currently happening, and there is vital work to be done on decolonizing the narratives we learn in churches and mainstream media.
“We must keep up with what’s happening in Palestine and share this information, set political education sessions and educate members of our communities,” said Suhayl Omar, a Kenya-based community organizer and researcher.
“We must actively win against Israel in the propaganda war they have launched. This also means using the correct language; let’s not pacify Israeli aggression against Palestinians.”
The ongoing Israeli apartheid is not “a religious conflict,” and defining it as such further erases the fact that this is settler colonialism vs. indigenous people, not Islam vs. Judaism.
“It is not enough to be anti-Zionist, we must actively be abolitionists, we must understand that there is no winning if all we want is to reform the Israeli occupation forces; what we want is an end to Zionism, the fascist Israeli regime, and all its tools of aggressions,” concluded Omar.
This story was first published on Minority Africa and appears with permission in this publication.