Desk of the President | 16 Oct 2023

Monday, 16 October 2023

Peace will not be possible until Palestinians are free
Dear Fellow South African,
Like many people around the world, South Africans have watched with great anguish and pain the devastating violence and destruction in Israel and Gaza since Saturday last week.
It has never been our nature as South Africans to reserve our empathy only for those with whom we share an ethnic, racial, religious or cultural affinity. As South Africans we have made it part of our national DNA to stand firm against all forms of prejudice including racism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and xenophobia. Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of both Palestine and Israel as they go through these difficult times.
It has been traumatic to see the images of civilians killed, wounded and captured, of destroyed homes, and of entire neighbourhoods flattened by bombardment. The atrocities that we have witnessed since last week Saturday are the latest chapter in a painful history of suffering, oppression, occupation and conflict going back more than 75 years.
The harrowing deaths of Israeli and Palestinian civilians is a shock to our collective humanity. While international law recognises the right of oppressed and people who defend themselves to use arms as a means of struggle and defence, that right must be exercised within the bounds of the Geneva Conventions. The images of the killing of civilians in Israel by Hamas just over a week ago and the ongoing killing of civilians in Gaza by Israeli forces goes against the tenets of international law, which prohibits the targeting of non-combatants, especially women, the aged and children.
We express our sadness and condolences to all those who are going through the most difficult time with their families. As South Africans we are particularly filled with deep sorrow as some who have died are South African citizens caught in this conflict.
The sheer scale of human suffering is a grim reminder that it is civilians who bear the brunt in armed conflict and who pay the heaviest price. We stand firm against violence directed at civilians; against the killing of children, the elderly, the infirm and non-combatants; against the targeting of critical infrastructure such as hospitals; and against the collective punishment of civilian populations.
The wanton attack on civilians in Israel and the siege of Gaza and the decision to forcibly expel a population of over one million people from Gaza, together with the indiscriminate use of force, lays the basis for further suffering and death on a huge scale.
Acts of collective punishment like cutting electricity, food, water, medical and other essential supplies to civilian populations are abhorrent, as is the deliberate destruction of people’s homes.
As South Africans, this has echoes of the collective punishment of our own people by the apartheid regime as it sought to destroy the liberation movement. It brings back painful memories, as it does for our neighbours in the region.  
We echo the position taken by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights that depriving civilians of goods essential for their survival is prohibited under international law.
We call for an immediate cessation of acts of war between the two sides, the opening of humanitarian corridors and a UN-led negotiation process towards resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This must lead to a just and lasting peace that satisfies the human rights, dignity and aspirations of all the people on both sides of this conflict.
There is growing concern that the current conflict may render the possibility of a sustainable peace between Israelis and Palestinians and a two-state solution even further out of reach.
Yet as South Africans we know that reconciliation and peace is indeed possible if there is demonstrable political will from all sides, and when ordinary citizens commit to a common, shared future.
Without justice, there can be no peace. The cycle of violence that has been unleashed is the tragic outcome of decades of unmet and unfulfilled possibilities to peacefully solve the problem between Israelis and Palestinians.
The international community has a responsibility to support peace and to create favourable conditions for negotiation and dialogue, and not to fan the flames of conflict. World leaders need to, and must make, a call for peace and not vengeance.
During apartheid, our country’s problems were seen as intractable by many people around the world. But as a people, South Africans rejected attempts to lead us down the path of vengeance. We chose reconciliation over retribution, and peace-making over war. Our nationhood is testament to the power of meaningful negotiation, dialogue and reconciliation.
The only way to bring about peace is the fulfilment of the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people to human rights, dignity and nationhood.
It is our collective hope that the Israeli and Palestinian people come together, reconcile and choose the path of a just peace.
With best regards,

Subscribe to this newsletter