South Africans march against Israel

A coalition of political and social groups led a march to parliament building in Cape Town last Saturday, spurred on by reports of escalating attacks on Lebanon by the Israeli army.

The marches, which also took place in Pretoria, were organised by a grouping that included the Anti-War coalition, Palestine Solidarity Committee, the Muslim Judicial Council, the Congress of South African Trade Unions and the Anti-Eviction Campaign.

South Africa has been part of the global force calling for an end to the Mid East crisis, which has seen escalating attacks between Israel and Muslim militant group Hezbollah.

But while the government has made calls for an end to the war, South African citizens are skeptical of the state’s efforts, and believe the government has not done enough to pressure the warring parties into a cease fire.

Saturday’s protests were also backed by the opposition Independent Democrats (ID), which said the government was shying away from the responsibility of calling for an end to the crisis.

ID president Patricia de Lille, who also took part in the march together with ID MP Lance Greyling and party chief whip Avril Harding, said her party would support any action against human rights violations, inspired largely by South Africa’s apartheid background.

“In light of our own history of human rights violations, as South Africans we should be the first to condemn these abuses,” De Lille said.

The ID leader lambasted the United States for its role in fuelling the Israeli-Lebanese war.

“The ID believes that the United States is a threat to the independence of the judiciary and has a selective foreign policy that is destabilising the whole Middle East.”

The calls were echoed by the Palestine Solidarity Committee, which also said Israel should be “strongly condemned” for its role in the conflict.

The extent of the condemnation has stretched to a call for South Africa to impose economic sanctions on Israel for its “disproportionate” attacks on the Lebanese, which have resulted in almost 800 deaths since the conflict began a month ago.

The demonstrators also called on the government to recall South Africa’s ambassador to Israel, as well as an end to all diplomatic ties with Tel Aviv.

The international community has been at loggerheads in attempts to bring about a peaceful settlement of the conflict, with the United Nations Security Council stalemated last week over the modalities of a possible ceasefire agreement.

President Thabo Mbeki has said South Africa will keep a close eye on developments at the Security Council.

“We’ll watch any moves at the Security Council’if we see – as a consequence of the council process – it is necessary for us to intervene, we would,” Mbeki told journalists two weeks ago.

Both the government and the ruling African National Congress have issued statements calling for an end to hostilities in the Middle East, though the calls appear to have fallen on deaf ears.

Political observers are skeptical over the impact that South Africa’s sentiments may have.

“It is unlikely that much attention would be paid to a call by South Africa.

“I believe the political battle that is being fought at the (UN) Security Council for a ceasefire will have more of an impact than any statements at the moment and that is evident from the escalation in violence,” said political analyst Aubrey Matsiqi.

In the meantime, the government has pledged to assist Lebanon with humanitarian aid, though there have been problems in sending it through to the war ravaged country.

August 2006
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