Eulogy by Deputy Minister Ebrahim I. Ebrahim at the memorial service of the late Ambassador Ali Halimeh of Palestine to South Africa, 18 September 2012.
Director of Ceremonies,
Distinguished members of the Halimeh family,
Members of the Diplomatic Corps,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We are gathered here today to pay tribute and bid farewell to our dear friend, Ambassador Ali Halimeh, one of the finest diplomats Palestine has produced. It was with great sadness that we learnt of the untimely passing of this well-loved colleague, who was highly respected in the diplomatic fraternity.
This loss is not suffered only by his family, but the entire diplomatic corps accredited to South Africa, where he served with distinction since the day of his arrival in this country. South Africans from organizations across this country, and ordinary citizens in the labour unions and the townships had known of Ambassador Halimeh and what he stood for, and the message he brought – “to stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people in their struggle for self-determination.”
Like many revolutionaries throughout the world, Ali grew up under very difficult circumstances and this greatly influenced his future political life. He was born into a Palestinian family that had fled from Tarshiha in northern Palestine to Lebanon during the Nakba in 1948. This led to him joining the Palestinian National Liberation Movement ”Fatah” at the early age of sixteen in 1969. He carried a heavy burden at the age of 18 when his Father passed away and he was left with the responsibility of looking after his family.
Many of us may recall the milestones in the political journey that Ambassador Halimeh travelled in the service of the people of Palestine. At the young age of 23 Chairman Yasser Arafat had entrusted him with the responsibility of looking after the Palestinian refugees which fled one of the infamous massacres in Lebanon in 1976. Ali witnessed the worst excesses of the Lebanese civil war and served with distinction in a number of positions within the PLO during this time.
But Ali’s sojourn in Africa began with his posting to Tanzania at the age of 30, at a time when Dar es Salaam was a hotbed of revolutionary activity, with liberation struggles from across Africa and the globe having a presence there. Ali spent six years in Tanzania, but could return years or even decades later and have ordinary Tanzanians remember him on the streets. Many of his fellow revolutionaries of the late 1970s in Dar es Salaam had gone on to become leaders of countries within the region, or to spearhead liberation struggles.
Ali proved himself to be a capable and strategic diplomat, whose great success in mobilizing support for the Palestinian cause in Tanzania led to new challenges such as opening the first fully fledged Palestinian embassy on the African continent – in Zimbabwe. Ali has often regaled the tales of his 19 year posting in Zimbabwe when he forged solidarity networks across the Southern African region, and played a role in assisting liberation movements in the region through financial and other support from the PLO. Ali had promised to pen a biography which would have likely been a page turner, and he surely had many stories to tell from those early years of Zimbabwean independence and anti-apartheid struggle from one of the frontline states.
By the time Ali reached Pretoria as Palestinian Ambassador in 2006, he was a seasoned diplomat. He became a respected and much-admired member of the diplomatic corps, serving as the Dean of the Arab Ambassadors, and he worked tirelessly for the Palestinian cause. He had a way of embracing each country he was living in, in a sincere and meaningful way.
In the context of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, Ambassador Halimeh was objective, pragmatic, and supported a peaceful resolution to the on-going crisis. In this regard, he even went to the extent of reaching out to the South African Jewish Board of Deputies to exchange ideas.
During his tenure as Ambassador, diplomatic relations between South Africa and Palestine continued to deepen. From bringing Palestinian artists to South Africa, to screening powerful documentaries, from hosting interesting lectures to promoting Palestinian craft, Ali contributed to the growth of cultural diplomacy.
As an ardent activist he was instrumental in ensuring that South Africans were educated about the Palestinian situation and the suffering Palestinians are subjected to on a daily basis. Despite the endless construction of new Israeli settlements on Palestinian land, Ali remained a firm believer that there was no option other than a two state solution.
Ali had witnessed the critical role played by the international anti-apartheid movement in bringing about meaningful change in South Africa, and he sought to use the power of international diplomacy as a tool to move the peace process forward. Applying this model in the Palestinian context, Ali had hoped to mobilize public opinion on the situation in Palestine first in Ireland as Ambassador, and then in South Africa, as he hoped this would translate into pressure for change more broadly.
A thorough gentleman, Ali was not afraid to let his views be known but he was always polite, measured and reasonable in putting them across. His passing is indeed a great loss to so many of us.
One day when Palestine is eventually free, we will recall the words of Jesse Jackson when speaking about Martin Luther King:
"From the seeds of his body blossomed the flower that liberated a people and touched the soul of a nation."
To Ali’s wife Iman, daughter Noura, and son Ahmed: On behalf of the people of South Africa and our Government, we convey our deepest condolences to you and your extended family on the loss of your beloved husband and father. His love for you was immeasurable, and you can be proud of a man who has stood as a gentle giant in the Palestinian struggle for more than three decades.
May his soul rest in peace.