Ministerial Statement on the Ongoing Israeli-Palestinian Conflict by Dr GNM Pandor, Minister for International Relations and Cooperation, in the National Assembly House of Parliament, 7 November 2023
I should have agreed with Honourable Pumza, that the Africa National Congress is not deterred by these polls that are always meant to frighten the ANC. We will campaign hard, and we will do well.
Honourable Members of Parliament,
Thank you for allowing me to present this statement.
Today we join the world in expressing horror at the war crimes being committed in Palestine through the targeting of civilians, civilian infrastructure, UN premises and other vulnerable targets.
These actions remind us of our experiences as Black South Africans living under Apartheid. This is one of the key reasons South Africans, like people in cities all over the world, have taken to the streets to express their anger and concern at what is taking place in Gaza and the West Bank.
These demonstrations illustrate the frustration felt the world over that people are being attacked and are losing their lives with little or no action to stop these atrocities.
The facts that have been released detailing the devastation of the current conflict are horrendous. Over 10,000 are dead, thousands injured, public facilities destroyed and cruel and wanton bombardment is ongoing.
Therefore, as South Africa, we remain steadfast in calling for an immediate, comprehensive ceasefire. The full as well as the opening of all humanitarian corridors to ensure much-needed aid and basic services reach those in need.
The actions that we are all witnessing daily by Israel are a violation of international law, including the UN Charter, the Geneva Convention and its protocols. In its attacks on and kidnapping of innocent civilians, HAMAS has also violated international law.
While we express horror at the violence, it is critical that we acknowledge that the illegal occupation of Palestine by Israel for several decades has led to bitter hatred and increased violence. And it is not the first time the people of Palestine experiencing this violence. It has been going on for decades and decades. Nothing we say will obliterate that fact.
However, the murder of children, women and the aged by Israel is an act that should have resulted in the International Criminal Court issuing an immediate arrest warrant for key decision makers, including Mr Netanyahu, who are responsible for violations of international criminal law.
Madam Chairperson and members of Parliament,
It is important to stress that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can only be solved through the establishment of two states, Palestine, and Israel, living side by side in peace. The Palestinian State should be created along the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital and in line with UN resolutions. For this two-state solution to materialise, a peace process initiated by the United Nations must commence urgently.
We are aware that increasing settlements and illegal occupation have been used to make the creation of a Palestinian state impossible. The world must reject the Bantustan-type Balkanisation that has increased bitterness and hatred. We must therefore reinforce all efforts for the two states.
Chair and Honourable members,
The collective punishment Israel is exacting on all Palestinian people is an affront that has gone on for too long. The world has expressed horror but has not acted effectively to save Palestinian lives. Sadly, there are many even in our country who chose to turn a blind eye to these atrocities.
On 27 October 2023, South Africa was among more than two-thirds of the Member States of the United Nations that called for an immediate ceasefire at the General Assembly. This decision of the United Nations has been ignored.
We cannot proclaim the importance of international law and the importance of the UN Charter in some situations and not for others as if the rule of law only applies to a select few. For international law to be credible, it should be uniformly applied and not selective.
Let us be clear, Israel is an occupying power confirmed by the International Court of Justice and the United Nations. As the occupying power, Israel can use tools applicable to the rule of law, including policing powers to deal with criminal actions in the area it occupies. An occupying state cannot exercise control over the territory it occupies and simultaneously militarily attack that territory on the claim that it is “foreign” and poses an exogenous national security threat.
The notion of Israel’s right to defend itself through military means has been used erroneously by some, and deliberately by others to justify the unlawful use of force by Israel on the people of Palestine in Gaza and the West Bank.
The crime of genocide sadly looms large in the current situation in Gaza. We recall that in 1994 a genocide occurred on the African continent with much of the whole world watching as innocent people were massacred.
During the Second World War, innocent people were massacred and placed under siege. In response, at the end of the war, an international system was created, including the United Nations, human rights instruments and judicial mechanisms so that history would not repeat such cruelty.
However, the selective application of these international instruments and the utilisation of some of these mechanisms for attaining narrow interests has resulted in calling to question the effectiveness of the system.
It is a system that has failed the people of Gaza as it did in 1994 for the people of Rwanda and in Bosnia. What is needed now, more than ever before is reform of the system of global governance so that it is fair, equitable, and has the capacity to respond to the needs of all persons in situations of threat and harm. The system that is needed should not just be a tool for the most powerful countries of the world but one that provides protection for the most vulnerable.
The inadequacy of the UN Security Council, which has a mandate derived from the UN Charter for the maintenance of international peace and security has become glaring.
The Security Council, due to aggravated politicisation, has not at the very least been able to call for a humanitarian ceasefire to allow for much-needed humanitarian supplies to go to those that need it most. This once again illustrates the urgent need for the reform of this body.
Chairperson and Honourable members,
Many of us feel helpless looking at the images of the suffering that children and other innocent civilians are going through. As South Africans, we need to raise our voices and call for the following concrete actions to end the suffering:
(i) An immediate comprehensive ceasefire
(ii) The opening of humanitarian corridors so that aid and other basic services reach all those in need
(iii) All parties to exercise restraint and to desist from fuelling this patently unjust war and human suffering, including by ceasing the supplying of weapons to the parties
(iv) The release of all civilian hostages
(v) In light of statements on the use of nuclear weapons, the establishment of a Middle East Nuclear Weapons Free Zone, as we have in Africa
(vi) The resumption of a comprehensive dialogue led and owned by Palestinians and Israelis themselves and facilitated by the United Nations
(vii) The deployment of a UN Rapid Deployment Force in Palestine mandated to monitor the implementation of a ceasefire, cessation of hostilities and importantly protect civilians.
Chairperson and Honourable members, our common humanity dictates that all human lives matter and the time for the international community to stand together and act is now. We, who enjoy the freedom from Apartheid, can never, ever be the ones who agree to an apartheid form of oppression. It is not merely ourselves who are saying this. It is international organisations that have done research on torture, imprisonment and murder, who previously when reporting on other matters are regarded as credible but when it comes to Israel, their reports are not accepted. This cannot be tolerated. This brutality should not be accepted. We must call for a ceasefire now, as the Honourable House of South Africa.
I thank you.
ISSUED BY THE DEPARTMENT OF INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS AND COOPERATION
OR Tambo Building
460 Soutpansberg Road