Kathrada Foundation welcomes withdrawal of ambassador to Israel

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The Ahmed Kathrada Foundation has welcomed the withdrawal of South Africa’s ambassador to Israel, Sisa Ngombane.

The decision by the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) was taken following Israel’s killing of over 50 Palestinians who were part of protests along the Gaza border since the start of the week.

In the last six weeks, since the beginning of the ‘Great March of Return’, Israel has killed close to 100 Palestinians and injured thousands of others.

The withdrawal of Ngombane also follows America’s relocation of its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which was marked by an official ceremony yesterday.

The Foundation’s Executive Director, Neeshan Balton, said, “It is outrageous that peaceful Palestinian protestors are being mowed down by live ammunition on one hand, while on the other, Israel and the United States are celebrating in Jerusalem. We reiterate the call being made by Boycotts Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) South Africa for our government to expel the Israeli ambassador in South Africa, downgrade the Israeli Embassy to a liaison office and to apply state level sanctions against Israel.”

Balton said that the American government’s opening of its embassy in Jerusalem was a “clear indication of America and Israel’s lack of commitment to peace in the region”. In December last year, the UN General Assembly overwhelmingly voted against the United States’ recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

“The opening the embassy in Jerusalem just ahead of Nakba Day shows America’s complete disregard for the anguish that 70 years of occupation evokes for Palestinians,” Balton said.

The Nakba, or ‘Catastrophe’ saw thousands of Palestinians being forced to flee from their homes in 1948 and the formal establishment of Israel. Palestinians consider the Nakba an ongoing process due to Israel’s continued occupation of the West Bank, its blockade on, and incursions into Gaza, and its continued violation of human rights against the Palestinian people.

“Over the last six weeks, the Great March of Return has showed the power of sustainable mass action by ordinary Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, and is reminiscent of Gandhi’s Salt March and the marches led by Martin Luther King Jr. In the face of bullet fire from the Israeli military, these protesters are armed with a daring courage to simply cross over the border into land that belongs to their families, but is now occupied by Israel. It reminds us of Sharpeville in South Africa where unarmed protestors were murdered by the apartheid regime, or the 1976 youth uprising where innocent young people lost their lives for freedom,” Balton said.

“Over and above our condemnation of Israel’s use of force and its escalation of violence, we must also condemn its targeting of journalists, who despite being marked as members of the media, have been shot with live ammunition along the Gaza border, an indication of just how dismissive the occupation is of general international standards.”

Over the last few days, several solidarity events have been held in South Africa in support of the Palestinian people. This includes a march to Parliament, as well as a picket outside the American Consulate offices in Sandton today.

“We welcome the solidarity action in support of Palestine,” Balton said. “It is important that we continue raising our objection to the occupation, colonialism and apartheid that Palestinians have been subjected to for the better part of the last century.

“On the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the Nakba, the Foundation also reiterates its call for the freedom of Marwan Barghouthi and all Palestinian political prisoners. Barghouthi, known as the ‘Palestinian Mandela’, is currently serving his 16th consecutive year in prison.”

In 2013, anti-apartheid struggle veteran and former Robben Island prisoner, Ahmed Kathrada, launched the global Free Marwan Barghouthi and All Palestinian Political Prisoners campaign.

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