‘Without justice, there can be no peace’ — says Ramaphosa on Palestinian solidarity

16 October 2023 - 17:37
By Sisanda Mbolekwa
ANC President Cyril Ramaphosa has reaffirmed that his party and the government pledge their solidarity with the people of Palestine.
Image: Alaister Russell ANC President Cyril Ramaphosa has reaffirmed that his party and the government pledge their solidarity with the people of Palestine.

President Cyril Ramaphosa has pledged solidarity with Palestine, saying there cannot be any justice without peace.

He lamented the devastating violence and destruction in Israel and Gaza, saying it has never been in South Africa’s nature to reserve 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 Palestine and Israel as they go through these difficult times.”

Ramaphosa said it has been traumatic to see the images of civilians killed, wounded and captured, of destroyed homes and 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 people to use arms to defend themselves, Ramaphosa said 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. We are particularly filled with deep sorrow as some who have died are South African citizens caught in this conflict.”

The president said the scale of human suffering was 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, 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.”

Ramaphosa said 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.”

He called 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 conflict may render the possibility of a sustainable peace between Israelis and Palestinians, and a two-state solution, even further out of reach. 

“As South Africans, we know that reconciliation and peace is 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, not to fan the flames of conflict. World leaders 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 peacemaking over war,” said Ramaphosa

He cited South Africa’s nationhood as testament to the power of 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.”