The Ahmed Kathrada Foundation has noted the recent statement by Israeli lobby organisation, the South African Zionist Federation (SAZF), on the 24-hour solidarity hunger strike in support of Palestinian prisoners.
The May 15th #DignityStrikeSA campaign saw people across religious and racial lines, including Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa and several cabinet ministers, embark on a 24-hour hunger strike in solidarity with Palestinian political prisoners. The prisoners have been on hunger strike for a month now, demanding basic rights from the Israeli authorities.
The Kathrada Foundation’s Executive Director, Neeshan Balton, said that the SAZF correctly noted that the Israeli Prison Services must uphold international law. “We would hope that the SAZF maintains consistency in this regard. It must continue to raise the issue of violation of international law against Palestinians within Israeli prisons on an ongoing basis.”
“There are currently 6500 Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli jails. Of those, human rights group Addameer puts the figure of Palestinian child prisoners at 300. There are 500 people serving administrative detention (the equivalent of detention without trial). We would certainly want to hear the SAZF raise concerns over these violations as well. We would also want them to question Israel’s use of solitary confinement, as well as its apartheid style tactics of using arbitrary arrests and imprisonment to crush the will of the Palestinian people.”
Balton stated that he was not surprised that the Israeli supporters could not see the similarities between South African freedom fighters imprisoned under apartheid and Palestinian political prisoners incarcerated under Israeli occupation. “I not surprised that the Israeli lobby thinks that drawing similarities between South African anti-apartheid hunger strikers and Palestinian hunger strikers may ‘diminish the stature’ of our own liberation struggle – it does not! The SAZF was never amongst organisations fighting for freedom and democracy in South Africa. The SAZF was silent and complicit in the apartheid regime’s oppression. Today, it is ironic that this very organisation wants to lecture those who were in forefront of the struggle, like Robben Island anti-apartheid prisoners Laloo Chiba and Ebrahim Ebrahim, about what it thinks diminishes struggle history. It’s an absolute shame.”
He added, “We are of the firm view that the Palestinians have every right to resist occupation through various means, just as our own liberation activists undertook various forms of struggle. Israel and its supporters should not try to sugar-coat our struggle against apartheid in their bid to try and delegitimise the Palestinians. We would like to remind the SAZF that Nelson Mandela was the ‘Commander in Chief’ of Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), the armed wing of the ANC. MK conducted acts of sabotage, armed resistance and violent struggle against apartheid. Mandela was clear that the renunciation of violence could not be a precondition to negotiations. Mandela was called a terrorist by several Western governments due to their support for the apartheid regime. In the same way, those supporting Israeli apartheid today, call the leader of the Palestinian political prisoner hunger strike, Marwan Barghouthi, a murderer.”
Balton noted that Barghouthi was tried in a military court, the legitimacy of which was not recognised by the Palestinians themselves, nor the Inter-Parliamentary Union. “The Israeli lobby is quick to term Barghouthi a murderer, but fails to mention how this member of the Palestinian parliament was abducted by Israeli forces in 2002 before being tried through a military court with sham legal proceedings.”
Balton was also critical of the SAZF’s failure to recognise the range of South African organisations and individuals who have come out in support of Palestinian prisoners. “We want to know who are the ‘BDS cohorts’ that the SAZF refers to as diminishing South African struggle history. Is it Minister Aaron Motsoaledi, or the leader of the 1956 Women’s March, Sophie Williams de Bruyn who have supported the Palestinian political prisoners and the #DignityStrikeSA campaign? Or is it the ANC or the Ex Political Prisoners Association of South Africa, that they are calling ‘cohorts’? These individuals and organisations, are amongst the many who have come out in support of the Palestinian prisoners and we find it deeply insulting that they are reduced to mere ‘cohorts,’” Balton said.
Balton listed the various organisations that have supported Palestinian prisoners including the: ANC, Ahmed Kathrada Foundation, Embassy of the State of Palestine, Al Jama-ah Political Party, Amnesty International (Wits), Cosatu, SACP, UDM, Economic Freedom Fighters, Equal Education, Ex Political Prisoners Association of South Africa, Gandhi Remembrance Organisation, Institute of Palestine South Africa, Kairos Palestine Study Group – South Africa, Palestine Solidarity Alliance, KZN Palestine Solidarity Forum, Palestine Museum, Palestinian Solidarity Campaign, PMB4Palestine Action Group, #TheWalkZone Radio Talkshow, UCT Palestine Solidarity Forum, UKZN Theology and Development, UP Palestine Solidarity, Wits PSC, BDS South Africa, MSA, MJC, Nehawu, Palestine Solidarity Committee, Al Quds Foundation, Jamiatul Ulama South Africa, South African Jews for a Free Palestine, Samwu, Lawyers for Human Rights, South African Prison Organisation and the National Coalition 4 Palestine (which includes more than 40 Palestine solidarity organisations, human rights groups, trade unions and political parties).
“What the Israeli lobby doesn’t understand is that the Palestinian political prisoners are not supported by just one organisation, but have the solidarity of members of our executive and parliament and senior activists across the political spectrum. This is a call that is supported by a broad range of organisations, many of whom have been grounded in struggle politics and have far greater knowledge and experience on the topic of what enhances or diminishes our struggle history,” Balton said.