The Israeli question is always going to strike a nerve in South Africa because of the apartheid designs of that state. There’s no other description for how Jewish and Palestinian people live in a country that owes its existence to flawed European and US solutions to the fate of Jewish people long persecuted in their own lands. The life of an everyday Palestinian since the establishment of the state in 1948 has much in common with that of ordinary black South Africans, who until thirty years ago were second class citizens in their own country.
Some historians and philosophers described South Africa’s freedom in the early nineties, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War as the “end of history” but the ongoing conflict belies that claim. Over the past few years, the fractures have increasingly come to the fore as matters such as immigration stir up right-leaning politics across the globe.
The recent Israeli-Palestinian conflict takes place in this context. Since the fighting began, Palestinian health officials put the death toll at about 228 people from aerial bombardments in Gaza that was already facing a dire humanitarian situation. Israel has put its death toll at 12 people from repeated rocket attacks that have caused panic and sent people rushing into shelters.
Three years ago, South Africa recalled an ambassador to Tel Aviv after the death of 15 Palestinians in a day. With the level of fatalities now and a real threat of a civil war if a ceasefire isn’t agreed to and soon, there’s growing pressure on President Cyril Ramaphosa to act beyond mere condemnation. Silent on the matter we shouldn’t remain.
As a Mail & Guardian contributor this week, Jesse Prinsloo, suggests, this is not merely a “religious conflict” that goes back centuries, with the suggestion that the rest of the world should remain spectators. This is a conflict shaped by the two world wars of the last century, where the victors redrew the world map and laid the foundations for various conflicts in the Middle East, Asia, Africa and Latin America.
It’s a conflict made of the incorrigible men who led the world in the middle of the last century: Churchill, Stalin and Truman. But however much we blame these men for the conflict today, they did create the UN at the end of the war.
It’s only through that body that a solution can be found. It is unfortunate that since the US, backed by Tony Blair’s UK, attacked Iraq in 2003 without regard for the UN, it has lost much of its credibility. Russia’s annexation of Crimea, a province of Ukraine, seven years ago, further undermined it. Their behaviour has only served to encourage Israel to do the same.
The question is how the UN can win back its credibility. Without it, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict looks to continue into the next century.