Israel, like any other country in the world, has a duty to defend its borders, especially when it knows that its national security is threatened. It would be myopic to expect Israel to sit back and fold its arms when it is attacked by terror organisations such as Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ).

When Russia first invaded Ukraine in 2014 (the Russo-Ukrainian war) South Africa never condemned Russia’s provocation toward Ukraine.  Then, this year, when Russia invaded Ukraine and countless people lost their lives, livelihoods, and statehood as a result of being displaced, South Africa has not been prepared to condemn Russia for its gross military attack on Ukraine.

It is evident that South Africa was quick to condemn Israel while countries like Russia are able to get away with murder.  Why is this so? When the West killed Muammar Gaddhafi, Saddam Hussein and many others in the name of the war on terror, South Africa never condemned Washington. When Israel secures its national security, it is condemned harshly and quickly by South Africa’s government.

The PIJ is an Iranian proxy operating in Gaza and has been involved in various heinous humanitarian crimes, including the killing of Palestinians.  Yet, they are rather being recognised as freedom fighters by the South African government.  Our government also fails to recognise that it was a PIJ misfired rocket, aimed at civilians in Israel, which killed 5 children.  Rather, they want us to believe that all war crimes committed are the responsibility of Israel.

Within hours of the conflict between the Israel Defence Force (IDF) and the PIJ, Pretoria had already sent a statement of condemnation.

In its lengthy statement blaming and condemning Israel, Pretoria said “The Department of International Relations and Cooperation (Dirco) of the Republic of South Africa strongly condemns Israel attacks on Gaza which have over the last 48 hours resulted in the deaths of over 10 people, including a five-year-old child,” read the statement.

It is very difficult to understand the obsession of either South Africa’s minister of international relations and cooperation, Naledi Pandor, or her party, the African National Congress (ANC), towards Israel. Israel is treated differently from other countries that are involved in a particular conflict or war. The ANC-led government expects Israel to be passive whenever they are militarily attacked or provoked by terror groups.  This is just not pragmatic. 

Just as the United States of America (USA) has targeted warlords who are threats to Washington’s national security, the IDF has protected Israel by fighting PIJ leadership. PIJ in turn, retaliated by firing indiscriminate rockets at civilians in Israel, including Tel Aviv, Sderot and Ashkelon.

It is important for South Africa to reconsider its approach on this sensitive conflict and rather take a more statesman-like role, like Egypt, which was central in establishing a truce which has lasted until now.

Years have gone by looking for a long-lasting solution between Palestine and Israel. We know that in the end, we would like a Palestinian and Israeli state existing side by side.  South Africa should not be adding salt to the wound.  As an ambassador of peace, Pretoria should be talking about peace and non-violence between the Palestinians and Israelis. 

Pushing Israel away is neither strategic nor healthy for South Africa.  Rather it needs to acknowledge the growing economic, military and political strength of Israel in both the Middle East, Africa and the world at large. 

Many Israelis have criticized the occupation of the West Bank. South Africa has a role to play in helping Israel and the Palestinians negotiate the way forward.  But the occupation itself does not warrant South Africa’s portrayal as Israel being an anti-peace nation.  When will South Africa treat Israel as it does all the other countries in the world? 

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Kenneth Mokgatlhe

Kenneth Mokgatlhe is a political and social commentator.

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