President Cyril Ramaphosa noted on Monday that as emotive as the Israel-Palestine issue may be for many South Africans, particularly given the country’s own history of discrimination and oppression, citizens must not let it deepen divisions between them.
It is now over a month since the attacks in Israel that resulted in the intense violence in Palestine.
According to authorities, more than 1 200 people were killed in the attack by Hamas on Israel on October 7 and more than 11 000 Palestinians have since been killed in Gaza as a result of Israeli Defence Force bombardments. More than 60% of the people killed in Gaza are reported to be women and children.
Ramaphosa wrote in his weekly letter to the nation that as the bombardment of Gaza continues, there have been pro-Palestinian demonstrations around the world, as well as those expressing solidarity with Israel.
South Africa has also seen protests, convened by civil society organisations, political parties and religious groupings.
“What is happening in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank provokes strong emotions. For some, the murder of Israelis and the abduction of hostages on October 7 has further hardened sentiment that Israel has the right to use whatever means at its disposal to defend itself. At the same time, there are others who view the collective punishment of the people of Gaza by the Israeli government as a war crime. Yet no matter how strong our views on this matter, we must guard against this conflict turning us against each other as South Africans,” said Ramaphosa.
Last week, police had to intervene in a confrontation between pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian supporters at a demonstration in Cape Town.
Ramaphosa noted that while this incident is troubling and unacceptable, government commends South Africans who have participated in orderly and peaceful demonstrations.
He stressed that there is no place in South Africa for violence or threats of violence against those who hold contrary views.
“Nor is there any place for any form of prejudice, racism or chauvinism. We are a society that prides itself on its tolerance and respect,” he said.
Ramaphosa highlighted that South Africa stands firm in its call for justice for the oppressed Palestinian people, for their rights and aspirations to be fulfilled, for the immediate cessation of hostilities, and for there to be accountability for the killings of civilians in this recent conflict.
“We maintain that peace will not be possible until Palestinians are free. Yet, support for the Palestinian struggle cannot be equated with anti-Semitism. There is no place in our society for anti-Semitism, just as there is no place in our country for prejudice directed against any individual or community on the basis of race, religion, belief, political view or sexual orientation,” he said.
Ramaphosa noted that in a free and democratic society, such as South Africa, where divergent views are respected and protected by law, government will continue to uphold everyone’s right to advocate and demonstrate peacefully, be they pro-Israel or pro-Palestinian.