By Rolene Marks
The winds of change are blowing through the Middle East and the trajectory is heading down into the African continent. More and more, African leaders are establishing bilateral ties with the State of Israel, realizing that cooperation is beneficial for the people of their countries. They are realizing that this can be achieved without having to be partisan; and make a choice between supporting either Israel or the Palestinians. Leaders of African states who sincerely would like a peaceful solution to the conflict and perhaps contribute to negotiations, are making overtures to the Jewish state, by normalizing ties like Sudan and Morocco or moving their embassies to the capital, Jerusalem, like Malawi and Equatorial Guinea. Trade and cooperation between the continent and Israel is growing and during this difficult global pandemic, Israel has confirmed it will give vaccines to African countries that include Ethiopia, Chad, Kenya, Uganda, Guinea and more, in addition to those they are , but not legally obliged, to give to Palestinians.
It seems almost natural that African countries would seek to build bridges with Israel. Many of these countries have a historical and political trajectory that mirrors that of the Jewish State and Israel is perfectly poised to help on many levels. Theodore Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism wrote about what he saw as two peoples whose mutual histories of slavery and colonisation mirrored each other.
“There is still one other question arising out of the disaster of nations which remains unsolved to this day, and whose profound tragedy, only a Jew can comprehend. This is the African question. Just call to mind all those terrible episodes of the slave trade, of human beings who, merely because they were black, were stolen like cattle, taken prisoner, captured and sold. Their children grew up in strange lands, the objects of contempt and hostility because their complexions were different. I am not ashamed to say, though I may expose myself to ridicule for saying so, that once I have witnessed the redemption of the Jews, my people, I wish also to assist in the redemption of the Africans.”
Today his wishes are coming true as many African countries call on Israel for help with security, economic, medical, agricultural and social challenges. Prime Minister Netanyahu has visited the continent more than previous Israeli leaders, at the invitation of African leaders and speaks of warm relations between countries.
Sadly, there are still those, such as some African Union states, who remain fixated on division, having an almost pathological hatred of Israel that any positive steps that could help create frameworks for positive ties are anathema. They would rather focus on a few resolutions adopted by the African Union that are not unanimous and have no bearing on the reality on the ground than engage in discourse and discussions about how to assist both Israelis and Palestinians in brokering peace.
One such example is a recent resolution adopted by the AU which refers to the Hamas-initiated “March of Return” which took place on a weekly basis for over a year, following the moving of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The resolution manages to ignore the incendiary rhetoric of Hamas and focuses on the “killing of 62 protesters”. This refers to the infamous March of Return campaign initiated by Hamas who using their civilians as cannon fodder, launched weekly protests on Israel’s border with Gaza, with the aim of averting attention from an internal crisis but also the more nefarious infiltration into Israeli communities with the intention of either kidnapping or killing civilians. Of the 62 “protesters” that were killed, the vast majority were Hamas and other terror group operatives.
These weekly protests stopped, having failed to achieve their intended goals – and also because the world has grown increasingly weary of this approach by those who choose to gamble with the lives of their civilians and pursue violence at every opportunity.
For the African Union as an institution or South Africa, one of their most vociferous member states, to play a meaningful in helping to broker or negotiate peace between Israel and the Palestinians, perhaps more cooperation and listening is needed and less recrimination, politics of blame and feckless accusations by those who push a blatant agenda.
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