There are those who suggest as very much a fait accompli that the African Union’s acceptance of Israel’s accession to its institutions, as an observer member, regardless of the crimes of the occupation against the Palestinian people, must be viewed in the context of a natural evolution of relations.
The foundation of this supposition is both disingenuous and fraught with peril: a supposition rooted in a claim of common growth where the two sides seek to merge their so-called shared interests as the culmination of an extended process of building bilateral relations between the African continent and Israel.
Voiced as an expression of the “will” of a majority of member states of the African Union, this marriage of convenience and short-sighted self-interest, is anchored upon a number of entirely arbitrary or fanciful notions:
1. The grant of observer status was within the unilateral authority of Moussa Faki, head of the African Union Commission;
2. The strengthening of the relationship of the African Union with Israel is a necessity for the continent, especially after Israel has become more integrated into the international community, and after the so-called Abraham Accords have “deepened” the connection of a number of Arab states with it;
3. The claim that working to isolate Israel will not serve the Palestinian cause, as evidenced by Arab countries that have tried to do so in the past with but limited success;
4. The best way, some say, to achieve peace in the Middle East is to seek to strengthen the marginal supporters of the so-called peace process in Israel itself;
5. Softening the nature and extent of Israeli human rights violations of Palestinians, under the guise of selective application of international law, arguing others with human rights violations as damning as Israel’s are not so vilified;
6. Claiming Israel’s accession to the African Union will not harm its overall solidarity with the Palestinian people, and its absolute support for the Palestinians’ right to establish an independent national state with east Jerusalem as its capital; and finally,
7. African countries as a whole are in such dire need of the advanced technological, agricultural and security capabilities possessed by the Zionist occupation state as to necessitate political compromise.
Built of largely self-serving excuse, as a starting point, these arguments fail to consider the entirety of the historical context of the relationship between the African continent and Israel. A plain read of Israeli-African relations clearly indicates that they were affected, if not determined, by parallel Arab-Israeli interactions. Thus, as statements of principle and solidarity, many African countries severed extant relations with Israel following the Israeli aggressions against Arab countries in 1967 and, then again, in1973.
Though, to some degree, these countries eventually reconstructed their relations with Israel once Egypt did so in 1978, and following the Madrid Conference of 1991 and the Oslo Agreements, it proved to be but a fleeting gesture as Israel was unable to exploit this temporary détente beyond the period when the Organization of African Unity morphed into the African Union. .
Established in 2002 as an extension or alternative to the Organization of African Unity, the African Union considered and loudly rejected Israel’s application for admission on a number of compelling grounds. Among them was its permanent state of aggression and war against the Palestinian people; its overt schemes to Judaize Jerusalem; and its unbroken illegal settlement and annexation activity in the West Bank. In what can only be seen as a principled stand in support of Palestinian self-determination, justice and liberation, Israel’s application to join the African Union was soundly rejected three times during 2013, 2015, and 2016.
So, then, what has happened now? Why have some African states lost their sensitivity to the immediate and ominous danger to Palestinians by virtue of this sudden and inexplicable re-kindle of African-Israeli relations? Especially since these dangers are obvious with regard to two essential issues: first, Israel links the development of these relations with its effort to bring about a change in the voting behavior of African countries in international institutions with regard to the Arab-Israeli conflict, and in particular in the United Nations General Assembly. This aims at eroding if not undermining overall African sympathy and solidarity with the Palestinian cause.
Second, it is a conscious determined effort to sever the natural and just struggle of the Palestinian people against the racist Zionist occupation of our land from Africa’s own historical experience with neo-colonial projects. One which necessitated a long and determined struggle throughout Africa against colonial powers and engendered great sacrifice and sensitivity by that continent to basic human rights and aspirations of oppressed peoples everywhere.
This transformation, indeed, factual rewrite of who and what Israel is today occurs at the very time of its increasing violation of our recognized human rights and international law. A plain read of 2021 shows an on-going expansion of Israel’s grave crimes against Palestinians whether by daily violence; criminal expansion of the occupation and annexation of, to date, some 60% of our lands; its brutal siege of Gaza and its two million people; its supremacist nation-state laws, and a system of race and faith based discrimination so manifestly obvious that international human rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch and Israel’s own B’Tselem confirm that Israel is today a full-fledged apartheid state.
To deny this reality is to ignore the truth of the daily life and death of Palestinians and to disregard a growing international community of states and movements, such as BDS, that recognize decades of Palestinian injustice and increasingly seek to show solidarity with us. Following years of trying to reach a real and viable peace with this violent supremacist state on a face-to-face basis and a long and bitter experience from it, increasingly we expand our efforts and hopes today through alliances of international peoples and governments that are informed and sensitized to the racist entity that is Israel.
Normalization, such as that proposed by some in the African Union, does nothing but empower Israel to continue with its indifference to international law and the violation of human rights of millions of Palestinians who remain imprisoned under its occupation. Does Africa wish to become complicit with the same racist and despotic drive which fueled its own suffer at the hands of earlier European colonial projects?
Make no mistake about it Israel’s history with the African continent and its current orientation towards it whether by blanket support of Apartheid in South Africa, fueling the Rwanda genocide, insinuating itself into Angola, its mass sale of weapons and surveillance equipment throughout Africa along with the plunder of its natural resources is, at its core, a racist construct aimed primarily at exploiting the continent and its political power and potential.
It is naïve to assume that the African Union will be able to use the privilege of Israel’s observer status to move Israel towards equality, justice or peace with the millions of the occupied and oppressed people of Palestine. Since the time in 1948 when it was artificially created from the land of our people, Israeli membership at the United Nations has worked no such deterrence nor accomplished any such end.
It is no less naïve to imagine that Israel will not work to sow discord among African countries just the way manipulation by earlier colonial powers sought to enhance their economic and political position by exploiting the continents domestic and international problems. To Israel, the African continent remains a crown jewel in its effort to remake its filthy past and image. Through this union it seeks to exploit Africa’s wealth, natural resources and low cost labor to produce goods with a highly competitive advantage; and to serve as a dumping ground for billions of dollars in weapons and technology of surveillance.
Against the light of this predictable, if not certain, Israeli abuse, it would appear, that one individual has assumed the power to unilaterally override the long-standing collective will of the African Union to deny Israel the honor of participating in its legislative function at the same time that it continues its brutal and deadly occupation of our people and expands daily the reach of its system of Apartheid.
The Palestinian call for boycotting Israel, and imposing sanctions and divestments from it is an essential part of the Palestinians’ struggle to achieve justice for themselves, and at the same moment, a warning to others of falling prey to the ambitions of an apartheid state that does not observe any law, moral values or common interests, in order to achieve its entirely self-serving agenda.
This is the reason behind the sage and prescient warning of the iconic pioneer of the struggle against the apartheid regime in South Africa, Nelson Mandela, when he noted “we know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.”
– Nihad Sheikh Khalil is a Professor of Contemporary History at Islamic University of Gaza specializing in the history of the Palestinian Israeli conflict. This article was contributed to The Palestine Chronicle