Palestinian supporters marching last month in London on the anniversary of the May 15 1948 ‘Nakba’ the beginning of the Palestinian exodus
Palestinian supporters marching last month in London on the anniversary of the May 15 1948 ‘Nakba’ the beginning of the Palestinian exodus

Palestinian civil society has called on democratic South Africa to end complicity with Israeli apartheid.

The Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee (BNC) has released a report entitled ‘Democratic South Africa’s complicity in Israel’s occupation, colonialism and apartheid’, based on research from the Palestinian grassroots Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign (STW).

The report discusses South African economic relations with Israel as well as the related political and institutional framework.

Analyzing dozens of cases of commercial ties and political initiatives, it proves once again that trade relations with Israel necessarily require involvement in or complicity with Israeli violations of human rights and international law, including assistance to Israeli occupation, colonialism and apartheid.

This report focuses exclusively on South African relations with Israel in the post-apartheid era.

This is in an understanding that, within a context where on the ground the only deal offered to the Palestinian people is Bantustans, South African support to the Palestinian people can never offset its support to Israeli occupation and its apartheid regime.

The latter rather risks contributing to the Bantustanisation of Palestine.

It calls on the South African government ‘to join the growing movement for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel’, starting with:

At the national level

• A full ban on all products, investments and services related to the settlements, the Apartheid Wall or other Israeli policies of occupation, colonialism and apartheid;

• Cancellation of existing contracts between Israeli firms and South African public enterprises, based on the former’s involvement in grave violations of international law;

• An end to governmental trade-promoting activities;

• Immediate freeze of any ratification process of agreements and annulling their signature, especially where related to trade and investment.


• Promotion of and support for international calls for a comprehensive arms embargo on Israel;

• Enforcement of the 2004 Declaration on Palestine of the Non-Aligned Movement Summit in Durban on the ban of products and services from the settlements;

• Promotion of the global movement for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel until it fully complies with its obligations under international law.

These measures are to be upheld until Israel respects international law and human rights, in particular:

1. Ends its occupation and colonisation of all Arab lands and dismantles the Wall;

2. Recognises the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and

3. Respects, protects and promotes the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194.

The report’s summary concludes:

Trade relations benefit Israeli companies or involve South African investments in Israeli companies that:

Operate in, construct or bring services to the illegal colonies (settlements);

Help to build or maintain the Wall and its associated regime of checkpoints, both declared illegal by the International Court of Justice in 2004;

Illegally exploit natural resources located in occupied Palestinian land and/or illegally appropriate water resources to the detriment of the Palestinian people.

Strengthen the Israeli military and homeland security intelligence sector.

Infringing on

Palestinian rights

Involvement in the above policies makes post- apartheid South Africa a partner in the violation of Palestinian rights, including the right to self-determination.

Putting South African national security at risk

South African contracts given to Israel even include companies that have been repeatedly investigated by foreign intelligence agencies and risk harm to South Africa’s national security (or at the very least the privacy of its citizens) by handing over to foreign agents information gathered during their operations in South Africa.

South Africa’s trade with Israel is not only a decision of the private sector but is actively supported by the government through:

The Spier Initiative

The initiative was launched in 2002 by President Mbeki to convey to Palestinian and Israeli politicians the South African experience.

Just like any other initiative of ‘constructive engagement’ with apartheid in South Africa or Israel, the Spier Initiative has not achieved any of its professed objectives.

When it collapsed in 2006, no tangible political results in terms of Palestinian/Israeli negotiations had been achieved.

However, it has opened the doors for Israel to the markets and investment opportunities in South Africa and the wider region and has improved Israel’s position in South African diplomacy.

The consequences today are increased South African involvement in Israeli occupation, colonialism and apartheid.

Trade and investment agreements

The existing body of agreements, which regulate economic relationships between South Africa and Israel facilitate trade and investments involving violations of human rights and international law.

Public enterprises

South African public enterprises have allocated large contracts to Israeli companies involved in violations of human rights and international law and investigated for espionage.

Trade promoting events

A number of events promoting trade with Israel have been held with the sponsorship of the South African government.

They have targeted sectors of Israeli economy which are particularly deeply involved in grave violations of human rights and international law and have included the direct participation of a number of South African and Israeli companies in actions that promote, support and maintain Israeli occupation, colonialism and apartheid.

Leadership training

Governmental support to Israeli projects of cooperation and leadership training, which in many cases are only thinly veiled propaganda efforts to shift South African foreign policy in the long term.

This brings South Africa into clear contradiction with its obligations according to:

Its constitution, which states that the Republic of South Africa is founded on the enhancement of Human Rights.

International law, including the conventions and resolutions that ban colonialism and apartheid.

The IV Geneva Convention, according to which the settlements, the Wall and much of Israeli military actions against Palestinian civilians are considered war crimes.

The IV Geneva Convention, as much as the conventions banning colonialism and apartheid, obliges all signatories of the Convention to enforce its precepts.

However, with its policies on trade with Israel, South Africa effectively supports grave breaches of the IV Geneva Convention as well as Israeli colonialism and apartheid.

This brings South Africa into contradiction with its stated foreign policy, which:

Has clearly shown in its 2004 submission to the International Court of Justice regarding the legal consequences of the construction of the Wall that it is aware of Israeli violations of human rights and international law, which amount to occupation, colonialism and apartheid.

Aims to strengthen Human Rights enforcing mechanisms globally

The report clearly shows that:

It is virtually impossible to keep up and facilitate trade with Israel without infringing South African and international laws and values and abetting Israeli occupation, colonialism and apartheid.

The South African government has persistently refused to act in accordance with its obligations and to heed the calls from Palestinian and South African civil society to end its economic relations with Israel.

In light of the mass of evidence of Israel’s violations of international law and human rights, this leads South Africa to a position of conscious complicity with Israeli occupation, colonialism and apartheid.

Trade with Israel directly affects Palestinians and infringes their rights enshrined in international law and UN resolutions, including their right to self-determination.

Palestinian civil society effectively resents and feels betrayed by the South African government’s support of the South African government for growing economic ties with Israel.

‘Constructive engagement’, such as in the Spier Initiative, does not foster justice but protracts and supports ongoing injustice. South Africa’s own experience should be a clear example that concrete pressure, not ‘constructive engagement’ will bring about a peaceful and sustainable settlement based on international law and the inalienable rights of the indigenous people of Palestine.