Palestinian Minister of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates Riad Malki led the second Palestinian Heads of Mission in Africa Conference in Pretoria this week. He spoke to The African’s editor Noni Mokati about the strategic engagements the State of Palestine has embarked on with South Africa and other African countries in creating awareness around Israel’s occupation of Palestine.
What resolutions were adopted at the conference?
The two-day engagement was beyond what one expected. It was very positive, encouraging and straightforward, with a clear and deep commitment from all participants. This is really what we always expected from South Africa.
As people, as a leader on the African continent and as a political party, the ANC has always been able to relate easily to what we suffer from. It understands what we go through. The ANC-led government has not only shown sympathy and solidarity with the Palestinian people but also a commitment and interest to work with us and help us alleviate the suffering so that, in the end, Palestinian people will be able to live in freedom and independence and defeat colonialism, occupation and apartheid.
Every time the Palestinian people need support, the only place we get it from is here in South Africa. We have received this type of support from Minister Naledi Pandor who has been a fighter for independence and democracy. The president (Cyril Ramaphosa) is not that different.
On Wednesday, I had a chat with him and reiterated his commitment on behalf of South Africa and the ANC to stand with Palestine for freedom and independence. It is something we are proud of. We would like very much to continue the same way until we reach our freedom and independence and beyond that.
What is Palestine’s strategic engagement with other African countries?
This is an important and interesting question. I cannot spell out the names of the countries working against the right of Palestinians for self-determination and independence but there are countries on the continent that work against the principles of the continent.
It is ironic as one would not expect that countries on the continent who have fought against the occupation, apartheid, persecution and genocide would stand with and support a country (Israel) that commits genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.
It’s ironic but this is unfortunately our reality. The fact that we were given an opportunity by South Africa to gather our ambassadors on the continent to provide us with a platform where we met for two days to debate the best strategy for Palestine and regain that type of solidarity and support that we used to enjoy with the African continent has been great.
We have discussed how South Africa could help us form relationships with some countries on the continent who initially turned their backs on Palestine but have since shown some remorse towards the struggle of Palestine.
South Africa enjoys credibility, respect and influence as well as a good relationship with almost all African countries in the continent. I brought a letter with me from my President (Mahmoud Abbas) which also stipulates a request from Palestine to South Africa that it assist Palestinians to succeed in eliminating the system of apartheid.
What are Palestine’s views around the assassination of Al-Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akhleh in May?
Israel is negating the fact that its soldiers are the ones who killed Shireen. We don’t expect Israel to come forward and recognise its role in that regard. We know that even if it institutes an investigation, it won’t yield anything. They will cover up their role as initiators of the crime itself.
We initiated our investigation and concluded that Shireen’s assassination was intentional. They shot her to silence her. We have evidence of that. I personally took the outcome of our report to the International Crimes Court (ICC) and gave a copy to Kariem Khan (ICC prosecutor).
Organisations such as B’Tselem have also conducted their own investigations and so has the New York Times and many others. They all concluded that Israel intentionally assassinated Shireen. The problem is that Israel is not the only one negating her death.
We have also seen that the US had the responsibility to initiate an investigation as Shireen was a US citizen but it did not conduct one. It has asked instead that Israel and Palestine collaborate on an investigation. We are not interested in collaborating. We have asked the UN Security Council to set up an international inquiry to investigate Shireen’s death. We were delighted that council met at a special session to debate Shireen’s assassination but they too did not take the decision to establish an independent inquiry.
That was disappointing. Another disappointing factor is when US President Joe Biden visited Israel and Palestine two weeks ago, Shireen’s family asked for a meeting with him but they did not get approval to meet him. But, under pressure, Secretary of State Antony Blinken met Shireen’s family in Washington on Wednesday. This is a positive development but it is not enough.
We must have a full international independent investigation in this matter. We will keep talking, asking and putting pressure until Israel takes full responsibility and is punished for Shireen’s death.
Is the international community biased in its condemnation of the Russian-Ukraine conflict?
We see the irony when it comes to this because we always say international law is universal and not selective. Crime is crime. Occupation is occupation. Territorial integrity is territorial integrity. You cannot say this is applicable here and not applicable there.
A couple of months ago, I attended a seminar on international mediation and conflicts in Istanbul, Turkey and it was at the beginning of the conflict in Ukraine. I told them that in seven days the international community had implemented and done what we in Palestine have been asking for 70 years.
We have approached the ICC and the EU. Some African countries have written against us approaching the ICC. But in seven days, many countries wrote to the ICC and asked it to open an investigation into what is happening in Ukraine. But occupation is occupation. Suffering is suffering. Death is death. Human rights are human rights.
The moment you discriminate between this and that, it speaks of a clear double-standard approach. It has clearly been shown that the West discriminates. If you are white and have blue eyes, as a victim, you have to be defended but when you have a different colour, different origin, then it doesn’t matter if you suffer or you die.
Even the coverage by the Western media has been biased. It has been ironic to hear reporters saying the Ukrainians are just like us as if the Ukrainians ought to be defended and show solidarity alone.
To them, Palestinians, Afghanis, Syrians, Iraqis, Iranians and Africans are different. The moment you start discriminating based on colour, race and the colour of one’s eye, then it is a dangerous way to go. That’s why we do not belong to that Western mentality.
We have to find ways to defend ourselves. You cannot show sympathy for the suffering of one person and ignore the suffering of another.