A Palestine delegation, coordinated by Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network, met with the South African ambassador to Germany on Monday, 2 July to discuss the situation of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails and the importance of international support for their freedom and for justice in Palestine. The delegation, including former Palestinian political prisoner Abu Mohammed Sakhran, Palestinian writer Khaled Barakat and Samidoun international coordinator Charlotte Kates, met with Ambassador Phumelele Stone Sizani in his Berlin office.
The delegation delivered a copy of the statement calling for freedom for imprisoned Palestinian feminist, leftist parliamentarian Khalida Jarrar, signed by 275 organizations. Abu Mohammed Sakhran, the first wounded struggler of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine imprisoned by Israel for over 13 years, formally presented the statement and other documents to the ambassador.
The delegates expressed their strong support for South Africa’s action to remove its ambassador from Tel Aviv, emphasizing the importance of South Africa exerting moral and political pressure on a global scale against settler colonialism and apartheid perpetrated in Palestine by the Israeli occupier. They noted the importance of international action to stand with Palestine, especially amid an intense campaign by U.S. President Donald Trump, reactionary Arab regimes and the Israeli occupation to liquidate the Palestinian struggle for liberation.
Ambassador Sizani welcomed the delegation and expressed South Africa’s solidarity with the Palestinian people and their struggle for freedom. He quoted late South African president Nelson Mandela’s famous statement that “our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of Palestinians” noting that South Africa’s freedom remains incomplete. He strongly condemned the Israeli attacks on Palestinians in Gaza in the Great Return March, in which Israeli occupation soldiers have killed over 130 Palestinians, including children, paramedics and journalists, as they participate in a popular protest in freedom, denouncing the killings as unacceptable.
The ambassador is himself a former political prisoner under the apartheid regime who was held in Robben Island prison for two years; he took special interest in the situation of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, the focus of the delegation’s presentation.
Barakat recalled the long history of cooperation and joint struggle between the Palestinian and South African movements, recalling his own time as a Palestinian youth organizer in New York participating in the mobilization and organizing of events in solidarity with the South African struggle against apartheid. He also presented on the current political situation in Palestine, noting in particular the importance of international action by countries like South Africa in contradiction to the assault by U.S. imperialism and its allies.
He spoke about the “camp of the siege on Gaza,” noting the roles of Israel, the United States, the European Union and Arab regimes, especially Egypt and Saudi Arabia, in imposing the ongoing siege on Palestinians in Gaza. He also noted the dangerous role of the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah and its sanctions on Gaza and its public employees that are pushing people further into poverty amid siege, highlighting the ongoing popular movement to lift the sanctions that has faced PA repression. In this context, he emphasized that there are two paths in Palestine today, the path of resistance and the path of capitulation and surrender.
Barakat also expressed certain similarities between the histories of struggle in Palestine and South Africa, noting in particular the attempts by the apartheid regime and the occupier to impose their chosen “representatives” upon the people. He also noted the use of the “divide and conquer” strategy, historically in South Africa and today in Palestine and throughout the region, where the U.S. and its reactionary Arab regime allies work hand in hand with Israel to push for war on Iran rather than confrontation of Zionism. He also expressed the potential importance of South Africa’s influence as a moral power in the region to play a positive role in supporting justice rather than the continuing intensified colonization and war.
In her presentation, Kates thanked South Africa for officially calling for Jarrar’s release upon her arrest in 2017, and emphasized the importance of continued and enhanced international support for her freedom and that of all Palestinian prisoners. She discussed the system of administrative detention, in which over 450 Palestinian prisoners, including Jarrar, are held without charge or trial under indefinitely renewable Israeli military orders, as well as the military courts that convict 99.74 percent of the Palestinians brought before them.
Kates also provided statistics and information about the current situation of the approximately 6,100 Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli jails, including Palestinian child prisoners like Ahed Tamimi. She also discussed the boycott of the Israeli military courts by administrative detainees like Jarrar. She noted both the long history of joint anti-colonial struggle between the South African and Palestinian liberation movements and the role that political imprisonment and imprisoned leaders have played in both movements, saying that Israel is seeking to lock away the true leadership of the Palestinian people, much as the apartheid regime did in South Africa.
She also discussed the siege on Gaza, noting in particular the targeting of fishers and farmers, the sectors in Gaza most responsible for Palestinian self-sufficiency in the Strip. Fishers and farmers have been particular targets of the siege, with fishing boats facing daily shooting and attacks by Israeli warships and farmers’ land confiscated for a so-called “buffer zone.” She noted that the Freedom Flotilla is currently sailing to Gaza in an effort to break the siege and that the boats of the Flotilla are in Europe preparing for their journey.
The delegates noted that the growth of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement has in many ways been inspired by both long Palestinian and Arab traditions of boycott as well as the international success of the South African boycott campaign against apartheid. They noted that further international action at the United Nations to hold Israel accountable, despite U.S. vetoes and pressure, remains important in underlining the illegitimacy of the Israeli occupier, while Abu Mohammed Sakhran said that all nations, including South Africa, should entirely sever their ties with Israel.
The delegation also delivered a letter from current and former Palestinian prisoners, coordinated by former prisoner Ahmad Abu al-Saud, which said:
“We know that the Republic of South Africa has taken a principled stand beside the Palestinian people through bonds of struggle that have endured for decades. Both of our peoples have struggled against apartheid, settler colonialism, racism and imperialism, and we have shared a common legacy of joint struggle and mutual assistance over the decades. In particular, our collective experience in resisting political imprisonment has played a major role in defining our struggles for liberation. We know that as a former political prisoner yourself, you have felt the pain of isolation as well as the commitment to liberation that unites us all.
We thank the Republic of South Africa for withdrawing its ambassador from Israel, and we hope that you will continue to help to expand the boycott on all levels – economic, cultural and military – and expose the crimes of the occupation in international forums.”
They provided the ambassador with a packet of information, including a dossier on the case of Georges Ibrahim Abdallah, the imprisoned Lebanese Communist struggler for Palestine who has been held in French jails for 34 years, and an overall report on the situation of Palestinian prisoners.