South Africa is planning to further distance itself diplomatic ties with Israel by downgrading its embassy in the country to protest the government’s increasingly violent crackdowns against Palestinian citizens and illegal takeover of their territories.
President Cyril Ramaphosa told the nation’s parliament Friday that the country’s Minister of International Relations Lindiwe Sisulu was working with his ruling African National Congress (ANC) party to “downgrade” South African dimplomacy with Israel.
“The South African government remains seized with the modalities of downgrading the South African Embassy in Israel and we will communicate once the cabinet has fully finalized on this matter,” said President Ramaphosa to parliament.
“In implementing this conference resolution, we are mindful of South Africa’s responsibility to continue engaging with all parties to the conflict to see where we would be able to provide assistance,” he added.
Details on the practicalities of the downgrade have not been released to the public.
Palestinians have been staging weekly protests since last March in the so-called March for Return in which demonstrators demand their legal return to the villages their ancestors were kicked out of upon the foundation of Israel in 1948.
Gaza’s health ministry says more than 220 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli troops at the protests.
Home to 2 million Palestinians, nearly all of them the stateless descendents of people who fled or were driven out of Israel, Gazans have been under Israeli military and resource blockade in the zone for over a decade.
President Ramaphosa’s announcement follows a United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHCR) report released late last month concluding that the Israeli military and police forces killed 189 Palestinians in a calculated fashion and wounded 6,100 since the weekly Friday protests began in March 2018.
Head of the UNHCR Michelle Bachelet says that Israeli forces may have committed war crimes by using live fire against protesters and targeted doctors and journalists at the Gaza border. The Israeli minister strongly dismisses the evidence.
This is at least the third time within a year and a half that South Africa has downgraded its ties with Israel.
At an ANC conference in December 2017 the government lowered its diplomatic mission in Tel Aviv to a liaison office to express its “practical support” for the oppressed Palestinian people, warning Israel should pay the price for its “human rights abuses and violations of international law.”
In May 2018, just as the United States was inaugurating its controversial Israeli embassy in Jerusalem, South Africa withdrew its ambassador from Tel Aviv.
“This [decision is being made] due to the violation of the rights of the Palestinian people,” Ramaphosa said to parliament, adding: “We are putting pressure on Israel [but,] at the same time, we are ready to broker the process to achieve peace in the Middle East.”