Botswana Guardian attended the Palestine International Forum for Media and Communication (Tawasol 3) held in Istanbul, Turkey from November 17-19. Below, reporter Ernest Moloi contextualises the position adopted by African Media Group during the conference
Africa has been called upon to emphatically reject Israel’s request for an Observer Member status in the African Union (AU).
The Africa Media Group attending Tawasol III – the Palestine International Forum for Media and Communication held in Istanbul, Turkey from November 17-19 sounded the call. Held under the theme, ‘Palestine Addressing the World’- Tawasol 3 was attended by media personalities, prominent intellectuals and public figures from 60 countries, including the Palestinian Diaspora. A shocked and surprised African Media Group comprising media personalities from Ghana, South Africa, Botswana, Zambia and Sudan among others heard from Sohbab Hammad that Israel was lobbying individual AU member states to endorse her request for an observer member status in the African Union.
Hammad mentioned that already some 20 African countries have accepted the request. At the time of writing the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation had not yet confirmed whether Israel has approached Botswana. The African Media Group wondered on what ‘moral conscience’ these African countries were engaging Israel, considering that the decolonisation of these states came through the sacrifice and efforts of the International Community including Palestine, which is currently resisting Israel’s occupation.
They were dismayed that any African country would want to consort with Israel, which is renowned for violating with wanton impuntity, every thread of international law, protocols and conventions as they relate to the human rights of Palestinians, who have suffered under the yoke of Israel’s 70 year-old occupation. One of the panel members said it was Africa’s “pay back time” for the sacrifices that Palestine had extended Africa during her hour of need and struggle for self-determination. Indeed Africa and Palestine share the same history of settler colonisation and their solidarity should be mutual.
Since it’s founding in 1963, the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) - now AU – has supported the Palestinian cause. This became evidently clear when Israel in 1967 occupied the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem and later in 1973 waged on Palestine.
In a show of collective protest and solidarity with Palestine, some 29 African countries broke ties with Israel at the time, culminating with many other African countries forming diplomatic alliances with the late Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO).
To date, the question of Palestine remains a standing agenda item of the Summit of the African Union according to Botswana’s former Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Charles Ntwaagae. In an interview early this year, Ntwaagae told Botswana Guardian that the AU issues statements of support and solidarity with the Palestinian people at every of its Summits.
For example, at the Ordinary Session of the African Union Summit, held in Ethiopia in January 2018, the AU reiterated its support to the Palestinian position in its vision of a final solution to the conflict based on the principle of a two-State solution and the full withdrawal by Israel from the occupied Palestinian and Arab territories. We saw this form of solidarity at play during the 39th session of the Council of Human Rights in September 24, 2018 when the Ambassador of Togo delivered a statement of the African Group in the general debate relating to the item on ‘situation of human rights in Palestine and the other Occupied Arab territories’
The African Group reiterated its support for the “historic struggle of the Palestinian people to realise their right to self-determination” and their right to live in peace and justice, in accordance with the long-standing international consensus recognising their right to self-determination to a state. Israel’s military occupation of Arab territories has led to protracted conflict that has weighed and continues to weigh heavily on the livelihoods, human rights and fundamental freedoms of the people living in the occupied Palestinian and Arab territories, the Africa Group noted. It said that it is following with concern the continuation of the excessive use of force by the Israeli army against Palestinian demonstrators, causing loss of life and many injuries.
The African Group calls for an end to the occupation and blockade of the Gaza Strip, the detention and imprisonment of thousands of Palestinians and all forms of collective punishment. It emphasised the importance of the “two-State solution”as a means to put an end to the suffering of the populations concerned and to ensure the peaceful coexistence of the Palestinian and Israeli peoples. The statement said that the African Group reaffirms that the Human Rights Council has an “ethical and legal obligation” to act effectively to protect the Palestinian people and to assume their responsibilities by taking urgent measures to remedy this situation, while striving to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms for all and everywhere in the world. As for Botswana, the country is known to use every available opportunity at the United Nations (and also at other fora such as the African Union and Commonwealth) to reiterate its unequivocal support for the Two State Solution with the Israeli and the Palestine living side by side, in peace and security.
Further the Israeli/Palestinian issue is consistently reflected in the statements Botswana delivers during the annual Sessions of the UN General Assembly. Botswana’s Ambassador in Geneva Attalia Molokomme issued Botswana’s position this year during the session of the Council of Human Rights in September 24, 2018. Foremost she reiterated that Botswana aligns itself with the position of the African Group. She said Botswana calls for restraint and reduction in the escalation of hostilities and violence in the Occupied Palestinian Territories as well as in the use of disproportionate force and indiscriminate use of weapons that lead to the death and injury of civilians. Botswana, she said, believes that dialogue is of paramount importance in the pursuance of peace and promotion of human rights. “The rights of women, children, the elderly, the right to shelter and other basic necessities such as food and shelter must be protected by all in the Occupied Palestinian Territories,” said Dr. Molokomme.
Botswana also called on all parties to fully implement all United Nations Security Council resolutions on the Occupied Palestine Territories (OPT) Expounding further, Ntwaagae told Botswana Guardian that the United Nations Security Council also conducts quarterly Open Debates on the Middle East Question, with particular focus on Palestine and Botswana consistently delivers statements of support to the Two State Solution during these meetings. The delegation also lends support to Resolutions that support the humanitarian and human rights situation of the people of Palestine in different fora of the General Assembly. Botswana also always issues a “Message of Solidarity with the Palestinian People”, during commemoration of the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People which takes place on 29 November of every year. However, on Wednesday this week it was not clear whether Botswana had crafted its statement of solidarity.
In light of the aforegoing, it was axiomatic that the Africa Media Group would be compelled to issue a communique at the end of the two-day Tawasol conference, urging African states that have endorsed Israeil’s request to “rescind” the decision if they believe in the right of other countries to self-determination. The AU was also called on to resume the wok it started at the 2001Durban Conference against racism and discrimination with specific reference to Palestine. This will affirm Africa’s solidarity with Palestine.
Not only this.
The conference discussed other concrete measures that could be taken against Israel such as an inernational campaign for boycott of Israel and disinvestment much similar to the campaigns that brought Apartheid in South Africa to its knees.Rawan Damen, a renowned filmmaker and media consultant shared with journalists and media personalities at the end of the conference some of the support programmes available for media organisations that can assist them to tell the Palestinian narrative in a professional, balanced and impartial way. Myths propounded by western media outlets portraying Palestinians that resist Israeli’s occupation of Palestine as ‘terrorists’were busted, by placing the Palestinian struggle in its proper historical context.
The media was urged to desist from the stereotypical narrative that has reduced the occupation of Palestine by Israel into a ‘religious war’ between the Jews and Arab or anti-Semitism. Media representatives committed themselves to take up the cause of Truth and to bring to light the atrocities that Israel visits on Palestine as well as to expose the double starndards of the International Community, which watches with total indifference as Israel razes and demolishes Palestinians homes; kills Palestinian men and women and imprison Palestinian children.
Khaled W. Fahed, the Media Coordinator for ‘Tadamon’- which is the International Solidarity Campaign Supporting Prisoners and Detainees in the Israeli Occupation Jails – told the African Media Group that since occupation in 1967, the number of Palestinians arrested has reached one (1) million, which is a quarter of all Palestinians and constitute the biggest arrest campaign in the world.
The secretary general of Botswana National Front who also doubles as Head of Communications at Umbrella for Democratic Change, Moeti Mohwasa who is himself a seasoned journalist, also participated in the Tawadsol 3. One of the sombre moments was when a portrait of the slain and dismembered journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was billed to speak at the conference was displayed on the podium and a moment of silence observed in his honour. Khashoggi’s brutal death at the hands of Saudi Arabia’s leaership has led into an international campaign that is continuing to shine the light on the plight of Palestinians and may hopefully contribute to the demise of Israel’s occupation of Palestine.