African Support for Palestine is More Important Than Ever

“We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.”

As coups, wars, displacement, genocide and mass exploitation continue to happen across the continent, and as the world continues not to bring voice to these, it’s not difficult to see why there may be resentment from Africans in the face of the global outcry against the plight of Palestine. It’s rare that the suffering of Africans receives such a response. But Palestine should not be drawn into that fight. Instead, Africans should give their unconditional and unequivocal support to the Palestinian cause, particularly as South Africa leads calls to justice through its genocide case against Israel. 

Africans have a long history of supporting Palestine. As many nations suffered under colonialism, the occupation of Palestine in 1948 resonated strongly with those who were also under the subjugation of oppressive foreign states. Although nearly all member states of the African Union have some form of economic and diplomatic relationship with Israel, public opinion appears largely supportive of the Palestinian cause (a trend seen across western countries too as their governments continue to support Israel’s genocide and occupation). Morocco has had the most pro-Palestine protests to date despite its government maintaining close relationships with Israel.

Following the 7th October Hamas attack, Chairperson of the African Union Commission Moussa Faki Mahamet blamed the escalation of violence on the “denial of the fundamental rights of the Palestinians,” and on 29th November (the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People), he reaffirmed the AU’s “continued and unwavering commitment… to the just cause of freedom and statehood for Palestine.” Chad, Tunisia, and Nigeria have also expressed support for Palestine and condemned Israel’s bloody policies and actions.

Algeria and South Africa have perhaps been the most ardent critics of the Israeli occupation, with both nations having deep historic and emotional ties with the Palestinian struggle for liberation. The brutality of Algeria’s occupation under France has parallels to Palestine’s under Israel, and the country declared its “full solidarity with Palestine” early on in the war. Algeria also has the historic honour of being the site where on 15th November 1988 the Palestinian Declaration of Independence was proclaimed by PLO chairman and political leader Yasser Arafat, formally establishing the State of Palestine. 

South Africa has for decades been leading calls to bring Israel to justice over its decimation of the Palestinian people and their rights. Its own history of minority white rule under apartheid, compounded by the legacy of Israel’s close military alliance with the apartheid regime (even though there was rampant antisemitism in the ruling National Party) puts the Palestinian struggle close to the hearts of South Africans. While the PLO backed the ANC struggle against white rule, Israel’s government supplied the apartheid government with military technology despite an international arms embargo on South Africa*. Since 1994 South Africa has maintained very limited diplomatic relations with Israel due to its “disregard for international law regarding the rights of Palestinians and their territories.” The relationship between South Africa and Palestine is arguably the one most dangerous and challenging to Israel and the countries that are backing its genocidal agenda. 

South Africa knows apartheid when it sees it. In 2014 when Desmond Tutu explicitly likened the Israeli presence in Palestine to that of white South Africans during apartheid it challenged the legitimacy and legality of Israel’s actions, as well as its longstanding narrative that said actions were a defence against Arab aggression. Further, it made those supporting Israel complicit in apartheid 2.0. Tutu wrote, “I know first-hand that Israel has created an apartheid reality within its borders and through its occupation. The parallels to my own beloved South Africa are painfully stark indeed.”

The most recent and formidable expression of solidarity from South Africa has come in the form of its ICJ case against Israel. Lodged under The Genocide Convention, the case defines genocide as “specific acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.” The case is the first instance in which condemnation of Israel has translated into meaningful action on the part of political leaders.

The case also brings to the fore the hypocrisy and complicity of nations like the US and UK, who do not see themselves as beholden to international law in the same way others are. It challenges the precedent of the west and its allies going unchallenged as they facilitate the violation of human rights across the world. It shows that those nations who claim to uphold rule of law, democracy, and liberty do so only for those who serve their ideological, economic, and geopolitical interests. Africa know this truth all too well, having spent centuries subjected to western collusion with colonialism, apartheid, and economic and physical exploitation.

As the list of nations backing South Africa’s case grows, the lies and double standards of Israel and its supporters become more evident, and their defence more unconscionable. With this, the liberation of Palestine becomes more imminent. As the world increasingly sees the Israel/Palestine conflict for what it is – an illegal occupation by a terrorist state, the subjugation of a people under an apartheid-style regime, and a genocide – and as we await further ICJ judgements on Israel’s actions in Gaza, it is crucial that the momentum of support for Palestine grows.


Writing by Thuli Maseko – @thulijane