South Africa Calls for a Rapid Protection Force to Protect the Civilian Population in Palestine from Further Bombardment

Save the Children has reported that the number of children killed in Gaza over the last three weeks has surpassed the annual number of children killed across all the world’s conflict zones since 2019.

Since 07 October, more than 3257 children are reported to have been killed. This includes at least 3195 in Gaza, 33 in the West Bank and 29 in Israel.  Children make up more than 40% of the 7703 people killed in Gaza. Save the Children estimates that these numbers are likely to go up given that over 1000 children are missing with many trapped under the ruins and rubble as a result of Israel’s indiscriminate airstrikes on Gaza.

All of these children killed since 07 October are non-combatants and those responsible for their deaths must be held accountable for war crimes, crimes against humanity and in the case of the scale of deaths in Gaza and increasingly in the West Bank, the crime of genocide must also be investigated. The scale of deaths in Gaza are a direct result of the unlawful actions by Israel on the peoples of Gaza.

As South Africa and the majority of countries stated at the United Nations General Assembly on 27 October 2023, as part of the debate on a resolution where more than two-thirds of the General Assembly responded positively to a call for an immediate ceasefire, under the laws of occupation which forms part of the law of armed conflict, Israel does not have the ‘right to defend itself’ using military means as Israel is an occupying power. This is a fact, not an allegation. It has been confirmed by the International Court of Justice. As the occupying power, Israel can use tools applicable to the rule of law, including policing powers to deal with criminal actions. An occupying state cannot exercise control over territory it occupies and simultaneously militarily attack that territory on the claim that it is “foreign” and poses an exogenous national security threat.   The notion of Israel’s right to defend itself through military means has been used erroneously by some, and deliberately by others to justify the unlawful use of force by Israel on people of Palestine in Gaza and the West Bank.

Those that have encouraged and materially supported the unlawful use of force by Israel in the current situation should therefore be investigated for aiding and abetting the breaches of international law.  The numbers of non-combatants killed, especially the numbers of children killed, requires that the world to show that it is serious about global accountability. The ICC has charged Russian President Vladimir Putin with unlawfully taking children out of Ukraine to Russia. Consequently, the wilful killing of children in Gaza surely requires the ICC prosecutor to use his independent powers to initiate prosecutions urgently. Failure to do so will serve to exacerbate the growing cynicism that international criminal law is applied selectively for political purposes.

While we cite numbers, which some world leaders shamefully sought to minimise, as a means to illustrate the scale of the atrocities, this should not mask the very real human tragedy. 

Entire generations of families have been wiped out in Gaza over the last three weeks.  It is estimated that over 80 entire families have been wiped out by Israeli armed action over the last three weeks. On Sunday 29 October, members of the family of one of a senior Palestinian diplomat based in Pretoria were killed in an Israeli air strike in their apartment building in Gaza. Another member of the Palestinian community living in Johannesburg had 25 members of their family killed in an Israeli air strike this morning. South Africa extends its deepest condolences to the families of all victims.

It is in the light of these atrocities that the unethical way the Deputy head of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies, Mr Zev Krengel’s, commentary on South Africa’s stance on this matter should be condemned. Mr Krengel has repeated discredited information related to the beheading of children in Israel. This disinformation is part of the arsenal of dehumanisation tactics used to justify a ‘by any means necessary’ approach to dealing with Hamas, which has resulted in the huge casualties we see today.  He also misled the South African public about the nature and process of Minister Naledi Pandor’s call from Hamas and of her official visit as an envoy to Iran.

Given the potential libellous nature of his utterances, more commentary on this will be done at a later stage. It is important to raise it as Krengel and the organisation on whose behalf he represented these views are out of step with the views of most South Africans and people across the world. This includes scores of Jewish people in South Africa and across the world who have called out the actions of Hamas and the government of Israel. Millions of people, many under the banners of Jewish Voice for Peace, have marched in New York, London, Turkey and other cities over the last few days.  They have all called for an immediate cease-fire in Gaza and called for investigations into the breaches of international crimes.

One of these crimes, the crime of genocide, sadly looms large.  President Lula da Silva of Brazil has called the attacks on Gaza a genocide. Minister Pandor too, reminded the international community not to stand idle while another genocide is unfolding.  At the United Nations Security Council debate in New York last week, she stated the following: “We all recall that in 1994 a genocide occurred on the African continent with much of the whole world watching as innocent people were massacred. History cannot keep repeating such cruelty, we should establish a system of global governance that is fair, equitable, and has the capacity to respond to the needs of all persons in situations of threat and harm – a system that is not just a tool for the most powerful countries of the world but that provides protection for the most vulnerable”.

South Africa echoes the United Nations General Assembly’s resolution that called for an immediate ceasefire and the immediate opening of a humanitarian corridor to provide food, medical supplies and fuel. South Africa also calls on the United Nations to deploy a rapid protection force to protect the civilian population from further bombardment.

All countries genuinely committed to a rules-based system underpinned by international law must act immediately.

Issued By the Department of International Relations and Cooperation

OR Tambo Building

460 Soutpansberg Road