Ship raid 'Israel's Sharpeville'
Hlengiwe Mnguni, News24
Cape Town – The Palestine Solidarity Committee of South Africa (PSCSA) has called Monday morning's deadly raid on a Gaza-bound aid ship "Israel's Sharpeville".
It said the incident could prove to be a defining moment in the decades-long conflict between Palestine and Israel.
"This is Israel's Sharpeville," the organisation said, likening the event to the March 1960 massacre of 69 people by apartheid police in the South African township of Sharpeville that brought international attention and action against the government at the time.
The organisation said the "boat massacre", in which more than 19 pro-Palestinian activists are believed to have been killed, shows an increasing desperation from Israel.
"The desperation of the oppressor is an indication of the beginning of freedom for the oppressed," it said.
SA government action
The committee has also called on the South African government to act against Israel's "crime against humanity and a violation of international law".
"The PSCSA is calling on the South African government to first call in Israel's ambassador to South Africa and reprimand him, second; for him to be sent back to Israel and third; for South Africa to withdraw our ambassador in Tel Aviv," said the PSCSA.
"The only intention of the ships and passengers on board was to alleviate the humanitarian crisis in Gaza," it said.
Israel imposed the embargo after Hamas took over Gaza in 2006, saying it feared that arms would reach the area. This has left the communities in the area in desperate need of medicines, fuel, machinery and other goods.
The South African government, which is investigating the possibility that a South African may have been on board one of the vessels, has called the incident "a gross violation of international law and is deserving of the highest level of international condemnation". It was however not immediately available to say whether or not it would consider cutting diplomatic ties with Israel.
SA Zionist Federation defends Israel
Meanwhile, the South African Zionist Federation (SAZF) came out in defence of Israel, saying the ships were headed to Gaza only "on a pretext of breaking the blockade".
It pointed to the presence of pistols on the ship, which some activists reportedly used during the raid, and said there was evidence that there were more arms on the ship.
The federation said it was confident that Israel had broken no laws in the raid after it consulted an international law expert.
It said a "state in a time of conflict had a right to impose an embargo" and that that state also has the right to detain a civilian ship that tries to break that embargo, even in international waters.
Israel had warned to the multi-national aid flotilla organised by the Free Gaza Movement not to attempt the trip prior to it setting sail for Gaza on Saturday in defiance of the embargo. Israel had given the activists the option of handing over the aid to it, so that it could facilitate a transfer.
"Israel has not broken the law. It was trying to defend itself," the federation said.
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