Institutional commitment critical to ending the war on Gaza

DIRCO Minister Dr Naledi Pandor, led a South African delegation to the ICJ on December 29, 2023, charging Israel of genocide and gross human rights contraventions in the Gaza Strip amid the unending Israel-Hamas War. Picture: Jason Boud

DIRCO Minister Dr Naledi Pandor, led a South African delegation to the ICJ on December 29, 2023, charging Israel of genocide and gross human rights contraventions in the Gaza Strip amid the unending Israel-Hamas War. Picture: Jason Boud

Published Jun 2, 2024


By Tswelopele Makoe

ON MAY 14, students from the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg pitched 10 tents upon their pristine library lawns. This was declared a “Liberated Zone”, a pro-Palestine encampment zone erected in protest against the relentless Israeli war on Gaza.

The Wits library lawns were strewn with students demanding a single objective: a ceasefire in Gaza and divestment from Israel-linked companies.

South Africa – alongside the overwhelming majority of the world – has been adamantly condemning the continued genocide of Palestinians by the bestial Israeli forces.

South Africa’s Minister for the Department of International Relations and Co-operation, Dr Naledi Pandor, led a South African delegation to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on December 29, 2023, charging Israel of genocide and gross human rights contraventions in the Gaza Strip amid the unending Israel-Hamas war.

The ICJ released their latest judgment on May 24, demanding that Israel halt its military operations in Gaza’s southern city of Rafah, and open the Rafah crossing for “unhindered provision of urgently needed basic services, humanitarian assistance, and any investigative body mandated to investigate allegations of genocide”.

Although South Africa has somehow succeeded in getting the ICJ to issue tough measures against Israel in an endeavour to bring an end to the genocide, Israel has blatantly ignored all the rulings of the world’s highest court, including the very latest.

In addition to this, South Africa and the peace-loving nations of the world had thought they had succeeded when the ICJ, once more, ruled as in favour of “the protection of the Palestinian people in Gaza from grave and irreparable violations of their rights under the Genocide Convention, as a result of Israel’s ongoing military assault on Rafah”.

In fact, like South Africa, 75% of the UN member states have demanded an end to Israel’s war on Gaza.

There has been worldwide denunciation of pro-Israel backers, particularly the US, a powerful state that has heedlessly vetoed three previous resolutions for a ceasefire by the UN Security Council.

As the war rages on, Israeli forces have seized control of a buffer zone along the border between Egypt and the Gaza Strip, giving the Jewish state absolute control over the Palestine’s entire land border.

Israel continues deadly raids on Rafah, where half of Gaza's 2.3 million people have previously taken refuge. Since the onset of the war on October 7, 2023, well over 36 743 Palestinians have been mercilessly killed, and over 13 000 Palestinians have been declared missing, many of whom are women and children.

Approximately 77 084 Palestinians have been wounded in Israeli attacks, and nearly 80% of the entire population are presumed to be internally displaced, many of them multiple times over.

In addition to this, aid workers and medical services have been withheld from Palestinians, leaving many of them starving and incapacitated.

The outcry over the human rights violations in Gaza has been spilling over. Homes, schools, hospitals, mosques, shelters and countless infrastructures have been obliterated, with scores of people still inhabiting them.

Hundreds of journalists, activists and aid workers have been slaughtered. Health systems, educational institutions, power and communication systems, food, water and sanitation system have been irreversibly compromised, and the overall nation has been remanded to rubble.

Ultimately, the people of Palestine are either living under constant threat of Israeli bombings, or being mercilessly brutalised, tortured and massacred. Over 15 000 children have been killed in Gaza since October, and thousands more are missing or presumed buried under the extensive rubble.

The Gaza schools have been closed for seven months, direly affecting 625 000 students. According to the Ministry of Education, as of last month, more than 5 479 students and 261 teachers have been killed in the Gaza War.

An estimated 87.7% of all school buildings in Gaza have been damaged or destroyed. Previously, 503 500 children attended, and 18 900 teachers taught at the schools in Gaza. Now, every single university in Gaza has been completely destroyed.

South Africa’s higher education academics and leaders have been steadfast upon their call for a ceasefire in Gaza. They have further stood in solidarity with the countless student protests taking place across national, and international, campuses.

Students, as well as activists spawning across the globe have used social media to create expansive awareness about the brutality against the Palestinian people.

This has also been pivotal to highlighting and condemning the institutional and economic support of Israel in the Gaza war. Despite mass student protests and calls from leaders, some universities have been dilly-dallying when it comes to their divestment from Israel.

Divestment essentially refers to the process of selling off certain interests and investments. It is ultimately the disposal of a business interest, asset or investment.

Divestment cripples the economy and severely disempowers cruel campaigns such as that of the Israelis in Gaza. Essentially, divestment makes it impossible for a nation to function economically.

Divestment has been increasingly demanded by student activists and is something realistic and tangible that can be requested from their schools' administrators.

Countless educational institutions have been pressured to divest from Israel during the course of this war, such as Wits University and Columbia University in the US, but other institutions such as University of Michigan have blatantly refused to divest from companies with ties to Israel.

What this highlights is a serious lack of institutional commitment, not only to ending the genocide in Gaza but also the destruction of the educational trajectory of an entire generation of Palestinians.

Institutions have a responsibility to the growth and development of emerging generations, and their societies as a whole. Institutions at their core have a responsibility to uphold and impart the human right to education in their full capacity.

They are not merely a transactional business imparting knowledge to those who invest in them, they are critical to the construction of an empowered and responsible society.

Divesting from Israel would mean universities reassessing their investment portfolios to identify and ideally divest from companies that fuel the Gaza conflict.

This is more importantly linked to students, as they are the constituents of the university, and directly linked to the interest of their institutions.

Layla Saliba, a student protester researching endowment investments with the group Columbia University Apartheid Divestment, said: “It's like, why is our money being used to fund bombs overseas? Let's reinvest this money in our community instead," she said.

In our global capitalist system, divestment is a display of allegiance to the people, rather than the economic gain. Divestment is critical to stigmatising partnerships with targeted regimes, raising awareness and spurring political action in the conflict.

It further calls for people to boycott and ostracise certain businesses that are turning a blind eye or aiding atrocities. Divestment has resulted in numerous universities actively and openly taking a stance against tech giants like Microsoft, Google and Amazon, who have provided cloud technology to the Israeli government and military.

There are various other examples such as KFC, Puma, Re/Max properties, and, which sponsors, invests in and sells properties located on Israel’s illegal settlements on occupied Palestinian land.

These are merely a handful of the countless businesses that are being highlighted for knowingly and willingly supporting the genocide in Gaza.

In fact, there is a long history of divestment being demanded by protesters, especially students whom ‒ as far back as the 1950’s ‒ demanded divestment as a form of protest against the abhorrent apartheid policy in South Africa.

This was a central aspect of student activism against apartheid in South Africa throughout the ’70s and ’80s, when hordes of students from all over the world demanded that their universities cut ties with any company that had business interests in South Africa.

What was recognised then was the distressing need for denunciation of these atrocities ‒ not only at a social or political level, but also at an institutional level. There should be no instance where brazen human rights violations such as torture and desecration go unpunished.

As South Africans, we recognise the crippling consequences of conflict ‒ particularly coming from apartheid, which is rooted in separatism and brutality.

The widespread condemnation of the Israeli genocide, and more importantly the massacre of the Palestinian children, must be stopped at all costs.

Nobel Prize Laureate Albert Einstein once earnestly said: “The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything.”

* Tswelopele Makoe is a Gender & Social Justice Activist, published weekly in the Sunday Independent, IOL, Sunday Tribune and Eswatini Daily News. She is the Editor at the Global South Media Network. She is also an Andrew W. Mellon scholar, pursuing an MA Ethics at UWC, and affiliated with the Desmond Tutu Centre for Religion and Social Justice. The views expressed are her own.