On May 11, the Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, released a statement “strongly condemning” Israel’s deadly bombardment of the Gaza Strip and expressing the AU’s strong support for the Palestinian people’s “legitimate quest for an independent and sovereign State with East Jerusalem as it’s capital”.
You may think the statement is familiar, because it is – Mahamat’s words are almost identical to the many bold and straight-to-the-point statements issued by the AU in response to Israel’s persistent assaults on Gaza over the years.
In May 2018, when Israel killed 266 people and injured tens of thousands during Gaza’s Great March of Return protests, for example, Mahamat promptly expressed his organisation’s strong and persistent support for the Palestinian struggle and called for a “just and lasting solution to the conflict…within the framework of the relevant United Nations pronouncements”.
And in July 2014, when Israel killed some 2,310 Gaza Palestinians, injured more than 10,000, and practically demolished Gaza’s infrastructure and economy, the then-African Union Commission Chairperson, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, strongly condemned the “outbreak of hostilities and the attacks against the inhabitants of the Gaza Strip”. Dlamini-Zuma also reiterated the AU’s “full support” towards Palestinians and backed the “restoration of their legitimate right to establish an independent State co-existing peacefully with the State of Israel”.
Today, as far as diplomatic posturing and proclamations on Israel’s comprehensive repression of Palestinians go, the AU appears to be one of the most vocal and persistent defenders of Palestinian rights in the international arena. And the AU’s strong support for Palestine is hardly a recent occurrence.
As a body born out of the continent’s anti-imperialist struggle, the AU has always been eager and ready to publicly “stand up” for Palestine.
In 1975, the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), the predecessor to the AU, adopted the Resolution on the Middle East and Occupied Arab Territories in response to Israel’s “barbaric attacks and raids of refugee camps and bombardment of civilian targets in the towns and villages of Southern Lebanon in violation of all principles of international and human laws”.
Struck by the cold-heartedness of the systemic violence Israel inflicts on the Palestinian people, the OAU reaffirmed “its total and effective support for the front-line states and the Palestinian people in their legitimate struggle to restore all the occupied territories and usurped rights by every possible means”.
It condemned Israel’s shameful attempts to alter the “demographic, geographic, economic and cultural features” of occupied Palestinian territories. It castigated the United States’ role in the Middle East conflict and said the “flooding of Israel with such enormous quantities of weaponry is to establish it as an advanced case of racism and colonialism in the heart of the Arab and African World and the Third World”.
Moreover, the OAU determined that Israel’s systemic and persistent brutality against the Palestinian people could not be countered or expunged by stately appeals, or worse still – empty diplomatic posturing. So it requested all African states to “extend all possible potentialities” to Palestinians to fortify their struggle against Zionist aggression and called for the imposition of sanctions against Israel by international organisations such as the UN.
All this may cause some to conclude that the AU has not wavered from its principled anti-colonial stance on Palestine for nearly half a century.
Sadly, this is not the case.
In 1975, the OAU not only condemned Israel’s crimes, but also mapped out a substantial plan of resistance to Israeli colonisation of Palestinian lands.
Today, however, the AU’s vocal condemnations of Israel’s occupation and routine aggression against the Palestinians are no longer backed with concrete policy plans or actions – they are, in fact, merely symbolic gestures. Moreover, the union’s member states appear not to be interested in upholding the anti-colonial ideals promoted by the OAU in the 1970s.
When Israeli security forces cracked down on Palestinian protesters at Al-Aqsa Mosque on May 10, for instance, the only African leader who took the time to publicly condemn Israel’s actions was South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa.
The deliberate and disappointing silence elsewhere on the continent demonstrated clearly how most African states have abandoned their commitment to support the Palestinians in their righteous anti-colonial struggle for freedom and justice.
Indeed, in recent years, most African states have been more interested in building stronger diplomatic, economic and military ties with Israel, and being rewarded for their efforts by Israel’s Western allies, than showing solidarity with the Palestinians.
Zimbabwe, Equatorial Guinea and Angola are actively working to “build stronger economic relations” with Israel. Uganda and Malawi are “looking into” establishing diplomatic missions in Jerusalem. Morocco and Sudan recently “celebrated” the normalisation deals they signed with Israel.
The demonstrable pro-Israel posturing of these African states, coupled with the complete silence on Palestine of many others, clearly show that the AU’s recent strong condemnations of Israel are nothing but empty rhetoric.
Today, Israel is violating Palestinians’ most basic human rights on a daily basis, subjecting them to apartheid rule, and killing them with impunity, but the AU is doing nothing other than issuing statements of condemnation. This, with respect to the AU’s stated commitment to supporting the Palestinian struggle against colonial occupation, is just inadequate. For an organisation whose ranks are teeming with anti-imperialists who participated in many liberation struggles, merely paying lip service to the Palestinian struggle is not enough.
US President Joe Biden or British Prime Minister Boris Johnson may struggle to explicitly define or condemn Israel’s systemic racism, lawless occupation and murderous policies, but no African leader can pretend they do not understand what the Palestinians are currently going through. They do understand, because their countries were in the same situation not too long ago. So why are they not speaking up? And, most importantly, why is the organisation representing them not doing more than issuing well-written and emotive but essentially inconsequential media statements on the issue?
When did African states stop acknowledging their shared anti-colonial struggle with Palestine and start turning a blind eye to Israel’s crimes and even actively supporting them at the UN?
The AU is still not hesitating to publicly condemn Israel’s persistent crimes against humanity, so why is it not coming up with a resistance plan to help Palestinians find justice and freedom? Why have its member states not committed themselves to adopting practical measures that can help compel Israel to simply respect international laws and the human, land and economic rights of Palestinians?
The “advanced case of racism and colonialism” so famously enunciated by the OAU in 1975 clearly remains unresolved and deadly as always. So why are African states not implementing the very same policies that helped to apply pressure on apartheid South Africa in the 1970s and 1980s? Beyond the symbolic gestures and condemnations, where are the academic, cultural and sports boycotts of Israel? Why are African states not applying economic sanctions on Israel?
For far too long, the AU’s timidity and indecisiveness have helped normalise Israel’s brutal repression of Palestinians. It’s time for the AU to return to its anti-colonial roots, and adopt substantial measures against Israel.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.