He is a white, South African Jewish man who fought apartheid and advised Hamas. Ronnie Kasrils tells us his story.
Fifty years ago, the state of Israel seized the remaining Palestinian territories of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, Gaza Strip, as well as the Syrian Golan Heights, and the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula, in a matter of six days.
In a conflict with Egypt, Jordan and Syria, known as the 1967 War, Israel delivered what came to be known as the “Naksa”, meaning setback or defeat, to the armies of the neighbouring Arab countries and to the Palestinians who lost all that remained of their homeland.
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When the Naksa took place, many countries started questioning their support for the Jewish state.
A UN resolution calling for the return of captured Palestinian territories accelerated a process of political isolation that grew stronger as the Israeli occupation went on.
At the same time, an organised Palestinian resistance was taking shape. The Israelis turned to a country it had long counted on for friendship: South Africa. And so in the 1970s, a more extensive economic and military relationship developed.
The Palestinians, however, also had friends in South Africa. Just when the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) began its armed resistance, they found support in the African National Congress (ANC), the black movement fighting apartheid.
One man found himself squarely in the centre of this historic movement: a Jewish South African-born communist who fought with the ANC against the white regime.
Later in life, when he was a cabinet minister in the South African government, Ronnie Kasrils was scorned by Israel and some of his Jewish countrymen when he advised Hamas.
“There are Jews in this country, not just me … who are decrying what Israel is doing … and standing up for Palestinian rights, and then, of course… [we are later] condemned as traitors,” he says.
For many years, Ronnie Kasrils, fought side by side with President Zuma. They worked together to build the ANC intelligence service. When asked for his impression of Zuma, Kasrils responded:
“He is a completely different person. I worked with him when he was in exile from Mozambique and Zambia … I wonder to what degree, at that stage, he had thoughts and ambitions of power and wealth. Because the behaviour from the moment he came back into South Africa, right from the very start 1990 or so, was the acquisition of favours from benefactors, and it just grew and grew out of proportion,” he says.
Today, as Israel, the wider Middle East and his own homeland confront deep existential questions, South Africa’s former intelligence minister, and one of the country’s original freedom fighters, Ronnie Kasrils talks to Al Jazeera.