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Cosatu press statement

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By Zanele Matebula (Deputy International Relations Secretary) – Congress of South African Trade Unions

COSATU supports the impending arrest warrant for Tzipi Livni, former Foreign Affairs Minister of Israel for war crimes on her intended visit to South Africa this weekend

Today, Tuesday 18 January, Amnesty International will host a vigil in Johannesburg to commemorate the second anniversary of the Israeli attacks on Gaza. More than 1000 civilians, including 400 children under the age of 16, were killed in the Israeli military operation.

The Amnesty International Global Day of Action on Israel marks the beginning of a two-month campaign demanding that the United Nations Human Rights Council take concrete measures to ensure international justice for the victims of the attack on Gaza. The Amnesty International vigil is being held amidst the impending arrest warrant being issued for former Israeli Foreign Affairs minister, Tzipi Livni, who is scheduled to be in South Africa later this week. Livni has been invited by the South African Zionist Federation to speak in Johannesburg and Cape Town.

Livni, as a member of the Israeli Cabinet, played an intimate role in the decision to bomb Gaza in December 2008. It has been alleged that Livni not only helped authorize the decision but she also promoted theseattacks. The UN Fact Finding Mission Report on the Gaza attacks, led bySouth Africa’s Judge Richard Goldstone, confirmed that such actions constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity. In fact, the Goldstone report iself singles out Livni and quotes her as saying: ‘[Israel] is a country that when you fire on its citizens it responds bygoing wild – and this is a good thing.’

Subsequent to the Goldstone Report and the allegations made specificallyagainst Ms. Livni, her visit to the UK in August 2009 was cancelled. This was after human rights groups who had approached the UK courts weregranted a warrant for her arrest in Britain. A similar move is being planned in South Africa.

On Friday, the Palestinian Solidarity Alliance and the Media Review Network instructed their lawyers to launch an urgent high court application that Livni be arrested in terms of the Rome Statute, to which South Africa is a signatory.

On the other hand, we also note the consistent attacks on Archbishop Desmond Tutu for speaking out against apartheid in Israel. It is a tragedy of our times that we spend all our years and energy fighting against apartheid only to be silenced in our own country by the few supporters of this shameful practice in Israel whenever we demand end ofoccupation in Palestine by manipulating our constitution for their own narrow interests.

We stand firmly on the side of all leaders and people who choose justiceover silence in relation to the occupation of Palestine by the apartheid state of Israel.

We note the systematic and sustained attacks against free speech and theright to criticise Israel by some local supporters of this heinous system that was declared a crime against humanity by the UN. These handful yet ruthlessly vocal and well-resourced supporters of the occupation of Palestine are now circulating a petition against Bishop Tutu for criticising Israel as an apartheid state. This is just one of their dirty tricks against genuine activists against the occupation. They have also on various occasions sought to silence COSATU for its consistent campaign against the occupation of Palestine. Their cry for pity as if they are victims by claiming every criticism of Israel policies as hate speech, amounts to hypocrisy of the worst form. Israeliis a coloniser occupying Palestinian lands and subjecting Palestinians of Arab origin to apartheid policies through the most cruel discriminatory and dehumanising practices.

These desperate tactics to defend the colonial occupation of Palestine are part of an attempt to keep global apartheid and maintain control of other people’s lands and resources by a tiny minority. We have seen the same intimidatory tactics being used by supporters of Israel in France and US against activists, though without success. In this regard, we welcome with asense of affirmation the victorious outcome of the Scottish court case that ruled clearly that criticising Israel does not equal hate speech. It is not only a right, but equally a responsibility of every person to do so in pursuit of justice.

The fact is that Israel and its handful of supporters and collaborators all over the world are now feeling the heat of the growing and courageous BDS movement that is shaking the foundations of the apartheidrule in Israel. We have no apology in our pursuit and active participation in this noble cause and shall re-double our efforts, working together with all trade unions and other global social movementsgenuinely committed to a free Palestine.

Lastly I have personally been part of a recent alliance delegation led by the ANC to the occupied territories of Palestine where I personally experienced and saw the daily ethnic cleansing, dehumanising check-points reminiscent of apartheid Bantustan controls,  brutal attacks on peaceful protesters, killing of innocent women and children and the forced removal of Palestinians from their homes, all these by the notorious Israeli defence force (IDF), which operates exactly (except that its worse) like the apartheid SANDF killing, maiming, persecuting and dehumanising the oppressed.

We call on all South Africans and all who know the brutal and dehumanising effect of apartheid, colonisation, and occupation to stand up in defence of our right to freely criticize injustice wherever it happens without fear of being bullied by unrepentant apologists of apartheid. Its not about Bishop Tutu as a person, it’s about free speechand our right to act in defence of justice and solidarity wherever we need to. We all have reason to be worried if we can no longer speak out on matters we fought so hard against. We also salute the courageous trade unions all over the world who have taken a clearand firm stand against apartheid Israel which poses a threat to all freedom loving humanity with its inhumane system. Its now clear from theexperience we had in Palestine that to do nothing is immoral and tantamount to condoning the crime of apartheid.