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Palestinians need visa to enter SA, but not Israelis

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THE Media Review Network (MRN) recently started a petition for the South African government to allow Palestinian citizens to enter the country without a visa. The #VisaFreePalestine petition was started by the MRN, a Palestine solidarity organisation, in December and has since garnered close to 2 000 signatures. Among the signatories are Ronnie Kasrils, South Africa’s former minister of intelligence; Mavuso Msimang, an ANC veteran; the Reverend Frank Chikane; Allan Horwitz, a poet; and Andrew Feinstein, the director of Corruption Watch UK and an ANC veteran.

Dr Ahmed Haroon Jazbhay, the MRN’s executive member, said Iqbal Jassat, a member of the network, wrote about the visa issue in an opinion piece and this was the reason behind the petition. “He brought up the issue and pointed to the blatant hypocrisy between South Africa’s rhetorical support for the Palestinian cause and its clearly punitive visa restrictions against Palestinians,” said Jazbhay.

The online petition outlines how South Africa developed full diplomatic relations with Palestine a year after it attained democracy. It also highlighted an acknowledgement by Nelson Mandela in 1997. Mandela had said: “Our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of Palestinians.” The petition said the South African government consistently campaigned for an end to the war on Palestinians at the hands of the apartheid Israeli state, and that while Palestinians remained trapped in bureaucratic red tape, Israelis (among dozens of other nations) continued to travel to the country visa-free.

“Join us in asking President Cyril Ramaphosa to take this small step by granting visa-free travel rights to Palestinians. It is a small step in a long march to freedom. Share the message. Let freedom travel!” read the petition. Jazbhay said thousands of Palestinians wished to travel to South Africa for work, study and leisure.

“This was stated by Hannan Jarrar, the ambassador of Palestine to South Africa. However, the lengthy list of visa requirements, from proof of income to proof of hotel accommodation, is a major impediment. These hurdles are not required by citizens of apartheid Israel, many of whom have served in the Israeli Defence Force, hence directly participating in the oppression and colonisation of Palestine.”

He said the MRN, together with the SA BDS Coalition, were engaging with the Palestinian embassy in Pretoria as well as the Department of International Relations and Co-operation (Dirco), Home Affairs and State Security to forge the way forward. “The aim, to get this issue on the national agenda of the government, has been achieved and the next step is to get the executive to act decisively on the issue.”

Jazbhay said their message was simple and clear. “Put your pro-Palestine rhetoric into action. Visa-free travel privileges for an oppressed friendly nation is a basic expression of solidarity.” Roshan Dadoo, the convener of the SA BDS Coalition, questioned how South Africa allowed Israelis into the country without a visa and not Palestinians.

“This kind of discriminatory practice when it comes to visas cannot be justified. If our government is serious about its rhetoric of solidarity with the Palestinians against the illegal Israeli occupation, it must immediately withdraw the visa requirement for Palestinians to visit South Africa. “This important measure will demonstrate in action the South African spirit of solidarity with the people of Palestine in their struggle against Israeli apartheid and for human rights and justice.”

Shabnam Palesa Mohamed, an activist, said: “This dehumanising insult speaks volumes about the commitment of our government, that is comfortable quoting the stance of Nelson Mandela on Palestine, but in practical terms makes life more difficult for Palestinians suffering decades of horrific crimes against humanity.

“This double-standard visa apartheid must be investigated, challenged and overturned. We owe it to ourselves as global people of conscience to stand in solidarity.” Kasrils said it was a disgrace and an affront to solidarity.

Tisetso Magama, the Africa4Palestine spokesperson, said the organisation supported and endorsed the campaign.

“It is a glaring contradiction that we have downgraded diplomatic relations with Israel, while improving relations with Palestine but have visa policies that reflect the opposite. The time is long overdue.”

Magama urged civil society and all human rights groups to back the MRN call for visa-free entry into Palestine.

Clayson Monyela, Dirco spokesperson, said they were unable to comment as the matter fell under the jurisdiction of the Department of Home Affairs, not theirs. “Dirco has no authority in relation to this matter.”

The Presidency’s office and the Department of Home Affairs had not commented by the time of publication.

  • This article first  published  in the Post (10 March 2021)