South Africa has withdrawn all of its ambassadors from Israel in response to Israel’s airstrike on Gaza on Sunday night, citing concerns over what it claims to be a collective punishment of Palestinians in Gaza.
The government of South Africa, which has generally advocated for the Palestinian cause, firmly condemned Israel on Monday.
South Africa’s Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor, in a press conference, revealed that South Africa was withdrawing its diplomats as he said, “We are… extremely concerned at the continued killing of children and innocent civilians in the Palestinian territories and we believe the nature of response by Israel has become one of collective punishment.
“We felt it important that we do signal the concern of South Africa while continuing to call for a comprehensive cessation [of hostilities].”
Since the start of the war a month ago, the bombardment on Sunday by Israel has been one of its worst bombardments, as the Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City estimates that 200 or more people died.
Israel has maintained that it is making an effort to reduce the number of civilian deaths and is accusing Hamas, the group in charge of the Gaza Strip, of utilizing civilians as human shields.
A spokesman for the Israeli minister of foreign affairs, Lior Haiat, responded to this development on X (formerly Twitter), saying that South Africa’s decision to recall their diplomats in Israel was a “victory for the Hamas terrorist organisation and rewards it for the massacre” that occurred on the 7th of October.
Haiat posted, “Israel expects South Africa to condemn Hamas, which is worse than Isis, and to respect Israel’s right to defend itself against an attack by a horrific terrorist organisation that has engraved on its flag a call for the destruction of the State of Israel.”
The government of South Africa has consistently supported the Palestinians in their ongoing conflict with Israel. The ruling African National Congress (ANC) frequently draws parallels between its own fight against apartheid and the Palestinian cause.
Foreign Minister Pandor stated that the ambassadors’ recall was “normal practice” and that the envoys will provide the government with a “full briefing.” Following this, Pandor stated THATthe government will determine whether or not to provide help or whether a “continued relationship is actually able to be sustained”.
Additionally, the cabinet of South Africa accused Israeli ambassador Eliav Belotsercovsky of disparaging South Africans, including government officials, for criticizing Israel’s administration.
The statement by the cabinet read, “The disparaging remarks against those speaking up against the atrocities and the country’s leaders make ambassador Belotsercovsky position more and more untenable.”
On October 7, more than 1,400 people were killed in Israel by Hamas fighters, an organization that the US, UK, and other Western governments consider to be a terrorist organization. In addition, they captured about 230 prisoners, among them an unidentified South African national.
In response, Israel has launched many airstrikes into Gaza and declared its intention to destroy Hamas. The health ministry, which is controlled by Hamas, claims that since the blockade started, more than 10,000 people have died there.
Recalling ambassadors from Israel in opposition to the military operation in Gaza is not a new move by South Africa, as other nations, including Chad, Chile, and Colombia, have taken this action.