Nelson Mandela Foundation

Settler colonialism – the case of Israel

"Settler colonialism", a term used by author and academic Mahmood Mamdani, can be described as: “A system of oppression based on genocide and colonialism, that aims to displace a population of a nation (often times indigenous people) and replace it with a new settler population".After more than 50 years of Israeli occupation, there is much to consider as Palestinians continue to face institutionalised discrimination and systemic abuse or as described above, settler colonialism.

In a 2022 United Nations Human Rights Commission report, the settler-colonialist approach of the Israeli state was highlighted, which included details of how Israelis obstruct access to housing and resources as well as illegally occupy Palestinian land. Just over a year since the report was issued, close to 15 000 Palestinians have been killed, with thousands injured. As the situation worsens throughout the region, not only in Gaza but also in the occupied West Bank (where more than 200 Palestinians have been killed in recent weeks), there is an imperative for the international community to mobilise against the occupation.

Forging a way forward

There needs to be an urgent and lasting ceasefire, which will mean a complete cessation of hostilities. We can no longer allow for the shelling of homes, bombing of hospitals and the death toll of innocent civilians to increase any further. We cannot continue to remain complicit in the face of a genocide of the Palestinian people. Not only do Palestinians living in Gaza need access to essential medical supplies, water and resources as well as dignified living conditions, but they are entitled to an environment in which they can thrive.

Madiba believed in the importance of dialogue as a mechanism for achieving lasting peace. It is only through dialogue and the coming together of hearts and minds that a more just future can be achieved. The idea that a ‘final war’ or military solution can achieve a peaceful outcome is a fallacy – it will only inspire more militancy. We have only to look at our own history as South Africans to understand the importance of a political solution. As such, the process of an immediate ceasefire should be accompanied by UN-led negotiations. Such negotiations need to bear in mind that for years there has been impunity with respect to Israeli settlement expansion onto Palestinian land, which is considered illegal under international law. As such, the current conditions make talk of a two-state solution a concept somewhat divorced from reality. Nonetheless, what is agreed upon must be an outcome which realises a better life for all living in the region.

To push parties to the negotiation table, Palestinian lives need to be valued as much as Israeli lives. Palestinians have been dehumanised, which has been demonstrated in the differing ways in which their deaths have been received by Western countries and media outlets compared to those of Ukrainian lives, for instance. It is hard to stomach the ways in which the safety of white European civilian lives is treated in contrast to people of colour living in Palestine.

South African leadership

The actions of the South African government have been admirable, necessary, and loud at a time in which many have been silent around Palestinian freedom. As a country that has recently gained our freedom from apartheid legislation, these actions are embalmed in the soil of our nation. The South African government should be applauded for their moral posture and the actions they have taken including the joint referral to the International Criminal Court (ICC) regarding the situation in Palestine.

We desperately need an alternative future in which the lives of both Palestinians and Israelis are cherished equaly. We call on countries to reflect on the ways they may be deepening and intensifying the conflict, instead of deescalating it. We must all be part of the solution, not the problem.