In Solidarity with Palestine
By Samir ABI
As citizens of one of the few African countries that unfailingly supports the State of Israel, often contrary to international opinion denouncing the injustices inflicted on the Palestinian people, it is up to us to make our voices heard on this thorny subject, no matter how faint. The purpose of this exercise in citizenship is to explain how support for the State of Israel impacts the African people, including the Togolese people. Although primarily an individual exercice, other African citizens whose government’s stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not open to debate could also make it their own.
Israel-Africa: Cooperation that benefits the ruling classes
In terms of development support, the Israeli international cooperation agency, MASHAV, is certainly not the most visible of foreign cooperation agencies in Africa. Irrespective of whether a country supports Israel at the UN or not, MASHAV’s actions mainly consist in training about agricultural techniques, agro-business projects and study grants in Israel promoting the “Israeli agricultural miracle” which is based on a drip-feed irrigation model and arid land management. However, it is security that remains Israel’s key cooperation sector in Africa.
Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians has enabled it to refine its security, repression and intelligence methods which are among the most effective in the world. Israeli security cooperation in Africa includes military training, with the principle recipients of these services being the security services that protect the heads of state. Israel also provides intelligence services and sells weapons to African States, which risks fuelling conflict on the continent. In one of his media outbursts prior to the war in Libya, Kadhafi had no qualms in accusing Israel of being behind most of the conflicts in Africa. Israeli defence and security consultants are, in fact, widely recognised as being very quick off the mark to offer their services in countries at war. In addition to providing military advice, arms and training of troops, they have also been involved in helping organise coups d’etat. Although private, these consultancy firms have close links to the Israeli Ministry of Defence (Tsahal) and the Israeli secret service (Mossad) which supervise their actions to ensure that they comply with Israel’s interests in Africa.
African countries that are reluctant to adhere to the rules of democratic governance, where the use of force by the politico-military classes in power takes precedence over dialogue with citizens, find the security cooperation provided by Israel via these security consultancy firms particularly attractive. Why a country like Togo would support Israel in return for arms, intelligence and training for military personnel, thus, becomes easier to understand. Since Togo is not engaged in any form of conflict with its neighbours, the arms and training provided are going to have to be used at some other moment in time… And often as not, it is the Togolese citizens that suffer the consequences and pay the cost of Israeli-Togolese security cooperation.
In 2013, Togo purchased Israeli security equipment for 191 million dollars (105 billion CFA francs). That same year, the Togolese health budget was 44 billion CFA francs. Security takes priority over human welfare, it would seem. As if this “positive cooperation” wasn’t enough, an Israel-Africa Summit on the theme of “Security and Development in Africa” was planned to take place in Lomé in Autumn 2017. The uprising of the Togolese people, demanding improved governance in their country and political alternation, postponed this summit sine die. This turn of events was definitely not to the liking of the Israeli “Security Businesses” that had seen in this summit a means to extending the continental reach of their “juicy business”. They were not the only ones disappointed. So, too, were the commissioners of all sorts that haunt Africa’s armies and presidential cabinets, and become outrageously rich thanks to the corruption engendered by the sale of arms and other security equipment.
But as we say in Africa, “he, who sows the wind, shall reap the whirlwind”. In sowing the winds of conflict by selling arms to Africa, in fuelling conflict with advice on defence and in supplying technical assistance to authoritarian powers, you end up reaping the massive arrival of asylum seekers and refugees on your soil. The wretched Africans who decide to cross the Sinai or the Red Sea looking for asylum in the Israeli holy lands often end up regretting their decision. They are the frequent victims of racism and discrimination in a country that, according to the Americans, respects human rights the most in the Middle East. The recent controversy over Israel’s decision to return around 40000 African asylum seekers to Africa, including to countries other than their country of origin, for the tidy sum of € 5000 for each migrant accepted, confirmed the negative perception that the Israelis have of the poor souls that are fleeing conflict in their country.
Israel also operates in Africa’s mining and precious stones industry, in particular diamonds. The vast network of private Israeli companies specialising in precious stone mining and trading compensates for Israel’s limited diplomatic coverage of Africa. These companies are continually diversifying their activities and are now launching activities in the mining sector. Togo is also on the list of African countries that have undersold their country’s primary mineral deposits to Israeli firms. Consequently, it is the Israelis who exploit the phosphate deposits, Togo’s main mining resource, with the Togolese having no real control over the quantities produced. Mining profits are, thus, far more likely to end up in Israeli investors’ pockets than the State’s where they could contribute to the country’s development.
There is little need to highlight the cases of corruption that often pollute the exploitation and sale of mineral deposits in Africa to Israeli investors. The scandal in Guinea over the Israeli company Beny Steinmetz Group Ressource’s (BSGR) rights to exploit the major Simandou iron ore deposits is additional proof. People at the highest levels of power in Guinea were implicated in these cases of corruption during the era of Presidents Lansana Conté and Dadis Camara. The scandal also confirmed the extent to which foreign investments in Africa ignore the needs of the people in the countries concerned. In fact, they only benefit the interests of the investors’ own countries and certain groups belonging to the African ruling classes.
A Boycott in Africa to support the Palestinians
The dangerous relationships that exist between the State of Israel and the ruling classes of our African countries cannot be allowed to prevent responsible citizens from contesting the guilty silence of our States in the face of the Palestinian people’s suffering. The memory of our colonial past should further incite us to take positive action in solidarity with the Palestinian territories colonised by the State of Israel. It is often difficult for African citizens to grasp all the aspects of this conflict which often crystallises the tensions found within our own countries. For many African citizens, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not seen as a colonial issue but as a religious conflict between Jews and Muslims. Charismatic renewal movement lobbyists and pastors of prosperity theology in Africa actively foster this perception. Just like their American counterparts, they confuse the present-day State of Israel with the biblical people of Israel seeking the Promised Land in Palestine. The Passion of Christ and its close relationship to Jerusalem and the links between the Hebraic traditions and the Old Testament attract a multitude of Christian pilgrims to the Holy Land. This helps perpetuate the idea of a Judeo-Christian alliance and the perspective of a new religious crusade involving the good Christians/Jews against the bad Muslims amalgamated terrorists. And bolsters a positive image of Israel.
Under these circumstances, it is difficult to convince the pro-Israeli pastors of the charismatic renewal movement that it is, in fact, the Hebrew State’s violent and colonial occupation of Palestine that is the crux of the problem in this Middle Eastern country. Yet, we must make them aware of the composition of the Palestinian people; a melting pot of Muslims, Christians and atheists, all living under Israeli occupation and all victims of the mistreatment inflicted on them by Israeli soldiers. It is equally important to remind them that long before the State of Israel was created in 1948 by groups of Jewish settlers, mainly from Europe and the United States after the genocide of World War II, Muslims, Christians and Jews lived together peacefully in this territory called Palestine, first under Turkish occupation and then British occupation. It is fundamental to point out that the American-Jewish lobby is behind the United States’ unconditional support for Israel. And that the USA also needs to keep its ally in place in the Middle East to safeguard America’s oil supply by creating a balance of terror in the area. And finally, it is essential to explain that geopolitical developments in the Middle East now mean that Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates are Israel’s current best friends. These historical facts, and the current context, first need to be understood in order to counter the claims made by the religious parties and to get the fact across that the Palestinian people’s struggle is indeed a struggle for independence.
African countries’ independence was often obtained by fighting the colonial powers that occupied our lands, the corrupt local elite, and the armed locals that supported them. We received a great deal of support from around the world in our fight for independence. As African citizens, and in tribute to the heroes of our independence movement, we must now show the same solidarity to the Palestinians. The African Union’s previous show of unity in favour of Palestine has begun to crumble following the Israeli State’s campaign to seduce African leaders. The role of African citizens is, therefore, more than ever crucial. We need to bring greater visibility to our actions and to dissociate these actions of solidarity from States and rulers that are easily corrupted by Israeli interest groups in Africa. It is not always possible to directly challenge the stance of the authorities in each of the African countries that have aligned themselves with Israel. Campaigns boycotting Israeli imports to Africa and denouncing the arms trade between our countries and Israel are, therefore, avenues worth exploring.
A boycotting campaign is a powerful form of action that has again proved to be effective in Morocco recently, where the French industrial giant DANONE was forced to submit to the boycotters’ demands. Boycotting is a weapon that African citizens can use to stop the import of goods produced in the Israeli colonies in Palestine. Beyond the individual act in itself, boycotting also symbolises a relatively strong commitment to demanding justice for the Palestinians. But, this first implies understanding how the product labelling system, which is not very common in Africa, works. African citizens can, nonetheless, still demand that products imported from Israel carry a label that clearly identifies whether they are produced in the colonised territories in Palestine or not. On the African continent, South Africa is a pioneer in this respect. Finally, mobilisations around a boycotting campaign could break Israel’s supply chain of security equipment that fuels repression of social movements in Africa and creates wars on the continent. A call to boycott weapons from Israel and their defence consultancy services could only bring positive consequences by ensuring that our countries’ public funds are spent on social development and not on security development.