Despite bitter Zionist contempt and intense lobbying to thwart the visit, Palestinian liberation icon Leila Khaled touched down in South Africa this morning to a euphoric welcoming reception.
“Phenomenal and embarrassing” is how BDS South Africa’s Mohammed Desai described Khaled’s touchdown and subsequent press conference at the OR Tambo International Airport to Cii Radio this morning.
“It was phenomenal in terms of the atmosphere, the energy and the kind of support that Leila elicited..It was embarrassing for the Zionists – they have tried to prevent Khaled from getting a visa(but she was granted full access to South Africa). They also tried to disrupt the welcome reception and conference for Khaled but were overwhelmed by the tremendous number of her supporters. So a very good start to Khaled’s tour and much excitement that has been generated,” Desai explained.
A key bragging right for BDS , the hosts of this tour, and thorn in the flesh of Zionists, had been the support lent to the visit by Malusi Gigaba, South African Minister of Home Affairs.
When it was announced earlier this week that Gigaba would attend Khaled’s official welcoming, Zionist formations went ballistic requesting supporters to send letters to the Minister chiding him for “supporting terrorism”. Some even went public with the assertion that Gigaba’s gesture earned the South African government the notoriety of becoming a terrorist supporting state.
Despite the outcry, Gigaba stuck to his guns this morning, saying the ruling party would apologise to no one for advocating justice for the Palestinians.
“We will continue to support the Palestinians unequivocally and without apology. We condemn Apartheid in Israel! The ANC will stand by Palestine until the oppression is over. If someone is not happy about the ANC’s stance on this – too bad for them,” he said.
The minister, who said his presence highlighted the support the Palestinians could count on from the ANC, warmly welcomed Khaled to South Africa saying she should deem the country to be her home.
Tackling Zionist contentions that Khaled’s visit glorified terrorism head-on, Gigaba pointed out that Ahmed Kathrada(who too was in attendance) and other South African freedom fighters were also once labelled as terrorists by some in the world. Desai elucidated, alleging the detractors of the visit had also happened to be apologists for the South African brand of Apartheid in its day.
“The Freedom Charter says freedom is granted for all to move. Similarly Leila Khaled is free to move and has freedom of speech here!” Gigaba announced.
Making her first public statements, an emotional Khaled was gracious for the outpouring of support she received from South Africans.
Khaled said she was struggling not to cry when she saw such love being showcased for her people. She commended young people for taking up the cudgels in the fight against Zionist.
Explaining why resistance was the only option for the Palestinian people, Khaled said human beings without a homeland of their own equalled persons without dignity.
Khaled highlighted the plight of thousands of Palestinians who are unjustly imprisoned for lengthy periods in Israeli dungeons – some still serving sentences in excess of 30 years. She also spoke out against 14 year old schoolkid Malak al Khatib who also recently found herself at the mercy of the Israeli injustice system. The liberation fighter said conditions of Palestinians incarcerated in Israeli prisons were much worse than those faced by South African revolutionaries in Robben Island and elsewhere during Apartheid.
As a gesture to the visiting freedom fighter, Ahmed Kathrada presented Khaled with a replica of a prison plate and the book, ‘A Simple Freedom’.
Khaled will be in South Africa until the 16th of February on an awareness and fundraising tour for BDS South Africa. According to the body, Khaled will be joined on this tour at her various events by Ahmed Kathrada (anti-apartheid icon), Malusi Gigaba (South African Government Minister and ANC NEC member), Ayanda Dlodlo (Deputy Minsiter and ANC NEC Member), Obed Bapela (Head of ANC International Relations), Ronnie Kasrils (Former SA Government Minister) and Kebby Maphatsoe (Chair of MKMVA and Deputy Government Minister).
The South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) yesterday said it was protesting the bringing out of “terrorist Leila Khaled” by BDS this week. The Zionist communal body indicated that it would be making its representatives available to provide South Africans with an “alternate view” on the visit.
It accused the PFLP(of which Khaled is a member) of being a banned terror organization in some Western countries and an entity allegedly responsible for “decades of terror activities”
The SAJBD said Khaled remained a woman of violence and should not be welcome in South Africa. It further alleged that BDS was appropriating the name of Nelson Mandela(who had met Khaled in 2006) for a “narrow and destructive agenda”.
BDS, it said, could have hosted many other ‘less controversial’ figures from the region.
“We believe that there are many people in the Middle East who are working towards peace, and it is those people that we are bringing out to showcase the possibilities for peace, rather than terrorists,” the organisation said, without proffering any examples.