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SA envoy to UN accuses Israel of ethnic cleansing




Clinton Gary Swemmer claimed in his apparent warning to UNHRC on Monday that, “South Africa is concerned that the annexation of Palestinian territory is highly likely in the South Hebron Hills and the Jordan Valley, selected because of their low population density with potential for ethnic cleansing.”

The envoy made these claims during a general debate at the UNHRC’s 42nd session in Geneva under the agenda item concerning the human-rights situation in Palestine and other occupied Arab territories.

While he made other negative comments about Israel, his remarks about Israel’s intention to perpetuate ethnic cleansing through annexation were exceptionally ugly.

He suggested that Israel was guilty of such actions in the past, saying, “What started in east Jerusalem is going to spread unannounced and without an outcry, but with devastating consequences for Palestinian communities that will be left utterly defenceless and without residents.”

His comments appear to be in response to Netanyahu’s announcement last Tuesday that he would annex large swathes of occupied Palestinian territory if re-elected, including large parts of the West Bank. His assurances drew condemnation from across the spectrum, with UN Secretary-General António Guterres reportedly saying that the plan, if realised, would constitute “a serious violation of international law”.

South African Zionist Federation (SAZF) National Chairperson Rowan Polovin called Swemmer’s remarks misleading and totally inaccurate.

“Neither the Palestinian city of Jericho nor the village of Duma would be affected by the theoretical action in the Jordan Valley,” he said, “but Swemmer implies that Palestinians would be removed from the area, which is patently untrue.

“In reality, the only entity that actually practices ‘ethnic cleansing’ in the West Bank is the Palestinian Authority, which prohibits by law the selling of land to Jews, and sentences offenders to life in prison.”

Polovin called on Swemmer to condemn the Palestinian Authority’s anti-Semitic practices that attempt to cleanse the area of Jews.

The UNHRC meets three times a year, and each time, it debates human-rights violations around the world. All other countries are debated in a single agenda item, and then Israel is given its very own agenda item in which it is usually lambasted. Giving Israel its own agenda item is mandated by the UNHRC.

Israel routinely boycotts the specific agenda debate, according to the Jerusalem Post, and has called on all other countries to do so as well.

On Monday, none of the European Union (EU) member states participated in the debate, and Western countries also refrained from speaking.

In his address, Swemmer also focused on Israel’s response to Palestinian rioters at the Gaza border, the imprisonment of Palestinians, and the boycott of goods produced in occupied territories. All of his responses were negative in the extreme.

“Israeli security forces continue to use live ammunition against demonstrators, with another 13 people including children killed as a result, and 859 injures since March 2019.

“My country is concerned at the trials of Palestinian detainees in military courts which are not part of the legal system and in which 99.7% of the accused are convicted, the ongoing mass demolition of Palestinian homes to make way for settlements, and the shrinking of civil society space.”

He said that human-rights defenders who support the Palestinian cause routinely face smear campaigns, death threats to themselves and their families, accusations of treason, harassment, and intimidation.

Swemmer reiterated the call to boycott products manufactured in the occupied territories. “It cannot be that the powerful and moneyed continue to abuse the human rights of Palestinians in the name of profit,” he said.

Quoting John Dugard, a South African professor of international law, Swemmer asserted, “I have no hesitation in saying that Israel’s crimes are infinitely worse than those committed by the apartheid regime of South Africa.

“This pains us, and until this is no longer the case, we will continue to support the self determination of the Palestinian people, and the restoration of their human rights.”

The SA Jewish Report tried to contact Swemmer in Geneva to clarify his remarks, but was told that he was unavailable for comment. Various individuals at the department of international relations and co-operation (DIRCO) were contacted to confirm Swemmer’s position, and whether it represented South African government policy.

Most of those who were said to be able to comment were apparently attending a conference in New York, but DIRCO head of public diplomacy, Clayson Monyela, confirmed that Swemmer had been contacted to provide context for his comments.

“We have asked him to contextualise his comments so that we can understand them,” said Monyela. “We are following up on this, and will determine what he meant.”

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