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South African anti-apartheid, Palestinian rights advocate Ebrahim dies at 84

Ebrahim Ismail Ebrahim, who was imprisoned in his home country before eventually rising to become a deputy minister, pressed his government to cut ties with Israel

Then president of the United Nations Security Council and South Africa's deputy minister of International Relations and Cooperation Ebrahim Ismail Ebrahim shields his eyes from television lights during press briefing while the council breaks from a meeting on the Middle East, January 24, 2012. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)
Then president of the United Nations Security Council and South Africa's deputy minister of International Relations and Cooperation Ebrahim Ismail Ebrahim shields his eyes from television lights during press briefing while the council breaks from a meeting on the Middle East, January 24, 2012. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

Ebrahim Ismail Ebrahim, a veteran of the fight against apartheid who spent years imprisoned on Robben Island alongside Nelson Mandela, died on Monday aged 84, South Africa’s ruling party announced.

Ebrahim passed away at his Johannesburg home after a long illness, the African National Congress (ANC) said in a statement.

He “was a longstanding member of the ANC, a patriot who served his country in different capacities with humility, dedication and distinction,” the party said.

A largely unsung figure in the chronicles of apartheid, Ebrahim joined the struggle against white-minority rule in his early teens, becoming an ANC youth activist in 1952.

He later became a member of the ANC’s armed wing and was arrested in 1963 for sabotage.

He was tried alongside 18 others and sentenced to 15 years on Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was also imprisoned for 27 years.

Ebrahim was released in 1979 but re-arrested in 1989, tortured, put on trial again and sentenced to 20 years. He and two others were convicted for allegedly planting landmines on white-owned farms near Swaziland in 1986.

He was freed in 1991 and joined the government after South Africa’s first democratic election in 1994.

Starting as a lawmaker, he moved on to become a government adviser, helping to mediate conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, as well as in Burundi, Kosovo, Bolivia, and Nepal.

A 2017 biography published by the South African rights group the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation said Ebrahim’s work in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict involved “finding common ground between the plethora of Palestinian political movements.”

Ebrahim met with longtime Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in the West Bank in 2001. Then, in March 2002, he was part of a group of South African organizations that called on the government of their country to cut ties with Israel and apply sanctions on the Jewish state, according to a report from South African news outlet Independent Online.

At the time, he reportedly called Israel a racist state.

In 2009, Ebrahim was appointed deputy foreign affairs minister, a position he held for six years.

In a 2010 statement covering a range of foreign policy issues, he said the “Israel and Palestine conflict is primarily about freedom to live in dignity” and called for an end to what he described as “the cleansing of Palestinians from Jerusalem.”

The statement also commended Justice Richard Goldstone’s report on Operation Cast Lead, a three-week clash between Israel and the Gaza Strip in 2008-2009, which had harshly criticized Israel. Ebrahim said Goldstone’s work “exposed the calculated and well-orchestrated violations of international humanitarian law in Gaza.”

Goldstone, a Jewish judge from South Africa, was severely criticized and even personally ostracized after his report accused Israel of “deliberately” targeting Palestinian civilians. He later partially retracted that claim.

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