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Old video unrelated to current Gaza war, doesn’t show South Africa’s ambassador to Israel arguing with Israeli soldier

IN SHORT: A video is being shared on South African social media in early 2024 with the claim it shows the South African ambassador to Israel arguing with an Israeli soldier. But the video is at least two years old, filmed before the current war in the region, and the man in it was never an ambassador.

Since December 2023, a video has been circulating on social media with the claim it shows South Africa’s ambassador to Israel challenging an Israeli soldier for preventing Palestinian people from picking olives.

The video is being posted with references to the Israel-Gaza war that began in October. It went viral after South Africa’s government closed its embassy in Israel – and Israel’s embassy in South Africa – and accused Israel of genocide.

In the 35-second clip, a man in civilian clothes argues with a soldier. Their dialogue is confused and angry, but includes the civilian accusing the soldier of “harassing people from … picking olives” and the soldier saying he is “carrying a diplomatic passport”. 

The video has been posted widely with the same caption: “‘Why don’t you let the people pick olives?’ – South African Ambassador to Israel.”

Many of the captions also include emojis for the flags of Israel, Palestine and South Africa, as well as hashtags related to the Israel-Gaza war.

But what’s the full story here? 


Relations between South Africa and Israel break down

The Gaza Strip is a narrow territory in the Middle East bordered to its west and north by Israel. The strip is densely populated and poor. The people who live there are mainly Palestinian. Gaza has been ruled by Hamas, the Islamic Resistance Movement, since 2007.

Israel and the Palestinian people have been in conflict for decades.

The current Israel-Gaza war, also known as the Israel-Hamas war, began after Hamas launched a surprise attack on Israel on 7 October 2023 that killed 1,139 people.

Israel responded with airstrikes on Gaza, a total blockade of the territory and a ground invasion. Tens of thousands of people have since been killed in the strip and at least 8,000 people are missing, also believed to be dead. 

Gaza has a population of about 2 million. By the end of 2023, some 1.9 million people had fled their homes for safety, according to estimates by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees

On 6 November South Africa recalled its diplomats and shut its embassy in Israel in protest against the war. Ten days later it called on the International Criminal Court to investigate Israel for alleged war crimes in Gaza. On 21 November, South African lawmakers voted to close the Israeli embassy and cut diplomatic ties with the country.

Then, on 29 December, South Africa filed an accusation of genocide against Israel at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the United Nations (UN) world court that attempts to resolve disputes between nations.

The application claims that Israel’s war on Gaza violates its commitments as a signatory of the UN’s 1948 Genocide Convention.

South Africa alleges that Israel’s response to the 7 October Hamas attack is “genocidal in character” because it is “intended to bring about the destruction of a substantial part of the Palestinian national, racial and ethnical group, that being the part of the Palestinian group in the Gaza Strip”.

Civilian not South Africa’s ambassador to Israel

But South Africa’s relations with Israel have long been strained. In 2017, the governing African National Congress resolved to downgrade the country’s embassy in Israel to a liaison office.

The position of South African ambassador to Israel has been vacant since 2018, when ambassador Sisa Ngombane ended his tour and was not replaced.

To find the origins of the video, Africa Check googled the phrase “South African diplomat argues with Israeli soldier”.

This led us to several instances of the video and news reports on an incident from early November 2021. All identify the man arguing with the soldier as “South African diplomat Lesiba Machaba”.

The incident took place in the West Bank, a Palestinian territory that lies on the western bank of the Jordan River. Most of the West Bank has been occupied by the Israeli military since 1967.

A November 2021 Instagram post of the video reads, in part: “In this 3 November 2021 video, South African diplomat Lesiba Machaba stands up for Palestinian farmers who are being harassed by an Israeli soldier simply for picking olives in the town of Tuqu’ southeast of Bethlehem.”

News reports give more information about the incident.

Africa Check has been unable to track down Lesiba Machaba. Google searches for his name only return the November 2021 video and related articles. And his name can’t be found anywhere on the South African international relations website.

In any case, he wasn’t South Africa’s ambassador to Israel in 2021. The position has been vacant since 2018.

The video was shot in the West Bank to the east of Israel, not the Gaza Strip to the west. And it’s unrelated to the further breakdown of relations between South Africa and Israel prompted by the 2023 Israel-Gaza war.

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