As we come to the end of Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW) in which we saw demonstrations across the globe. Demonstrations are known to be held, during February and March annually, on university campuses at Oxford, Toronto, Ottawa, Cambridge as well as in cities such as Brussels, Berlin, Delhi, Jerusalem and countries such as Japan, Malaysia and Kuwait.
Here at home, the protests against the apartheid state of Israel have seen events from Mitchell’s Plain to Soweto. Aliwal North, Stellenbosch and Laudium have also been part of the effort to shout loudly those words of our father, Nelson Mandela, whose centenary of birth we celebrate this year. “South Africa will not be free”, lamented Madiba, “until Palestine is free”. Madiba was emphatic.
This year is an important one for a number of reasons. We celebrate the births of Mme Albertina Sisulu, who together with Madiba, would have both turned 100 years old had they been alive. We celebrate their lives. Lives dedicated to the emancipation of the South African people. But both Mme Sisulu and Madiba were internationalists and their example of fighting for freedom must encourage us to take up the baton for the people of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, Cuba and Palestine.
2018 marks the seventieth anniversary of the founding of the State of Israel. Following on the Balfour Declaration, the centenary of which we recalled last year, the establishment of the State of Israel was a violent act inflicted upon the Palestinian people. Even before this establishment, a blot on the map of the world, David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, stated emphatically in 1937: “We must expel the Arabs and take their places.”
The Jewish people themselves had suffered cruelty for years and this suffering culminated in the Holocaust. Sadly, we would have thought that a people, who had suffered so grievously, would not inflict the same kind of pain on another. Even Israeli academics such Dr Ilan Pappé describe Israeli actions in places such as Gaza as ethnic cleansing. Author of the work, “The Ethnic Cleaning of Palestine”, Pappé states that instead of doing the ethnic cleansing the classical way, by rounding Palestinians up and killing them, the Israelis simply do “incremental genocide”.
The establishment of the State of Israel, as violent as it was and continues to be, was the manner in which western countries, who did very little while the Holocaust was being perpetuated, absolve themselves from their guilt. Today, it is not surprising, that the very same countries who continue to defend Israel were the ones, in particular, who had a position of neutrality during the Second World War.
Though the international community has to make amends to the Jewish people, it cannot do so by inflicting an injustice on another people. For the last seventy years, Palestinians have been killed, maimed and exiled from their homeland. Generations have grown-up in refugee camps and do not know of a state called home. Daily, Palestinians, those living in the occupied territories, have to endure security check-points and living as second class citizens.
There should be no doubt that Israel is an apartheid state. It has one set of laws and status for one group of people and denies citizenship to another. Even worse than the South African apartheid regime, it occupies the Palestinian territories this in direct violation of international law. No other country in the world is subjected to such gross occupation as the case is in the Palestinian territories.
In the year in which we celebrate the world’s most famous prisoner, Nelson Mandela, we are reminded of the thousands of Palestinians who languish in Israeli jails simply for demanding basic and fundamental human rights. As South Africans, given our struggle for liberation and our experience in the “Free Nelson Mandela” campaigns, we must highlight the plight of Palestinian prisoners especially that of Ahed Tamimi. We must make Tamimi a symbol of Palestinian prisoners to ensure that the world recognises this apartheid Israeli atrocities.
While many in the West speak disparagingly of terrorists who threaten “their freedoms”, “their values” and “their way of life”, these hypocrites in the West care very little about Palestinian freedom, Palestinian dignity to life and the rights and freedoms of Palestinians.
Countless times, as the international community, we have had to listen to democracies in the west lecture us about human rights, the rights of the individual and the fundamental freedoms enjoyed by persons, yet they care very little about the freedoms, dignity and rights of the Palestinians.
The war in Iraq was premised on the fact that Saddam Hussein was acting adversely towards his own people. The argument for western involvement in the Balkans in 1993, against Slobodan Milošević, was along the same lines. Yet these same western powers refuse even to hold Israel accountable for the same kind of atrocities committed against Palestinians.
In 1990, the United States declared war against Iraq for occupying Kuwait. It has been more than fifty years that Israel has illegally occupied the Palestinian Territories and yet the United States continues to defend Israel and even itself defies international law by moving its embassy to Jerusalem.
Since its unbanning, and even before, the ANC has always maintained that the resolution to the question of Palestine and Israel lay within the hands of these two peoples. Our organisation has advocated a two-state solution and have ensured that we do everything possible to promote the Palestinian cause on the one hand but also, on the other, to engage constructively with the state of Israel.
Internationally, South Africa hosts one of the largest communities of supporters for the state of Israel. As the ANC, we are sensitive to the needs of a people who suffered years of oppression but cannot turn a blind eye to the gross injustices inflicted upon another people today. As Mahatma Ghandi put it: the world would be blind if we all lived for an eye-for-an-eye. Soon the Middle East will be blind.
Therefore after government boycotts and discouraging South Africans from travelling to and engaging Israel, the ANC resolved to downgrade its representation in Tel Aviv. We are actively supporting the Boycott, Disinvestment and Sanctions campaign and hopefully will be implementing a more radical program to highlight the need for South African companies to boycott and disinvest from Israel.
However, we can learn from the point articulated by Al Jazeera columnist, Ramzy Baroud, when he writes in his column, “The Palestine solidarity movement should focus on Palestine”. While Baroud seems to be a bit more critical of the Palestinian Authority, the headline is appealing this Israeli Apartheid Week.
Building the Palestinian people, supporting them, having cultural and academic exchanges with them is where our focus should also be. While highlighting Israeli atrocities on the one hand, we must also be able to showcase Palestinian achievements on the other. If we downgrade the South African embassy in Tel Aviv, we should be upgrading the South African embassy in Ramallah. We should we be opening a South African consulate in Gaza.
The words of that most noble Palestinian, Edward Said, must ring in our ears as he speaks of the Palestinian people when he said in 1998:
“In short, Israel is the measure of our failings and our incompetence. We have waited for a great leader for years, but none came; we have waited for a mighty military victory, but we were defeated roundly; we have waited for outside powers but none came to our aid. The one thing we have not tried in all seriousness is to rely on OURSELVES: until we do that with a full commitment to success there is no chance that we can advance towards self-determination and freedom from aggression.”
Pule Mabe is an ANC NEC Member and ANC Spokesperson