For those who thought, during the major shifts towards a more open and just world, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the end of the Cold War and the end of Apartheid in South Africa, that every last vestige of 20th century injustice would be resolved before the turn of the century, the echo left by the words, ‘Israeli Apartheid’ is too haunting to bear. The 29th of November, recognised by the United Nations as “The International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People”, has been established to continue to recognize the rights of Palestinian people the world over.
Some of us were mere teenagers when the world went through that final era, of rapprochement. Leaders like Mandela, had traversed decades of subjugation in what were intractable stalemates, which looked like they could only be resolved through never-ending military conflict or through the even-then unpalatable thought of compromise. When most of these leaders were pushed by circumstance, mostly against their own instincts and the will of millions of their followers and admirers across the developing world, many human rights champions dreaded the possibility that their compromises could be dishonoured and their legacies compromised forever.
Israeli Apartheid, is a haunting phrase because we all know that similar to the case of South Africa, the crop of leaders who traversed the darkest decades of cold, brazen, injustice, and who earned the unflinching respect of the widest cross sections of their people, are now lost to the continuing struggles of their people. Yet, as in the case of Palestine, the world has even become numbed as the daily suffering continues, even targeting children, whom many of us thought would be amongst the first generations to live through the first decades of peace. The insubstantial attempts at peace have repeatedly been thwarted, as many nations hold a vested interest in the direction in which the conflict is driven and its specific outcomes. Furthermore, efforts are continuously being taken to provide objective analyses on the contextual nature, while failing to take deliberate action or refuting the implementation of any viable options for a peaceful settlement.
Will this and the next generation of young people, those amongst them who will be fortunate enough to survive, choose the option of compromise and later, also feel cheated and thus be turned to curse the legacies of Yasser Arafat and co? Or will they first curse the legacies and then, after realising there is no other option but compromise, later turn to the rhetoric of peace? If they turn to the rhetoric of peace, even grudgingly, will they truly believe that it will bring that just world that has eluded countless generations before them? Perhaps this speaks to the telling nature of the skewed power dynamic in the Israeli Palestinian ‘conflict’. When the life of an Israeli soldier is worth more than the lives of many Palestinians, we need to start questioning this unequal distribution of power and how it only serves to favour those in control; those implementing the systematic oppression of another.
In a world that until recently, was unashamedly uni-polar, which has instead been turning back to the rhetoric and political posturing of the Cold War era, will the struggle for peace and justice for the underdog in that part of the world, benefit from a re-ordering of the global political order away from hierarchies that have preached peace, agreement after agreement? Still, we have not witnessed an ushering in of a sustainable peace agreement in the region. At the very least, an understanding of the true nature of the conflict needs to come to the fore. When viewed through a hegemonic lens of notions of peace and security, the approach to peace is then characterised largely along statist ideas and interpretations of constructing a meaningful peace.
From the intractable military conflicts, there has in recent years grown the strategy of the economic weapon, that of the global Boycott Divestments and Sanctions movement. With the shifts in global power, there has also grown the number of states that recognise the right of Palestinian people to statehood in international affairs. We know that some of the states who did this, did so against the odds of losing support from the ever-powerful states in the global arena. The tide has turned in the direction of international justice. So we hope. But hope, of course, has never been enough in such times. Each one of those in the world, who realise that the idea of peace and reconciliation is fast losing credibility and integrity, will want to do more so that not a single child, in Palestine, will have to lose a family member all because economic interest trumps the search for justice. And so, even in our own context of unresolved historical injustice in South Africa, those of us, to whom freedom of one is only enhanced by the freedom of another, we encourage and commit to the deepening of the BDS movement, like the Anti-Apartheid movement that partnered with South Africa, like the case of Palestine today, the rest of the powerful world.
And so for those of us in the field of practice of Transitional Justice, trying to help steer societies in the direction of ensuring that conflicts of the past as well as their socio-political and economic legacies, really become the past, and the conditions that lead to them are not repeated or do not recur, the example of the Palestinian – Israeli conflict deal our integrity a telling blow. The entire industry of transitional justice and human rights, lives side by side (and seems to be comfortable in doing so) with normalised injustice. A critical mass is needed in the apparatus in order to swing the balance back to the belief that good can overcome evil, once again. Our integrity depends on it, as we try to nurture any semblance of integrity in order to enjoy the status of being called the true custodians of morality, justice and fairness.
Kenneth Lukuko is a Senior Project Leader and Nargis Motala is an intern at the IJR