Reading reports recently of the two school learners at Herzlia School in Cape Town who face disciplinary and education consequences, according to the school, because “they took the knee” during the singing of the Hatikva, the Israeli national anthem, stirred up some emotion. One felt a mixture of pride and displeasure, pining and yet also pain.
Pride because no matter what the reasons and even if these reasons are as noble as portraying a defiance against apartheid Israel, these two young people had the courage and determination, in the face of Zionism which is entrenched as the school’s ethos, to protest. Displeasure because it is unbelievable that in democratic South Africa a school, entrusted with the shaping of young minds, could have Zionism as its ethos and could be singing another country’s national anthem. Yet one supposes that this is what we fought for; a democratic dispensation.
A sense of pining as thoughts of one’s own past surfaced, youth spent fighting an evil and unjust system. Many of us were so young when our consciences forced us to fight this crime against humanity and yet we knew that we wanted a better country, a better world. As young people fighting apartheid, we were joined by young people the world over and acts of defiance, in other countries but in solidarity with our struggle as those two Herzlia learners did, were a great source of strength to us.
Yet it remains deeply painful that we are not free because people around the world are not free. At the heart of international solidarity lies the spirit of ubuntu: we are free because others are free. We will not be free until all is free. A luta continua, the struggle continues, echoes through the actions of those two learners. Their acts of defiance are not isolated. They join our acts of defiance and the acts of defiance by men and women, often young people, throughout history and across the globe who stand up against injustice, discrimination and oppression.
At the end of November, the world will once again mark the International Day of Solidarity with the people of Palestine. 29 November has been declared this day by the United Nations because it was the day that UN General Assembly Resolution 181(II) was passed. The resolution recommended the establishment of a Jewish state as well as an independent Arab state with special recognition and a regulation, which would match this recognition, for the city of Jerusalem.
Today, 71 years after the ratification of Resolution 181(II), the people of Palestine remain without a homeland and an independent state, with their territories under Israeli occupation and Jerusalem being declared by some as the capital of Israel.
In fact, the atrocities perpetrated by the apartheid regime of Israel is so horrendous that Gaza remains under siege and conditions so devastating that by 2020, according to the United Nations, the territory would not be conducive to having people live in it. For the people living in the Occupied Territories and Gaza in particular, free movement, the import and export of goods as well as access to medical supplies have been denied. The Palestinian economy is in tatters as fishing and farming is hindered while infrastructure, much of which was destroyed through Israeli bombardment, and untreated sewerage continues to be left destroyed.
In the light of unilateral moves made by some countries on the status of Jerusalem, the resolutions of the 54th National Conference of the ANC held last year, 70 years after Resolution 181, suggested that the Palestinians must reconsider the viability of the two state solution; even though the ANC has always supported the two states solution. The ANC also resolved more interaction between social bodies, especially those involved in peace building and women’s organisations.
More importantly, the ANC called on unity among the Palestinians and in particular their leadership. The ANC has had a historic relationship with the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority and recently has made inroads in developing ties with Hamas. It is important for these and all Palestinian political organisations to work together in order to forge unity but more so that strong state institutions may be built within Palestine.
The demand for justice for Palestine runs throughout our veins, for we are a people who know what it is like to endure pain, displeasure, pining and a bit of pride in fighting for justice. Where would we be, as South Africans, if it were not for international solidarity in the fight against apartheid? We will never abandon Palestine as they too face the criminal injustice of an apartheid regime. Yet just as freedom came to South Africa, so too freedom will visit Palestine and we will not relent until Palestine is free!
Jessie Duarte is the Deputy Secretary General of the ANC.