Mandela and Palestine
An estimated 5,000 Palestinians remain in Israeli jails stripped of their basic human rights, including their right to a fair trial, to be treated humanely and to receive family visits. Mass arrests of men, women and children, arbitrary detention as well as imprisonment of elected representatives are painful reminders of the injustice non-white South Africans suffered during the state of emergency, writes Anis Chowdhury
We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.
LET US not forget that apartheid still thrives in occupied Palestine, even when the world celebrates the life and achievements of Mandela, the icon of the anti-apartheid movement the world over. The 2010 Human Rights Watch report describes the two-tier system of laws, rules, and services that Israel operates for the two populations in areas of the West Bank under its exclusive control, which provide preferential services, development, and benefits for Jewish settlers while imposing harsh conditions on Palestinians.
According to the Human Rights Watch report, ‘Israel’s comprehensive blockade of the Gaza Strip, imposed since June 2007, continued to have severe humanitarian and economic consequences for the civilian population, particularly during the war. Hundreds of thousands of people lacked electricity, running water, cooking gas, gasoline and other goods for weeks; raw sewage flooded some city streets; hospitals were overcrowded, lacked essential medicines, and were often inaccessible to the wounded.’
An estimated 5,000 Palestinians remain in Israeli jails stripped of their basic human rights, including their right to a fair trial, to be treated humanely and to receive family visits. Mass arrests of men, women and children, arbitrary detention as well as imprisonment of elected representatives are painful reminders of the injustice non-white South Africans suffered during the state of emergency.
Nelson Mandela formed the armed wing of the African National Congress as a means to end this injustice, to establish a non-racial, democratic free country where people of all colour, race and religion would live peacefully with dignity and mutual respect. Mandela continued to provide leadership to the ANC’s armed struggle from jails to lay the bedrock for an inclusive society where prosperity would be shared.
Mandela understood the pains of the Palestinian people and their aspirations for freedom, dignity and justice. Thus, when visiting Australia in 1990, he unequivocally stated, ‘We identify with them [the Palestinians] because we do not believe it is right for the Israeli government to suppress basic human rights in the conquered territories… We agree with the United Nations that international disputes should be settled by peaceful means. The belligerent attitude which is adopted by the Israeli government is to us unacceptable…If one has to refer to any of the parties as a terrorist state, one might refer to the Israeli government, because they are the people who are slaughtering defenceless and innocent Arabs in the occupied territories, and we don’t regard that as acceptable’ (quoted in Kim Bullimore, ‘Nelson Mandela, Palestine and the fight against apartheid’, Live from Occupied Palestine, December 6, 2103).
Unfortunately, most of the world leaders gathered to bid farewell to the icon of anti-apartheid and anti-occupation movements and eulogise his legacies seem to ignore the plights of the Palestinian people and their aspirations for equality, justice, dignity and freedom. Palestinian victims of state violence and oppressions are often dehumanised and portrayed as deserving of harsh treatment and; they are being demanded to concede ever more to give up their identity and basic right to live with dignity.
Were the international community consistent, this treatment of Palestinians would have triggered a wave of condemnations and sanctions.
What can the world do to realise Nelson Mandela’s incomplete agenda: the freedom of the Palestinians? This is a question that all decent people with conscience should be asking.
The answer is obvious: Follow what Mandela asked the ANC to do — parallel with armed struggle campaign for sanctions and boycott of South Africa by the world.
It took almost 20 years of lobbying before strong punitive measures against South Africa were taken. The developing countries played a crucial role, being the first to impose sanctions against South Africa in the 1960s, while powerful countries such as the US and the UK continued their friendly relations. In the 1970s, the call for disinvestment and consumer boycotts, including sporting and cultural contacts became stronger. In the 1980s, most Commonwealth countries joined the campaign for financial sanctions.
The sanctions choked South Africa’s economy, as Barend du Plessis, the finance minister in the apartheid government, later described disinvestment and financial boycott as ‘the dagger that finally immobilised apartheid’ (quoted in Kader Asmal, Politics in My Blood: a Memoir).
People of conscience the world over have started a similar Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against apartheid Israel and its racist supporters until the 12 million Palestinians secure one-man-one-vote, self-determination, freedom, human rights and justice.
In supporting the BDS campaign, South Africa’s other great son and freedom fighter, Emeritus Archbishop Desmond Tutu, said, ‘This harsh reality endured by millions of Palestinians requires people and organisations of conscience to divest from those companies — in this instance, from Caterpillar, Motorola Solutions and Hewlett Packard — profiting from the occupation and subjugation of Palestinians. Such action made an enormous difference in apartheid South Africa. It can make an enormous difference in creating a future of justice and equality for Palestinians and Jews in the Holy Land’ (Desmond Tutu, ‘Justice requires action to stop subjugation of Palestinians’, Tehran Times, May 5, 2012).
Ahmed Kathrada, an anti-apartheid leader who spent 26 years in apartheid jails with Nelson Mandela, launched on October 27 on Robben Island the International Campaign to Free Marwan Barghouti (dubbed Palestine’s Mandela) and All Palestinian Prisoners.
Winnie Mandela (former wife of Nelson Mandela) said: ‘Apartheid Israel can be defeated, just as apartheid in South Africa was defeated’ (quoted in Edward C. Corrigan, ‘Israel and apartheid: a fair comparison?’ rabble.ca, March 2, 2010).
Decent people around the world will honour the memory of Nelson Mandela by joining these campaigns to complete Mandela’s long journey to freedom, including the freedom of the Palestinians.
Anis Chowdhury is a former professor of economics at the University of Western Sydney, Australia. email@example.com
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LET US not forget that apartheid still thrives in occupied Palestine, even when the world celebrates the life and achievements of Mandela, the icon of the anti-apartheid movement the world over. The 2010 Human Rights... Full story