The Desmond & Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation strongly condemns the recent violence committed by Israeli forces on Jenin Refugee Camp, resulting in the death of at least nine people and many more injured. This is one of many tragic and devastating events that highlights the ongoing violence and human rights abuses faced by the Palestinian people. The ongoing occupation of the West Bank and siege of Gaza are injustices that should enrage all people committed to justice. The cycles of continuing violence – both physical and administrative – undermine any chance for peace.
It is with dismay that we feel the need to issue this statement on Holocaust Remembrance Day. The genocide of millions of people – primarily Jewish people – across Europe is a stain on humanity’s conscience. The lesson we should take from the holocaust is to reject oppression, to reject racial profiling, to reject injustice and persecution – wherever it is meted out.
As of January 26, 2023, reports estimate that 20 Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank so far this year, including a 14-year-old boy. The recent massacre in Jenin is just the latest in an ongoing project of oppression and dehumanization that the Palestinian people are subjected to. It is a travesty that a generation of young Palestinians are growing up monitored, bullied, and threatened throughout their lives by soldiers and military vehicles.
Along with the tragic loss of life, Palestinians have endured the dispossession of land and livelihoods for decades. Desmond Tutu, an outspoken critic of the Zionist policies and practices of Israel, and its commitment to a logic of violence and separation over peace and interdependence, noted in 2002 that “Israel will never get true security and safety through oppressing another people. A true peace can ultimately be built only on justice.” Central to Tutu’s thesis and practice of ubuntu is the clear understanding that in dehumanizing others, we dehumanize ourselves. This is why for him, overcoming apartheid in South Africa was as much a project for the salvation of white South Africans as it was for the liberation of black people.
Liberation for South Africans came through the combination of local political mobilization and mass movements, as well as sustained international pressure through sanctions and divestment. The Desmond & Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation echoes the calls Tutu made for global support for sanctions, boycott, and divestment from Israel. He noted that “What ultimately forced [apartheid and liberation struggle] leaders together around the negotiating table was the cocktail of persuasive, nonviolent tools that had been developed to isolate South Africa, economically, academically, culturally, and psychologically. At a certain point – the tipping point – the then-government realized that the cost of attempting to preserve apartheid outweighed the benefits.”
The escalation of violence against Palestinians can only be met with condemnation. As a global human family, cannot stand idly by and watch the ongoing aggression and oppressive actions of the Israeli state. Even when the governments of the US and UK refused to apply sanctions on South Africa, ordinary Americans and British people took to the streets, boycotted South African products, and made their voices heard. Just as the world took a collective stand against the apartheid government in South Africa, so we must take a collective stand against Israeli’s ongoing violent oppression.
Referring to the similarity between apartheid South Africa and Zionist Israel, Tutu called Israel an apartheid state. Severely criticized (even in the wake of his passing) for being anti-Jewish, Tutu was very clear: “We are opposed to the injustice of the illegal occupation of Palestine. We are opposed to the indiscriminate killing in Gaza. We are opposed to the indignity meted out to Palestinians at checkpoints and roadblocks. We are opposed to violence perpetrated by all parties. But we are not opposed to Jews.”
Any mobilisation of hatred and violence towards Jewish people must be condemned. However, standing up for justice should never be confused with antisemitism. It is possible to affirm the value and inherent dignity of all human beings, while still calling for justice and accountability.
The loss of life is a tragedy, and the families of the victims are in our thoughts and prayers. The situation in Jenin and the ongoing conflict in Palestine must be addressed with urgency, and a just and lasting peace must be sought for the Palestinian people. The international community, and people of conscience across the world, must seek a solution that facilitates equality and equity for all people who live in the territories of Israel and Palestine.
* This statement was released for the Desmond & Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation.