In December, I received a visit from a Palestinian film maker. For the past ten years he has followed a group of children from the Jenin Refugee Camp in the West Bank, filming them every six months. As he entered my office, he wept. He had just been through the Truth to Power exhibition, which follows Desmond Tutu’s activism against apartheid, and his chairing of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. This film maker wept because the exhibition is an experience of witnessing the atrocities of apartheid, as well as South Africa’s ultimate collective work to liberate ourselves from that crime against humanity. He also wept because he said it was so hard to see that what the apartheid government subjected black South Africans to was exactly Palestinians experience every day in occupied Palestine.
The recent ramping up of violence, the torching of homes and communities in Huwara, and the annexation of parts of the West Bank are part of an ongoing project of oppression and dehumanization to which the Palestinian people are subjected. As I read the news of a massacre in Jenin, of an attack on Jewish people at a Jerusalem synagogue, and the violence of expanding settlements, I thought back to the kids of Jenin Camp. These young people, many of them now leaving school, are trying to make peaceful adult lives in a state of constant surveillance and violence. What a travesty it is for children to grow up monitored, bullied, and threatened by soldiers and military vehicles. What a tragedy that it is also young Israeli’s who are conscripted to monitor, police, and shoot their peers.
As the Arch noted in 2002, “Israel will never get true security and safety through oppressing another people. A true peace can ultimately be built only on justice.” Central to the Arch’s thesis and practice of ubuntu is the clear understanding that in dehumanising others, we dehumanise 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. This is why true liberation for Israel will only be possible at the point that the oppression of Palestinians ends.
What does this mean for the prospects of peace? Well, liberation for South Africans came through the combination of local political mobilisation and mass movements, as well as sustained international pressure through sanctions and divestment. It took the voices of many and diverse civil society groups, individual in their identity but coalescing under the United Democratic Front and the global anti-apartheid movement; organising locally and globally, and seeking multiple pathways to overturning the apartheid system.
We echo the calls the Arch 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.”
From my office, I can hear our exhibition video about Tutu’s campaign for sanctions against apartheid South Africa. In it, a young Senator Joe Biden passionately argues: “We have favourites in South Africa. The favourites in South Africa are the people who are being repressed by an ugly white regime. Our loyalty is not to South Africa, it is to South Africans. The South Africans are majority black, and they are being excoriated!”
Imagine if Joe Biden – now as President of the USA – could find the same level of conviction to declare that the United States would be on the side of the repressed in Palestine? 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 the ongoing apartheid policies and tactics of Israel.
Although often criticised for being anti-Jewish, because of his stance on Israel’s action, the Arch 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 absolutely condemned. May our loyalty not be to the Israeli or Palestinian states – but to the people of Israel and Palestine, for whom we must all support to find peace; even if that includes holding them accountable.
Authored by Janet Jobson