Violence in Israel and Gaza Reminds us of Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s Urgent Calls for Peace

Desmond Tutu was a vocal critic of the apartheid policies, tactics, and occupation of Palestine by the Israeli state and armed forces. As he 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.”

As we witnessed the horrific violence by Hamas against civilians Israel this weekend, the taking of hundreds of hostages, and the extreme response of siege and bombardment of Gaza, we pray that this awful moment will bring clarity and action for sustainable peace. In 2014, the Arch wrote in an op-ed for Israeli newspaper Haaretz in which he noted: “I have condemned those in Palestine responsible for firing missiles and rockets at Israel. They are fanning the flames of hatred. I am opposed to all manifestations of violence. But we must be very clear that the people of Palestine have every right to struggle for their dignity and freedom.”

The overwhelming message of the violence inflicted against civilians this week – in the attack by Hamas, and the forceful retaliation of Israel – is that violent occupation, violent oppression, and violent resistance simply cannot deliver a pathway towards peace. As we learned in South Africa’s armed struggle, there is ultimately no military solution between divided peoples who need to find a way to live together peacefully.

It is with deep sadness that the stated response of the Israeli state towards the violence against its citizens, has been increased violence, increased repression, and a disregard for the lives of civilian Palestinians. In this, we are also dismayed by the actions of all states that continue to arm and fortify the military actions of the Israeli state. There is no route to peace through occupation and violence.

Archbishop Tutu noted that,

“people will not live the peaceful and secure lives they crave – and are entitled to – as long as their leaders perpetuate conditions that sustain the conflict.

No human-made problems are intractable when humans put their heads together with the earnest desire to overcome them. No peace is impossible when people are determined to achieve it.

Peace requires the people of Israel and Palestine to recognise the human being in themselves and each other; to understand their interdependence.

Missiles, bombs and crude invective are not part of the solution.”

The period between the release of Nelson Mandela in 1990, and the first democratic elections in South Africa in 1994, were some of the most violent in our history. It was a period of an increasing use of violence by actors on all sides of the divides, struggling for dominance over the process of the inevitable transition to democracy. This violence was incredibly painful, and it showed us that we had to find a way to make peace – actively – to find each other as human beings, to hold our pain as part of our story while striving for reconciliation rather than retribution; striving for finding each other rather than killing each other.

But this requires a mindset shift. A mindset shift, in which there is simply no place for occupation and siege. It requires leaders in Israel to yield to the reality that there is no security possible through repression; and leaders of Gaza and the West Bank to denounce the attacks on Israeli civilians, and revoke violent resistance.

Archbishop Tutu ended his 2014 op-ed, with this powerful statement:

“Goodness prevails in the end. The pursuit of freedom for the people of Palestine from humiliation and persecution by the policies of Israel is a righteous cause. It is a cause that the people of Israel should support. Nelson Mandela famously said that South Africans would not feel free until Palestinians were free. He might have added that the liberation of Palestine will liberate Israel, too.”

The Desmond and Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation will continue advocating for peace, while opposing all institutionalised systems of oppression, occupation, and the escalating violence that continues to impact the lives of innocent civilians.

Issues by the Desmond & Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation


*This statement has been updated