[News] Palestine - Learning from South Africa

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Thu Oct 2 13:09:48 EDT 2008

Learning from South Africa
Savera Kalideen and Haidar Eid, The Electronic Intifada, 2 October 2008

The strategic value of international solidarity with the Palestinian 
people in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, refugees in the Diaspora and 
Palestinians in Israel raises some fundamental questions. The most 
immediate and urgent are: what the nature of international solidarity 
should be and how it can best support the Palestinian struggle for 

International solidarity needs, first and foremost, to address the 
ways in which colonial Zionism has followed and continues to follow 
the Bantustanization policy of apartheid South Africa. There is also 
an imperative to address the severe damage that the Oslo Accords have 
caused to the Palestinian struggle, given the degree of confusion 
that these accords have created in the international arena.

A historical analysis of the current Palestinian quagmire cannot 
separate apartheid and Zionism from colonialism. As Samir Amin argues 
very persuasively in Unequal Development, in 19th century South 
Africa, central capitalism and colonialists forcefully dispossessed 
rural African communities to satisfy their need for a large 
proletariat to exploit the country's great mineral wealth. The 
indigenous people were driven into barren regions which left them 
with no alternative but to become cheap labor for European mines and 
farms, and later, rising South African industry. This initial 
dispossession slowly transformed a vibrant and dynamic society into 
mere labor reserves, with a gradual loss of independence, and, 
ultimately, to the creation of apartheid and Bantustans.

However, this process was not one-sided: throughout this 
dispossession and remaking of South Africa into a haven for racial 
supremacy, the international community was mobilized by the internal 
South African struggle and a concerted advocacy campaign by South 
Africans to protest against apartheid's blatant creation of surplus 
labor, and against its inhuman and racist exploitation of black South 
Africans. Today it is the Israeli apartheid state that is condemned 
for dispossessing the native population, applying a policy of 
genocide against them and recently even threatening a "holocaust" in 
the Gaza Strip. Israel has over the years been accused of being worse 
than the apartheid state by South Africans such as Bishop Tutu, Blade 
Nzimande and John Dugard. These South Africans who experienced 
apartheid cite the use of F-16s, helicopter gun ships on unarmed 
civilians, as well as the home demolitions and arrests of families of 
suspected "militants" as practices that make Israeli apartheid 
qualitatively worse than South African apartheid.

Similarities between the two apartheid states can be found in their 
policies on citizenship, their use of detention without trial, and 
laws which limit freedom of movement and the right to live in one's 
own home with one's family. Just as apartheid South Africa gave 
citizenship to white South Africans and relegated blacks to 
"independent homelands" (i.e. Bantustans), Zionism gives all Jews the 
right to citizenship in the State of Israel, while denying 
citizenship to Palestinians -- the indigenous inhabitants of the 
land. While Apartheid used race to determine citizenship, the state 
of Israel uses religious identification to determine citizenship. 
Just as the apartheid state made laws criminalizing free movement of 
blacks on their ancestral land, Israel uses a military occupation 
infrastructure composed of checkpoints, Jewish only settlements and 
roads, the apartheid wall, combined with a myriad of legal 
regulations that govern Palestinian daily life and are designed 
specifically to restrict how they work and live.

Since 1967, Israel has detained a quarter of the Palestinian male 
population and today has over 11,000 prisoners in its jails, 
thousands of whom have no legal recourse. Many of those incarcerated 
have spent years in jail for "crimes" such as entering Israel 
illegally. Thousands of Palestinian families live with the threat of 
forced separation or are already separated because they do not have 
the necessary permits to live together -- permits Israel has refused 
to issue since 2000. These policies strike at the heart of family 
life since Palestinians are forced to apply to Israel for family 
reunification permits if they want to live together.

During the years of apartheid, South Africa came under repeated 
pressure from the international community and multilateral 
organizations such as the United Nations Security Council which 
passed countless resolutions against it because of its inhumane 
treatment of blacks. This gave much-needed succor to the oppressed, 
while Palestinians today are bereft of even this tiny comfort because 
the United States continues to use its veto to ensure that Israel 
escapes censure from the world body.

International solidarity with the Palestinian people has, over the 
decades, played an extremely important, albeit dialectical, role in 
enhancing the struggle. There is an undeniable proportional 
relationship between the different forms of struggle in the occupied 
territories and the international attention and solidarity it is able 
to command. Disturbingly, after 15 years of Israel side-stepping 
every commitment made in the Oslo Accords, and eight years after the 
start of the second Palestinian intifada, there still strongly 
lingers in international civil society, a belief that the Palestinian 
struggle has, in essence, been resolved. Hence the urgency for an 
international solidarity campaign that will highlight the 
similarities between apartheid and Zionism, as well as the common 
experience of Palestinians today, as a dispossessed people, and black 
South Africans under apartheid.

We have all watched as the results of the 2006 elections in Palestine 
have been denied legitimacy by the international community and the 
Palestinian people collectively punished for their temerity in 
choosing their own leaders. South Africans had to wait 27 years for 
their chosen leader and political party to be free to lead them; 
during those long years they rejected all false leaders that were 
foisted on them even when these quislings were celebrated by the 
likes of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. As recently as 1987, 
Thatcher was confident enough to say that "Nelson Mandela would never 
be the president of a free South Africa."

Like Thatcher's government, other governments around the world were 
forced to isolate apartheid South Africa. They would not have done so 
without the pressure exerted on them by their own people. Israel 
needs to be isolated in exactly the same way as apartheid South 
Africa. Today, there is a growing mass-based struggle inside 
Palestine, as well as other forms of struggle, exactly as there was 
inside apartheid South Africa. An intensified international 
solidarity movement with a common agenda can make the struggle for 
Palestine resonate in every country in the world, thus closing off 
the world to Israelis until they open the world to Palestinians.

Savera Kalideen is a South African solidarity activist, Haidar Eid is 
a boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) and one-state activist 
based in Palestine.

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