Opinion: Apartheid still reigns in Palestine

By Roger Fowler

Mural on the wall of one of the universities in Gaza City featuring Nelson Mandela - learning about international heroes for social justice. Photo/Roger Fowler.
Mural on the wall of one of the universities in Gaza City featuring Nelson Mandela - learning about international heroes for social justice. Photo/Roger Fowler.

Community/politics: With the passing of Nelson Mandela last week, it is perhaps timely to reflect on the historic movement he led to overthrow apartheid in South Africa and the analogy with the other epic struggle for justice in this era - Israel/Palestine.

Both the apartheid system in South Africa and the state of Israel we set up soon after WW2 in 1948. Both installed brutal dictatorial regimes that enforced ethnic-based privilege and cruel racial oppression. Yet both enjoyed huge support from the big Western powers and collusion with multi-national businesses, but condemnation from the UN and other agencies, and the emerging world-wide civil movements striving for social justice.

However, history shows that no state of oppression, no matter how fierce, can last forever. Oppression breeds resistance, and its own eventual demise.

Regardless of its extreme harshness, apartheid finally crumbled under the built up pressure of a broad, internal people's movement and burning desire for freedom, compounded by intense international outrage. Pickets, protests, boycotts and calls for divestment erupted around the world. As the pressure built up, the writing was on the wall and it was largely just a matter of time before apartheid collapsed. It was immoral, unjust and unsustainable - they just couldn't get away with it anymore.

Likewise Israel's days of oppression are numbered. Revered by Palestinians, Nelson Mandela declared: "We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians." He told journalist John Pilger that justice of the Palestinians had become "the greatest moral issue of our time."

Former Israeli Prime Minister Olmert once admitted in an interview with Haaretz: 'If the day comes when the two state solution collapses, and we face a South African style struggle for equal voting rights, then as soon as that happens, the State of Israel is finished.'

Although the brutal Israeli regime can appear to be very powerful - estimated to be the world's fourth greatest military might with its huge arsenal of US-supplied, state-of-the-art weaponry and hundreds of nuclear war heads - it is becoming increasingly isolated and friendless. In the wake of the 'Arab Spring' the Middle East is changing dramatically. World opinion is turning. Even little NZ went against its sorry history of entrenched support for Israel to cast an unprecedented vote for recognition of Palestine last year. The writing is on the wall again.

The seven million Palestinians have been cruelly occupied and excluded from their land for over 65 years. Most remain refugees in their own historic lands, or dispersed around the region. Now, more than ever, the need for international recognition and support for their struggle for justice is imperative.

Global solidarity for the struggle against apartheid invoked effective strategies of protests, boycotts, divestment and sanctions to isolate South Africa. The Palestinians have called for similar peaceful measures to help bring about the end to their plight.

After a visit to occupied Palestine, Archbishop Tutu said that the racist oppression, humiliation and 'collective punishment' he witnessed was much worse than the darkest days of apartheid in South Africa.

"In South Africa, we could not have achieved our freedom and just peace without the help of people around the world, who through the use of non-violent means, such as boycotts and divestment, encouraged their governments and other corporate actors to reverse decades-long support for the apartheid regime" he said.

Tutu also noted that: "The apartheid government was very powerful, but today it no longer exists. Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Pinochet, Milosevic, and Idi Amin were all
powerful, but in the end they bit the dust," he said.

Like Archbishop Tutu, I have also seen the extreme hardships enforced upon the Palestinians.

I have visited the tiny Gaza Strip as part of Kia Ora Gaza's participation on three international solidarity convoys in recent years. UK Premier David Cameron has correctly described besieged Gaza, home to 1.7 million Palestinians, as "the world's biggest open air prison". Most suffer impoverished, over crowded conditions, and are dependent on meagre supplies from international aid agencies.

The Israeli siege and naval blockade severely restricts the movement of goods and people. The current chaos in Egypt exacerbates this with tight border controls and the destruction of smuggling tunnels that had offered some relief.

During a two week fact-finding mission in Gaza for the Kiwi website www.kiaoragaza.net in November last year, I endured two days of Israel's 'Pillar of Cloud' intensive bombing raids before I managed to escape across the border into Egypt.

The Palestinians in Gaza had no such choice. With no army, no air force and no navy, they were like sitting ducks with nowhere to run, nowhere to hide.

By the end of that eight-day onslaught 175 people had perished and thousands were injured. Hundreds of houses and much of their fragile infrastructure was destroyed.

The siege obstructs the import of construction materials to rebuild. Fuel is now so scarce the sole power station struggles to supply three hours of electricity per day. Medical services and the ailing water desalination and sewage systems can't cope. 90 per cent of the water is undrinkable. The Israeli siege and random shelling is rapidly making Gaza unlivable - as predicted by the UN last year.

The siege has also imposed a stranglehold on information and communication with the outside world. Solidarity visits and exchanges are helping the break through these barriers. This support, coupled with the resilience and resistance of the Palestinians, and the growing movement for international boycotts and condemnation of Israel, have the real potential of bringing the eventual end to this barbaric injustice that provokes regional conflict.

In November 2012, Roger Fowler was sent to Gaza and Cairo on behalf of Kia Ora Gaza's website to investigate progress towards opening the besieged Palestinian enclave to the world in the wake of Egypt's democracy revolution. He also delivered grants and aid to community organisations in Gaza and reported on Israel's military blitz from inside the enclave.

Below is the response to this article from His Excellency Yosef Livne, Embassy of Israel.

Distortion, hatred is thy name.

The opinion piece "Apartheid still reigns in Palestine" is another chalice of venom offered in the name of Palestinian rights. Apparently nothing escapes the disciples of Historical revisionism as is patently demonstrated in the above article.

Though I speak in the name of Israel, let me assure your readership that our public discourse with the New Zealand society does not eschew criticism or is turned off by disagreement. As a representative of a democratic society, the free exchange of opinions is a basic value in our land. We expect the debate to be civil and as far as possible devoid of outlandish distortions. I am afraid this is not the case here.

Those of us who have some knowledge of that hateful ideology and practice known as Apartheid are aware that we are talking of a system of discrimination upheld and nurtured by a legal and judicial basis. Can anyone with a clear conscience claim that Israel subscribes to the same principle? Yes, Israel is the Jewish State, but does that imply that non jews are subject to a legal system that bars them from free access to all things public? A country where a supreme court Justice passes sentence on a former president is a Christian Arab is an apartheid regime. A parliament where Arab members can express their views however unsavory to the majority of the membership espouses racial superiority?

Obviously the stream of the views in that article flow from a fountain of poison and deceit and not an iota of decency can be traced there. No sensible person will deny that we are still in the midst of a conflict between our Palestinian neighbors and ourselves. This decades long conflict is not bereft of ugliness as all armed conflicts are. Are those a product of a judicial system that strives to deny our Arab citizens their rights? Furthermore, how many courts around the World accept as a matter of policy to review complaints by the inhabitants of occupied territories?

No, the purpose of that so called opinion piece was not to enlighten, but to sow hatred and deepen the schism that still separates us. If we are motivated by the will to heal the wounds, the path to follow is the one paved by Nelson Mandela. Unfortunately, the hatred and distortion that permeate the article promises something else altogether.

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