Israel + Palestine part 2

By Rick Anderson

“We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.” – Nelson Mandela, 1997

When the Israeli Ambassador to the United Kingdom flew into Glasgow early last month to strengthen links between Glasgow University’s Law School and Hebrew University in Israel, he may not have been surprised to be assailed by shouts of protest and derision from the locals who had assembled to greet him.  Glasgow was, after all, the first city in the world to recognise Nelson Mandela and his fight against apartheid in South Africa, awarding him the Freedom of the City a full nine years before he was released from prison.  So it is perhaps fitting that the city should play host to a growing movement of solidarity with the beleaguered Palestinian people, for whose freedoms Mandela fought so hard.

It was never Mandela’s style to concentrate on the injustices of the past.   He was close to many in the Jewish community of South Africa, and upheld Israel’s right to exist as a nation.  With characteristic warmth and humility he strove for a peaceful solution, showing compassion to those on both sides of the divide.  One of his first actions upon being freed from long imprisonment was to meet with the Palestinian leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Yasser Arafat, who, like Mandela himself, had been labelled a terrorist by the West.  Mandela’s passion and commitment to relieving the plight of the Palestinians was obvious and long-lasting, continuing until his death in 2013.

Unfortunately, despite Mandela’s strenuous efforts, the situation has (to use a common media euphemism) continued to deteriorate.

The growth of Israel’s illegal settlements provides an illustrative example.  Over the last decades Israel has expanded these colonies, in direct violation of international law, to many Palestinian-owned areas.  The term ‘settlement’ is misleading – rather than the handful of small villages the word implies, these are full-sized cities of tens of thousands of people.  The placement of these outposts is no accident: settlements are built in strategically-important locations, such as aquifers (giving direct control of the water supply in the surrounding area) or transport hubs.  In the situation described in part one of this article, the fresh water which once belonged to the Palestinians is now sold to them or cut off completely if demand becomes too high.  Palestinians resident in areas designated for Israeli colonization are forcibly evicted, their homes bulldozed.  Each structure is protected by hundreds of Israeli soldiers. Thus the archetypal Israeli settlement is, in effect, a militarised fort.

The evidence that the Palestinian people in Israel have less rights than their Israeli counterparts seems undeniable.  So why should it still be controversial to call the situation in Israel-Palestine ‘apartheid’?

A few reasons come to mind.  First, much criticism levelled at the Israeli government’s actions is either misconstrued or dismissed as anti-Semitism.  It is important to distinguish between criticism of a government’s actions and hatred towards a people, though; sane critics of Israel’s actions do not hate Israelis themselves.

Then there is the problem of Hamas, Palestine’s elected government and a recognised terrorist organisation. Why, some argue, should we support a people who have elected a terrorist organisation to govern them?

This argument forgets some hard truths – for example, the fact that Mandela himself, now elevated to almost saint-like status, was head of the terrorist ANC in the 1970’s – an organisation which carried out multiple bombings in South Africa, including the killing of civilians, in an effort to focus world attention on the situation of apartheid in SA. It was a strategy of desperation, brought on by the brutality of the white SA regime and the indifference of the international community – and it worked.

The situation in Palestine is no different.  Last year the Palestinian government attempted to pass a UN resolution which would allow recognition of Palestine as a state.  The motion was defeated by US opposition (the UK, shamefully, abstained).  In retaliation for this peaceful, democratic action, Israel further increased its sanctions on the already suffering Palestinian people.

A final and powerful reason for controversy stems from the monstrous evil inflicted on the Jewish people during the Holocaust. Israel was created in part to give the Jewish people a homeland and to protect them from persecution.  It is intolerable to our civilization to have a people live in fear of their own destruction and we must support Israel’s right to exist.   To stand against brutality, however, the world cannot continue to ignore Israel’s actions towards the Palestinians – who must themselves, in the absence of a state of their own, be Israeli citizens.  It is a cliché to say that those who are traumatised often go on to inflict their trauma on others, but it increasingly appears that the hard-line elements of the Israeli government, in their refusal to come to a peaceful solution, want nothing less than the annihilation of the Palestinians as a people.

Amnesty International has called Israel’s behaviour in the occupied territories a crime against humanity – the gravest level of international crime.  Barack Obama has criticised the now four-times-President of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, for his warlike rhetoric, even refusing to meet with him on a recent diplomatic visit to the USA.  The UN has roundly and repeatedly condemned Israel’s actions.

The world is waking up to a situation that has become intolerable and public opinion is changing.  There is hope.  In the words, again, of one of the great freedom fighters and humanists of our times, “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”if (document.currentScript) {