South Africans are set to launch a 24-hour hunger strike at 6pm on Sunday in solidarity with the hunger strike of Palestinian prisoners. Picture: Nasser Nasser/AP
In South Africa we know and can understand the plight of the Palestinians, writes Imraan Buccus.

Despite our many challenges, South Africa remains a country that strives to be on the right side of history when it comes to issues of social justice around the world.

Today, as Palestinians observe close to seven decades of occupation, dispossession and oppression - referred to as the Nakba or catastrophe - the day of forced removals in Palestine; some South Africa ministers will go on hunger strike in solidarity with Palestinian prisoners. Anti-apartheid struggle veterans like Laloo Chiba (86) have called on all South Africans to participate in the 24-hour hunger strike.

This comes as some 1500 Palestinian prisoners are close to 30 days of their hunger strike demanding basic rights in Israeli jails. Here at home; several ministers confirmed they will heed the call to action and embark on the solidarity hunger strike. They include: Minister of Communications Ayanda Dlodlo, Minister of Heath Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, Deputy Minister in the South African Presidency Buti Manamela, Deputy Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Nomaindia Mfeketo, Deputy Minister of Basic Education Enver Surty and former Tourism Minister Derek Hanekom.

Despite our political challenges; and how the machinations of empire work; South Africa does well to remain on the side of social justice -perhaps because so many countries stood by us during our dark days. We have not forgotten that ANC leaders were in Palestine in 1982 when then Israeli Defence minister, Ariel Sharon, gave the instruction to bomb Sabra and Shatila resulting in the death of thousands of civilians.

Had we not defeated apartheid, this year would have marked 69 years of oppression in the country. But, with mobilisation and international solidarity, the evil system of racial capitalism was toppled, and in 1994 we had our first democratic election.

As we celebrate democracy, Israel marks 69 years of its existence.

This year’s observance is likely to be marked by increased state security violence against demonstrators. In recent years people have been killed and scores wounded in the Gaza Strip, Golan Heights, Maroun al-Ras in Lebanon and the Israeli-occupied West Bank, as Palestinians marked the Nakba.

Many still remember the Nakba. Palestinian Ali Hamoudi was 8 years old in 1948 and he recalls the day: “I remember I had to hide with my family in a cave near my house for nine days. There were seven of us in the cave, and not much room to move around. We could hear the Israelis passing but they couldn’t see us because the cave was hidden.”

Nearly 800000 Palestinians were forced out of their homes and into refugee camps in Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Egypt and elsewhere. They never returned.

Most Palestinians have a personal narrative of loss - a relative killed, or a branch of the family that fled north while the others fled east, never to be reunited, or homes, offices, orchards and other property seized.The late intellectual, Edward Said, recalled how in 1948 his entire family was turned into a scattering of refugees.

“None of the older members of my family ever recovered from the trauma,” he wrote in one of his famous works, The Politics of Dispossession.

In South Africa we know and can understand the plight of the Palestinians. While Israel will be celebrating its 69th anniversary this year, Palestinians have nothing to celebrate. Just as pass laws restricted the movement of black South Africans, the movement of Palestinians, especially in the West Bank, continues to be restricted by check points, road blocks and a concrete wall. The apartheid wall means that a journey of 20 minutes takes 7 hours.

It cuts farmers from their land, children from their schools, mothers from medical services for their babies, and grand parents from their grandchildren - even apartheid South Africa’s Bantustans were not surrounded by gates.

In a UN report some years ago, Professor John Dugard said Israel was unwilling to learn from South Africa and observed that the human rights situation in the occupied territories continues to deteriorate.

Dugard made shocking parallels between Palestine and South Africa, saying that the “large-scale destruction of Palestinian homes, levelling of agricultural lands, military incursions and targeted assassinations of Palestinians far exceeded any similar practices in apartheid South Africa”.

Who can forget the attack on Gaza a few years ago? The area remains devastated and is often in darkness because Israel shuts them off. Just as the world remembered us in our dark days, so too should we remember the oppressed peoples of the world. Especially on a day like the Nakba or Catastrophe.

South Africans who can, should join the fast today in solidarity with Palestinians. Their tears are surely ours.

* Buccus is senior research associate at Aliwal Social Research Institute, research fellow in the School of Social Sciences at UKZN and academic director of a university study abroad programme on political transformation. He promotes #Reading Revolution via [email protected] at Antique Cafe in Morningside, Durban.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

The Sunday Independent