Cape Town. 131027. Ahmed Kathrada pictured with Kweedie Mkalipi(ex prisoner) in Nelson Mandelas cell. Ahmed Kathrada at the launch of the International Campaign for the Freedom of Marwan Barghouti and all Palestinian Prisoners held on Robben Island. Reporter Michelle Jones. Picture COURTNEY AFRICA

Cape Town - A campaign has been launched for the release of all Palestinian political prisoners, including Marwan Barghouthi, who has become the symbol of the struggle against Israeli occupation.

At the event, held on Robben Island, an international high-level support committee, whose members include five Nobel Peace laureates - among them Anglican Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu - was announced.

The committee called, and pledged to act, for the release of Barghouthi and all Palestinian prisoners.

Barghouthi’s wife, Fadwa, and former Robben Island political prisoner Ahmed Kathrada visited Nelson Mandela’s cell to mark the launch of the International Campaign for the freedom of Marwan Barghouthi and All Political Prisoners.

“This is the beginning of a campaign which we hope and pray… will surpass the Release Mandela campaign. The Release Mandela campaign didn’t just come from nowhere,” said Kathrada.

He spoke of the widespread international support the campaign gained.

“Apartheid South Africa was isolated more and more, not so much by government, but by civil society… (and) that helped a great deal to strengthen our Struggle.

“Just as apartheid South Africa was isolated, we want Israel to be isolated from the civil world. That is what we aim to do.”

Kathrada visited the Palestinian territory earlier this year and had found a colony under Israeli rule.

“When we were in Palestine for a week we managed to see what colonialism means. In some ways it was worse than apartheid.

“Under the worst days of apartheid we didn’t have a road that said ‘For whites only’. We didn’t have a wall as Israel has surrounding Palestine. We didn’t have checkpoints at every corner with machine guns.”

Fadwa Barghouthi called the event a “historic moment from a great place”.

Barghouthi, 54, was the first member of the Palestinian Legislative Council to be arrested by Israelis. He is among the most prominent of the more than 5 000 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. He has been in jail since 2002.

About 800 000 Palestinians - or 20 percent of the population and 40 percent of the men - have been imprisoned by Israel at least once.

Tutu was not at the event, but said, in a message from him that was read out: “I can think of no better place than Robben Island for the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation to launch this global call for justice in Palestine and Israel.

“Of course, when the world demanded Nelson Mandela’s freedom, it was also demanding the freedom of all his imprisoned colleagues. And it was demanding justice and democracy in South Africa.

“As it was in South Africa, so it is in Palestine.

“When we call for Marwan Barghouthi’s freedom, we are calling for the freedom of all political prisoners and resolution of all injustice in Palestine and Israel.”

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Cape Times