Solidarity with the people of Palestine
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By: Dr Lehlohonolo Kennedy Mahlatsi
The Israel Apartheid Week (IAW) is a tool for mobilising grassroots support on the global level for the Palestinian struggle for justice and to mobilise support for strategic boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaigns to help bring an end to the inhuman apartheid system.
This year it will be observed from the week of March 14 to March 21, to coincide with the South African Human Rights Day and the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.
The problem started on November 2, 1917, when Arthur James Balfour approved the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, effectively pledging Britain’s support for Jewish statehood, sovereignty, and control of immigration in the whole of Palestine.
The overwhelming Arab majority of the population who constituted around 94% at that time were not mentioned in the Balfour Declaration except in an oblique way as the “existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine.” They were described in terms of what they were not, and certainly not as a nation or a people—the words “Palestinian” and “Arab” do not appear in the sixty-seven words of the declaration.
This overwhelming majority of the population was promised only “civil and religious rights”. Balfour ascribed national rights to what he called “the Jewish people,” who in 1917 were a tiny minority — 6% —of the country’s inhabitants.
The Balfour Declaration of 1917 and Zionism paved the way for the mass immigration of Jews from all over the world to Palestine, and later the Nakba, the Catastrophe of 1948, when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were either killed or forced out of their homes to make way for the establishment of the State of Israel.
When the Nazis rose to power in Germany in 1933, they immediately persecuted and drove out the well-established Jewish community. With discriminatory immigration laws in place in the United States, the United Kingdom, and other countries, many German Jews had nowhere to go except Palestine.
In 1935 alone, more than 60 000 Jewish immigrants came to Palestine, a number greater than the entire Jewish population of the country in 1917. Most of these refugees, mainly from Germany but also from neighbouring countries where anti-Semitic persecution was intensifying.
Palestinians are a group defined primarily by national origin, based on family roots in historic Palestine, distinguishable from the broader Arab ‘nation’ of which it forms a part by reference to specific local customs and a strong affinity to the common homeland. The Palestinians emerge as a separate group by virtue of ethnic indicators including a distinct language and culture, as well as claims to self-determination and indigeneity in territory occupied by Israel.
Palestinians are of mixed religious composition, and thus, religion itself is not a defining feature of Palestinian identity, although it does impact directly upon identity politics in the region insofar as Israel excludes and discriminates against Palestinians on the basis of a constructed ‘non-Jewish’ identity. It is therefore disingenuous to suggest that the struggle for liberation in Palestine has something to do with religion.
Like the South African Struggle, it is the struggle against the barbaric system of apartheid, colonialism and land dispossession. Our own Struggle in South Africa, in the words of the former President Mandela, is incomplete without the liberation of Palestine.
In his report to the UN General Assembly, Professor John Dugard stated that the international community had identified three regimes as inimical to human rights, namely: colonialism, apartheid and foreign occupation.
At the same time, elements of the occupation constitute forms of colonialism and of apartheid, which are contrary to international law. Israel has violated a number of rights proclaimed in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Right and International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
Israel has, in addition, violated the most fundamental rules of international humanitarian law, which constitute war crimes Geneva Convention and its Additional Protocol. These include direct attacks against civilians and civilian objects and attacks which fail to distinguish between military targets and civilians and civilian objects.
In March 2012, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, the Committee declared itself particularly appalled at the hermetic character of the separation between Jewish and Palestinian populations in the occupied Palestinian territory and urged Israel to prohibit and eradicate policies or practices of racial segregation and apartheid that ‘severely and disproportionately affect the Palestinian population’.
On the basis of the systemic and institutionalised nature of the racial domination that exists, there are strong grounds to conclude that a system of apartheid has developed in the occupied Palestinian territory.
In 2017, the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), issued a report documenting Israel’s apartheid policies towards the Palestinian people and encouraging support for the grassroots boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement for Palestinian rights and freedom.
It is the first time any UN agency has established, through a scrupulous and rigorous study, that Israel has imposed an apartheid regime against the entire Palestinian people. The US and Israeli pressurised the UN Secretary General to disown the report. This prompted Dr Rima Khalaf of ESCWA to resign rather than succumbing to bullying stating: “I resigned because it is my duty not to conceal a clear crime, and I stand by all the conclusions of the report.”.
Israeli practices in the occupied territory are not only reminiscent of – and, in some cases, worse than – apartheid as it existed in South Africa. The international solidarity with the people of Palestine must be intensified on all fronts by the freedom and peace-loving people. The Struggle Continues.
Dr Lehlohonolo Kennedy Mahlatsi, SACP Free State PEC Member