This year Palestinians observe more than six decades of occupation, dispossession and oppression, says Imraan Buccus.
Johannesburg - Just 16 days after he was released from prison, Nelson Mandela met with Yasser Arafat in Lusaka. At Lusaka Airport, Mandela embraced Arafat and reiterated his support for the Palestinian struggle, telling the media: “I believe that there are many similarities between our struggle and that of the people of Palestine.”
Eight months later, during his three-day visit to Australia in October 1990, Mandela reiterated his support for the Palestinian struggle, saying: “We identify with them (the Palestinians) because we do not believe it is right for the Israeli government to suppress basic human rights in the conquered territories. We agree with the United Nations that international disputes should be settled by peaceful means. The belligerent attitude which is adopted by the Israeli government is to us unacceptable.”
Nothing much seems to have changed since then as, yet again, mainly Palestinian civilians are being subjected to a brutal military assault. The death toll in the current conflict is nearing 300 and at least 30 percent of the victims are women and children. It is no doubt time for Israel to realise that a military solution cannot solve a problem of invasion and land theft. Beyond a ceasefire, we need political will for a political solution on both sides. And a ceasefire arrangement that doesn’t include Hamas and is led by Egypt, a country hell-bent on liquidating Hamas, complicates things too. It seems certain that Hamas will agree to a ceasefire that’s not dictated to it, and that meets some of its demands like the international monitoring of the Rafah border and the release of political prisoners.
And perhaps South Africans understand the oppression in Palestine more than others. Had we not defeated apartheid, this year would have marked 66 years of oppression in South Africa. But, with incredible mobilisation and international solidarity, the evil system was defeated. And today, despite our problems, we are able to live in a democratic order.
But Israel continues to brutalise Palestinians 66 years into its existence. This year Palestinians observe more than six decades of occupation, dispossession and oppression – referred to as the Nakba or catastrophe, the day of forced removals in Palestine. The situation in Gaza today has its roots in the Nakba and many still remember the day it started.
One Palestinian, Ali Hamoudi, was 8 in 1948 and he painfully 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 there was not much room to move around.
“We could hear the Israelis passing by, but they could not see us because the cave is well hidden.”
There was large-scale intimidation and siege, setting fires to Palestinian homes, planting mines, destroying more than 500 villages, and exercising other terrorist activities. In the end, nearly 800 000 Palestinians were forced out of their homes and into refugee camps in Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Egypt and elsewhere. These refugees haven’t returned home.
Palestinians continue to 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. That cogent and eloquent defender of the Palestinians, the late intellectual Edward Said, also 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 The Politics of Dispossession.
And 16 years ago Said commented on the “Israel at 50” celebrations: “I still find myself astonished at the lengths to which official Israel and its supporters will go to suppress the fact that a half century has gone by without Israeli restitution, recognition or acknowledgment of Palestinian human rights… the Palestinian Nakba is characterised as a semi-fictional event… caused by no one in particular.”
Just as pass laws restricted the movement of black South Africans, the movement of Palestinians continues to be restricted by checkpoints, roadblocks and a concrete wall. The apartheid wall cuts farmers from their land, children from their schools, mothers from medical services for their babies, and grandparents from their grandchildren – even apartheid South Africa’s bantustans were not surrounded by gates.
In a UN report some years ago, Professor John Dugard made shocking parallels between the situation in 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 exceed any similar practices in apartheid South Africa”.
Today, the levels of oppression and brutalisation of Palestinians continues. Who can ever forget the attack on Gaza in 2009 and 2012, and the ongoing attack now?
Just as the world remembered us in our dark days, so too should we remember the oppressed peoples of the world.
* Imraan Buccus is research fellow in the School of Social Sciences at UKZN and academic director of a study abroad programme on political transformation.’
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.