Tutu: Issue is the same in Palestine as it was in South Africa, ‘equality’

on 131 Comments

A letter from Desmond Tutu to the divestment-sponsors at the University of California, circulated by Emily Schaeffer, human right lawyer in Israel/Palestine, who asked Archbishop Tutu to write the letter.

Dear Student Leaders at the University of California – Berkeley

It was with great joy that I learned of your recent 16-4 vote in support of divesting your university’s money from companies that enable and profit from the injustice of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land and violation of Palestinian human rights. Principled stands like this, supported by a fast growing number of US civil society organizations and people of conscience, including prominent Jewish groups, are essential for a better world in the making, and it is always an inspiration when young people lead the way and speak truth to power.

I am writing to tell you that, despite what detractors may allege, you are doing the right thing. You are doing the moral thing. You are doing that which is incumbent on you as humans who believe that all people have dignity and rights, and that all those being denied their dignity and rights deserve the solidarity of their fellow human beings. 

I have been to the Ocupied Palestinian Territory, and I have witnessed the racially segregated roads and housing that reminded me so much of the conditions we experienced in South Africa under the racist system of Apartheid. I have witnessed the humiliation of Palestinian men, women, and children made to wait hours at Israeli military checkpoints routinely when trying to make the most basic of trips to visit relatives or attend school or college, and this humiliation is familiar to me and the many black South Africans who were corralled and regularly insulted by the security forces of the Apartheid government.

In South Africa, we could not have achieved our freedom and just peace without the help of people around the world, who through the use of non-violent means, such as boycotts and divestment, encouraged their governments and other corporate actors to reverse decades-long support for the Apartheid regime.

Students played a leading role in that struggle, and I write this letter with a special indebtedness to your school, Berkeley, for its pioneering role in advocating equality in South Africa and promoting corporate ethical and social responsibility to end complicity in Apartheid. I visited your campus in the 1980’s and was touched to find students sitting out in the baking sunshine to demonstrate for the University’s disvestment in companies supporting the South African regime.

The same issue of equality is what motivates the divestment movement of today, which tries to end Israel’s 43 year long occupation and the unequal treatment of the Palestinian people by the Israeli government ruling over them. The abuses they face are real, and no person should be offended by principled, morally consistent, non-violent acts to oppose them. It is no more wrong to call out Israel in particular for its abuses than it was to call out the Apartheid regime in particular for its abuses. 

To those who wrongly accuse you of unfairness or harm done to them by this call for divestment, I suggest, with humility, that the harm suffered from being confronted with opinions that challenge one’s own pales in comparison to the harm done by living a life under occupation and daily denial of basic rights and dignity. It is not with rancor that we criticize the Israeli government, but with hope, a hope that a better future can be made for both Israelis and Palestinians, a future in which both the violence of the occupier and the resulting violent resistance of the occupied come to an end, and where one people need not rule over another, engendering suffering, humiliation, and retaliation. True peace must be anchored in justice and an unwavering commitment to universal rights for all humans, regardless of ethnicity, religion, gender, national origin or any other identity attribute. You, students, are helping to pave that path to a just peace.

I heartily endorse your divestment vote and encourage you to stand firm on the side of what is right,

God bless you richly,

Desmon/d Tutu. Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town.

About Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is Founder and Co-Editor of Mondoweiss.net.

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131 Responses

  1. Sherri Munnerlyn
    October 29, 2011, 12:14 am

    I know this is a really old thread to add a comment to, but I found myself here as I was looking for a good statement defining what the BDS Movement really is, to address some comments of posters on a discussion board on Beliefnet who have extremely negative ideas about BDS. Desmond Tutu’s letter to the students of Berkeley addresses what BDS is, and it is written by a man who experienced firsthand Apartheid situations himself, in South Africa. It is a very personal letter. I tried to use this letter and quote his words and I was censored, once, then twice. I think there is too much truth in his words for some to face.

    I found each time I was challenged to restate what he was saying, and not being allowed to quote him because of censors, I found myself understanding more of what he was saying and getting more out of his words and doing a better job of getting to the essence of his words in that letter.

    I want to share here my statement of what he is saying in that letter and what I said about BDS, when I was challenged to put his letter into my own words.

    What else did Desmond Tutu say in the letter he wrote to the students at Berkeley, that I did not discuss in my last post, that is so important to addressing the true nature of BDS?

    Desmond Tutu has been to the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and he tells the students he has been there and he tells them what he has witnessed in the OPT, which is racially segregated roads and housing that reminds him so much of the same conditions he had experienced personally before in South Africa under the racist system of Apartheid in South Africa that he lived under there.

    He tells the students of Berkeley that he has witnessed the humiliation of the Palestinian people, the humiliation of men, women, and children made to wait routinely at Israeli checkpoints for hours trying to just make basic trips, to visit relatives, to attend schools, to attend colleges , and he tells them that that humiliation is familiar to him, too, as well as many black South Africans under Apartheid in South Africa, who were regularly corralled, and who were regularly insulted by Apartheid South African security forces.

    He tells the students of Berkeley that in South Africa, without the help of the global international community, they would never have achieved freedom from Apartheid and they never would have achieved a just peace.

    And that right there is why BDS is so important today, why people of conscience everywhere should embrace it, so that the people of Palestine can be freed from their Occupation and their own Apartheid situation. BDS freed South Africa from Apartheid, and it will free Palestine of Apartheid.

    Desmond Tutu addresses in his letter to the students of Berkeley, the nature of BDS, it is using non violent means, such as boycotts and divestments, to encourage corporations and governments to withdraw their support from the Apartheid regime.

    BDS is people of conscience all over our world joining together, in solidarity, and using and embracing nonviolent methods to bring to an end an unjust Occupation of men, women, and children in Palestine.

    And the global community will never stop morally embracing BDS and standing against the Occupation until it ceases and all people in Palestine are free.

  2. Sherri Munnerlyn
    October 29, 2011, 2:16 am

    My fifth attempt to discuss this letter to Berkeley students, by Desmond Tutu, on a Beliefnet discussion board, that I shared in my last post, was also censored , leaving me seriously wondering whether it is even worth it anymore to keep trying to talk to people with that mentality on a discussion board. BDS has been labelled genocide and that is considered acceptable by Moderators. Defense of BDS is censored. Discussing the hate of illegal settlers who viciously attack Israeli activists is labelled hate speech and is censored. Using the word Juhadists is engaging in hate speech, to refer to attacking settlers with their covered faces, to hide their identities as they terrorize. How does one respond to this? Do we walk away and just leave them to wallow in their extremism and hate and prejudice and bigotry? They are mostly Zionists, Jewish Zionists and Christian Zionists.

    • annie
      October 29, 2011, 2:23 am

      Defense of BDS is censored. Discussing the hate of illegal settlers who viciously attack Israeli activists is labelled hate speech and is censored.

      sherri, i would start posting elsewherw.

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