Activism

What Palestinians can learn from South African anti-apartheid struggle

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The current situation in Occupied Palestine has been well-documented elsewhere. The statistics show higher levels of Palestinian deaths, disabilities, home demolitions and poverty than at any other time since the dispossession of Palestinians in 1948. The international siege against the Palestinians of Gaza following the democratic election in January 2006 has led to an almost total collapse of all economic activity.

At the same time, there is an internal crisis of political leadership, with the Palestinian factions being unable to agree to the terms of a unity government. This has left Palestinian civil society divided at a time when it is imperative that Palestinians show unity against the Israeli occupation. This is why we believe that the example of South Africa has a role to play in Palestine today.

Not only can we learn about Israel by examining apartheid in South Africa, but we can also help to take the Palestinian cause forward by learning from the South African anti-apartheid struggle, the manner in which it framed its objectives and the strategies and tactics that it used. Particularly, the successful campaign by the South African liberation forces in the isolation of the South African apartheid state is an experience we can examine and then adopt from and employ whatever might be useful in the new apartheid context.

Learning from the South African Struggle

The South African struggle against apartheid, it is generally understood, was based on “four pillars”. These were:

  1. International solidarity and international isolation of the apartheid state;
  2. The internal resistance;
  3. The armed struggle; and
  4. The underground movement.

It is also generally accepted that the first two of these pillars were the most significant and effective in bringing about an end to the brutal and racist apartheid state.

There are a number of socio-economic differences between the apartheid context in Palestine and apartheid South Africa and these need to be seriously considered by Palestinian activists. Nevertheless, a Palestinian campaign for the isolation of the apartheid state of Israel needs to be given careful focus in order that it becomes an important “pillar” in the Palestinian struggle for self-determination and dignity as a people. In the South African context this campaign included a number of focus areas. These included:

  • Military sanctions against the apartheid state;
  • Political and diplomatic isolation;
  • Economic sanctions;
  • An academic boycott; and
  • A cultural and sporting boycott.

After almost complete isolation through all of the above (together with the internal resistance within South Africa), the South African apartheid regime was finally forced to make certain compromises and the world saw the unbanning of the various liberation movements and the beginning of the negotiations that led to South Africa’s first democratic election and the beginning of the attempt to realise “one person, one vote in a non-racial, non-sexist democratic South Africa”.

All of the above as focus areas are up for consideration in the struggle to isolate apartheid Israel. They need to be examined in terms of their efficacy in the South African struggle and adapted to be used in the Palestinian struggle. Each one of the above will require detailed programmes of action; will have to be resourced with information, material, propaganda and activists; and will need to have its own structures to take it forward in a coordinated and effective manner.

Gaza-based BDS group

The question is how to keep up the fight against this form of oppression? What is there to learn from the anti-apartheid struggle?

Our BDS experience is a good. We are part of  this global campaign, which is Palestinian-led, and fighting for freedom, justice and equality

Our local BDS group is made up of individuals from across Palestinian society and includes academics, university students, documentary film-makers, medical doctors and political activists from across the political spectrum. It is a branch of the Boycott National Committee (BNC), the broadest Palestinian civil society coalition that works to lead and support the BDS movement. Our group was formed to spearhead activities in the Gaza Strip. It is not directly linked to any political organisation, but is instead, rooted in civil society.

It, therefore, welcomes membership from all political factions but views itself as a broad-based Palestinian civil society movement whose raison d’etre is to isolate the state of Israel in the manner of the Anti-Apartheid Movement against Apartheid South Africa.

That is why we have been conducting an ongoing campaign to raise awareness about the importance of the boycott of Israel as a means of weakening the state of Israel. The campaign takes the view that the boycott of Israel is a struggle in which every Palestinian can take part and aims to highlight the ways in which this can be done.

As part of the BDS campaign, we aim to coordinate with, and lobby, international, Arab and Islamic solidarity movements and boycott campaigns to strengthen the movement against apartheid Israel.

Over the few years of its existence, the Gaza-based BDS group has engaged in some of the following activities:

  • Met with several Gaza and West Bank-based NGO’s and civil society organisations
  • Initiated public lectures, in which activists, researchers and politicians discuss the rationale for a boycott of Israel and how Palestinians can participate.
  • Screened documentaries in schools, universities and clubs about the international campaigns to isolate Israel in an attempt to raise an internationalist consciousness in Palestine
  • Published articles and research in journals and magazines on the topic.
  • Lobbied the universities and other organisations to support the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel.
  • Built links with Palestinian organisations in the West Bank, 48 Palestine and in the Diaspora
  • Organized Israeli Apartheid Week activities
  • Lobbied Legislative Council members to support BDS
  • Participated online in numerous activities with international solidarity groups
  • Organized concerts in support of cultural boycott

We believe that THE cause behind Israel’s “incremental genocide”—as Ilan Pappe calls it—of the Palestinians of Gaza is the fact that they are not born to Jewish mothers! But we are also certain, not unlike the South Africa of the late 1980’s, that this is the darkest hour that is just before the dawn of freedom, justice and equality.

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… The South African struggle against apartheid, it is generally understood, was based on “four pillars”. These were: 1.International solidarity and international isolation of the apartheid state … That may be the toughest pillar for Palestinians to build given the political and financial power and influence wielded by Jewish and non-Jewish Zionists. … The Gaza Strip is the most densely populated place Earth. … I did a quick google of this claim and couldn’t find… Read more »

I will wait and see what any Palestinian has to say about this article. I agree, the Palestinians are not presenting a united front. US/Israel did an effective job of dividing HAMAS and Abbas. There’s no effective financial counter to AIPAC matrix donor group, nor to single-minded individual Israel First donors like Haim Saban and Sheldon Adelson. Also, the struggle against apartheid South Africa gained serious support (belatedly) in the US because of white guilt… Read more »

Professor Eid says that international opposition and solidarity and internal resistance; were more important than armed struggle; and the underground movement. I’m not so certain. From late 1987 June of 1988 South Africa fought pitched tank and artillery battles at division-level strength against the Angolan revolutionaries and their Cuban reinforcements. The South Africans sustained heavy casualties and their command structure was almost entirely broken. The Angolan army and Cuban volunteers were able to occupy land… Read more »

So it’s the same old thing. The Palestinian leadership is divided so, first, let’s rev the engines against Israel. But that leadership isn’t divided. It accurately mirrors the Palestinian national deficiency. Apart from embracing the Palestinian brand name and reviling Israel, there’s little to find. And second, let’s weep for the Gaza Strip. It is indeed a distressing place but what, the most densely populated place on earth? Say again? Any built up area of… Read more »

To me, the biggest lesson of South African “victory” over apartheid is that control of the political system without control of the economic system is a hollow victory. The local white oligarchs and the western transnational corporations still run the place and the majority of people are still poor or poorer. Black figureheads no cause for celebration as neoliberalism marches on.