South Africans have a duty to help end apartheid in Palestine
SALEH HIJAZE Hijazi is the Africa Campaigner at the The Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee.
African News Agency
ON THE western edge of the city Ramallah in occupied Palestine where I live stands the largest statue of Nelson Mandela outside South Africa. I pass by it every day going back and forth between the city centre and my home. It is something I am very proud to have in my city and which, among other things, provides me with an opportunity to educate my young children about injustice and the strength of human will to overcome it. Out of this my two kids have developed a tradition that whenever we pass by the Mandela statue they raise their clenched fists and shout “HI MADIBA”. It fills me with love and hope every time. Every now and then the Israeli army blocks the inner-city road that passes by Mandela Square to allow illegal settlers from surrounding colonies to come and prepare for taking over a piece of land. And just like that, in a minute, the life of the city is put on hold and inflicted with colonial violence. No one is allowed to travel, walk, or picnic. All at once the city's breathing space is suffocated with tear gas and the sounds of bullets and grenades shot at the youth who come out to protest against the closure and invasion. The little freedom that barely exists under Israel's settler-colonial regime, in that space with Mandela symbolically in it, is now arrested by apartheid, again. Three-quarters of a century since the Nakba, the Zionist massacres and ethnic cleansing that have resulted in the forced expulsion of hundreds of thousands of indigenous Palestinians, the process of colonial replacement still continues. Today, there are about 14 million Palestinians. Half are forced to remain in exile, living in refugee camps or in the diaspora, prevented by the Zionist settler-colonial regime from returning to their homes. The other half live under a brutal system of racial oppression and colonial domination that treats them as an inferior racial group that must be eliminated from the land. This half of Palestinians living under Israel's settler-colonialism today face perhaps the most severe escalation of apartheid with a far-right Israeli government that is the most racist and fundamentalist ever. It is at these times that the true meaning of the Mandela statue in Ramallah becomes clear. It is a testimonial to South Africa's triumph over a grave injustice that Palestinians still suffer daily. It is an embodiment of Madiba's famous and crucial statement in 1997 that South Africa's “freedom is incomplete without the freedom of Palestinians”. So, while it is a reminder for Palestinians of what is possible, it is a reminder to South Africans of what must be done. Locally, South Africans must ensure that their state, their corporations, and their institutions are not complicit in Israel's apartheid. Israel still enjoys diplomatic, trade, cultural, sports, and academic relations with South Africa. Internationally, the apartheid-free South Africa must take a leading role in isolating apartheid everywhere, including against Palestinians, and holding Israel accountable. Now, as we commemorate 75 years of Nakba – and apartheid – in Palestine is the time to take concrete action and respond to the historic Palestinian call for a global front to dismantle Israel's settler-colonialism and apartheid. A global grassroots anti-apartheid movement is emerging, and just like at the time of apartheid in South Africa, it requires states to also act according to their legal responsibility to abolish apartheid anywhere it may exist. The statue of Mandela in Ramallah allows me to tell my children the story of what happened in South Africa, and what I hope will also happen in Palestine. I want that when my children grow up it will tell a different story. A story of how South Africans not only ended apartheid at home, but helped us Palestinians end it in ours.