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By Dr Lehlohonolo Kennedy Mahlatsi

Each year, Israeli Apartheid Week takes place across the world. It aims to raise awareness about Israel’s ongoing settler-colonial project, Israel’s apartheid policies, and to build support for the growing campaign of Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel.

The protracted occupation of Palestine must be located within the context of expansion which is at the heart of capitalism and is the imperative for the accumulation of capital. The role of imperialism has always been, inter alia; -to preserve the interests of the American, British and French oil millionaires; to overthrow progressive governments, to secure the territorial aggrandisement of Israel and the return to colonialism-or ruthless expropriation of Arab populations.

In the 1950s and 1960s the imperialist powers, particularly the USA and West Germany, launched a new assault on the national liberation struggle. The renewed imperialist penetration into Africa required large infusions of capital, but because of the general distrust towards the US and West Germany, who were thoroughly discredited in Africa, Israel was employed as a conduit or intermediary for such penetration. Many Israeli firms have been doing business in Africa, many of them financed by US and Western European corporations.

The existing ‘non-Jewish communities’ were the Palestinians. They constituted 94% of the population and were not consulted when their land was given away. This was a typically colonial British act of the time. Balfour declaration has laid a foundation for the establishment of apartheid Israel. The two-state solution which was endorsed for the past 30 years has become increasingly impossible with every passing day. As long as the state of Israel continues to be celebrated and rewarded, rather than held accountable to universal standards for its continued violation of international law, it will have no incentive to end the occupation.

Every year Palestinians mark the Nakba when in 1948 around 750,000 Palestinians were forcibly expelled from their homes during the creation of the state of Israel. Five-hundred villages were destroyed in a premeditated campaign, and their inhabitants never allowed to return. Zionist militias, who later became the “Israel Defence Forces” (IDF), committed massacres in the villages of Deir Yassin, Lydda, Tantura and dozens of other Palestinian communities.

The Nakba (Arabic for ‘catastrophe’) refers to the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians and destruction of Palestinian communities that took place with the establishment of the State of Israel on 15 May 1948. The Nakba came just thirty years after the Balfour Declaration. The overriding reason for the evacuation of hundreds of Palestinian villages in 1947-’48 was a combination of force and fear, something long maintained by Palestinian historians. Massacres by Zionist forces – of which there were at least two dozen – played a key role in fomenting terror amongst Palestinians. Deir Yassin, where 100-120 villagers were killed on April 9, 1948, is the most famous atrocity, but there were many others in al-Dawamiya, in October 1948, more than 100 villagers – men, women, and children – were killed.

There is no formal definition of ethnic cleansing in international humanitarian law. The long-term goal of a “policy of ethnic cleansing” can be defined as “the creation of living conditions that make the return of the displaced community impossible.” The first formal move towards the recognition of a right of return was in UN General Assembly Resolution 194 passed on 11 December 1948 which provided (Article 11):

“Resolves that the refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or in equity, should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible.”

Palestinians also refer to an ‘ongoing Nakba’, in the sense that Israeli policies of forced displacement and colonization have continued, and even expanded, over the decades. During the 1967 Israeli conquest of the Gaza Strip and West Bank, for example, some 300,000 Palestinians fled or were expelled. Of those who left the West Bank, less than 8 per cent were allowed by Israel to return. It is in the psyche of every Palestinian that the Right of Return is a sacred right and that there can be no peace without it. It is also a basic right derived from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and all international and regional covenants. It is an individual right derived from the Principle of Self-Determination. It has no statute of limitation and cannot be extinguished by a treaty or the establishment of a state.

UN Resolution 194 has been repeatedly confirmed by the international community in the last 50 years. The Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee (BNC) calls on people of conscience the world over to further intensify Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaigns to end academic, cultural, sports, military and economic links of complicity with Israel’s regime of occupation, settle-colonialism and apartheid. This is the most effective means of standing with the Palestinian people in pursuing their inherent and UN-stipulated rights, and nonviolently resisting the ongoing, intensifying Nakba.

It is important to understand the similarities between the Apartheid Israel and Apartheid South Africa. In May 1948, the state of “Israel” was formed. The establishment of Israel required the destruction of Palestine. The majority of the Palestine people were forcefully expelled from their land by the fascist forces of Zionism. Geographically, the small country of Palestine was broken into pieces, the largest of which became Israel, or rather Occupied Palestine. The Palestine masses have since been involved in a struggle to assert their self-respect and basic human dignity as a people, and to return to their homeland.

One of the founders of racism described it as a movement of “a people without land” in search of “a land without people”. Like their settler colonialist counterparts that came to South Africa, Zionists also claimed that they found the land unrehabilitated. Despite the many differences in the nature of these two societies, their histories and their economies, factors binding apartheid regimes of South Africa and Israel together were no secret. The minority governments of both countries found a common purpose in the suppression of the dispossessed majority. In Israel, it was the Palestinians who had been the majority until driven from their land, when most were herded into territorial enclaves or into neighbouring territories.

They were confined to refugee camps, without security, and without meaningful existence. In South Africa the discrimination on grounds of ethnicity was more blatant and more complex. The Africans, indigenous to the country; the Coloureds, mostly the offspring of settlers; and the Indians, who had been brought into the country as indentured labourers, were all stripped of political rights — their political organizations mostly banned — and herded into urban or rural ghettoes. The brutal massacre of the unarmed Palestine children is not different from the brutal murder of innocent children in Soweto in 1976 and many parts of our country.

The struggle for national liberation in the Middle East and Southern Africa have so much in common that it is only natural for the peoples waging these struggles to join their hands in their efforts. The commonness of these struggles derives not only from the identity of the principles they fight to assert, but also from the similarities, in character, of the regimes they were ranged against – Zionist Israel and apartheid South Africa.

Like the apartheid regime in South Africa, the origins of the Zionist state of Israel is linked to the British imperial history of colonial expansion. In the early part of the 20th century, Britain was interested in securing the two principal routes of access to its domains in the Far East. It was however impossible to do this without controlling the two strategic points along these routes; the Cape of Good Hope at the southern tip of the African continent and the Suez Canal and other routes in the Arab East. It was thus not a coincidence that Britain later became the ruling colonial power in these regions.

General Jan Smuts, then a member of the British Imperial cabinet and Prime Minister of South Africa, played a significant role in the formulation of both the South Africa Union Act and the Balfour Declaration, At the United Nations, Smuts argued very strongly for the partition of Palestine and the establishment of a “Jewish homeland,” It was thus not surprising that South Africa was among the first countries to recognise the state of Israel in 1948.

There have always been the links between the counter-revolutionary and anti-communist efforts of Israel and the United States in Africa. A similar arrangement existed between the US and South Africa. South Africa and Israel by virtue of their geo-political positions, played similar roles, within their respective regions, in the world imperialist strategy. Both had a fair share in the military and intelligence activities against revolutionaries and progressive countries. In fulfilment of its surrogate role, South Africa has carried out subversive activities aimed at destabilising established governments in Southern Africa. It has intervened in various ways, including military actions in the affairs of these states. However, despite the difficulties which they have had to bear as a result of these barbarous invasions, the Angolan people and their government were as hard as a rock in their resolve to support the struggle for national liberation in South Africa and Namibia.

Last year 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. Instead of engaging the report, US and Israeli resorted to their bullying tactics and pressurised the UN Secretary General to disown the report. This prompted Dr. Rima Khalaf of ESCWA to resign rather than succumbing to bullying by US-Israel axis stating: “I resigned because it is my duty not to conceal a clear crime, and I stand by all the conclusions of the report.” Israel and its apologists seek to deny the historical record, obfuscate what is happening on the ground today, and undermine strategies for change. By contrast, understanding events in Palestine, past and present, as a form of anachronic settler colonialism and apartheid, brings context, clarity, and a course of action.

One of the most disturbing aspects of the chauvinist Zionist attitude is its complete disregard, in its sick national egocentrism, not only for the Arab populations of North Africa and West Asia, but also for the whole of the rest of humanity and the cause of world peace. The International Solidarity with the struggling masses of Palestine is gaining momentum. This struggle must be intensified until the people of Palestine are free. South Africa has experienced the demon of apartheid and colonialism. We must play a leading role in pledging solidarity with the oppressed masses of Palestine. The downgrading of Israel embassy by our government is long overdue. Our freedom, in the words of Cde Nelson Mandela, is meaningless without the liberation of Palestine.

Dr Lehlohonolo Kennedy Mahlatsi is an SACP Free State PEC Member and ANC Member. He writes in a personal capacity


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  1. What I detest most about the position of orthodox and conservative Jews regarding the issue of Palestine is their readiness to identify any criticism of the Israeli state’s repressive and aggressive policies and actions as being anti-Semitic . This is very difficult to understand given that the Jewish people were themselves victims of the holocaust . One would expect that they , of all peoples , would be sensitive to issues of racial and national oppression . The people who , at least in terms of the Judeo-Christian tradition , were the first to know God , are the very same ones who have brought untold suffering to generations of the peoples of Palestine.

  2. Thank you very much Cde Kennedy. I interviewed, some years ago, the son of one of the Israeli Generals who had penetrated some of the injustices you write about. He served in the war but later joined the movement that sought peace with the PLO. His son Miko Peled, also joined the Israeli army but ended up joining those who seek peace in the Israeli/Palestine war. His niece was killed in the suicide bomb.

    You’ve just reminded me of a book he wrote, The General’s Son. The heart wrenching stories of Palestinian removals are very much similar to those of South Africans. Many similarities between the two countries in fact. I read a lot of books thanks to my close relationship with BDS SA at the time and it opened my eyes to similarities in traditions, culture and history. We share much with the Palestinians.

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