Tutu Likens Israeli Actions to Apartheid
Published on Thursday, May 16, 2002 in the Toronto Star
Tutu Likens Israeli Actions to Apartheid
by Haroon Siddiqui

FOR YEARS, critics have compared Israeli policies in the occupied territories to the old South African apartheid system. Now more mainstream figures such as Zbigniew Brzezinski, the Canadian-born former U.S. National Security Adviser, and South African anti-apartheid stalwarts Bishop Desmond Tutu and author Breyten Breytenbach are drawing the parallel. Members of the 80,000-strong Jewish community in South Africa have joined the debate as well.

Not In My Name, a declaration written by two leading Jewish anti-apartheid activists, Ronnie Kasrils and Max Ozinksi, and signed by 220 Jews, acknowledges Israeli security concerns but, as reported in The Guardian newspaper, adds:

"It becomes difficult, from a South African perspective, not to draw parallels with the oppression expressed by Palestinians under the hand of Israel and the oppression experienced in South Africa under apartheid rule."

Breytenbach, considered the finest living poet of the Afrikaans language, was jailed under the Terrorism Act from 1975 to 1982, after which he wrote his prison classic The True Confessions of an Albino Terrorist. He now divides his time as professor at New York University and the University of Cape Town.

In March, he cancelled a PEN Canada lecture at the University of Toronto to go to the occupied territories as part of a delegation from the International Parliament of Writers. He has since written an open letter to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, entitled You Won't Break Them. Excerpts:

"As was the case with the South African regime, the methods by which you hope to subjugate the enemy consist of force and bloodshed and humiliation ...

"It is blatantly averred, again and again, that any criticism of Israel's policies is an expression of anti-Semitism. With that assertion the argument is supposed to be closed. Of course, I reject this attempt at censorship ...

"There can be no way to peace through the annihilation of the other, just as there is no paradise for the `martyr'...

"I recently visited the occupied territories for the first time. And yes, I'm afraid they can reasonably be described as resembling Bantustans, reminiscent of the ghettoes and controlled camps of misery one knew in South Africa. The few days I spent there left me with strong but conflicting impressions ...

"The inanity of your occupation all those lit-up detour roads built for the exclusive use of settlers and Israeli citizens. The surly pettiness of your controls at checkpoints, having little to do with security and everything with the primitive urge to humiliate, harass and drive to insane rage an occupied population.

"The extreme youth of your soldiers. The ruthlessness with which you destroy the Palestinian economy. The ancient revenge: bulldozing houses, destroying olive groves. The Berlin walls around your settlements in Gaza ... and then the rubble of destroyed Palestinian quarters looking like Ground Zero ...

"You have not broken the spirit of the Palestinian people. They are now more resolute than ever to build a state."

Nobel Laureate Bishop Tutu spoke last month at a conference in Boston. Excerpts:

"In our struggle against apartheid, the great supporters were Jews. They almost instinctively had to be on the side of the disenfranchised, of the voiceless, fighting injustice, oppression and evil ... I am patron of a Holocaust centre in South Africa. I believe Israel has a right to secure borders ...

"I have been very deeply distressed in my visit to the Holy Land; it reminded me so much of what happened to us blacks in South Africa. I have seen the humiliation of the Palestinians at checkpoints and roadblocks, suffering like us when young white police officers prevented us from moving about.

"On one of my visits to the Holy Land ... I thought of the desire of Israelis for security. But what of the Palestinians who have lost their land and homes? ...

"My heart aches. Why are our memories so short? Have our Jewish sisters and brothers forgotten their humiliation? Have they forgotten the collective punishment, the home demolitions, in their own history so soon? Have they turned their backs on their profound and noble religious traditions? Have they forgotten that God cares deeply about the downtrodden?

"Israel will never get true security and safety through oppressing another people. A true peace can ultimately be built only on justice. We condemn the violence of suicide bombers, and we condemn the corruption of young minds taught hatred; but we also condemn the violence of military incursions in the occupied lands, and the inhumanity that won't let ambulances reach the injured. The military action of recent days, I predict with certainty, will not provide the security and peace Israelis want; it will only intensify the hatred ...

"The Israeli government is placed on a pedestal, and to criticize it is to be immediately dubbed anti-Semitic, as if the Palestinians were not Semitic. I am not even anti-white, despite the madness of that group ... people are scared in this country (the U.S.) to say wrong is wrong because the Jewish lobby is powerful, very powerful. Well, so what? For goodness sake, this is God's world! We live in a moral universe."

These assertions have not gone unchallenged, the chief argument against them being that Israelis are not motivated by racial superiority but by fear. Yet criticism of the Sharon government's policies by men of the moral stature of Bishop Tutu, and by an influential segment of the Jewish community in South Africa, are not easily ignored either.

Haroon Siddiqui is The Star's editorial page editor emeritus. His column appears Thursday and Sunday.

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