BUILD MORAL PRESSURE TO END THE ISRAELI OCCUPATION
By Desmond Tutu
Archbishop Desmond Tutu, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984
for his work against apartheid. This article was written in collaboration
with Ian Urbina, associate editor of the Middle East Report.
WASHINGTON -- The end of apartheid stands as one of the crowning accomplishments
of the last century, but we would not have succeeded without the help
of international pressure. There is no greater testament to the basic
dignity of ordinary people everywhere than the divestment movement of
A similar movement is taking shape, this time aiming at an end to the
Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories. We should hope that average
citizens again rise to the occasion, since the obstacles to a renewed
movement are surpassed only by its moral urgency.
Divestment from apartheid South Africa was fought at the grass roots.
Religious leaders informed their followers, union members pressured their
stockholders, and consumers questioned their store owners. Students played
an especially important role by compelling universities to change their
portfolios. Eventually, institutions pulled the financial plug, and the
South African government thought twice about its policies.
Moral and financial pressure is again being mustered one person at a time.
In the United States, students at more than 40 campuses are demanding
a review of university investments. Europe faces efforts ranging from
consumer boycotts to arms embargoes.
These tactics are not the only parallels to the
struggle against apartheid South Africa. Yesterday's township dwellers
can tell you about today's life in the occupied territories. To travel
only a few blocks in his own homeland, an elderly grandfather waits to
beg for the whim of a teenage soldier. More than an emergency is required
to get to a hospital; less than a crime earns a trip to jail.
The lucky ones have a permit to leave their squalor to work in the cities,
but luck runs out when security closes all checkpoints, paralyzing an
entire people. The indignities, dependence and anger are all too familiar.
I am not the first South African to recognize the chilly reminder of what
we just left.
Ronnie Kasrils and Max Ozinsky, two Jewish heroes of the anti-apartheid
struggle, recently published a letter titled ''Not in My Name.'' Signed
by several hundred other prominent Jewish South Africans, the letter drew
an explicit analogy between apartheid and current Israeli policies.
The writer Mark Mathabane and former President Nelson Mandela have also
pointed out the relevance of the South African experience to the current
To criticize the occupation is not to overlook Israel's unique strengths,
just as protesting the Vietnam War did not imply ignoring the distinct
freedoms and humanitarian accomplishments of the United States. In a region
where repressive governments and unjust policies are the norm, Israel
is certainly more democratic than most of its neighbors. This does not
make dismantling the settlements any less of a priority.
Divestment from apartheid South Africa was certainly no less justified,
even though there was repression elsewhere on the African continent. Aggression
is no more palatable at the hands of a democratic power. Territorial ambition
is equally illegal whether it occurs in slow motion, as with the Israeli
settlers in the occupied territories, or in blitzkrieg fashion, as with
the Iraqi tanks in Kuwait.
Almost instinctively, the Jewish people have always been on the side of
the voiceless. In their history, there is painful memory of massive round-ups,
house demolitions and collective punishment. In their scripture, there
is acute empathy for the disenfranchised. The occupation represents a
dangerous and selective amnesia of the persecution from which these traditions
Not everyone has forgotten, including some within the military. The growing
Israeli refusenik movement evokes the small anti-conscription drive that
helped turn the tide in apartheid South Africa. Several hundred decorated
Israeli officers have refused to perform military service in the occupied
territories. Those individuals not already in prison have taken their
message on the road to U.S. synagogues and campuses, rightly arguing that
Israel needs security, but it will never have it as an occupying power.
More than 35 new settlements have been constructed this year. Each one
is a step away from the safety deserved by the Israelis, and two steps
away from the justice owed to the Palestinians.
If apartheid ended, so can the occupation, but the moral force and international
pressure will have to be just as determined. The current divestment effort
is the first, though certainly not the only, necessary move in that direction.
(c) 2002, Nobel Laureates. Middle East Report/Distributed by Los Angeles
Times Syndicate International, a division of Tribune Media Services.
For immediate release (Distributed 6/14/02)
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