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The following article was sent to me by Australians for Palestine http://australiansforpalestine.com
Editor’s note: It is quite incredible how Western governments honour people like Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Tutu for their courage and determination in their monumental struggle to obtain freedom for their people in Apartheid South Africa, but when these same South Africans and many others call attention to Israel’s apartheid policies and practices against the Palestinians, they are ignored as if they have nothing to add from all their bitter experiences. No doubt the words of Reverend Allan Boesak below, who was one of the many speaking out against Apartheid South Africa, will also fall on deaf ears. However, if his moving words and deep understanding of the issues fail, then it is not because he doesn’t have the power to move, but that regrettably our politicians, “intellectuals”, journalists, and sad to say, even ordinary hard-working people have all become hostage to self-interest and privileged lifestyles and ambitions that leave no room for the oppressed and downtrodden anywhere, let alone in Palestine. Those of you who call yourselves Christian ought to seriously pause and reflect on what that actually means for you – going to church and saying prayers will not redeem you from your neglect of other human beings – but really religion shouldn’t be the issue at all. We are only what we are by an accident of birth: that is what should make us sensitive to every person on this planet regardless of beliefs and persuasions. No one knows when one day, we who are privileged now, may well find ourselves unable to climb out of the encroaching swamp without the helping hand of a passing stranger for whom hopefully compassion will have no boundaries.
INTERVIEW: Revd Allan Boesak calls Israeli apartheid “more terrifying” than South Africa ever was.
Dr Hanan Chehata interviews Revd Allan Boesak
MEMO – Middle East Monitor
17 November 2011
The Reverend Allan Aubrey Boesak is a veteran of the South African anti-apartheid struggle. He is the former president of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and is a signatory of the South African Christian response to the Kairos Palestine Document. This year he gave expert testimony at the Russell Tribunal on Palestine session in Cape Town, at which he spoke to MEMO’s Hanan Chahata.
Hanan Chahata: You were one of the signatories of the South African Christian response to the Kairos Palestine Document. In this you said that the Palestinian experience of apartheid is “in its practical manifestation even worse than South African apartheid”. Can you explain what you meant by this?
Allan Boesak: It is worse, not in the sense that apartheid was not an absolutely terrifying system in South Africa, but in the ways in which the Israelis have taken the apartheid system and perfected it, so to speak; sharpened it. For instance, we had the Bantustans and we had the Group Areas Act and we had the separate schools and all of that but I don’t think it ever even entered the mind of any apartheid planner to design a town in such a way that there is a physical wall that separates people and that that wall denotes your freedom of movement, your freedom of economic gain, of employment, and at the same time is a tool of intimidation and dehumanisation. We carried passes as the Palestinians have their ID documents but that did not mean that we could not go from one place in the city to another place in the city. The judicial system was absolutely skewed of course, all the judges in their judgements sought to protect white privilege and power and so forth, and we had a series of what they called “hanging judges” in those days, but they did not go far as to openly, blatantly have two separate justice systems as they do for Palestinians [who are tried in Israeli military courts] and Israelis [who are tried in civil, not military courts]. So in many ways the Israeli system is worse.
Another thing that makes it even worse is that when we fought our battles, even if it took us a long time, we could in the end muster and mobilise international solidarity on a scale that enabled us to be more successful in our struggle. The Palestinians cannot do that. The whole international community almost conspires against them. The UN, which played a fairly positive role in the struggle against apartheid in South Africa, takes the disastrous position of not wanting to offend its strong members like the United States who protect Israel. So even in the UN, where international law ought to be the framework wherein all these things are judged, where international solidarity is not an assumption but is supposed to be the very foundation upon which the UN builds its views on things and its judgements as to which way it goes, the Palestinians don’t even have that.
Palestinians are mocked in a way that South Africans were not. In a sense, the UN tried in our case to follow up on its resolutions to isolate the apartheid regime. Here, now, they make resolutions against Israel one after the other and I don’t detect even a sense of shame that they know there is not going to be any follow up. Under Reagan the United States was pretty blatant in its so called constructive engagement programme and in its support for the white regime in South Africa, but what the United States is doing now in the week that UNESCO took the decision to support the Palestinian bid for a seat in the United Nations, to withdraw all US financial support; to resort immediately to economic blackmail, that is so
scandalous. So in all those ways I think we are trying to say that what is happening in Israel today is a system of apartheid that in its perfection of that system is more terrifying in many ways than apartheid in South Africa ever was.
HC: During an event celebrating black history month earlier this year you likened the US Civil Rights Movement to the South African struggle against apartheid. Would you liken both of those struggles to the Palestinian struggle today?
AB:I have just finished a chapter for a book that I hope will be out next year in which I speak of the similarities between the civil rights struggle, the anti-apartheid struggle, and the Arab Spring and the lessons we can draw from them.
I think it is fascinating in so many different ways. It’s almost as if I personally lived through the difficult choices that people have to make in North Africa and in the Middle East every day. As every day goes by my admiration for them grows. I see what is happening in Syria and in Yemen and that there is still relatively little violence on the part of the protesters. You can still see that their basic fundamental goal is to get rid of the tyranny through non-violent protest and it is amazing to watch. I do believe that there is such a thing as historic moments that never disappear from which people learn. South Africa learned so much from Ghandi in India; Martin Luther King learned from Ghandi; we learned from Martin Luther King and we had our own traditions and I’m sure the young Arab people who saw some of these things happening are drawing on that. 1994 (when the first democratic government of South Africa was formed) and the 1980s are not that far behind us. Many of those people who are participating today were sat in front of their televisions watching when we were in the streets day after day after day braving the dogs and the guns and the tear gas, burying our people, funeral after funeral. When I see the funerals taking place in the Arab world I think of the time Archbishop Tutu and I buried 27 people (actually 42 were killed but the police would not release the other bodies); I think of that when I see bodies being carried out to be buried Friday after Friday in the Arab world.
Our struggle had all sorts of political ideologies but it was never completely secularised. The faith, as Archbishop Tutu said this morning, that there is a God of justice who will help us sustain the struggle is an amazing thing. When I see all those thousands of Muslims go down and bow down before Allah I must say, when I saw it for the first time I looked at my wife and I said, I tell you now, if people sustain that, all those tyrants will be quaking in their boots and they know that they will not be able to hold out against that power.
I believe that, just as a few years ago the civil rights struggle in the United States, and then more especially the anti-apartheid struggle, became the moral standard by which the world was judged in terms of its taking sides in terms of right or wrong and getting on the right side of the human revolution for humanity and for justice and for the restoration of dignity
and for the future for children; that particular moment in history where the world is invited to participate in this revolution for the sake of the good and for the sake of the future and for the sake of justice; and where that decision hinges upon evil and wrong on the one side and justice and right on the other side and will mark the world in a way that says this is a litmus test for international solidarity and for international law and justice, that test today comes from the Arab Spring.
HC: The Arab Spring or Palestine?
AB: You have the Arab Spring taking place but at the hub of it all is Palestine. I believe that what is happening now would not have happened if it had not been for the perennial struggle of the Palestinian people. They may not be mentioned every time but I can tell you now that if it was not for them, nothing like the Arab Spring would ever have happened in the Middle East.
Just as we thought, when we watched Martin Luther King or when we went through our own struggle, that the face and direction of history and the world, whether they like it in the West or not and whether or not they come to it with hidden agendas for the sake of greed or whatever, it does not really matter; what is happening in the end is that something fundamental is changing in the Middle East and thereby something fundamental is changing in the history of the world. Those people, I believe, who are going through that revolution now will, for instance, never make the same mistakes that their parents and grandparents made, thinking that the West is always good and that the deals we make with the West are always for the good of our people. There is a new critical element that has come in. Never again will people think the same; what I am hoping is that the Arab revolutions will be so sustainable and so successful and morally so strong that they will force the West to think differently about themselves in terms of the viewpoints and stands they take on events.
HC: Christianity is under threat in the Holy Land. People tend to forget that this is not an issue between Jews and Muslims; there are Christian Palestinians too. There has been a disturbing trend over the years, which has seen Christian Palestinians leaving the Holy Land because of the extraordinary difficulties that Israel has placed on their lives. In what
ways has the occupation affected Christians?
AB: The Christian community in Palestine has been decimated in many ways. By doing this the Israelis are doing two things: they are simplifying the presentation of the struggle as if it is only between Jews and Arabs, with the result that Christians outside think that there is nothing and nobody for us to be in solidarity with. Hence, the Christian Zionists, those ultra conservative fundamentalists in the United States who have for so long helped to dictate foreign policy under the Bush and Reagan administrations, they can say “it’s not about us; it’s not about Christians and Christian witness, it’s about those Muslims”; that, I think, is the intention. I’m hoping that those of us who are Christians outside the Middle East will keep that fact alive and will find ways and means to inject that argument into every single political situation so that the discourse that goes forward and gives rise to action does not push aside the reality of Christians in the Middle East, especially in the Holy Land.
The second thing they are doing is that they are dislodging, not just denying, but dislodging the roots of the Christian faith in the Middle East; that’s where it all started. If you dislodge that it’s like cutting off your nose to spite your face - you are cutting yourself off from the most ancient roots of Christianity and that will set the Christian church adrift, and in the end that will not be good for Israel. So I’m glad to see that the World Council of Churches is rising up again. It is not nearly as radical as it should be, it’s not nearly as clear as it should be nor as hard-nosed as it should be on this issue, but at least it is taking up the Palestinian issue and responding to the situation in Egypt, Iraq, Syria and elsewhere where Christians are under pressure. In doing so they must remember that this is not just a Christian cause; it’s not important just because of the Christians involved, but also because the future of humanity is at stake.
HC: There are an estimated 50 million Christian Zionists worldwide. How would you council them with regards to their support for the state of Israel which is based, they would say, on Biblical reasoning?
AB: It’s like with so many things, it’s the way that people read and interpret the Bible and so we must just make sure that we are as clear and as enthusiastic and as open about our understanding of the Bible and as willing to engage our understanding of the Bible as they seem to be. There must be ways; we have just not been imaginative enough. I think one reason is because we have not, until very recently, realised the very dangerous nature of the views that those people hold, not just for Palestinians and for Muslims in general but also for the Christian Church itself. Now that we begin to see how deadly that kind of logic is, how absolutely anti-Christian and anti-human that logic is, we have no excuses left.
HC: Israel is demanding that Palestinians recognise it as an exclusively “Jewish state”. How would you respond to this demand?
AB: They can’t. There is no such thing as a specifically Jewish state. You can’t proclaim a Jewish state over the heads and the bodies and the memories of the people who are the ancient people who live there. That is Palestinian land we are talking about. Most of the Jews who are there come from Europe and elsewhere and have no claim on that land and we mustn’t allow it to happen to the Palestinians what happened to my ancestors who were the original people in this land (South Africa) but now there are hardly enough of them to be counted in the census. That is Palestinian land and that should be the point of departure in every political discussion.
HC: In the past you urged Western countries to impose economic sanctions on the South African apartheid regime. Would you support a similar call for sanctions against the state of Israel?
AB: Absolutely! Pressure, pressure, pressure from every side and in as many ways as possible: trade sanctions, economic sanctions, financial sanctions, banking sanctions, sports sanctions, cultural sanctions; I’m talking from our own experience. In the beginning we had very broad sanctions and onlylate in the 1980s did we learn to have targeted sanctions. So you must look to see where the Israelis are most vulnerable; where is the strongest link to the outside community? And you must have strong international solidarity; that’s the only way it will work. You have to remember that for years and years and years when we built up the sanctions campaign it was not with governments in the West. They came on board very, very late.
It was the Indian government and in Europe just Sweden and Denmark to begin with and that was it. Later on, by 1985-86, we could get American support. We never could get Margaret Thatcher on board, never Britain, never Germany, but in Germany the people who made a difference were the women who started boycotting South African goods in their supermarkets. That’s how we built it up. Never despise the day of small beginnings. It was down to civil society. But civil society in the international community could only build up because there was such a strong voice from within and that is now the responsibility of the Palestinians, to keep up that voice and to be as strong and as clear as they possibly can. Think up the arguments, think through the logic of it all but don’t forget the passion because this is for your country.
The Lord hears the cry of the Palestinian people.
As a Bible believing Christian I find the anti-BDS sentiment of so called journalists like Greg Sheridan and Andrew Bolt to be based in nothing but European supremacist, pro-colonialist bigotry. The media representation of what the BDS campaign is all about is reprehensible to anyone who knows anything at all about the movement.
The BDS program against the Zionist state was called for by 170 civil Palestinian organisations in 2005 as a non-violent means to pursue the cause for self determination and justice for the Palestinian people by putting economic pressure on the state of Israel to align itself with international law regarding its behaviour and policies towards the Palestinian people. The goal of the BDS movement is not necessarily aligned with either a one or two state solution. At all levels, the BDS movement recognises the right of the state of Israel to exist with secure and safe borders. A right acknowledged by Yasser Arafat in 1993 but never reciprocated by the Israeli government to this day.
The western media has no complaint with sanctions against those nations that don’t “play ball” with us, regardless of the fact that, in Iraq for example, thousands of children suffer and die as a result. But when it comes to countries that are aligned with us, even the slightest hint of sanctions against them is met with almost hysterical cries of racist and terrorist motivations, regardless of the fact that, as in the case of Israel, the nation is guilty of more violations of International law than all the Arab/Muslim nations put together. We can bomb Iraq to the ground (killing hundreds of thousands) on the faulty premise that it had weapons of mass destruction and links to Al Qaeda when in fact it did not and our leaders had access to (or could have easily gained access to) information to the contrary. We can do these things without the slightest pang of conscience or pain of remembrance because our media and our leaders do not allow them to be part of our remembrance. They are not worthy victims; they are not worthy of our grief or sorrow let alone remorse. they are not us, they are them.
To the opponents of the BDS movement, the only true course for the Palestinian people is to either self dispossess from their homeland or be complicit with the illegal military occupation of the West Bank and the siege of Gaza. The refugees that live outside of Israel-Palestine should just “get over it”. Those who oppose the BDS movement deny the Palestinian people any means to fight for their rights to self determination at all. They must in effect become Zionists or suffer the consequences. The anti-BDS proponents demonise all Palestinian resistance. They condemn Palestinians as terrorists if they resist with violence or condemn them as anti-Semites if they resist non violently as is the case with the BDS campaign. They demand that the game be played in such a way that “heads Israel wins, tails the Palestinians lose”.
John Pilger puts a far more correct spin on the BDS campaign when he says in support of the BDS movement:
“Sometimes, looked at from the outside, Australia is a strange place. In other ‘western democracies’ the ‘debate’ about the enduring injustice dealt the Palestinians and Israel’s lawlessness has moved forward to the point where the cynical campaign of anti-Semitism smears is no longer effective — in the UK, much of Europe and even the United States.
If Israel’s bloody assault on Lebanon was not the turning point, the criminal attack on the imprisoned population of Gaza certainly was. The same is true of the BDS movement. This eminently reasonable, decent and necessary campaign enjoys a respectability across the world, not least in South Africa, where it’s backed by the likes of Desmond Tutu and especially those Jews who fought the apartheid regime. The University of Johannesburg, the country’s biggest, has just broken all ties with Israel. Justice for Palestine, said, Mandela, is ‘the greatest moral issue of our time’. That’s the company those Marrickville councillors who have stood up for this ‘greatest moral issue’, keep. And those who have wavered and walked away should think again – remembering other waverers who, long ago, walked away from speaking out against what was being done to Jews. The scale is very different; the principle is the same. Do not be intimidated by Murdoch vendettas or by anyone else. All power to you.”
The words of the Torah cry out to all Christians, Muslims and Jews.
“Do not mistreat an alien or oppress him, for you were aliens in Egypt. Do not take advantage of a widow or an orphan. If you do and they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry. My anger will be aroused, and I will kill you with the sword; your wives will become widows and your children fatherless.”( Exodus 22:21-24)
The God of the Old Testament cries out in dozens of verses in the Torah for Jews to reach out beyond the bounds of hatred, racism and bigotry; to take hold of the hands of the oppressed and the alien just as God reached out to them when they were helpless in Egypt, suffering under the oppression of Pharaoh.
The BDS movement will be heard in heaven, of that we can be assured. God’s promise to hear the cry of the oppressed in Israel should send shudders up the spine of those who arrogantly deny the right of the Palestinian people to be heard. The words of Jesus ring in our ears as well:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19)
Jesus care and concern for the marginalised and demonized in His time reflect the love of God for all humanity. His special concern for those at the “bottom” is a perfect reflection of God the Father’s heart towards Jew and non-Jew.
The gospel of Christian Zionism is not a gospel of Good News to Palestinians be they Christian, Muslim or secular. It is not really a gospel of Good News to anyone whose heart rejoices at the news of God’s reconciliation of all humanity to Himself.
The BDS movement affirms the right of Jewish people to live anywhere in the world (not just in Israel) in peace and equality with all peoples, free from racial and religious bigotry. The BDS movement wishes for exactly the same right for Palestinians. As such, the morality of the movement matches the morality of the God of both Testaments of the Bible. Anti-BDS supporters reject the concept of equality for Jew and non-Jew in Israel and the occupied territories. As such, they align themselves with the powers already defeated on the cross of Jesus some 2,000 years ago. Justice and equality for all in the Holy land is the ultimate goal of the Lord God and the BDS movement. That is why I endorse and am involved in it.
The New Testament affirms to Christians that both Jesus and Moses concur about justice and equality in all the world. Religious nationalism, self righteousness and hatred will be swept away, once and for all. this is the true hope that lies at the heart of all truly Biblically based doctrines of Eschatology.
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Zionist Apartheid and the Unconditional Embrace of God
Recently I asked a (Christian) man in his later years, who believes in the idea of unconditional support for Israel, whether or not Christians should have openly opposed and protested against Apartheid in South Africa. To my initial surprise, he answered that Christians should not have bothered, it was irrelevant, “just preach the Gospel”. Quickly I remembered that the Pentecostal Church in South Africa, staunchly Christian Zionist in its doctrines, had very little to say about Apartheid in that country that was negative. My attitude of surprise started to drift towards one of frustration and then resignation over the state of the understanding of social justice issues amongst many conservative Christians. A month or two ago, Glen Beck, a well known media personality and Religious Right advocate in the U.S., advised Christians in America to abandon their church congregation if it was even starting to display an interest in social justice issues.
With regard to the issue of Apartheid and Israel, I was deeply affected when I found out that both Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela, men who have had extensive experience living under a system of Apartheid in their homeland, have declared, upon visiting Israel and the Occupied Territories, that the policies of the Zionist State of Israel towards the Palestinian Arab population are examples of Apartheid. Documentation of the discrimination experienced by Arabs in Israel and the Occupied Territories is vast to say the least. For anyone wishing to read a very accessible guide to this issue, I recommend Ben White’s Israeli Apartheid: A Beginners Guide.
The most obvious symbol of this Apartheid regime is the “Separation Barrier” in the West Bank. Supporters of Israel are quick to demand that the decision to build the wall was forced upon Israel by the behaviour of the Palestinians, the suicide bombers in particular. They point to the fact that the suicide bombings have stopped since the wall’s construction as justification for the wall’s existence. The wall is fundamentally a security issue for Israelis. The lack of security felt by most Israelis that persists to this day is also evidence that the wall has also not brought any feelings of reconciliation between Arab and Jew in Israel either.
The claim that the wall is for security reasons requires deeper analysis. While regrettable, it is perfectly reasonable for someone to erect a barrier between themselves and a second party with whom they simply can not get along with to the point of violent confrontation. Everyone has a right to protect themselves. This is not the issue. We can easily imagine a scenario whereby two neighbours involved in a bitter dispute, that has led to violence,agree to erect a wall along the boundary line that divides the property of both parties. But when that wall, erected by the most powerful party in the dispute, is created in such a way that it invades into the very territory of the other neighbour, thereby including members of the family of this alleged foe on the side of the fence containing the property of the party that built the wall, we have to wonder about whether the wall has been erected as a pretense for something else.
Further to this, if the neighbour who built the fence also pays members of his own family to go and live on the other side of the fence on the property of those whom he say he feels unsafe from, then our confidence that the wall was made for security reasons crumbles. This scenario in fact mirrors that situation in Israel-Palestine today. Over 200,000 Palestinians in the West Bank live on the “Israel side” of the Wall and Israel offers lucrative incentives for Jewish people to live on the other side of the barrier. The barrier separates Arab from Arab, puts allegedly “dangerous Arabs” on the Israel side of the wall and the government of Israel actively encourages Jews to live amongst these “hateful Palestinians”. I simply do not believe the justification given for the barrier by the supporters of Zionism in Israel. I think many Israelis find it equally hard to justify but somehow the insecurity they generally feel outweighs common sense. Ilan Baruch, the Israeli diplomat who recently resigned because he could no longer justify the policies of the current Israeli government regarding the occupation of the West Bank, is very much in the minority.
It is also well known that since the separation barrier is only 58% complete, it is relatively easy for Palestinians in the West Bank to travel to Israel illegally. The use of suicide bombers was thankfully repudiated by Hamas in 2006. This was far more due to a change in strategy than the existence of the wall. It seems that Hamas has seen that is far more profitable to Islamisize the citizens of Gaza than involve them in suicide bombing. The separation barrier is part of a strategy which includes the illegal settlements, checkpoints and Israeli only highways (all of which violate international law) which seek to further marginalise and oppress the Palestinian people, provoking them to further frustration and unfortunately even to the point of violence in a minority of instances.
Israel is a Zionist State, a state owned by Jews for Jews, as defined by the State of Israel. Whereas most governments are chosen by the people, in the case of Israel, the people are chosen by the government. Israel is a state for Jewish people in a way that it can never be for non-Jews. Israel may be able to afford a measure of human rights for Arabs but it can never afford equal rights between Arab and Jew in Israel. In the Occupied Territories, the situation has been described as “Apartheid on steroids”.
In 1989, The Israeli Supreme Court made a ruling about candidates and parties running for election in Israel. It ruled that the Central Elections Committee may prevent a candidates’ list from participating in elections if its objectives or actions, expressly or by implication endorse the negation of the existence of the State of Israel as the state of the Jewish people. What this means is that for anyone to participate in Israel’s “democracy” one must renounce the idea that Israel should be a democracy, that is, a state for all its people. The notion that any state that is a democracy should of necessity be a state for all its people, is commonly accepted as the minimal requirement for a state to be declared democratic. If an Islamic state is deemed intrinsically to be undemocratic, then so must a Jewish State.
The state sanctioned inequality of rights between Jew and Arab in Palestine inevitable leads to oppression of the less privileged.
I can not help but be reminded of the demands of the Torah.
Ex 22:21 “Do not mistreat an alien or oppress him, for you were aliens in Egypt.
Eze 47:21 “You are to distribute this land among yourselves according to the tribes of Israel.
Eze 47:22 You are to allot it as an inheritance for yourselves and for the aliens who have settled among you and who have children. You are to consider them as native-born Israelites; along with you they are to be allotted an inheritance among the tribes of Israel.
Eze 47:23 In whatever tribe the alien settles, there you are to give him his inheritance,” declares the Sovereign LORD.
God’s intention in the land of Israel was for equality between Jew and non-Jew in accordance with the truth that God’s love and concern is for all people’s of the world. Whereas the Holocaust of Pharaoh was used as a means ( in scripture) to encourage Jews to specifically ensure that non-Jews in Israel were not oppressed, the Holocaust of the Nazis is used by the Zionists as a means to ensure that Jews do not suffer a similar fate in the future (a noble goal) but in a manner that ignores the oppression of non-Jews that is an inevitable consequence of the Zionist answer to the Jewish question.
In the end, the Torah’s authority will outlast the dogmas of Zionism however well intentioned they may seem at the moment to the supporters of Israel.
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