1. André Brink, one of South Africa’s leading authors, whose opposition to the apartheid regime resulted in his novels becoming the first books in Afrikaans to be banned by the government. This extract is from his memoir, A Fork In The Road (in French, from which the excerpt is taken, Mes bifurcations, pub. Actes Sud, Arles, 2010). Translation mine.
[T]he decisive experience of this trip (in 2002) was the visit to the Palestinian University of Birzeit. I’d read a lot about the Middle East conflict; in Salzburg and elsewhere, I had long impassioned conversations with Palestinian writers. I still remember my discussion with Hanan Mikhail Ashrawi, when she visited the Cape years ago. On several occasions before his untimely death, I also benefited from the wisdom and the gentle humanity of Edward Said.
But this immersion in the terrible reality of this tragic place, of this land and its people, felt to me like very few other things in my life. I felt as if I’d rediscovered the hideous heart of apartheid: the way in which Palestinians, including some of the most wonderful people I’d ever met, are subjected to one of the cruelest forms of oppression on earth; the web of hypocrisy and lies through which the Israeli side tries to obscure and twist the truth. During this visit there was one particularly shocking event: an old Palestinian man had his shack bulldozed by the Israeli army because he had presumed to install a water tank on its roof to catch the few drops of rain that fell there.
I saw the network of modern highways built for the Israelis, and the pathetic little roads to which the Palestinians are confined; I saw olive groves, often the only means of subsistence for Palestinian farmers, uprooted by the Israelis; I saw the proliferation of new Israeli settlements in the heart of Palestinian land, built there in contravention of all the agreements signed, just to reinforce the presence and the power of Israelis in territory that does not belong to them. I had already seen this, in the era of the oppression of blacks by whites in South Africa. I had already heard the same pious excuses and explanations.
When I look back on it now, I can’t help but remember the terrible images of Dachau and Auschwitz. Even if Israel has not embarked upon a genocide of the same magnitude as the Holocaust, the ethnic cleansing it is inflicting on the Palestinians is morally equivalent to a slower and smaller-scale version of the death camps. I struggle to understand how a people that has found it so difficult to recover from the horrors of the Holocaust can go on to do to others what was once done to it.
h/t Nouvelles d’Orient.
2. John Dugard, South African Professor of International Law; formerly Special Rapporteur on Palestine to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights.
Apartheid was a system of institutionalized racial discrimination that the white minority in South Africa employed to maintain power over the black majority. It was characterized by the denial of political rights to blacks, the fragmentation of the country into white areas and black areas (called Bantustans) and by the imposition on blacks of restrictive measures designed to achieve white superiority, racial separation and white security.
The “pass system,” which sought to prevent the free movement of blacks and to restrict their entry to the cities, was rigorously enforced. Blacks were forcibly “relocated,” and they were denied access to most public amenities and to many forms of employment. The system was enforced by a brutal security apparatus in which torture played a significant role.
Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories has many features of colonization. At the same time it has many of the worst characteristics of apartheid. The West Bank has been fragmented into three areas – north (Jenin and Nablus), center (Ramallah) and south (Hebron) – which increasingly resemble the Bantustans of South Africa.
Restrictions on freedom of movement imposed by a rigid permit system enforced by some 520 checkpoints and roadblocks resemble, but in severity go well beyond, apartheid’s “pass system.” And the security apparatus is reminiscent of that of apartheid, with more than 10,000 Palestinians in Israeli prisons and frequent allegations of torture and cruel treatment.
Many aspects of Israel’s occupation surpass those of the apartheid regime. Israel’s large-scale destruction of Palestinian homes, leveling of agricultural lands, military incursions and targeted assassinations of Palestinians far exceed any similar practices in apartheid South Africa. No wall was ever built to separate blacks and whites.
– Israelis adopt what South Africa dropped; Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 29 Nov 2006.
3. Breyten Breytenbach, South Africa’s preeminent Afrikaner poet, who was convicted of treason in South Africa in 1975, and served seven years in jail for his opposition to apartheid.
I’m a writer born in South Africa now living and working abroad. For some time back there I also grew up among a “chosen people” who behaved as Herrenvolk — as all those who believe themselves singularized by suffering or entrusted with a special mission from God.
I apologize if my comparative allusion to Israel as Herrenvolk hurts because of the echoes from a recent past when, in Europe, so many Jews were the victims of a “final solution.” But how else is one to attempt describing the comportment of your armies when one is flooded by the horror of what you’re doing?
These rough equivalences don’t come lightly. As a writer I’m deeply apprised of the need to keep the words uncluttered of any urge to rouse easy emotions. This is what facile comparisons do–they nullify understanding the complexity of the observed phenomena by a rush of outrage heating the throat and staining the adversary with the vomit of borrowed or vicarious condemnation. Apartheid was not Nazism, though to say so was a striking slogan. And the policies now perpetrated by Israeli forces on the Palestinian people should not be equated with Apartheid. Each one of these processes and systems is evil enough to merit a thorough description of its own historical singularity.
And yet… (continues)
– An Open Letter to General Ariel Sharon; The Nation, 10 Apr 2002.
4. Desmond Tutu , former Archbishop of Cape Town; headed post-apartheid South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
In our struggle against apartheid, the great supporters were the Jews. Jews almost instinctively had to be on the side of the disenfranchised, of the voiceless ones, fighting injustice, oppression and evil. I have continued to feel strongly with the Jews. I am patron of a Holocaust center in South Africa. I believe Israel has a right to secure borders.
What is not so understandable, not justified, is what it did to another people to guarantee its existence. I’ve been very deeply distressed in my visits 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. They seemed to derive so much joy from our humiliation.
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? This is God’s world. For goodness sake, this is God’s world! We live in a moral universe. The apartheid government was very powerful, but today it no longer exists. Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Pinochet, Milosovic, and Idi Amin were all powerful, but in the end they bit the dust…
– Occupation is Oppression, 13 Apr 2002.
5. Ronnie Kasrils, South African Member of Parliament. Member of the ANC Executive Committee 1987-2007; South Africa’s Minster for Intelligence Services 2004-2008, Minister of Water Affairs and Forestry (1999-2004), and Deputy Minister of Defense (1994-1999).
May I start by quoting a South African who emphatically stated as far back as 1961 that “The Jews took Israel from the Arabs after the Arabs had lived there for a thousand years. Israel like South Africa, is an apartheid state” (Rand Daily Mail, 23 Novemeber 1961). Those were not the words of Nelson Mandela, Archbishop Tutu or Ruth First, but were uttered by none other than the architect of apartheid itself, racist Prime Minister, Dr. Hendrik Verwoerd. (continues)
He was irked by the criticism of apartheid policy and Harold Macmillan’s “Winds of Change” speech and the growing international outcry following the Sharpeville massacre, in contrast to the West’s unconditional support for Zionist Israel.
To be sure Verwoerd was correct. Both apartheid South Africa and Zionist Israel were colonial, settler states created on the basis of the harsh dispossession of the land and birthright of the indigenous people. This is unblushingly documented in Israel’s case from the time of Herzl through Jabotinsky, Ben Gurion, Menachem Begin, Moshe Dayan to Sharon et al. Both states preached and implemented a policy based on racial ethnicity; the sole claim of Jews in Israel and whites in South Africa to exclusive citizenship; monopolised rights in law regarding the ownership of land, property, business; superior access to education, health, social, sporting and cultural amenities, pensions and municipal services at the expense of the original indigenous population; the virtual monopoly membership of military and security forces, and privileged development along their own racial supremacist lines – even both countries marriage laws are designed to safeguard racial “purity”. The fact that the Palestinian minority within Israel is allowed to vote hardly redresses the injustice in all other matters of basic human rights. In any case those Palestinians allowed to stand for election to the Knesset do so on condition that they dare not question Israel’s existence as a Jewish state…
– Address to the Re-envisioning Israel/Palestine international conference; held in Cape Town on 12 June, 2009.