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Israeli Apartheid

We Learn From History That We Learn Nothing From History

Ronnie Kasrils, 21 April 2009

For the liberation movements of southern
Africa, Israel and apartheid South Africa
represented a racist, colonial axis. It
was noted that people like John Vorster
had been Nazi sympathisers, interned
during World War II - yet feted as heroes
in Israel and, incidentally, never again
referred to by South African Zionists as

It is instructive to add that in its conduct
and methods of repression, Israel came to
resemble more and more apartheid South
Africa at its zenith— even surpassing its
brutality, house demolitions, removal of
communities, targeted assassinations,
massacres, imprisonment and torture of
its opponents, collective punishment, and
aggression against neighbouring states.

Any South African, whether involved in the
freedom struggle or motivated by basic
human decency, who visits the Occupied
Palestinian Territories is shocked to the
core at the situation they encounter and
agree with Archbishop Tutu’s comment
that what the Palestinians are experiencing
is far worse than what happened in South
Africa, where the Sharpeville massacre
of 69 civilians in 1960 became the
international symbol of apartheid cruelty.

I want to recall here the words of an
Israeli Cabinet Minister, Aharon Cizling
in 1948, after the savagery of the Deir
Yassin massacre of 240 villagers
became known. He said: “Now we too
have behaved like the Nazis and my
whole being is shaken.”

It needs to be frankly raised that if the
crimes of the Holocaust are at the top
end of the scale of human barbarity in
modern times, where do we place the
human cost of what has so recently
occurred in Gaza and against the
Palestinians since 1948 in the nakba
(catastrophe) they have endured?
Guernica, Lidice, the Warsaw Ghetto,
Deir Yassin, Mai Lei, Sabra and Shatilla,
Sharpeville are high on that scale— and
the perpetrators of the slaughter in Gaza
are the offspring of holocaust victims
who are yet again, in Cizling’s words,
behaving like Nazis. This must not be
allowed to go unpunished and the
international community must demand
they be tried for war crimes and crimes
against humanity.

Once more, let me turn to our South
African experience. There, as with other
struggles such as Vietnam, Algeria,
the former Portuguese colonies, the
just nature of the struggle was the
assurance for success. With that
moral advantage, on the basis of a just
liberation struggle, we learnt the secret
of Vietnam’s victory and strategised
according to what we termed our
Four Pillars of Struggle: Political mass
struggle; reinforced by armed struggle;
clandestine underground struggle; and
international solidarity.

At times, any one of these can become
predominant— and it is not for outsiders
to direct those at the frontline of the
struggle as to what and how to choose,
but to modestly provide the lessons of our
experience, pointing out that the unity of
the struggling people is as indispensable
as the moral high-ground they occupy.
For the Vietnamese, the military element
was generally primary but always resting
on popular mass support.

In South Africa the mass struggle
became the primary way, with sabotage
actions and limited guerrilla operations
inspiring our people. It all depends on
the conditions and the situation.

But unquestioningly, what helped tip the
balance, in Vietnam and South Africa,
was the force and power of international
solidarity action. It took some 30 years
but the worldwide Anti-Apartheid
Movements campaigns, launched in
London in 1959, for Boycott, Divestment
and Sanctions not only provided
international activists with a practical
role, but became an incalculable
factor in (a) isolating and weakening
the apartheid regime (b) inspiring the
struggling people (c) undermining the
resolve of those states that supported
and benefited from relations with
apartheid South Africa, (d) generated
a change of attitude amongst the South
African White population generally,
and political, business, professional,
academic, religious and sporting
associations in particular. Boycott
made them feel the pinch in their pocket
and their polecat status everywhere—
whether on the sporting fields, at
academic or business conventions, in
the world of theatre and the arts they
were totally shunned like biblical lepers.
There was literally no place to hide from
universal condemnation backed by
decisive and relentless action which, in
time, became more and more creative.

To conclude: we must spare no effort
in building a worldwide solidarity
movement to emulate the success of
the Anti-Apartheid Movement. Nelson
Mandela stated after South Africa
attained democratic rule that “we
South Africans cannot feel free until the
Palestinians are free.” A slogan of South
Africa’s liberation struggle and our trade
union movement is “An injury to one is
an injury to all!” That goes for the whole
of humanity. Every act of solidarity
demonstrates to the Palestinians, and
those courageous Jews who stand by
them in Israel, that they are not alone.
Whilst many Palestinians have lost
their lives the Palestinians have not
been conquered or cowed. Repression
generates resistance and that will grow.
Israeli aggression stands exposed.

A turning point has been reached in
humanity‘s perception of this issue.
The time is ripe for us to drive home
the advantage— we know the times are
changing and Zionist hegemony is fast
losing control. Like South Africa, this
can mean, must mean: freedom, peace,
security, equality and justice for all—
Muslim, Christian and Jew. That is well
worth struggling for!

RONNIE KASRILS is a South African
politician. He has been a member of
the Executive Committee of the African
National Congress since 1987.