A Moral Campaign to
End the Occupation
Saturday, June 15
2002 @ 05:38 PM GMT
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 the 1980s.
similar movement has taken shape recently, this time aiming at an end to the
Israeli occupation. We should hope that average citizens again rise to the
occasion, since the obstacles to a renewed movement are surpassed only by its
Divestment from apartheid South Africa was fought at the
grassroots. Faith-based 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.
financial pressure is again being mustered one person at a time. In the United
States, students at over 40 campuses are demanding a review of university
investments. Europe faces efforts ranging from consumer boycotts to arms
These tactics are not the only parallels to the struggle
against apartheid South Africa. Yesterdayís township dwellers can tell you about
todayís life in the Occupied Territories. To travel only 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
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 explicit analogy between apartheid and current Israeli policies.
Mark Mathabane and Nelson Mandela have also pointed out the relevance of the
South African experience to the current conflict.
To criticize the
occupation is not to overlook Israelís 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
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 which 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 US synagogues and campuses, rightly
arguing that Israel needs security, but it will never have it as an occupying
power.. Over 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.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu was awarded
the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 for his work against apartheid. He wrote this
piece in collaboration with Ian Urbina, associate editor of the Middle East
Report in Washington DC. This article was first published by the Middle East
Research and Information Project (MERIP)].